The Pantanal is one of the world’s largest seasonal wetlands; 140,000 square kilometres of forest, pampa grasslands and marsh which stretches across the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and into the neighbouring countries of Bolivia and Paraguay. During the wet season, from December to March, up to 80% of the Pantanal disappears under water as the rains transform the barren landscape into a vast lake which slowly drains out towards the Paraguay River.
However, it is this seasonal transformation and the wildlife that it attracts which have made the Pantanal one of the most important havens for flora and fauna anywhere in South America. The Pantanal boasts close to 1000 species of birds and 300 species of mammals including giant anteaters, hyacinth macaws, giant river otters, tapirs, capybara, marsh dear, caiman, jabiru storks and even the elusive jaguar to name but a few. Wildlife aside, this is cattle country where huge ranches dot the landscape and weather beaten “pantaneiro” cowboys lead the herd on annual drives to market. Many of these traditional ranches or “fazendas” have since opened up to tourism and also offer a unique insight into the local culture.