Naturetrek has a great tradition of pioneering ground-breaking wildlife tours featuring some of the most sought-after mammals on the planet. Now, building on the success of our ‘Brazil — Just Jaguars!’ tour, we are delighted to unveil our latest venture, a quest for South America’s ‘Big Five’. This unique new tour is dedicated to the pursuit of the most iconic mammals in tropical South America, namely Brazilian Tapir, Giant Anteater, Maned Wolf, Giant River Otter and, of course, the Jaguar. Our unique itinerary includes two of Brazil’s most stunning wilderness areas: the dry tropical forests of the little-known Parnaíba Headwaters National Park and the world-renowned wetlands of the Pantanal.
Our tour begins with an international flight to Sao Paulo, from where we take a domestic flight to Barreiras de Bahia (via Salvador). From there a 4-hour drive takes us to the 1.7 million-acre Parnaíba Headwaters National Park. Driving through a landscape of sweeping grasslands, untouched forest and imposing red sandstone cliffs, we arrive at the rustic Wolf Cliffs Camp, on the edge of the national park, our base for the next two nights. The endangered Maned Wolf is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful canids in the world and, standing over 3 feet at the shoulder, it is also the tallest. After years of continued protection by our hosts, several pairs of Maned Wolves have become habituated to humans and now present us with a superb opportunity to view them in their natural habitat as they pass close to the camp in the early mornings and late afternoons in search of wild fruits, birds and rodents. Whilst the Wolves will be the principal target during our time in and around this amazing national park, we will also spend two days at the Wolf Valley Camp, which is regarded as one of the best places in the world to photograph the world’s largest parrot, the Hyacinth Macaw. With time to explore the surrounding valleys, and with a little luck, we also hope to encounter one of the unique troupes of ‘Nutcracker Monkeys’ (Bearded Capuchin Monkeys) and witness their extraordinary habit of using igneous rocks to crack open palm nuts.
After five days exploring this outstanding park and the surrounding areas, we move on to enjoy the second half of the tour which focuses on the world famous wetlands of the Pantanal. Consolidating the experiences of our previous Pantanal holidays, and years of running our highly successful ‘Brazil — Just Jaguars!’ tours, we will spend seven days exploring this biodiversity hotspot. Our first three nights in the Pantanal will be spent in a rustic lodge in an exceptional area for wildlife where we have our best chance of encountering the continent’s largest land mammal, the Brazilian Tapir. Shy and elusive by day, under the cover of darkness Brazilian Tapirs emerge from the depths of the forest to undertake their nightly routine. With luck, we have an excellent chance of encountering a Tapir on a night drive, possibly wallowing in the mud of a roadside pool or feasting on the fruiting trees around the lodge. With a mosaic of habitats to explore, we can expect to see an enormous array of birds and mammals. However, it is the open grasslands that hold most promise, for this is the realm of the Giant Anteater. Measuring up to 250cm from snout to tail, this most iconic of South American mammals conjures up both feelings of awe and amusement in equal measure.
Next, we drive south through the Pantanal in our custom-built safari vehicle and, on reaching the end of the Transpantaneira Road, we take to the water and cruise upriver into the heart of the ‘Jaguar Zone’ where we stay for four nights on the Jaguar Flotel, a floating hotel located near the mouth of the Tres Irmãos River. Though simple in its design, there can be no question that the flotel is in the best location in the world for viewing the Pantanal’s top predators, the Giant River Otter and the magnificent Jaguar. With three full days to explore the seemingly endless network of river channels, our targets are clear, and we will optimise our search times, venturing out first thing in the morning and late in the afternoon in small radio-equipped search boats.
Giant River Otters are fierce predators and highly mobile, frequently hunting in family groups of up to eight individuals. Highly sociable by nature, they are the most vocal of the otter species which makes our task of finding them a little easier. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for South America’s largest cat, the Jaguar. Largely solitary, Jaguars are opportunistic and voracious predators, preying on anything from Caimans to Capybara. Though primarily forest animals, they have a fondness for resting up on river banks, where they seek relief from the heat of the day and scan for potential prey. The Pantanal subspecies is the largest and heaviest of the Jaguars and, with its stunning rosette-marked coat, this supreme predator will be at the top of our wish list.
After four nights on the flotel and, with luck, sightings to last a lifetime, we retrace our steps along the Transpantaneira back to the intimate South Wild Pantanal Lodge where we will stay for one night, prior to our flight home the following day.
I was very impressed by how well the trip was organised to allow us to see so many different animal and bird species at each location. And our guide Fiorella was so, so very good in spotting them! She was also very accommodating if we wanted to stop and take more photos. For me, to see such an array of animals, including the Big Five, and also the incredible amount of birdlife every single day we were there was fantastic. I felt like I was on the set of a documentary about Brazil's wildlife from the moment we pulled into the first Wolf Camp until we left for Cuiaba. All the locations were ideal for wildlife viewing. The accommodations were also very good and appropriate for the specific areas.
Fiorella was the best leader I have ever had. She was very patient, knowledgeable and a lovely person. We had the most amazing experience observing the Maned Wolf in daylight, approaching him in the open countryside.
I believe Naturetrek offer the very best wildlife experiences possible. On this particular trip we were privileged to see Maned Wolf in daylight in the wild which was truly amazing. We also had excellent sightings of a pair of mating Tapir, Ocelot, Giant Anteater and Jaguar chasing a Capybara. This was apart from all the wonderful birds, reptiles and other mammals.
