For wildlife spotters, few places on Earth can rival the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetland. Located at the very heart of South America, the Pantanal spreads across a vast 75,000-square-mile expanse — far larger than the Florida Everglades — mostly in Brazil but with small sections in Bolivia and Paraguay.
Highly influenced by the seasons, this incredibly biodiverse region fills with water during the rainy season and then drains when the rains start to slow. When the waters are up, the floodplains are almost entirely submerged. Aquatic plants thrive and help sustain the ecosystem. When the rains die down, the water drains out through the Paraguay River, leaving behind dry land dotted with numerous pools and marshes.
The dry season between May and October is the best time to go wildlife spotting. Birdwatchers come to the Pantanal to spot more than 1,000 species of birds, including the hyacinth macaw with its vibrant blue plumage, the grey-feathered Chaco eagle, and the burrowing owl.
Hundreds of mammal species also call this region home, and many of them are threatened or endangered. Some elusive residents include marsh deer, maned wolves, tapirs, bush dogs, capybaras, giant anteaters and giant river otters. Many reptile species also live in the wetlands. These include around 10 million yacare caimans, in what is quite possibly the largest crocodile population on Earth. Other reptiles include gold tegus (large lizards) and yellow anacondas.
But few sights are more impressive or more sought after than the jaguar. The Pantanal is home to a thriving jaguar population, but it takes time and a fair amount of luck to see one of these spectacular felines in the wild. The best time to go in search of jaguars is from June to August, when you can venture further into their habitat.
And if you’re an angler, don’t forget your rod. Hunting is illegal in the Pantanal, but sport fishing is permitted from March through to the end of October. With the correct permit you can try to catch a wide range of fish, including piranha, dourado and pacú.
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