The Pantanal Travel Guide
The Pantanal is one of Brazil’s, if not the world’s, most spectacular regions. This long flood plain covers about 140,000 square miles, extending between two rivers in the Paraguay River Basin.
Formed by the remains of an ancient inland sea called Xaraes, the Pantanal is the bottom of a bowl with mountains on all sides. When it rains, the water runs down the mountains onto the Pantanal and forms the Paraguay River. The entire area is regularly flooded by the river, causing saline puddles and bogs to form (hence the name, which means “marshland”). Scattered through the region are cordilheiras (small hills) onto which all the wildlife of the region crowd at flood time. This creates the extraordinary sight of jaguars, caimans, capybaras and cattle cohabiting somewhat harmoniously, with adversity bringing détente, The plain has small areas of savannah and even desert and it is that environment that creates a lush, watery paradise for flora and fauna, fish, waterbirds and mammals.
The Hottest Destinations of Brazil
The Pantanal has been declared a World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. It’s a fisherman’s dream from November through March when the plain is flooded and millions of birds are attracted to the area. When the waters recede (starting in April) the land dries up and animals gather near the water holes. In the dry season, much of the land is used by cattle ranching families who’ve been here for generations. Some of the ranches (fazendas) have accommodations for tourists so you can see the wildlife and return to air-conditioned comfort, a swimming pool and good food. Tour operators in the area work with several fazendas. The perennial floods, which often destroy cattle and require the evacuation of entire towns, are the source of the area’s great fertility. The floods keep the fish abundant and prevent the larger animals and birds from migrating because they never have to worry about their next meal.
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