By Brazzil Magazine

    Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul are separate states, although until the late ’70s
    this region was all Mato Grosso state. The vast wetlands of the Pantanal extend across
    parts of both states.

    Mato Grosso

    There’s a well-known story about a naturalist in the Mato Grosso. Disoriented by the
    sameness of the forest, the naturalist asked his Indian guide—who had killed a bird,
    put it in a tree and, incredibly, knew where to return for it at the end of the
    day—how he knew where the tree was. ‘It was in the same place’ the Indian replied.

    To begin to appreciate the Mato Grosso’s inaccessibility and vastness, read the classic
    Brazilian Adventure, by Peter Fleming. It also happens to be one of the funniest
    travel books ever written. Fleming tells the story of his quest to find the famous British
    explorer Colonel Fawcett, who disappeared in the Mato Grosso in 1925 while searching for
    the hidden city of gold. For a more scientific report on the region, see Mato Grosso:
    Last Virgin Land, by Anthony Smith.

    Mato Grosso means bundu, bush, Savannah, outback; an undeveloped thick scrub. Part of
    the highland plain that runs through Brazil’s interior, the Mato Grosso is a dusty land of
    rolling hills and some of the best fishing rivers in the world, such as the Araguaia.

    This is also the land where many of Brazil’s remaining Indians live. They are being
    threatened by rapid agricultural development (which is bringing in poor peasants from the
    south and Northeast who are desperate for land) and by a government, which is less than
    fully committed to guaranteeing them their rights. In 1967, an entire government agency,
    the Indian Protective Service, was dissolved. No less than 134 of its 700 employees were
    charged with crimes and 200 were fired. In two years, the director had committed 42
    separate crimes against Indians, including collusion in murder, torture and the illegal
    sale of land.

    There’s a saying in Brazil that ‘progress is roads’. Key routes such as the Belém to
    Brasília and the Cuiabá to Santarém roads have catalyzed the opening of vast stretches
    of the Mato Grosso to cattle, rice, cotton, soybean, corn and manioc, as well as to
    mining. Goiás, where wealthy ranchers fly from one end of their huge tracts of land to
    the other in private planes, is one of the fastest-growing agricultural belts in the

    Cuiabá is a frontier boomtown. New roads have opened the lands of the Mato Grosso and
    southern Amazon, bringing to the area peasants desperate for land, and increasing exports
    of agricultural products. Since the 1950s, Cuiabá’s population has been growing at 14%
    annually, a national record. It is the boomtown in the country of boomtowns. In
    1969 Cuiabá got its first TV channel, the litmus test of progress in Brazil. It was named
    the boca do sertão (mouth of the backlands).

    This is Brazil’s frontier, the Wild West, where an often-desperate struggle for land
    between peasants, Indians, miners, rich landowners and hired guns leads to frequent
    killings and illegal land expropriation.


    Founded in 1719 by gold and slave-seeking bandeirantes, Cuiabá has little
    historic or cultural heritage to interest travelers. However, it’s a lively place and a
    good base for excursions into the Pantanal and Chapada dos Guimarães, as well as a rest
    stop on the way to the Amazon and expeditions to Parque Nacional das Emas and the Rio

    The city is actually two sister cities separated by the Rio Cuiabá: old Cuiabá and
    Várzea Grande (where the airport is located, by the Rio Cuiabá). We found the people
    here incredibly friendly and gracious.


    A Paulista, Pascoal Moreira Cabral, was hunting Indians along the Rio Cuiabá
    when he found gold in 1719. A gold rush followed, but many gold-seekers never reached
    Cuiabá. Traveling over 3000 km from São Paulo by river took five months; along the way
    there was little food, many mosquitoes, rapids, portages, disease and incredible heat.

    There was usually one flotilla of canoes each year, bringing supplies, slaves and
    miners and returning with gold. Although there were several hundred people in a flotilla,
    including many soldiers to protect the canoes against Indian attacks, the expeditions
    often failed. With the end of the gold boom and the decay of the mines, Cuiabá would have
    disappeared, except that the gold was never completely exhausted (garimpeiros still
    seek their fortunes today); also, the soil along the Rio Cuiabá allowed subsistence
    agriculture, while the river itself provided fish.

