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How to See Jaguars in the Pantanal, Brazil – Wild Junket Adventure Travel Blog

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How to See Jaguars in the Pantanal, Brazil – Wild Junket Adventure Travel Blog

Last Updated on May 19, 2023 by Nellie Huang

The Pantanal boasts the highest concentration of wildlife in South America. Here’s a detailed guide on how to do a Pantanal jaguar safari, by Dave & Becca from Bring Us That Horizon.

The Pantanal is often outshone by the Amazon rainforest, in fact, the Pantanal may well be Brazil’s best-kept secret! The Pantanal is an immense freshwater wetland which expands and contracts with the seasons. It is home to some of the world’s most iconic animals, including the green anaconda, giant anteaters, howler monkeys, capybara and its crowning jewel, the elusive jaguar.

The Pantanal is undoubtedly the best place to see jaguars in Brazil. In fact, we can safely say the Pantanal is one of the best wildlife destinations in the world! People often steer away from Pantanal and towards Mato Grosso du Sul as they are concerned by the price tag; this guide will show you it doesn’t have to break the bank to see jaguars in Brazil.

pantanal jaguar safari brazil - jaguars in pantanal

Pantanal Jaguar Safari

Where is the Pantanal?

Around 80% of the Pantanal is in Brazil, split between the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso du Sul. However, due to its immense size, it also spills into Paraguay and Bolivia. The Pantanal’s size is estimated at 42 million acres (according to WWF); To put that in perspective, it is larger than 29 of the 50 US states, including New York and Florida.

Over 1 million people visit the Pantanal each year, but the majority of these visitors head to the state of Mato Grosso du Sul in the south. Accessed via the city of Campo Grande, Mato Gross du Sul is easier to reach and offers a wider range of accommodation and has better infrastructure.

Bonito, in south Pantanal, is an eco-tourism hotspot where you can partake in organised activities like snorkelling the crystal-clear waters of Rio da Prata or visiting the macaw heritage reserve of Buraco das Araras. As compared to Paraguay and Bolivia, the Brazilian part of the Pantanal is by far the best equipped for eco-tourism. 

pantanal jaguar safari - pantanal river


The Pantanal Map

Whilst the south can be a lot of fun, if you are determined to see wild jaguars in Brazil, it’s worth making the extra effort to travel down the 145km dirt road named the Transpantaneira highway to Porto Jofre. Going on a Pantanal jaguar safari is always an adventure, one that often involves treacherous, long drives and discomfort, but it’s well worth it in our opinion. If you visit Porto Jofre during the dry season, you’re almost guaranteed to spot the Pantanal jaguar!

If you’re planning a trip to Brazil, be sure to read my 2-week Brazil itinerary.

 


Best Time to Visit Pantanal

The best time to visit the Pantanal is in the dry season, between the months of July and October. There is less rain and lower chances of flooding; 80% of the plains recedes back to the main rivers.

August and September, in particular, see the highest number of Pantanal jaguar sightings. With the water receding, the caiman (the main prey of the jaguars) population is concentrated to smaller areas. It’s thus much easier to predict where you can spot jaguars in the Pantanal. The temperatures during this season range from around 20°C to 30°C (68°F to 86°F).

Some additional benefits of visiting the Pantanal during the dry season are that the weather is less humid and there are less insects. Also, the main road into Porto Jofre is 145km of dirt road and are usually only passable during the dry season. 

jaguar attacking caiman - pantanal jaguar safari

pantanal jaguar safari - sunset in pantanal brazil


Where do Jaguars Live?

Jaguars love water and so are commonly found in rainforests, savannahs and swamps. Historically jaguars could be found on the Americas anywhere from mid-Argentina all the way up to Southwest USA. Sadly, since 1880, jaguars have lost more than half of their territory, mainly due to illegal poaching and deforestation. 

Although they do still have small pockets in Central America and as far north as Mexico, it’s estimated over half of the population of wild jaguars live in Brazil. The Amazon basin is the last major stronghold of jaguars in the wild. However, it’s incredibly tricky to spot jaguars in the Amazon rainforest due to the dense jungle. Therefore, the best place for to see jaguars in Brazil is the Pantanal, specifically the Cuiabá River near Porto Jofre.

pantanal jaguar safari -


How to Visit the Pantanal

Because of how remote the Pantanal is, you’ll most likely need to fly there. It is possible to run a series of long-distance buses, but it will take forever and it can often work out more expensive. Despite the name Cuiabá International Airport – Marechal Rondon, there are currently no international air routes.  

There are loads of flights each day (more than one an hour!) between Sáo Paulo and Cuiabá. The flight time is around 2 hours 15 mins, with prices around $100 return.  Flights from Rio de Janeiro to Cuiabá are around 2 hours 40 mins and prices are around double that of flying from Sáo Paulo. Check for flights to Cuiaba.

