Wildlife Photography in Pantanal, Brazil

October, 2019


We recently returned from Brazil, where we visited the Pantanal region.

Travelling to the Pantanal in Brazil from London means spending lots of hours in the air. The first 11 hour flight was to Rio de Janeiro. Later on  we took two more flights to reach Campo Grande in the south of Pantanal.

Brazil’s Pantanal is the world's largest tropical wetland area covering almost 190 000 km2; in comparison England’s area is 130 000 km2 and our native country Lithuania occupies only 65 000 km2. Extending from the Amazon which is 28 times larger, Pantanal offers one of the largest concentrations of animal life. The Amazon rain forest may get all the attention, but when it comes to wildlife watching adventures, South America's star is the Pantanal. In 2000 Pantanal has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pantanal, which name came from the Portuguese word pântano, meaning swamp, consists of a network of rivers, waterways and swamp lands.

During the rainy season (November – April) 70 - 80 % of Pantanal is underwater. Water levels could rise by 3 meters. It is easy to understand why the first Portuguese explorers mistook the region with an inland sea, naming it the Xaraés Sea.

Pantanal is divided into Northern and Southern regions, known as Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul respectively. During our two weeks visit in Brazil we travelled to South and North of Pantanal as each part has its own distinctive characteristics and offers a different experience.

The South Pantanal is accessible via Campo Grande. It can be reached several times daily by domestic flights from all major cities of Brazil. We flew from San Paulo (1hr 30min flight). Fazenda Barranco Alto on the banks of the Rio Negro was our base. 4x4 transfer journey from Campo Grande to Barranco Alto involved large amount of tough dirt roads (6 hours’ drive) which was an adventure itself and by the way a brilliant way to spot lots of wildlife.

Our five days in Barranco Alto delivered the sense of wonder, adventure and unforgettable encounters that we hoped for. The most memorable and unforgettable was spotting a jaguar.

The female jaguar blessed us with a sighting for an hour while two of us were canoeing down the Rio Negro.

The jaguar was watching capibaras on the other shore of the river. In half an hour or so, she started silently creeping towards the water and started swimming towards capibaras.

Jaguars are quite good swimmers. They even can hold their breath and stay underwater.

Barking capibaras jumped into the water and hid beneath the surface.

Piranha FishingPiranha Fishing It was a truly unforgettable experience not to mention piranha fishing, sunset canoe trip with lots of caiman and bats eyes twinkling in the darkness of the night, solitude walks in the wild, swimming in the Rio Negro's dark and mysterious waters and of course many photographic possibilities of the surrounded wildlife. Thanks a million for everybody at Barranco Alto especially to Claudia, Fernando and Stefan!

From Barranco Alto in the South we flew to Porto Jofre in the North Pantanal with a small six-seat plane. Porto Jofre surrounded by the Three Brothers, Cuiabá and Piquiri Rivers is the best place in the world for spotting Jaguars. On the way to Photograph JaguarsOn the way to Photograph Jaguars
We spent five days in Porto Jofre exploring this area of Pantanal in a motorboat and searching for Jaguars and other wildlife that live there.

Even after short visits, we can truly say that South and North Pantanal are teeming with wildlife.

The bird life in the Pantanal is spectacular. It is an excellent place for bird watchers, wildlife photographers, or in general nature lovers. We were able to see many different bird species. There is a selection only of some of them.

The Jabiru, the symbol of Pantanal, is the tallest flying bird found in South and Central America. Its name means "swollen neck".

The Pantanal is home to endangered Hyacinth Macaws. In the 1980s, around 10 000 birds were taken from the wild for bird trade. While overall greatly reduced in numbers, Hyacinth Macaws remain quite common in the Pantanal where many ranch - owners protect the macaws on their land. 

Close up of a Toco Toucan in flight, Pantanal, Brazil.

It is difficult to miss Giant Toucan with its large, bright orange and yellow beak. Even though that beak looks long and heavy, actually it is very light because it is made of keratin (as our nails). 

Blue-and-yellow macaws like to nest in the cavities within trunks
of dead palm trees. 



Monk Parakeets can be often seen in small, noisy flocks.


