Prior to 2006, you’d be hard-pressed to find jaguars on the riverbanks in Porto Jofre. Jaguar safaris weren’t yet popular because the animals were shy and not yet habituated to motorboats on the Cuiaba River. But after decades of motorboat traffic from local fishermen, the jaguars have slowly become used to the boats on the river. Now it is not uncommon to see 6 or 10 individual jaguar sightings a day.
The cycle of the Pantanal is similar to that of the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Rains in various parts of northern Brazil flood the Pantanal region annually from December through February. After that, the water starts receding until June where you can access the river and see jaguars along the waterways. The best time to see jaguars is from June through October (with the weather being a bit cooler from June - August). Since it was the dry season, we didn’t find the Pantanal to be particularly buggy - in fact, very similar to the Okavango Delta. The season in Brazil is shorter, while in the Okavango Delta you can go year-round. However, there is definitely a high season (May - November).
One of the biggest differences between the Pantanal and the Okavango Delta is in the actual game viewing. In the Delta you are mainly on private concessions, so game viewing is limited to just those in the private concession. Jaguar viewing in the Pantanal is not like that, however. Jaguar viewing in the Pantanal is a bit like seeing a Mara River crossing; getting the best position to view it is what makes the difference. Everyone wants that shot of a jaguar pouncing on a caiman. On our last day we spent half a mile following one jaguar go between the bank and swimming in the water on a hunt. Boats were jockeying for the best position the whole time. Although we got some photos of the jaguar, our time would have been better spent seeking out another jaguar for a sighting all our own. As jaguar safaris become more popular, the tourism industry will need to figure out how to limit the number of boats at a single sighting.
The main thing to see here is jaguars, however they do have a Pantanal Big Five: jaguar, tapir, maned wolf, anteater, and giant river otter. During our six days in the Pantanal, we see three of the five. To see all five in one stay is highly unlikely. However, as more tourists travel to the Pantanal, the mammals will become more habituated to human activity and the chances will increase. The mammals we saw on our trip to the Pantanal included the jaguar, capybara, tapir, coati, crab-eating fox, and agouti.
Birdwatching in the Pantanal compared to the Delta is the one advantage here. Scientists have identified over 600 species of birds.
Guides can make or break a trip - that’s true wherever you go. In the Pantanal, there’s a wide range of abilities in the guides right now, especially on the river. Some are more passionate and knowledgeable than others. Along with the guides, the boat driver makes the biggest difference in the experience on the river. How he positions the boat for the best sighting and photography opportunities of the jaguars. Some were quite timid to move into a good position, while others jumped at the opportunity to get the best position.
As far as accommodations go, it’s hard to make a straight comparison. The Okavango Delta’s lodges are some of the best in the world. The Pantanal is slowly improving their standards, however not all of them have things such as daily laundry service or all-inclusive stays; things like bottled water and alcoholic beverages such as wine and beer are at an additional cost. Each accommodation I stayed in had air conditioning in the rooms, and you really need it there. However not all public spaces were air conditioned, which made them almost unbearable with temperatures over 100-degrees.
Jaguar Safaris in the Pantanal
A jaguar safari in the Pantanal is a unique experience. As its popularity catches on, it will be important to travel there with someone who knows the ins and outs of traveling in this remote corner. For the best experience in the Pantanal, travel with Ker & Downey. Start planning your jaguar safari by contacting us.
Pantanal Luxury Safari
From north to south, Ker & Downey traverses the full breadth of the Pantanal on this 10-day Pantanal luxury safari in search of the region’s resident jaguars. A luxury Brazil safari through the Pantanal reveals a lush, megadiverse biome sheltering the largest concentration of wildlife in the Americas.See the Journey