    As in many mining towns, there was tension here between Paulistas and recent
    Portuguese immigrants. In 1834, the small town was torn apart by the Rusga (Brawl), in
    which a nativist movement of Paulistas, inspired by wild rumors following Brazilian
    independence, slaughtered many Portuguese on the pretext that the victims wanted to return
    Brazil to Portuguese rule.

    Tourist Office

    Funcetur (322-5363), the Mato Grosso tourist authority, is in the city center, in
    Praça da República. The staff are helpful, speak English, and have information on hotels
    and pousadas in the Pantanal. The office is open Monday to Friday from 8 am to 6


    Bemat, the state bank, has an exchange on the corner of Rua Joaquim Murtinho and
    Avenida Getúlio Vargas, which changes cash and travelers’ checks; it’s open from 10 am to
    3 pm Monday to Friday. The Banco do Brasil, a bit further up Avenida Getúlio Vargas, also
    exchanges money.

    Post & Telephone

    The post office is in Praça da República, next to Turimat. The posto telefônico is
    on Rua Barão de Melgaço, near the corner with Avenida Isaac Póvoas.


    Remember to start taking your anti-malarial tablets prior to visiting the Pantanal.
    Cuiabá’s municipal hospital (321-7418) is on Avenida General Valle. Hospital Modelo
    (322-5599), a private clinic at Rua Comandante Costa 1262, is within walking distance of
    the Hotel Mato Grosso. Hospital Universidade (Jaime Müller), on Avenida CPA, is open only
    during business hours.

    Museu do Índio

    Cuiabá’s tourist brochures make much noise about satellite-tracking antennas, but the
    antennas are no big deal. The Museu do Índio (Rondon) is, however, played down. The
    museum has exhibits of the Xavantes, Bororos and Karajás tribes and is worth a visit. It
    is at the university, on Avenida Fernando Correia da Costa, and is open Monday to Friday
    from 8 to 11.30 am and 1.30 to 5.30 pm. The university also contains a small zoo. To get
    there, catch a No 133 bus, or any other ‘Universidade’ bus, on Avenida Tenente Coronel


    The market by the bridge that crosses the Rio Cuiabá is a good one, at least before
    and after the heat of the day. It’s interesting not so much for buying as for looking at
    the people and their products. Try the waterfront bars for a drink afterwards.

    Santo Antônio de Leverger

    Santo Antônio de Leverger, Mato Grosso’s cidade morena, is where Cuiabanos
    go for river-beaching from June to October. It’s on the Rio Cuiabá, 28 km south of
    Cuiabá in the direction of Barão de Melgaço.

    Organized Tours

    Travel agencies in town arrange reservations, guides and transport for photo-safaris
    into the Pantanal or weekend trips to Chapada dos Guimarães, and can help with the
    logistics of more ambitious trips to the Parque Nacional das Emas. Ametur (624-1000), Rua
    Joaquim Murtinho 242, close to Turimat, has been recommended. The tours are expensive
    (around $75 a day), but well organized.

    An alternative and relatively cheap excursion is with Joel Souza, a very enthusiastic
    guide who speaks fluent English, German and Italian. His office (624-1386) is at Avenida
    Getúlio Vargas 155A, but he often meets incoming flights. Joel’s two-day trips into the
    Pantanal cost around $120, including food, accommodation, transport and the boat
    ride—you won’t find anything cheaper than this in Cuiabá or Poconé.


    The Festa de São Benedito takes place during the first week of July, at the
    Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário and the Capela de São Benedito. The holiday has a more
    Umbanda than Catholic flavor; it’s celebrated with traditional foods such as bola de
    queijo and bola de arroz, and regional dances such as O Cururu, O Siriri,
    Danças do Congo and dos Mascarados.

    For Places to Stay see the book

    Places to Eat

    Cuiabá offers some great fish dishes, including pacu assado com farofa de couve,
    piraputanga assado and pirão de Bagre—try one at the floating restaurant Flutuante,
    next to Ponte Nova bridge. Six km from the center, it’s complicated to reach by public
    bus. From the waterfront market, though, it’s a 20minute walk. The restaurant is open
    daily from 11 am to 11 pm.