It is a delight to spot a Red-Legged Seriema with its visually distinctive crest, red bill and long legs.

Bare-faced curassow is a turkey-sized ground-dwelling bird. It forages alone or in pairs at woodland edge.

Southern Crested Caracaras are spectacular raptors and quite a common sight particularly in open grasslands and along riverbanks. 


Night active Common Potoo is not the easiest to spot. The same can be said about largely nocturnal South American Great Horned Owl. It generally occurs in more open areas and avoids dense humid forests. 









Anhinga or Water Turkey cannot fly with wet feathers. For this reason, it can be often spotted perched on branches or fallen trees with wings and tail spread to dry. 

Cacoi Heron is very similar to Grey Heron and can be easily seen along the water. Snowy Egret stands  in shallow waters and tries to catch fish, insects or amphibians.









If you manage to see Capped Heron, you will probably agree that it is one of the most beautiful herons.

It's lovely to watch Black skimmers flying low above the water and skimming the surface with their massive beak half open.

Black Skimmer on a River BankBlack Skimmer on a River BankClose up of a black skimmer (Rynchops niger) calling, South Pantanal, Brazil. There are 5 species of kingfishers in the Pantanal which surprisingly are not shy at all and very easily approached by a boat or canoe. Green kingfishers are quite often seen perched on branches close to water.

Little Wood Rail is endemic to Brazil. We spotted it on a river bank.

Little Wood RailLittle Wood Rail

The Pantanal is home to a fascinating reptile - Yacare Caiman. Caimans along with the other members of the crocodilian group are still going strong, despite the fact that the dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago.


Caiman Photography, BrazilCaiman Photography, Brazil Photographing Yacare caimans in water was one of the unforgettable and unusual experience. 

The Pantanal has a thriving population of Yacare Caimans. But in 1970 – 1980 they were ruthlessly hunted for skin. 

Yacare Caimans are relatively small-sized crocodilians.

They grow to 2–2.5 metres in total length and around 60 kilograms in weight.

They have an average of 74 teeth. Some of the teeth on the lower jaw can poke through the upper jaw. This feature has been compared to piranhas, which has established the common name "piranha caiman".

Caimans continuously shed and replace their teeth in order to keep them razor sharp. 

Caimans cannot chew so swallow smaller prey whole. They love to snack on the razor-toothed piranhas.

The Pantanal is home to many species of mammals. Here you are guaranteed to see the world’s largest rodent – Capybara which is up to 60 cm tall and 66 kg weight.

Close up of a Capybara in water with a butterfly on the head, South Pantanal, Brazil. Capibara with a Cattle tyrant sitting on a backCapibara with a Cattle tyrant sitting on a back

They are highly social animals and can be found in groups as large as 100 individuals, but usually around 10 – 20 individuals.

Close up of Capybara mother with four pups sitting on a river bank, North Pantanal, Brazil.

Bir ds love to hang around capybaras to get a free meal of bugs and debris from their fur.

Capibaras feed on grass, reeds, grains, melons.

They also eat their own poop to get beneficial bacteria to help their stomach break down the thick fibre in their meals.

It was a delight to spot and photograph endangered South American Tapir who leads a solitary nocturnal life. Tapirs have sharp sense of smell and hearing that are useful in evading predators mainly jaguars. 

Of the 80,000 Pampas Deer that live in the wild, majority of them are found in Brazil. We used to spot them in early mornings and late afternoons in South Pantanal. Pampas Deer is listed as Near Threatened.

We were very delighted to spot ancient – looking Yellow Armadillo known as six-banded armadillo. They usually sleep around 18 hours in their burrows and are not very social creatures. Due to the poor eyesight, they rely on the sense of smell to find food. In Pantanal Armadillos love fruit. It was funny to watch how one Armadillo was stealing Macauba palm fruits from its neighbour’s territory.

After the discovery furious armadillo emerged from its burrow and chased the thief away. 

Among the rarest animals to inhabit the wetland of the Pantanal is the Giant Otter.

Fewer than 5,000 of them remain in the wild. Their population was devastated by poaching and habitat loss. Giant Otters are the largest of any otter in the world growing up to 1.8 m and weighting up to 30 kg. They can eat up to 4 kg of food per day.

