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Brazil The Pantanal: Jaguars & Jabirus!

A 13-day, small group birdwatching & wildlife tour to Brazil

Covering more than 70,000 square miles, the Pantanal is the world’s largest tropical wetland - and one of most important areas for wildlife in South America. Seasonal rains flood the immense lowland plains of Western Brazil, but as they dry in the austral spring the shrinking waterways and lagoons concentrate the spectacular birds and wildlife of the region. South America's biggest cat, the Jaguar, is the star attraction. But we also have chances of Giant Anteater and Brazilian Tapir, while the abundant birdlife includes Southern Screamer, Horned Sungem, Helmeted Manakin and the endangered Hyacinth Macaw.

Tour Dates

2019

Spaces
5

Leaders
Colin Bushell
local guides

Max Group Size: 10
Duration: 13 Days

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Cost: £5495

inc return flights from London Heathrow-Sao Paulo and Sao Paulo-Cuiaba

Deposit: £700

Single Supp: £495
Land Only: £4695

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Jaguar 2 Brazil Pantanal CK CBushell IMG 2910 resized

Absolutely amazing! A huge male Jaguar comes to drink in the Pantanal during a boat trip - as a Pied Plover looks warily on © Colin Bushell

The vast lowland plains of the southern Mato Grosso - meaning ‘large forest’ - in Brazil are seasonally inundated with water during the rainy season. Known as the 'Pantanal' (the Portuguese for swamplands), these immense floodlands comprise the world's largest tropical wetland and are one of the most important and best areas to see birds and wildlife in South America. As the wetlands begin to shrink during the dry season however, they create spectacular concentrations of wildlife for which the area has become world famous.

This wonderful Limosa tour is timed to coincide with peak bird numbers in the Pantanal as well as an abundance of flora and fauna, and the most favourable weather conditions. After five days enjoying the species-rich open landscapes of the Pantanal, we next head northeast to explore the chapada and cerrado (savanna) habitats beyond Cuiaba, where a whole new ecosystem packed with its own very different wildlife awaits us.

The Pantanal lies in the great basin of the Rio Paraguai, a southward-flowing river of little gradient which crosses Paraguay, joins the Paraná and empties eastward at Buenos Aires. The climate is characterised by a pronounced dry season (March-November), but due to poor drainage much of the region is inundated during the rainy season to form the vast Pantanal - the largest freshwater marsh in South America.

‘As seen on TV’, the Pantanal is today renowned as perhaps the best place in the world to look for Jaguar and our tour is designed to provide a very real chance of seeing this amazing big cat. The seasonal lagoons and rivers are also home to an array of other charismatic mammals, including the Giant River Otter, the bizarre-looking Southern Tamandua (a tree-loving anteater), Brazilian Porcupine and Capybara (the world's largest rodent), while on the dry grasslands we may find the brush-tailed Giant Anteater. Crab-eating Fox, Black Howler Monkey, Yellow Armadillo and the prolific Spectacled Caiman are more commonly encountered.

Birding in the Pantanal is brilliant, too! About our comfortable lodges we should encounter the highly sought Hyacinth Macaw - the largest parrot in the world, and oh-so-blue; the bizarre-billed Toco Toucan, with its unseemly nest-robbing habits; and the aptly named Great Rufous Woodcreeper, perhaps shinning up a tree trunk beside us. But as you would expect, it is wetland that birds dominate the scene: from serpentine Anhingas, Black-collared Hawk and hook-billed Snail Kites to the man-sized Jabiru, elusive Maguari Stork and five species of ibis including the large and loud Plumbeous. We should see aptly-named Southern Screamers, thousands of Wood Storks, Limpkin, the dapper Capped Heron and the odd looking Boat-billed Heron. There's even a chance of the furtive Sungrebe, with its unique 'dazzle camouflage' feet.

After a thorough exploration of the Pantanal, we journey northeast to spend time at Chapada dos Guimaraes, enjoying the magnificent contrast in both scenery and birds. Here we shall find a completely different habitat: the arid cerrado, a stunning highland plateau with a quite different community of birds. Patches of gallery forest follow the rivers and streams down to the east, providing a chance to observe many interesting Amazonian species.

From our hotel here we'll explore the cerrado and forested areas. Although somewhat arid and with stunted vegetation, this distinctive habitat holds numerous interesting species. White-eared Puffbird, Curl-crested Jay, White-rumped and White-banded Tanagers, Collared Crescentchest and Black-faced Saltator can all be found - but the true ‘jewel' of this area is a hummingbird, the unique and spectacular Horned Sungem. The males are resplendent with iridescent blue crown and an adornment of twin ‘horns’.