    On Rua 13 de Junho, next to the Casa do Artesão, O Regionalíssimo serves
    excellent regional food. The cost is $4 for buffet-style meals—lots of fish and the
    sweetest of sweets. It’s open daily for lunch and dinner (closed on Mondays).

    In the center, a cheap, wholesome lunch spot with comida por kilo is Casa
    Branca, at Rua Comandante Costa 565. Vegetarians can lunch at Naturama, on Rua
    Comandante Costa, near the Hotel Mato Grosso. In the evening, Choppão, on
    Praça 8 de Abril, is always packed with locals, who come to drink the excellent chopp
    and to dine from the varied menu. Likewise, Tucanos Restaurante e Chopperia, Avenida
    CPA 674, has a good pizza and gets pretty lively, even during the week.


    When the sun sets and temperatures drop a bit, the city comes to life. A great place to
    go, especially if you spend only one night in Cuiabá, is Ninho’s Bar, at Rua Laranjeiras
    701. It has a spectacular view of the city, good chopp, and live music almost every
    night. There’s a popular disco, Operalight, a stone’s throw away, if you want a change of

    Things to Buy

    The Casa do Artesão, on Rua 13 de Junho, has lots of local handicrafts, including
    ceramics, woodcarvings, straw baskets, paintings and hammocks. The FUNAI Artíndia store,
    at Rua Barão de Melgaço 3944, is open from 8 to 11.30 am and 1.30 to 6 pm on weekdays.
    It has Indian baskets, bows and arrows, jewelry and headdresses for sale. Guaraná Maués,
    at Avenida Isaac Póvoas 611, has lots of guaraná products.

    For Getting There & Away Read the Book


    After the Pantanal, Chapada dos Guimarães is the region’s leading attraction. This
    rocky plateau is 800 meters higher than and 64 km northeast of Cuiabá, in a beautiful
    region reminiscent of the American southwest. Surprisingly different from the typical Mato
    Grosso terrain, this place is not to be missed. We spent two days here but would have
    loved to spend a week.

    Véu de Noiva & the Mirante Lookout

    The two exceptional sights in the Chapadas are the 60-meter Véu de Noiva (Bridal Veil)
    falls, and the Mirante lookout, the geographic center of South America. Both are quite
    easy to find. Six km beyond Salgadeira, you’ll see the turnoff for Véu de Noiva, on your
    right. It’s well signposted.

    Alta Mira is eight km from the town of Chapada. Take the last road in Chapada on your
    right and go eight km; you’ll see a dirt road with a sign saying ‘Centro Geodésico’. Turn
    right and drive the couple of hundred meters to the rim of the canyon. The view is
    stupendous; off to your right you can see the Cuiabá skyline.

    Start walking downhill over the bluff, slightly to your right. A small trail leads to a
    magical lookout, perched on top of rocks with the canyon below. This is Chapada’s most
    dazzling place.

    On your way back to town, stop off at Alambique Jamacá, a small distillery which
    produces some fine local cachaça. There’s a sign, so you can’t miss it. They
    produce one with a special root that is renowned as an aphrodisiac. José, who makes it,
    is living proof of its efficacy—he and his wife have seven kids.

    Other Attractions

    Driving to Chapada, you pass Rio dos Peixes, Rio Mutaca and Rio Claro, which
    are all popular weekend bathing spots for Cuiabanos. The sheer, 80-meter drop
    called Portão do Inferno (Hell’s Gate) is also unforgettable.

    Take a waterfall shower at Cachoeirinha and peek into the chapel of Nossa
    Senhora de Santana,
    a strange mixture of Portuguese and French baroque. A hike to the
    top of Chapada’s highest point, Morro de São Jerônimo, is well worthwhile.

    A bit further out of town is the 1100-meter-long Aroe Jari cavern and, in
    another cave, the Lagoa Azul (Blue Lake).

    Organized Tours

    If you don’t have a car, your best bet is to take an excursion with Jorge Mattos, who
    runs Ecoturismo (791-1393), on Praça Dom Wunibaldo in the town of Chapada. Jorge, an
    excellent, English-speaking guide who really knows his way around Chapada, meets the 8 am
    bus from Cuiabá every day, when it arrives at 9.30 am. He runs three excursions: to the
    national park (which contains the most spectacular waterfalls), to the Blue Lake and the
    Aroe Jari cavern, and to the stone city. To the park and the stone city, it costs around
    $15; to the lake and cavern it’s $30—much cheaper than if you organized something
    similar in Cuiabá).