Each Giant otter has a different throat pattern which becomes very useful while registering otter sightings and observing their population.

 The Pantanal hosts quite a healthy population of Neotropical Otters. They are more solitary creatures, versatile in their habitat selection, and tolerant to environmental change.

In the Pantanal both otter species can exist with little or no competition.

North PantanalNorth Pantanal The Pantanal is home to around 5000 Jaguars (Panthera onca).
It is one of the best places in the world to see jaguars in the wild, as the cats can often be spotted on riverbanks hunting for prey, taking a drink or resting in the shade. The best time is during dry season (May - October). 

We spent 5 days in Porto Jofre exploring this area of Pantanal in a motorboat. Every day was different, but on average we used to see 2-3 jaguars a day.

Jaguars sleep around 11 hours.

Jaguars are the third largest cats after lions and tigers; average weigh - 100 kg.

Close up of a Jaguar drinking water from the river, Pantanal, Brazil. Jaguars are famous for powerful jaw muscles and a huge bite force.  They can bite straight through the skull of their prey, and pierce the thick skin of a caiman with ease.

Close up of a Jaguar on a river bank, Pantanal, Brazil. The front (incisor) teeth are small and flat which allows Jaguar to scrape the smallest pieces of meat off the bone. The carnassial teeth at the back work like a pair of scissors, cutting meat into smaller pieces. The canine teeth of the jaguar are used for killing prey, biting, holding and tearing food apart.

Jaguars are excellent hunters and often patrol along the riverbanks.

Close up of a Jaguar on a river bank, Pantanal, Brazil. Jaguars very rarely attack humans but there are few known cases.

Two weeks in the Pantanal have passed very quickly but they were very memorable; we can say with confidence that the Pantanal is all about wildlife.

Our trip to Cuiaba airport via famous 147 km long Trans-Pantaneira road finished our wildlife extravaganza in Brazil.




Tips for the trip

  • Bring light, quick drying clothes. We were happy with Columbia Omni freeze range. Cotton is not the best choice for hot climates.
  • Wear long-sleeve shirts and long light trousers.
  • Of course, sun cream is a must. For us a real discovery was Upf 50+ sun sleeves (from Eclipse). They are not only great for sun protection but they cool arms a bit as well.
  • If it rains, it can cool down a bit. Light waterproof clothes are very useful + rain covers for cameras. Early mornings might be a little bit chilly especially in the motor boats at high speeds.
  • We were wearing Upf 50+ protective and cooling buff every day. It was super useful.
  • We brought a mosquito repellent but did not use it. There were not many mosquitos around at the end of September – beginning of October. Horseflies bothered a little bit. Their bite is quite painful. Unfortunately mosquito repellent does not help to keep them away.
  • Wear polarised sunglasses especially if you will be spending a lot of time near water.
  • Food is nice - mainly rice, beans, meat (beef or chicken), cakes and of course very nice coffee. Do not miss refreshing Caipirinha cocktail at the end of a hot day!
  • We photographed jaguars using 70-200mm, 300mm and 500mm lenses depending on the situation as sometimes jaguars can be approached from a very short distance, but in general 300mm with 2x extender and 500mm were used most of the time. Tripod is useful as well.
  • During the day temperature is high - around 35 - 40 C. So for jaguar photography book a boat with a canopy, it's super helpful.
  •  Pantanal is expensive, especially Porto Jofre in the North Pantanal, which is famous for jaguars. Eco tourism helps jaguars to fight extinction as it brings a significant source of additional revenue for landowners, farmers and the local communities. It's more profitable to save jaguar than to kill it. ar The financial benefits of jaguar tourism in South America outweigh the costs to livestock farms 
  • South Pantanal offers more relaxed less touristy wildlife experience. Fazenda Barranco Alto is highly recommended.
  • Yellow fever vaccination is not required for entrance into Brazil but it's strongly recommended. There is no malaria in the Pantanal.
  • Latam cabin baggage allowance for domestic flights is 8 kg. We booked priority boarding and had no problems with our overweight camera bags. 


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