March, 2016: The Pantanal in south west Brazil is a patchwork of untamed wilderness and massive cattle stations criss-crossed by countless piranha filled rivers. After a night of enthusiastic caipirinha drinking we took our leave of Londrina and kicked off our Pantanal road trip in a spanking white Ford hire car. We headed 10hrs west for this exotic wonderland along a fairly busted highway shared with cattle filled road trains and giant anteater roadkill. We made a quick night’s stop in the scrappy town of Campo Grande before continuing our mission a further 3 hours west towards the Bolivian border. As we drove further west the pastures gave way to jungle clogged swamps and the cattle gave way to capybaras (large rodent type animals) until we turned off the tarmac and onto a dusty red dirt road. One or two wrong turns later, and after numerous ominous clunks of the little hatchback doing battle with the dirt road, we found ourselves at a ‘jungle’ lodge built on stilts above the Miranda River. Part one of our Pantanal road trip was complete.
For the next 3 days we spent most of our time at a little cattle station called Passo do Lantra a further 1.5 hours into the bush. There we spent our time kayaking, piranha fishing, riding horses through waterlogged marshlands and spot-lighting for jaguar and maned wolves. Unsurprisingly we didn’t see any jaguars nor any wolf prints in the dust, but we did see lots of toucans, a couple of hairy armadillos, lots of cayman and a big tarantula. Arguably the thing that will stick with me most about the Pantanal was strolling around the Passo do Lantra cattle station in the evening twilight, cold tinny of beer in hand while all around us the place teemed with life. Birds chattered, macaws crunched palm nuts, caymans basked in the last rays of sun, armadillos scrambled for their burrows and the station’s sheep and cattle shared an early supper of hay. As the afternoon light receded, the sun bleached blue sky gave way to yellows, oranges, pinks, purples and then finally the deep inky black that you can only find in a night sky unimpeded by light pollution. The sun disappeared, a full moon rose and then the stars twinkled. Such a peaceful picture which is now forever imprinted in my mind and will forever remind me of our Pantanal road trip…happily so.
The final stop on a our Pantanal road trip was the town of Bonito which has established itself as the quasi eco-tourism capital of Brazil. Bonito itself didn’t have a lot to offer but without a shadow of a doubt, one of the highlights of our whole trip to date was snorkeling down the crystal clear waters of the Rio da Prata. Certain mineral deposits in the river cause sediment to leach out of the water leaving up to 40 metres of visibility along with shoals of giant freshwater fish which seem completely unfazed by the continuous stream of wetsuit clad tourists. Once again we packed our little Ford hire car and charged out along red dirt roads to the cattle station through which the Rio do Prata runs.
After a hot and sweaty 45min hike through thick jungle we came onto the spring fed source of the river. From outside the water I was certainly impressed by what I saw in front of me but it wasn’t until I got my head under the surface that I was totally blown away. The water was so clear that it just faded off into a distant blue ether, massive fish swam every where and all I could do was giggle like an idiot which is actually quite hard when your mouth is full of snorkel. For the next few hours we just floated down the few kilometres of crystalline river, watching the fish glide by and spinning out about how such a place could exist. It was glorious!
From Bonito it was time to get our hire car back to Londrina. After a slightly shakey kick off where the little beast didn’t want to start we hit the open road stopping only to gape at more giant anteater roadkill which seemed to line the highways like so many dead kangaroos in western Queensland. Our Pantanal road trip was done!
Travel tips from our Pantanal road trip:
- A six day car hire from Londrina out to the Pantanal cost us approximately USD28/day which included basic insurance cover but not fuel. In the end it only worked out marginally more expensive than travelling by bus and cheaper than going with an organised tour plus we had the freedom to do what we wanted. Highly recommended.
- We went to the Pantanal with Pantanal Discovery who were great. The affable Gil was really helpful when we were doing our investigation and also sorted us out with a discount for transporting our Portuguese buddies out to Passo do Lantra station. In total our Pantanal trip cost ~USD350 for 3D/2N which included accommodation in very comfortable, air-conditioned cabins, all meals, guides and activities (doesn’t include car hire).
- We stayed at Camping Nomadas in Bonito which was a random but very friendly little place with loads of art and sculptures surrounding a gravel courtyard (Camping Nomadas, 1170 Rua Afonso Pena, Bonito).
- Rio da Prata is about 30-45 minutes drive out of Bonito along fairly decent dirt roads. Other than underwater cameras and swimmers you don’t really need to bring anything with you as everything is included in the ticket price.