    Unfortunately, if Jorge doesn’t find at least five people, the price goes up. All tours
    take between four and six hours, depending on the enthusiasm of the group. If you want to
    spend just a day there, he can have you on the last bus back to Cuiabá (at 6 pm).

    An alternative is to hire a car and explore the area on your own, stopping at different
    rock formations, waterfalls and bathing pools at your leisure. If you do have the use of a
    car, drop by the Secretaria de Turismo (on the left-hand side as you drive into town, just
    before the square), open from 8 to 11 am and 1 to 4 pm on weekdays. A useful map is
    available—you’ll need it!

    Places to Stay

    There is good camping at Salgadeira, just before the climb into Chapada, but if you
    want to rough it, you can basically camp anywhere.

    Lodging in the area ranges from the very basic but friendly Hotel São José (791-1152),
    at Rua Vereador José de Souza 50, which charges $3 per person, to the Hotel Pousada da
    Chapada (791-1171), a couple of km from town on the road to Cuiabá, charging $50 a
    double (book at Selva Turismo in Cuiabá).

    In between are a couple of good alternatives. The very popular Turismo Hotel (791-1176;
    fax 7911383) is at Rua Fernando Correa Costa 1065, and is run by a German family.
    Single/double apartamentos here cost $18/25. The Hotel Quincó (791-1404),
    at Praça Dom Wunibaldo 464 (next to Ecoturismo), has singles/doubles for $9.50/19.

    All of these places, with the exception of the Pousada da Chapada, are close to the rodoviária.

    Places to Eat

    On the main praça, the Nivios has excellent regional food—all you
    can eat for $8. Also popular is O Mestrinho, at Rua Quincó Caldas 119. The Turismo
    Hotel has a restaurant.

    Getting There & Away

    Buses leave Cuiabá’s rodoviária for Chapada dos Guimarães every 1½ hours
    from 8 am to 6 pm. In the other direction, the first bus leaves Chapada dos Guimarães at
    6 am and the last at 6 pm. The cost is $3.50.


    The city of Cáceres, founded in 1778 on the left bank of the Rio Paraguai, is an
    access point for a number of Pantanal lodges and for San Mathias (in Bolivia). Cáceres is
    215 km from Cuiabá on BR070, close to the Ilha de Taiamã ecological reserve.

    Lots of travelers arrive with the misunderstanding that they’ll be able to get a cement
    barge to Corumbá. You’d have to be very lucky, and unless you have unlimited time to hang
    around, forget it. Even the port captain has no idea when the boats are likely to arrive.

    If you’re going to Bolivia, get a Brazilian exit stamp from the Polícia Federal office
    at Rua Antônio João 160.

    Places to Stay

    Cáceres has a number of modest hotels and restaurants for visitors. The best cheapie
    near the bus station is the Capri Hotel (223-1771), at Rua Antônio Vargas 99. It
    has spacious, clean, air-conditioned rooms and friendly staff. Singles/doubles cost
    $11/16. The Hotel Avenida (221-1553) is just around the corner, in Avenida 7 de
    Setembro. It charges $5 a head for basic quartos. Closer to the river, the Rio Hotel (221-1387),
    on Praça Major João Carlos, is a good option. Its apartamentos with fans cost
    $12/18 a single/double. You could also try the Hotel Comodoro (221-1525), on Praça
    Duque de Caxias, with apartamentos for $16/25 a single/double.

    The Hotel Barranquinho (221-2641, ext 3, or 011-285-3022 in São Paulo), at the
    confluence of the Jauru and Paraguai rivers and 18 km from the Pirapitanga waterfalls, is
    72 km and 2½ hours from Cáceres by boat. Frontier Fishing Safari (011-227-0920 in
    São Paulo) is 115 km by boat from Cáceres.

    Places to Eat

    A good fish restaurant, the Corimba is near the river, at the corner of Rua 6 de
    Outubro and Rua 15 de Novembro. The Pilão, in Praça Barão do Rio Branco, is a
    decent churrascaria.

