Located in the state of Mato Grosso, the pleasant city of Cuiaba is the air gateway.
Day 1: Arrive by air in Cuiaba and head out of town along the Transpantaneira “highway,” a high dirt levee that for 90 miles becomes a fabulous “on safari” track, elevated above watery channels that attract countless birds and beasts. The wildlife viewing is incredible all along this route, before you even reach your lodging. Among the best inns (at home on fazendas cattle ranches), are theAraras Eco Lodge (jaguars and hyacinth macaws here), the Pousada do Rio Mutum (tops for fishing), and the Jaguar Ecological Reserve (jaguars and macaws here, too.)
Day 2-3: Two days of excursions by car, horseback, canoe and on foot; comfortable accommodations; good meals; good guide; nice people and nature on a grand scale.
Day 4-5: After the Pantanal wetlands, Chapada dos Guimaraes National Park is Mato Grosso’s leading attraction. Beautiful red-rock formations, plateaus and canyons offer excellent hiking and fabulous vistas, great waterfalls and swimming holes, and some excellent birding (including red macaws). The two exceptional sights inside the park are the Veu de Noiva falls and the Cidade Pedra. The lovely Eco Park Lodge makes a good vacation base.
Day 6: Return to Cuiaba for on-bound flights. Or better yet, continue north to Alta Floresta, where the Amazon rainforest begins. Along the waterways in Cristalino Private Natural Heritage Preserve there’s the possibility of spotting one-third of all the bird species in Brazil, as well as rare animals. Among the eco-lodges, Cristalino Jungle Lodge, on the banks of the Rio Cristalino, is blessed with a 150-ft. observation tower and top comforts for guests.
Located in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, the city of Campo Grande is the air gateway. Access to the Pantanal here is a bit more difficult than in the north, due to distances and wide-spread cattle ranching. A private plane is often the best (albeit priciest) way to reach the lodges, and the best time to visit is March to October.
Day 1: Arrive by air to Campo Grande, and settle in for a long drive into the wetlands and to the fazendas scattered around the towns of Miranda and Aquidauana. Top choices include Fazenda Barranco Alto and Pousada Caiman.
Day 2-3: As in the north, a stay in a Pantanal lodge normally involves a number of activities: boat trips to spot birds and caiman, horseback outings, bird spotting on foot or in an open vehicle, and evening excursions to see nocturnal animals.
Day 4: Return to Campo Grande for on-bound flights, or consider adding on a 2-day side trip to beautiful Bonito where high plunging waterfalls, deep canyons, caves and crystal-clear rivers present world-class eco-adventure opportunities: snorkeling, rafting and rappelling.