Stretching across over 72,500 square miles of Brazil is the Pantanal region. Unlike the Amazon Rainforest, Brazil’s other wildlife hub, the Pantanal hasn’t had much by way of international publicity. In fact, few people have ever even heard of this part of the world, let alone visited it. The Pantanal region is one of the world’s hidden gems, despite being the largest tropical wetlands on the planet.
The fact that the Pantanal has not attained the same level of popularity as the better known Amazon is down to a number of reasons, the main one being that the Pantanal is not as accessible as the Amazon Rainforest. The region is serviced by just two roads: the Transpantaneira and the Estrada do Parque. The Transpantaneira enters the region from the North, in the state of Mato Gross, and the Estrada do Parque runs through the South, which lies in Mato Grosso do Sul.
As you can imagine, with just two roads, the Pantanal is a challenge to access. This challenge is made it even tougher by the fact that the roads are little more than dirt tracks, connected by hundreds of rickety wooden bridges. What’s more, during the rainy season when the area floods, parts of these roads become entirely submerged, rendering patches of the Pantanal inaccessible by land. Of course, there are other ways to get around the region, such as by boat or plane, but these can be costly and time-consuming to organize.
Therefore knowing when to go to the Pantanal in Brazil is perhaps the biggest question to consider before planning a tour in the Pantanal to ensure you can actually get to where you want to go, as well as seeing what you want to see. Although there is no hard and fast rule as to when you should and should not go, the seasons, water levels, and subsequent accessibility are certain factors you should bear in mind when deciding when to head on a Pantanal tour.
Given its location in the Brazilian Plateau Region, temperatures remain reasonably constant throughout the whole year in the Pantanal so you don’t need to consider this too much. The average temperature in the Pantanal is around 80°F (27°C), with October and November the hottest months when temperatures range between 75-91°F (24-33°C), and June and July the coolest months when temperatures range between 65-82°F (18-28°C).
Deciding when to visit the Pantanal – and, more generally, striving to understand this extraordinary place – is more about getting a handle on the fundamental seasonal rhythms that define it. As with other strongly seasonal wetlands around the world – only at a grander scale than most – the annual rise and fall of waters in the Pantanal provides the foundation for its ecological system. Besides establishing the habitat mosaic, it shapes wildlife movement and distribution.
The rainy summer season runs from about November to April, during which the bulk of the basin’s roughly 40 to 55 inches of annual precipitation falls and the great overflow submerges much of the Pantanal, with waters rising up to five meters (sixteen feet) during January and February.
If the purpose of your trip to the Pantanal is to witness or take outstanding photographs of the region’s natural beauty, this would be the time to visit as this is when the plants are at their most lush. December through March is often considered the best time to observe the birds of the Pantanal, especially migratory ones. What’s more, during the wet season, some species of animals may congregate on higher ground to avoid the water, which may render them easy to spot.
However, It should be noted that during the rainy season, many of the Pantanal’s lodges and tours shut down, and transportation might be more difficult during this time, so accommodation and travel may be harder or even impossible to organize in certain parts. Conversely, however, the higher water levels make it an ideal time for Pantanal cruises and boat tours of the region.
The wintertime dry season, May to October, sees the waters contract back to the river channels and permanent lakes. During this drier period, the previously lush vegetation begins to recede and shrivel somewhat, improving sight-lines, and animals tend to cluster around the remaining watering holes, making them far easier to spot. The Pantanal is also at its most accessible during the dry season as the roads are not flooded.
Whilst the months of May and June at the start of the dry season are reasonable times to visit the Pantanal as the rain eases off and the region begins to dry out, most travel experts agree that the best time to visit the Pantanal is between July and October during this season, which coincides with the best time of year to see jaguars in the Pantanal. Indeed, mammals are best observed during the dry season as they come out to forage and hunt for food. The temperature is also pleasant during this time and there are fewer bugs making hikes and horseback riding popular pursuits at this time.
Migratory fish head upstream as the dry season rolls into the wet season to spawn, and later foray out into floodwaters to feed. As fish retreat to permanent waterways and wetlands with dropping water levels, some become trapped in shrinking ponds and pools, drawing in birds and other predators.
Migratory breeding birds in the Pantanal time their arrival to the annual peak of their preferred food sources, with nesting going on year-round depending on the species. However, some of the flashiest birds, such as the mighty jabiru stork, are dry-season visitors, taking advantage of the rich pickings offered by fish sequestered in the diminished pools and mudholes.
Ultimately, when you choose to visit the Pantanal will depend on your own personal circumstances. One thing you should know is that no matter what time of the year you travel to the Pantanal as part of your vacation to Brazil, you will always have an exceptional time.
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