    Getting There & Away

    Regular buses make the journey between Cuiabá and Cáceres ($11, three hours). To San
    Matías (in Bolivia), there is a daily bus, at 4 pm ($10, 4½ hours).


    Along with Cáceres and Poconé, Barão de Melgaço, 35 km southeast of Cuiabá, is a
    northern entrance into the Pantanal. Nearby, there are ruined fortresses from the
    Paraguayan wars, and Sia Mariana and Chacororé, two huge bays full of fish.

    Places to Stay

    The Nossa Senhora do Carmo Hotel (713-1141), at Avenida A Leverger 33, is 600
    meters from the bus station. Double apartamentos are $20. The top-end place is the Barão
    Tur Hotel (713-1166, or 322-1568 in Cuiabá), which charges $70 a double.

    Getting There & Away

    There are two buses a day that make the three-hour, $11 trip from Cuiabá, leaving at
    7.30 am and 3 pm.


    The northern entry point to the Pantanal from Cuiabá, Poconé marks the beginning of
    the Transpantaneira ‘highway’. In May, the pink city of Poconé celebrates the weeklong
    Semana do Fazendeiro e do Cavalo Panteiro with a cattle fair and rodeos. Most of the
    locals are descendants of Indians and blacks. Many have hunted the onça (jaguar)
    and have amazing stories to tell. They also wear some excellent straw hats!


    When you arrive at the rodoviária, you are two km from the start of the dirt
    road, which becomes the Transpantaneira; the center of town is about halfway. To get
    there, turn left as you leave the bus station, walk the couple of blocks down to Rua
    Antônio João, then turn right and walk up six blocks—you’ll be in the town square
    (more like a rectangle). The Hotel Skala is 100 meters to your right. On your left, behind
    the church, is the road that leads to the beginning of the Transpantaneira. There are a
    few pousadas here.

    Places to Stay & Eat

    The Dormitório Poconé, on Avenida Anibal de Toledo, near the rodoviária,
    has basic, rundown rooms with fan for $6. The nearby Bar e Restaurante 4 Rodas is
    better; good, cheap rooms with fan cost $8, including breakfast. They also serve over a
    dozen cheap, hearty dishes—all you can eat. In the middle of town is the Skala (721-1407),
    Rua Mal Rondon 64. Rooms with fan start at $15/22. There are some rooms with bath, for the
    same prices.

    The best places to stay, especially if you intend to hitch on the Transpantaneira, are
    out of town, near the beginning of that road. The first one you’ll pass is the Pousada
    Centro-Oeste (721-1220), on the right-hand side, which charges $15 a double (though
    they will bargain). The rooms with fan are a bit on the dingy side, but it’s a friendly
    place, and serves a decent prato feito. Just up the road, on the same side, is the Hotel
    Santa Cruz (721-1439), where apartamentos cost $25 a double. A further 400
    meters up, on the left-hand side, the Hotel Restaurante Aurora do Pantanal (721-1339)
    has spacious apartamentos with fan for $ 15125 a single/double. They also serve prato

    Getting There & Away

    There are six buses a day from Cuiabá to Poconé, from 6 am to 7 pm, and six in the
    opposite direction, from 6 am to 7.30 pm. The 100km, two-hour ride costs $5. The bus is
    often packed, so get a seat early if you want to appreciate the vegetation typical of the
    Pantanal’s outskirts: pequis, piúvas, babaçus, ipês and buritis. The bus
    passes the airport at Várzea Grande.


    The Amazon may have all the fame and glory, but the Pantanal is a far better place to
    see wildlife. In the Amazon, the animals hide in the dense foliage, but in the open spaces
    of the Pantanal, wildlife is visible to the most casual observer. It’s not easy to get to,
    and almost impossible to do on the cheap, but if you like to see animals in their natural
    state, the Pantanal—with the greatest concentration of fauna in the New
    World—should not be missed.

    A vast wetlands in the center of South America, the Pantanal is about half the size of
    France—some 230,000 sq km. Something less than 100,000 sq km of this is in Bolivia
    and Paraguay; the rest is in Brazil, split between the states of Mato Grosso and Mato
    Grosso do Sul.