Limosa has been operating bird tours to Brazil since 1998 and this August 2019 tour will be our 24th visit to this amazing destination for birding. Guide Colin Bushell has travelled and guided extensively throughout Central and South America, including repeat visits to the Pantanal and this trip will be his eleventh visit there.

Hyacinth Macaw 4 Brazil CB Pantanal resized

The seasonally flooded wetlands of the Pantanal are a major stronghold for both South America’s largest parrot, the big blue Hyacinth Macaw (above) - and its largest cat, the Jaguar. We hope to see them both on our September tour! © Colin Bushell

Day 1
FLY LONDON-SÂO PAULO

Our birdwatching tour to Brazil and the Pantanal begins with an overnight flight from London Heathrow to Sâo Paulo, in southeast Brazil.

Days 2-4
FLY SÂO PAULO-CUIABA & TRANSFER TO THE PANTANAL

Following an early morning arrival in Sâo Paulo we catch a two-hour Brazilian domestic flight northwest to Cuiaba, capital of the state of Mato Grosso - and gateway to the superb Pantanal!

From Cuiaba, we drive southwest along the Transpantaneira Road deep into the heart of the wetlands. If time permits, we may visit a small urban reserve for a nice introduction to the colourful and plentiful local birdlife: toucans, hummingbirds, tanagers and macaws await! Some species are more likely to be seen here than anywhere else on tour and these include Russet-Crowned Crake, Purple Gallinule, Pale-vented Pigeon, Plain-breasted Ground Dove, Red-bellied Macaw, Peach-fronted Parakeet, Black-throated Mango, Chotoy Spinetail and Thrush-like Wren. A small population of Pantanal Marmoset inhabit the surroundings.

We arrive in time for dinner at our lovely first lodge - Pousada Piuval - with wonderful birding right on its doorstep!

Situated in a peaceful location away from the Transpantaneira, the varied habitats surrounding our accommodation at Pousada Piuval hold an excellent variety of species. The highlight here should be our first Hyacinth Macaws... or ‘Big Blue’ as it is sometimes known! This spectacular bird - the world's largest parrot - breeds in large holes in trees and has benefitted from protection schemes. Strutting in the fields, we should find the impressive Greater Rhea and Plumbeous Ibis, while Toco Toucans and even Chestnut-bellied Guans frequent the trees about the lodge.

One of many delights (!?) here is that we may be woken by the most of exotic of alarm clocks - the raucous calls of the Hyacinth Macaw! But it'll be worth it, for an early morning walk will reward us with the sight of many waterbirds: cormorants, herons, storks and ibises, all taking advantage of the rich pickings left by the now retreating floods. Perhaps the most striking of all these birds is the enormous Jabiru, a familiar sight in the Pantanal.

Birds of prey are well represented throughout the Pantanal, with the ubiquitous Snail Kite and Black-collared Hawk being two of the most frequently seen raptors, perching by open water on the look out for snails and fish respectively.  We should also see many storks and herons, including Snowy and Great Egrets, and even Southern Screamer - and with a little luck, we will locate a Sunbittern on a quiet pool. White Woodpeckers and Campo Flickers may perch on dead tree stumps, while deeper in the dry forest Rufous-tailed Jacamars and Blue-crowned Trogons add splashes of colour.

The most visible mammal here is the Capybara, the world's largest rodent, which occurs in good-sized family groups, browsing the lush wetland vegetation under the watchful gaze of numerous Caiman. In the drier countryside, fortunate observers might occasionally see the amazing Giant Anteater, loping across the fields as they feed on the termites which dot the landscape with their impressive mounds. 

Birding opportunities abound near the lodge and Great Rufous Woodcreepers can often be found, but we'll also venture away during our stay here to explore the dry forest and gallery woodlands. The splendid Helmeted Manakin makes its home here, alongside Rufous Casornis and Planalto Slaty Antshrike. In the damper areas bordering the small pools and streams we can hope to find Mato Grosso Antbird and Yellow-chinned Spinetails, and as the afternoon draws on we'll likely hear the haunting song of the Undulated Tinamou - though they are tricky to see!

