Wilderness Journeys in Brazil's Amazon & Pantanal | Mountain Travel Sobek

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Wilderness Journeys in Brazil's Amazon & Pantanal

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This year’s Olympic Games brought a world of attention to the country of Brazil, but now that the crowds have gone it’s an ideal time to experience its wonderful wild side! All the great things about Brazil that were there before the games are still going strong, and the many infrastructure improvements made to accommodate all those visitors have made getting around in Brazil easier than ever before.

About the size of the U.S. and home to both Earth’s largest rainforest and South America’s premier wildlife sanctuary, Brazil is a land of unmatched biodiversity, earning UNESCO World Heritage status for both the Central Amazon Conservation Complex and the Pantanal Conservation Area. But while both are prime examples of what makes Brazil’s wild heritage so unique and precious, each offers a very different way to experience this vast wilderness. If you’ve been interested in delving into the heart of Brazil but unsure of how, read on! We’ll try to clear things up a bit.

Voyage to the Heart of the Amazon

There is perhaps no better example of “rainforest” than the Amazon. At just over 2.2 million square miles (let that sink in for a moment), it is inhabited by nearly 400 billion trees belonging to an astounding 16,000 species! Some 1,300 birds and over 100,000 species of other animals call it home. But much of the Amazon is made up of flooded forest called igapó, with relatively little dry land to be found. As such, the wildlife experience here is a bit different than in many other places. It’s easier for wildlife to keep their distance, or stay hidden altogether. And when we do sight them, it’s generally at a greater distance. However the skill of our guides—and a good pair of binoculars—helps a great deal in compensating for this! With their help you’ll have no trouble adding dozens and dozens of species to your life list, including the pink Amazon river dolphin!

And the experience of being in this part of the Amazon—the UNESCO-listed Central Amazon Conservation Complex—is unique. Here you’ll feel like a real explorer! Once away from Manaus you’ll likely see so few other boats that you can easily count them on the fingers of two hands, and most will be small, local riverboats ferrying people or goods from village to village. Plus the total lack of cars (there are no roads), overhead air traffic and telecommunications adds to the feeling of being transported back to a time when this entire forest was completely new to outsiders! And you’ll ply the waters of the Amazon in comfort aboard the classically-styled river cruiser Tucano. There’s simply no better way to really get away from it all and have a wonderful, relaxing wilderness experience at the same time!

Amazon Factoid: The “black water” in this part of the Amazon is unusually acidic due to large amounts of decaying organic matter. Mosquitoes can’t survive in such acidic water, and so the incidence of mosquitoes here is far less than one would expect!

Adventure in Brazil’s Pantanal & Amazon

If you’re all about wildlife, this combination of the northern Pantanal and southern Amazon is right up your alley. Unlike the flooded forest environment of the Central Amazon Conservation Complex, the Pantanal Conservation Area (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site) incorporates a far greater percentage of dry land. And at a “mere” 75,000 square miles, its cornucopia of wildlife is concentrated in smaller area. This adds up to a better close-up wildlife experience, even before you factor in that the Pantanal is home to the largest and most concentrated population of jaguars in the world! (Our Director of Latin America Programs, Alicia Zablocki, just returned from this trip and reported an amazing 11 jaguar sightings—three of them are shown in her photo above!) And there are plenty of other remarkable species to see here, including anteaters, tapirs, caiman, and the comical capybara, just to name a few. And of course like the Central Amazon Complex, there’s a veritable rainbow of birdlife, from brilliant red macaws to vibrant green parrots galore!

With more dry land, there are more opportunities for varied activities. There will certainly be boat travel—after all, that’s often the best way to explore a wet environment—but since you’ll be staying at lodges you can enjoy more hiking, as well as horseback riding and wildlife viewing from canopy towers—a radically different jungle experience! And you’ll love those lodges: Araras Eco-Lodge in the northern Pantanal, rustically-styled to blend harmoniously with its splendid forest surroundings; and stunning Cristalino Lodge in the southern Amazon, nestled in its own private natural heritage reserve and selected as one of the world’s 25 best ecolodges by National Geographic.

Pantanal Factoid: The name “Pantanal” comes from the Portuguese word pântano, meaning wetland—apt given that it’s the largest tropical wetland on Earth!

Chris Bettencourt