    The Pantanal (Terra de Ninguém, or Nobody’s Land) has few people and no towns.
    Distances are so great and ground transport so poor that people get around in small
    airplanes or motorboats; 4WD travel is restricted by the seasons. The only road that
    plunges deep into the Pantanal is the Transpantaneira. This raised dirt road sectioned by
    89 small, wooden bridges ends 145 km from Poconé, at Porto Jofre. Only a third of the
    intended route from Poconé to Corumbá has been completed, because of lack of funds and
    ecological concerns.

    The road and a strip of land on either side of it comprise the Transpantanal national
    park. Although IBAMA is trying to expand its jurisdiction to protect the entire Pantanal
    region, it administers only one other park in the Mato Grosso portion of the Pantanal: the
    Parque Nacional do Pantanal Matogrossense, which encompasses the old Cará-Cará
    biological reserve. The rest of the Pantanal (around 90%) is privately owned.

    Geography & Climate

    Although pântano means ‘swamp’ in both Spanish and Portuguese, the Pantanal is
    not a swamp but, rather, a vast alluvial plain. In geological terms, it is a sedimentary
    basin of quaternary origin, the drying remains of an ancient inland sea called the
    Xaraés, which began to dry out, along with the Amazon Sea, 65 million years ago.

    First sea, then immense lake and now a periodically flooded plain, the
    Pantanal—2000 km from the Atlantic Ocean yet just 100 to 200 meters above sea
    level—is bounded by higher lands: the mountains of the Serra de Maracaju to the east,
    the Serra da Bodoquena to the south, the Paraguayan and Bolivian Chaco to the west and the
    Serra dos Parecis and Serra do Roncador to the north. From these highlands, the rains flow
    into the Pantanal, forming the Rio Paraguai and its tributaries (which flow south and then
    east, draining into the Atlantic Ocean between Argentina and Uruguay).

    During the rainy season (October to March), the rivers flood their banks, inundating
    much of the low-lying Pantanal and creating cordilheiras (patches of dry land where
    the animals cluster together). The waters reach their high mark—up to three
    meters—in January or February, then start to recede in March. This seasonal flooding
    has made systematic farming impossible and has severely limited human incursions into the
    area. However, it does provide an enormously rich feeding ground for wildlife.

    The floodwaters replenish the soil’s nutrients, which would otherwise be very poor, due
    to the excessive drainage. The waters teem with fish, and the ponds provide excellent
    ecological niches for many animals and plants. Enormous flocks of wading birds gather in
    rookeries several sq km in area.

    Later in the dry season, the water recedes, the lagoons and marshes dry out, and fresh
    grasses emerge on the Savannah (the Pantanal’s vegetation includes Savannah, forest and
    meadows, which blend together, often with no clear divisions). The hawks and jacarés
    compete for fish in the remaining ponds. As the ponds shrink and dry up, the jacarés
    crawl around for water, sweating it out until the rains return.

    When to Go

    If possible, go during the dry season (from April to September/October). The best time
    to go birding is during the latter part of the dry season (July to September), when the
    birds are at their rookeries in great numbers, the waters have receded and the
    bright-green grasses pop up from the muck. Temperatures are comfortable in the dry
    season—hot by day and cool by night—with plenty of rain.

    Flooding, incessant rains and heat make travel difficult during the rainy season
    (November to March), though not without some special rewards: this is when the cattle and
    exotic wildlife of the Pantanal clump together on the small islands. The heat peaks in
    November and December, when temperatures over 40°C are common, roads turn to breakfast
    cereal, and the mosquitoes are fierce and out in force. Many hotels close at this time.

    The heaviest rains fall in February and March. Every decade or so, the flooding is
    disastrous, destroying both humans and animals. In 1988, the southern Pantanal was
    devastated: fazendas were destroyed, cattle and wild animals drowned and starved,
    and the city of Corumbá was submerged for weeks.

    Fishing is best during the first part of the dry season (April-May), when the flooded
    rivers settle back into their channels, but locals have been known to lasso 80kg fish
    throughout the dry season and well into December. This is some of the best fishing in the
    world. There are about 20 species of piranha, many vegetarian and all good eating, as well
    as the tasty dourado, a feisty 10 to 20pounder. Other excellent catches include pacu,
    surubim, bagre, giripoca, piraputanga, piapara, cachara,
    pirancajuva and pintado, to name but a few.