At dusk, we should find the inquisitive Crab-eating Fox as we search for Tropical Screech Owl, Great Horned Owl and Common Potoo. Three nights Pousada Piuval

Days 5-7
PORTO JOFRE AREA

Bidding farewell to Pousada Puival, will head southwest 100kms or so today, to Porto Jofre at the end of the Transpantaneira, for a three-night stay. Travel is slow along this highway at the best of times, which will give us the opportunity to look out for some uncommon roadside birds - such as the beautiful Scarlet-headed Blackbird.

The dry grasslands we will pass through are the home to Giant Anteaters so we'll check anything that moves among the huge termite mounds! As we travel south, we are sure to see Marsh Deer and perhaps Black Howler Monkey in the trees bordering the Transpantaneira.

As we get closer to Porto Jofre, open wetland areas become more extensive and we will stop to admire the massed ranks of wetland birds - expect to see Limpkins, Maguari Storks, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and many more. The magnificent Hyacinth Macaw is also present and we'll pay an evening visit to a roosting area for the spectacular 'big blue'. As dusk settles over the Pantanal, huge Nacunda Nighthawks begin their evening forays.

We will spend our time at Porto Jofre covering a mix of habitats, either on foot or via short road journeys along the Transpantaneira. However, a particular focus of our time here will be to try and gain good sightings of South America's biggest - the Jaguar! This area has become one of the most reliable places on Earth to see this impressive feline and the famous Caiman-eating Jaguars were filmed by the BBC in this region.

Our boat trips will to some extent concentrate on seeing Jaguars, which retreats to the woodland along the rivers edge during the day and has a tendency to lie out near the waters’ edge. Of course, encounters with a Jaguar are far from guaranteed, even though the boatmen are primed with information on the most recent sightings, but there will be a good possibility of success.

Birds are also present on the Rio Cuiaba: Black Skimmers roost on the sandbars in the company of numerous Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns, and Pied and Collared Plovers should be seen. Front-heavy Toco Toucans fly over and perch in the bare trees, and others we will listen and look out for include the excellent Red-billed Scythebill, Grey-chested Cacholote, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Blue-throated Piping-guan and wonderful Cream-coloured Woodpecker. Three nights Porto Jofre

Day 8
TRANSPANTANEIRA TO CUIABA

We depart early from Porto Jofre today and retrace our steps to Cuiaba. Although mainly a travel day, it will also be fascinating as we pass along the full length of the Transpantaneira, stopping to stretch our legs or to check out anything that catches our eye. We might try a little playback to lure out any of those elusive spinetails, antshrikes, antwrens and flycatchers we might still be missing - and we'll hope to spot the lumbering hulk of a Giant Anteater as we go.

Arriving at our Cuiaba hotel this evening, we will no doubt be ready for dinner in this bustling Brazilian city. Night Cuiaba

Days 9-10
CHAPADA DOS GUIMARAES

We leave Cuiaba early today and continue our journey northeast, travelling about 70 kms to our next, and very different destination: Chapada dos Guimaraes. We spend two nights here, on the edge of a huge escarpment overlooking Cuiaba and the plains to the south.

Chapada Dos Guimaraes lies on an ancient tectonic fault some 500 million years old. When the Andes cordilleras appeared on the west, the flat region of the Pantanal sank and the plateau (chapada) rose up. Water and wind erosion over millions of years has carved natural sculptures, canyons and caves into the cinnamon-buff sandstone cliffs. Rivers and streams have 'dug their way out', creating huge waterfalls typical of chapada scenery. At an elevation of around 800m (2600ft), this fascinating area experiences mild temperatures but it can be windy, especially in the evening.

From our hotel here we are well placed to explore the surrounding cerrado (savanna) and forest areas. Although initially appearing rather unprepossessing, being an arid and somewhat stunted looking habitat, the cerrado contains a wealth of localised bird species that will largely be new to us. Specialities to watch for include the delectable Horned Sungem, White-eared Puffbird, Curl-crested Jay, White-rumped and White-banded Tanagers and Black-faced Saltator. Streams running from the high plateau are surrounded by gallery forest, rich in birdlife with the likes of Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, Blue-crowned Motmot, Fiery-capped and Band-tailed Manakins, Southern Antpipit and White-lined and Guira Tanagers among many treats in store.

