Brazil Photo Journey
Pantanal, Jaguars, and the Chapada
The tour focuses on the world-famous Pantanal, a huge seasonal wetland the size of Texas that offers some of the best wildlife viewing in the world. We have timed this tour for the dry season, so birds are concentrated in the areas where there is still standing water. The feeding frenzies of hundreds of herons, ibis, storks, terns, screamers, jacanas, vying with dozens of hungry caiman offer truly unforgettable spectacles and amazing photo-ops. A sure highlight will be the huge electric blue Hyacinth Macaws, truly one of the world’s most spectacular birds, and we see them in good numbers, up close, on most tours. We’ll spend two nights each in Pousada Piuval and another lodge near the Pixaim River. Both are excellent lodges situated near rivers and wetlands that are packed with waterbirds, and surrounded by gallery forest. Piuval can’t be beat for its sheer number and variety of birds, while the Pixaim River lodge offers boat rides where you can get very close to Agami Herons, five species of kingfisher, and families of mischievous Giant Otters. Both lodges are like mini oases, and keen photographers can stay busy even in the heat of the day with the dozens of birds hanging around just outside the rooms. Leaving the Pixaim River, we head south to the end of the road, where we spend two days trying to photograph the most magnificent of all neotropical mammals, the Jaguar. Nowhere else is it seen more reliably, and we’ll have our own fast, private boat and boat driver to maximize our chances. We’ll wrap up the trip with a two night stay in the scenic Chapada dos Guimaraes on top of a dramatic rocky escarpment. Here the birds are very different, and we’ll attempt to get shots of some special birds like White-banded and White-rumped Tanagers, Blue-winged Macaw, Helmeted Manakin, and many more.
Day 1: Arrival in Cuiabá. You’ll be transferred to a hotel near the airport for the night.
Days 2-3: Pousada Piuval. A two-hour drive takes us to Pousada Piuval at the northern edge of the Pantanal. Piuval is a truly amazing place for bird photography – numbers of both species and individuals can be astronomical, and the wide open nature of the Pantanal makes great shots a given. The habitat is a mosaic of open pasture, wetlands, and scrub interspersed with islands of forest. We’ll spend our mornings stalking the likes of Southern Screamer, Plumbeous Ibis, Red-legged Seriema, Bare-faced Curassow, Greater Rhea, Whistling Heron, Blue-fronted Parrot, Long-tailed Ground-Dove, Great Rufous Woodcreeper, White Woodpecker, and Red-crested Cardinal, to name just a few. This is our best spot for Hyacinth Macaw, which can be seen in good numbers every day, and we’ll spend time trying to get the perfect shot of these majestic birds. In the afternoons, we can take boat rides to an island with a canopy tower offering eye-level views of Orange-backed Troupial and Gray-crested Cacholote as well as a vista of the surrounding wetlands that are teeming with birds and other wildlife. Nights in Pousada Piuval.
Day 4-5: Pixaim River. Traveling south along the Transpantanal Highway can get us some truly great photo opportunities. Some sections of the highway are lined with literally thousands of caimans as well as waterbirds as far as the eye can see. Yellow-billed and Large-billed Terns flit over the isolated pools offering great chances to practice flight shots. We’ll arrive at our next lodge for lunch. We’ll stay at one of several lodges in the area depending on availability and river conditions. Boat trips on the Pixaim River are the undoubted highlight of a stay at this lodge. Experienced boat drivers know how to get up close and personal with Agami and Boat-billed Heron, Sunbittern, Sungrebe, Pygmy and Green-and-rufous Kingfishers, Giant Otters, and with luck even a Brazilian Tapir. The lodge area itself is an oasis full of birds any time of the day. There is even a metal tower next to a Jabiru nest build especially for nature photographers that puts you face to face with these giants. Gallery forest along the river is difficult for photography, but some may want to give it a shot since it offers an escape from the blazing sun. With persistence and the help of your guide you have chances for great birds like Pale-crested Woodpecker and Helmeted Manakin, or monkeys including Brown Capuchin and Silvery Marmoset.
Days 6-7: Porto Jofre and Jaguar search. Well spend the morning of day 6 driving south along the Tranpantanal Highway to the end of the road at the Cuiaba river. This drive offers our best chance to get shots of the gorgeous Scarlet-hooded Blackbird and the stately Maguari Stork. We’ll arrive at our hotel in time for a quick lunch, then board our private boat to begin searching for Jaguars. This involves cruising up smaller tributaries of the the Cuiabá River, watching carefully for any movement. The boatmen also share information with each other, and if a cooperative jaguar is found by another boat, we’ll try to get to the spot as soon as possible. We also won’t ignore other photo opportunities, and should encounter the likes of Sungrebes, Black-collared and Great-black Hawks, scores of herons and kingfishers, as well as Giant Otters, Tapirs, Capybara, and possibly even other cat species.
Day 8: Pantanal to Chapada dos Guimarães. We’ll have another morning looking for Jaguars before departing the hotel after lunch, taking a rather long drive north out of the Pantanal to the Chapada dos Guimarães, where we spend two nights. We may not arrive until quite late in the evening..
Day 9: Chapada dos Guimarães. We’ll spend much of the morning in the scrubby cerrado (savanna) that covers much of the plateau, targeting birds like White-banded, White-rumped, and Black-faced Tanagers, Rufous-winged Antshrike, Blue-winged Macaw, and Chapada Flycatcher. Once the day warms up, we’ll head into the shade of the gallery forest, where different birds await. Saffron-billed Sparrow, Helmeted Manakin, Planalto Slaty-Antshrike, and Rufous-tailed Jacamar are just a few of the birds in here. We’ll spend the late afternoon watching over the dramatic edge of the escarpment, where Bat Falcons and sometimes even Orange-breasted Falcons hunt.
Day 10: Chapada dos Guimarães to Cuiaba. After another day birding the Chapada, we will drive back to Cuiaba for the last night.
Day 11: Departure. We’ll transfer to the airport for morning departures from Cuiaba.
CLIMATE: Usually very hot and dry in the Pantanal (but occasional cold fronts can make it chilly and damp). August is on average one of the driest months.
DIFFICULTY: Easy. No hard walks are involved.
ACCOMMODATION: Very good to excellent.