Fiorella Caleni was excellent, one of the best tour leaders I have ever travelled with, a star. I think of this trip as almost three trips rolled into one and it worked superbly, the three centres were used to see the different animals of course, but it almost for me anyway meant that you started a new trip each time you moved location. Fiorella worked so hard to ensure that all of the group got the most out of the trip, I know I certainly did. I enjoyed all the accommodation - a variety of styles worked for me. I would rate this trip very highly, I loved Brazil and would certainly consider returning at some time in the future.
Alyson did a tremendous job. He was good humoured, knowledgeable and coped well with the challenges of the itinerary and a particularly varied group. Alyson's experience was evident when he moved the truck or boat in anticipation of where a tapir or jaguar would emerge or move to. Highlights were a female jaguar with cubs, otters (of course), armadillos, anteaters, ocelot, a distant view of jaguarondi plus the concentration of birds when first entering the Transpantaneira.
Alyson did a very good job as a guide and leader. His sightings and insight were brilliant and he is a really nice guy with a good sense of humour and attitude. I didn't expect to see so many jaguar, that was great as were the sunrise and sunset tours. We saw so many animals, it was a really good trip.
The UK and local guides were both excellent; they ensured that everyone was happy and comfortable and that we had everything we needed and that we were satisfied with all aspects of the trip. They were very knowledgeable and professional whilst being fun and friendly.
We had plenty of time in the heart of the Pantanal (based at the Jaguar flotel) and at the Wolf camps plus at Pouso Alegre lodge.
The Southwild accommodation was excellent in the sense that there was plenty of wildlife to look at.
I enjoyed the time based at the flotel - there was so much wildlife around and the boat trips were fantastic.
Rafael is an excellent guide - he is very knowledgeable, he has a great sense of humour and he worked very hard to make everybody happy.
I really enjoyed the tour - I had very high expectations and I certainly wasn't disappointed as to the amount of wildlife that we saw.
Accommodation and meals were perfect.
The Pantanal is one of the most extraordinary places I have visited. I loved this tour and will certainly travel with Naturetrek again.
Alyson Melo was excellent on all scores: Knowledgeable on the wildlife (not just able to name what we saw) and on Brazil in general. Utterly professional, conscientious and worked his socks off for us all. Also a very pleasant person, with whom it was delightful to chat. Could not have been better.
The whole trip gave excellent opportunities to see a range of wildlife including but also additional to the 'target species'. For us it was the certainty of seeing far more than the 'target species' which made this trip attractive. In fact, we saw all 'target species' except Giant Anteater which was purely bad luck as other groups saw Giant Anteaters on the same days and in the same areas where we looked.
Alyson was amazing with a wealth of knowledge, terrific spotting skills and a talent for understanding everyone's expectations. He worked over and above the call of duty going out of his way to make sure we saw all there was to see.
I think the success of this tour was down to Jose being such a brilliant leader in every area. He knew so much about all of the wildlife and culture of Brazil. Nothing was too much trouble, he did his best to make sure that we saw as much as possible and the wildlife performed very well.
The itinerary delivered everything and more! We were even rounded up from our rooms, when a Jaguar was spotted on the the river at SouthWild Pantanal Lodge. We couldn't have asked for a better ending, to what had already been an amazing adventure.
The trip leader Jose Antonio Padilla Reyes was excellent; enthusiastic, wide knowledge of fauna and flora, especially birds... If he thought a bird he had only caught a glimpse of was still around, he would call it back by playing its own song so we could all have a chance of seeing it, with anything when he did not know the answer, he always took the trouble to find out, nothing was ever too much trouble, sense of humour, pleasant personality, good english, quickly got to know everyone and assessed our knowledge and capabilities. The itinerary, the choice of locations and our target and having Jose with us for the whole trip made it an exceptionally good holiday.
Firstly, I want to say how brilliant Rafael is. His knowledge of mammals, birds, reptiles and plants is excellent, as is his knowledge of the areas we went to. He seems to have great relationships with the owners, managers and staff at the various places, too, which I'm sure gives his guests an advantage. He was also very diplomatic with the group, and I noticed how he made sure he spent time chatting with everyone. Lourival and his family were amazing. Nothing was too much trouble. The food (especially the puddings!) and accommodation were good, but seeing the wolves, macaws, marmosets and so many birds was fantastic. The two camps were lovely to stay in, and the scenery at the 'Cliff' camp was stunning. I loved it there. I'm so glad I upgraded to a suite - it was HUGE and very comfortable. We saw Jaguars! We saw them lurking in the undergrowth, and we saw them strolling along the river bank, seemingly oblivious to the boats following them, and to the onlooking photographers. Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous. And the Giant Otters, playing and fishing, were fascinating. And the hundreds of capybara - the babies are so cute! And all the birds. Our boat-driver, Alan, was superb. Very good at manoeuvring to give us all the best views, and an excellent Jaguar-spotter.
It was wonderful. I think it was so successful due to Jose Antonio. He is the best leader I have had in the 25 years that I have been doing these wildlife trips. He knew so much about everything. He did not just show the birds and mammals but gave detailed information about their behaviour, habitat etc. Nothing was too much trouble and he has excellent people skills as well. He was always making sure that everything was ok and trying to get us to see as much as possible. The food and accommodation at all of the lodges was excellent. The group were all lovely. We all got on well and helped one another when necessary.
We had wonderful sightings of all the 'Big Five' (though Brazilian Tapir were particularly hard to get) and several of the 'Little Five' (Lesser Anteater, Ocelot, Tree Porcupine, Armadillo) and lots of birds too. Our guide, Jose, could not be faulted - he really was terrific and had a great sense of humour, as well as first-class knowledge of the birds and animals we encountered. It really was a great holiday and one to be long remembered. The staff at the Wolf Camps were particularly helpful and Antonia's cooking was great!