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The Pantanal is a fantastic wonderland of waterways and canals. The majority of the system lies in Brazil but spills over into Paraguay and Bolivia. The freshwater floodplains extend to almost 70,000 miles. The summer rainy season is from November to March. During this time torrential rain floods the giant basin. Swamps, lakes and marshes form. Higher ground forms dry islands.

Dry winter season is from April to September. As a result of the sediments dumped by the floods, the soil is very fertile.  Thousands of flowers bloom; reeds, rushes and grasses thrive. Pools left by receding water are full of snails and fish. These attract scores of storks, egrets and spoonbills. A large number of North American migratory birds overwinter here.

The delicate ecosystem plays a vital role in stabilising the climate of the world. As with all wilderness areas, the Pantanal is under pressure from human activities. In particular, the beef farms which hug the borders of the wetlands. Since 2000 parts of the south-west Mato Grosso State have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Unlike the densely forested Amazon, the Pantanal is an open environment. The landscape changes daily as water ebbs and flows. Rivers and pools come and go. Life is everywhere, marsh deer nibbling on grass, caimans waiting to spring on their prey. First, though, you have to learn to stop and observe.

Key species:

  • Thousands of butterfly species
  • Hundreds of varieties of fish.
  • Howler and capuchin monkeys
  • Tapirs, capybaras, anacondas, and caimans.
  • Caracara – an orange fleshy-faced buzzard-like bird

Endangered species include the giant anteater, jaguar, marsh deer, giant otter and cobalt blue hyacinth macaw. Some 600 species of birds live here. A giant flightless bird, the greater rhea, and the jabiru stork are two of them.