How To See Wildlife In The Pantanal

Best Time To Visit The Pantanal

Best Time To Visit The Pantanal
By James Lowen

For wildlife and visitors alike, visiting the Pantanal is all about following the water cycle. Life here follows the dramatic changes as the seasons oscillate between wet and dry.

By far the best time to see wildlife in the Pantanal is the drier season between July and October. The weather is hot, the ground is drier, and the wildlife is more heavily concentrated around shrinking bodies of water, making sightings much more likely.

Best times to see wildlife in the Pantanal

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Brazil CUIABA Pantanal boat

Regardless of the season you'll probably be exploring the Pantanal by boat

When to go to the Pantanal

Seasons and climate

There are essentially two seasons in the Pantanal: wet and dry.

After the rains fall (usually during the southern summer of November to March, but as early as September in recent years), the Pantanal becomes a gargantuan sponge. Water levels rise by several metres and land becomes a precious resource on to which animals cram.

Releasing its reservoir across several months, the Pantanal then gradually desiccates until the situation reverses.

From June to October, it is the patches of water that increasingly become few and far between, attracting both thirsty mammals and throngs of birds and reptiles that gorge themselves on trapped fish.

Best months to visit the Pantanal

From a wildlife-watching perspective, the optimum time to visit is July to October (particularly August and September, when jaguar sightings peak). Assemblages of scale, feather and fur are greatest during this period. As late winter morphs into spring, so birds gear up to breed; this makes them more visible and vocal than at other seasons. As roads are usually dry, land-based transport is straightforward, granting access to a wide range of lodge-based accommodation.

Temperatures are modest, so biting insects are scarce – although nights sometimes feel a little chilly. On the downside, this is peak season (particularly July, when Brazilians take holiday) so prices are high and tourists numerous. If several boats converge on a sleeping jaguar, for example, the congestion can undermine the ‘wilderness’ experience.

If price or the risk of crowding deter you, then there are reasons to visit during the shoulder seasons of April to June and November to December. Your wildlife experience will be nearly as good, but tourists are fewer and prices slightly lower. Travel will probably be harder, however, given that floodwaters render some roads impassable. Rain impacts visits earlier in the northern Pantanal (Mato Grosso state) than the south (Mato Grosso do Sul) – which may influence your preferred destination.

During the off-season (January to March), bargains are available and fellow tourists will be a rare sight. Mammal photography is arguably easier, as creatures are forced on to limited tracts of exposed, water-free land. Landscape (well, waterscape) photography offers rich rewards. However, you may need to be flexible in where to visit in the Pantanal.

Some lodges will be inaccessible or even closed, particularly in Mato Grosso. During the wet season, travel is simplest by boat and (where available) light aeroplane, rather than by road. You should also anticipate that some days may be ‘rained off’ and be prepared for hot, humid conditions with many biting insects.

None of this is an exact science. Nature does not follow the Gregorian calendar. Rains may fall early or late, lightly or heavily. Floodwaters may recede quicker or slower between years.

A storm may interrupt proceedings at any time. But wildlife is present year-round – so you will never want for amazing sights. In the words of one experienced Pantanal tour guide, “ultimately, the best time to come here is whenever is convenient for you”.

Best Time To Visit The Pantanal

James Lowen

James writes about travel and nature. He has twice won Travel Guidebook of the Year awards. His books include Pantanal Wildlife: a Visitor’s Guide to Brazil’s Great Wetland and he is the editor of Neotropical Birding, the only magazine dedicated to wildlife in South and Central America.

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