    Although hunting is not allowed, fishing—with the required permits—is
    encouraged. Fishing permits are available from the IBAMA offices in Cuiabá (644-1511) and
    Campo Grande (382-1802). Enthusiasts can study their quarry at Cuiabá’s fish market,
    located in the market near the bridge.

    What to Bring

    You can’t buy anything in the Pantanal, so come prepared. The dry season is also the
    cooler season. Bring attire suitable for hot (but not brutal) days, cool nights, rain and
    mosquitoes. You’ll need sunscreen, sunglasses a hat and cool clothes, sneakers or boots,
    light raingear, and something for the cool evenings. Mosquito relief means long pants and
    long-sleeved shirts, vitamin B12 and insect repellent. Autan is the Brazilian brand
    recommended by eight out of 10 Pantaneiros, but some travelers claim that the
    mosquitoes have become so used to it that they’ve even started to like it!

    Binoculars are your best friend in the Pantanal. Bring an alarm clock (to get up before
    sunrise) and a strong flashlight (to go hunting for owls and anacondas after dark). Don’t
    forget plenty of film, a camera, a tripod and a long lens (300 mm is about right for


    If you want to enhance your Pantanal experience and money isn’t a problem, a good guide
    can identify animal and bird species, explain the diverse Pantanal ecology, and take care
    of any hassles along the way. But you don’t need a guide—there’s only one road to
    follow and the wildlife is hard to miss.

    If language or time is a problem and money isn’t, write to Douglas Trent of Focus Tours
    (612-892-7830), 14821 Hillside Lane, Burnsville, MN 55306, USA; in Brazil, contact Focus
    (031-373-3734), Belo Horizonte, MG. Focus specializes in nature tours and Doug is active
    in trying to preserve the Pantanal. He has all the birdcalls on tape, and plays them over
    a loudspeaker to attract the real thing.

    Places to Stay

    Pantanal accommodation is divided into four general categories: fazendas, pousadas,
    pesqueiros and botels. Fazendas are ranch-style hotels which usually
    have horses and often boats for hire. Pousadas range from simple accommodation to
    top-end standard. Pesqueiros are hangouts for fisherfolk, and boats and fishing
    gear can usually be rented from them. A botel (a contraction of boat and hotel) is
    a floating lodge.

    Reservations are needed for all accommodation, especially in July, when lots of
    Brazilian tourists holiday here.

    Unfortunately, nearly all accommodation is expensive. Rates usually include transport
    by plane, boat or 4WD from Corumbá or Cuiabá, good food and modest lodging. More often
    than not, reservations are handled by a travel agent and must be paid for in advance. It’s
    also a good idea to call ahead for weather conditions—the rainy and dry seasons are
    never exact, and proper conditions can make or break a trip.

    For much more on Places to Stay read the book

    For Getting There & Away, Getting Around, and Car Rental also see the book

    Driving down the Transpantaneira

    It is, of course, impossible to know everything about travel in the Pantanal, but based
    on several trips and conversations with literally dozens of Pantanal experts, we think the
    best way to visit the Pantanal if you’re in it for the wildlife and your budget is
    limited, is driving down the Transpantaneira, preferably all the way to Porto Jofre.

    Why the Transpantaneira? First, it’s the best place to see wildlife—especially in
    the meadows near the end of the road, at Porto Jofre. Second, renting a car in Cuiabá and
    driving down the Transpantaneira is less expensive than most Pantanal excursions, which
    require flying, boating, or hiring a guide with a 4WD. And third, if you’re on a very
    tight budget, you can take a bus to Poconé and hitch from there (it’s pretty easy), if
    necessary returning to Poconé for cheap accommodation.

    The Transpantaneira is the best place we’ve seen in South America for observing
    wildlife, which is drawn to the roadway at all times of the year. During the wet season,
    this roadway is an island and during the dry season the ditches on either side of the road
    serve as artificial ponds, drawing birds and game towards the tourist.

    Thousands of birds appear to rush out from all sides, ocelots and capybara seem frozen
    by the headlights, and roadside pools are filled with hundreds of dark silhouettes and
    gleaming, red, jacaré eyes. It’s very easy to approach the wildlife: you can walk
    within spitting range of the jacaré, and if you’re crazy enough to go cheek to
    cheek with one, you can spot the fleas which live off the lachrymal fluid of their

    If you are driving from Cuiabá, get going early. Leave at 4 am to reach the
    Transpantaneira by sunrise, when the animals come to life, and have a full day’s light in
    which to drive to Porto Jofre.