As the day heats up, we will scan the sky for birds of prey such as the stately King Vulture, White Hawk and the graceful Swallow-tailed Kite. We should always be alert for macaws coasting over the cerrado, too: both Red-and-Green and Blue-winged Macaws are regularly seen near Chapada. Two nights Chapada dos Guimaraes

Day 11
RETURN TO CUIABA

We have time to enjoy a further morning birding on the plateau around the town before we must reluctantly make our way back south to Cuiaba. We spend the night at a hotel convenient to the airport here, in readiness for our flight back to Sao Paulo tomorrow. Night Cuiaba

Day 12
FLY CUIABA-SÂO PAULO AND ONWARD TO LONDON

Depending on flight schedules today, there may be time for a little early morning birding around Cuiaba. Returning to Cuiaba Airport, we catch a domestic flight back to Sâo Paulo and transfer to our onward overnight connection to London.  

Day 13
ARRIVE LONDON

We arrive back at London Heathrow in the early afternoon, where our birdwatching tour to Brazil and the Pantanal concludes.

Buff necked Ibis Brazil CK CB Pantanal resized

The striking Buff-necked Ibis is one of five ibis species we could see on the Pantanal © Colin Bushell

What To Expect

Covering over 70,000 square miles, the Pantanal is the world’s largest tropical wetland, and certainly one of most important and very best areas to watch birds and wildlife in South America. Seasonal rains flood the vast lowland plains of western Brazil and, as they dry in the austral spring, waterways and lagoons concentrate the spectacular birds and wildlife of the region. South America's biggest cat, the Jaguar, is the star attraction. But we also have chances of Giant Otter, Giant Anteater and Tapir, while the abundant birdlife includes the rare Hyacinth Macaw, Jabiru and Greater Rhea.

Except on travel days, our strategy in hot climates such as this will be to start early, bird in the morning and have a protracted rest during the midday siesta time before enjoying the rest of the afternoon back in the field. We will offer occasional evening and after dark excursions, too. Our various explorations will be on foot, by boat and by vehicle.

Brazil enjoys a tropical climate. It will be mainly warm-hot and sunny in the Pantanal when we visit in August/September, but some rainfall is possible throughout the year. It will be hot and humid in the lowlands and this can give rise to thundery afternoon downpours. Our tour runs towards the end of the ‘dry season’ and, while the chances of a wet day are low, some rainfall could still occur. In the Cuiaba area, daily temperatures in August/September are typically in the region of 23-29C (73-84F), but can reach highs of 35C/95F. It averages a little cooler than this in the highlands of the chapada, 18-30C (65-87F); also early and late in the day, which can feel relatively chilly by comparison.

Good to excellent photographic opportunities in more open habitats, including wetlands and at bird feeders around the lodges.

Birds

270-320 species

Mammals

10 species. South America's biggest cat, the Jaguar, is the star attraction. Though sightings cannot, of course, ever be guaranteed, our tour is designed to provide a very real chance of seeing this amazing animal.

Accommodation

10 nights accommodation in Brazil, staying at comfortable hotels that allow easy access to the best wildlife areas. All rooms have private bathroom.

Meals

All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with lunch in Brazil on Day 2 and concluding with lunch on Day 12.

Food at the lodges is home-cooked, often featuring local dishes freshly prepared by the lodges’ own cooks (vegetarian needs can also be catered for). Breakfasts and dinners will be at the hotels; some lunches will be picnics.

Drinking water is provided during the day. Soft and alcoholic drinks are generally available for purchase at the hotels (not included in our tour price).

Walking

Easy to moderate, chiefly along tracks and trails. In the Pantanal, the landscape is flat and the going is generally easy. In the Chapada (Brazil's highland plateau area) there may be some occasional steeper, uphill stretches, but all are taken very gently with regular stops for birds.

Sturdy waterproof walking shoes or lightweight boots with good grip advised, and lightweight shoes to change into afterwards.

Maximum elevation on this tour: 1400m (4600ft). 

Travel

Return flights from London Heathrow to Sâo Paulo with LATAM or British Airways (according to best schedules).

Domestic flights Sâo Paulo-Cuiaba-Sâo Paulo are included within the tour price and operated by GOL or LATAM (according to schedule).

Please note that current Brazilian domestic airline schedules, coupled with the requirement to check-in for international flights several hours before departure, result in a somewhat protracted wait at Sao Paulo airport between flights. This is presently unavoidable. Much depends upon airline schedules available at the time but our office will seek to book the most convenient flights with the best connections.

If you intend making your own flight arrangements for this tour, be sure to check group flight timings with our office (once confirmed) before booking your own flights.

Ground Transport   By minibus, switching to 4WD vehicle/s when the occasion demands.

Boat Trips

We will take boat trips at Porto Jofre with the aim of finding Jaguars. There will be birds to see of course, but the main focus here will be on finding these wonderful big cats.

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