    The approach road to the Transpantaneira begins in Poconé (two hours from Cuiabá), by
    the Texaco station. Follow the road in the direction of the Hotel Aurora. The official
    Transpantaneira Highway Park starts 17 km south of Poconé. There’s a sign and a guard
    station (where you pay a small entry fee) at the entrance, but we’ve seen herds of ema,
    many birds end jacaré well before the park entrance. Thirty km down the road, stop
    off at Bar Figueira and meet Zico, the ‘pet’ jacaré.

    Stopping to see wildlife and slowing down for 118 rickety little wooden bridges, it’s
    easy to pass the whole day driving the Transpantaneira—arriving at the expensive
    Hotel Santa Rosa in time for dinner, soon after sunset. Weekdays are best if you’re
    driving, as there’s less traffic kicking up dust.

    Hitching down the Transpantaneira is easy enough—it’s hitching back that’s
    difficult. There aren’t a lot of cars or trucks, but many stop to give rides. The best
    time to hitch is on weekends, when the locals drive down the Transpantaneira for a day’s
    fishing. Make sure you get on the road early. We’ve done the entire route from Porto Jofre
    to Poconé several times with all sorts of folk: a rancher and his family, two American
    birders, an IBAMA park ranger, a photo-safari guide, some Italian tourists, an ex-poacher
    and a photojournalist doing an article on jacaré poaching.

    Wildlife is abundant along the length of the Transpantaneira, but reaches a climax in
    the meadows about 10 to 20 km before Porto Jofre. The flora here is less arid, less
    scrubby. The birds, jacaré and families of capybara scurry into the ponds along
    the road. On our last trip, we saw several toucans, flocks of luminescent-green parrots
    and six blue hyacinth macaws in the big trees that divide the great meadows. There are
    enormous flocks of birds and individual representatives of seemingly every species.


    The Indians of Mato Grosso

    To reach Cuiabá, the Portuguese had to cross the lands of several groups of Indians,
    many of whom were formidable warriors. They included the Caiapó (who even attacked the
    settlement at Goiás), the Bororo of the Pantanal, the Parecis (who were enslaved to mine
    the gold), the Paiaguá (who defeated several large Portuguese flotillas and caused
    periodic panic in Cuiabá itself) and the Guaicuru (skilled riders and warriors with many
    years’ experience in fighting the Europeans).

    As a result of being nomadic people in a region without abundant food, the Guaicuru
    women performed self-abortions, refusing to have children until they were near menopause.
    On longer journeys, when the women stayed behind, the Guaicuru men took male transvestites
    with them as sexual partners. Both women and men could divorce easily, and often did,
    several times a year.

    Despite important victories, many Indians had been killed or enslaved by the time the
    gold boom began to fade, in the mid1700s. Today, however, several tribes remain in
    northern Mato Grosso, living as they have for centuries. The Erikbatsa, noted for their
    fine featherwork, live near Fontanilles and Juima, the Nhambikuraa are near Padroal and
    the Cayabi live near Juara. There are also the Indians of Aripuana park and, of course,
    the tribes under the care of FUNAI at Xingu park The only tribe left in the Pantanal to
    still subsist by hunting and fishing is the Bororo.

    You probably won’t be able to overcome FUNAI’s obstacles to visiting the Indians, but
    if you want to visit FUNAI, the office (321-2325) is at Rua São Joaquim 1047. The
    condition of the building speaks volumes about the government’s lack of concern about
    Indian affairs.

    Excerpts from Brazil – A Travel Survival Kit, 3rd edition, by
    Andrew Draffen, Chris McAsey, Leonardo Pinheiro,  and Robyn Jones. For more
    information call Lonely Planet: (800) 275-8555. Copyright 1996 Lonely Planet Publications.
    Used by permission.

    Buy it at

    Lonely Planet
    Brazil – A Travel Survival Kit

    by Andrew Draffen, Chris McAsey,
    Leonardo Pinheiro, Robyn Jones,
    704 pp.

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