If you are planning to visit both northern and southern Pantanal you do have the option of an 11-hour bus, which can be done overnight for around $50. Alternatively, you can fly between Campo Grande and Cuiabá, which takes just over an hour and costs around $70. Once you have reached Cuiabá, your next step will greatly depend on whether you opt on visiting Pantanal through an organised tour or self-driving. More on this below.

pantanal jaguar safari - boat cruising on river


Do You Need a Pantanal Jaguar Safari Tour?

To see jaguars in the Pantanal, you need to either book an organised tour or self-drive. Booking an organised Pantanal jaguar safari often involves a lot more money, though everything will be taken care of for you, including transport and loding. Most importantly, you’ll have a wildlife guide who can spot the jaguars for you. Self-driving is more suitable for adventurous travelers who are keen on treading your own path.

Regardless of which option you choose, you are almost guaranteed to see jaguars in the Pantanal if you visit in the dry season. Here are the things to consider between self-drive and an organised Pantanal tour:

  • Cost – Let’s start with the obvious one, if you self-drive the Pantanal it’s likely to be at least half the price!
  • Pantanal jaguar safari itinerary – If you join an organised tour your itinerary is set out for you, but by self-driving the Pantanal you are in control of your own destiny.
  • Stress – An organised tour is easily going to be the least stressful, you only have one rather than multiple bookings to make and once you are there you will be picked up from the airport and ferried from A to B and back again, without the need to think about it.
  • Communication – Pantanal ecotourism is relatively new; you will find most of the lodges in the Pantanal have little English therefore joining an organised tour will give you the benefit of having someone whom you can easily communicate with. 
  • Information about the animals – Going on a tour, you’ll have access to a wildlife guide who can provide all kinds of information on the wildlife. 
  • Number of people on your Pantanal jaguar safari – One important thing that you notice on visiting the Pantanal is that most organised tours go out in groups of between 4-10. Getting that perfect photo of Pantanal jaguar can be difficult with half a dozen people in your way!

In summary, the deciding factor is probably how much money you have to spend on your trip. So as long as you are happy to pay for it, many tour companies will tailor a private trip to suit you, but self-driving is the more adventurous, budget-friendly option.

How to See Jaguars in the Pantanal, Brazil – Wild Junket Adventure Travel Blog


Organised Pantanal Tour Options

Before opting to self-drive our Pantanal jaguar safari trip we did research into the different tour options, here is the information we found and a summary of what each Pantanal tour includes:

Viator – ‘Following the footsteps of the Jaguar’

  • Tour length – 6 days
  • Tour cost – Starting from $4,212 per person
  • Transport – pick up and drop off from Cuiabá airport
  • Accommodation – 3 nights in accommodation near Poconé (e.g – Pousada Rio Claro/Pousada Piuval). 2 nights in Porto Jofre at Hotel Pantanal North 
  • Safari tours – all safari tours in group sizes of a maximum of 10 people
  • Meals – full board every day

 

Wildlife Pantanal Tours 

  • Tour length – 4 days
  • Tour cost – $2,740 per person
  • Transport – pick up and drop off from Cuiabá airport
  • Accommodation – 1 night in Poconé (Piuval lodge) area and 2 nights in Porto Jofre (accommodation not specified)
  • Safari tours – Private
  • Meals – full board every day

 

Pantanal Trackers

  • Tour length – 4 days
  • Tour cost – $1,750 per person
  • Transport – pick up and drop off from Cuiabá airport
  • Accommodation – 1 night in Poconé area and 2 nights in Porto Jofre (accommodation not specified)
  • Safari tours – Private
  • Meals – full board every day

 

pantanal jaguar safari - jaguar by the river


How to Do a Self-drive Pantanal Jaguar Safari 

We have tried and tested this option and would 100% recommend Pantanal self-drive for anyone wishing to save some money and take on the adventure. 

If you choose to self-drive with your own Pantanal jaguar safari itinerary, all car hire companies operate from Cuiabá airport, and they also offer a collection shuttle service. Upon collecting your car it will be an hour and a half easy drive to Poconé, mainly on one straight tarmacked road. In Poconé you can stock up on drinks and snacks, it will cost you much more once you are past Poconé! After purchasing supplies, make sure you fill your car to the brim, there are no more gas stations after this point. 

In Brazil most of the hire cars operate on multi fuel, either gasoline or ethanol. Make sure to fill up with gasoline in Poconé as it gives much more miles to the gallon. Once you are filled up there is one road heading into the Pantanal, the Transpantaneira highway. About 5km outside of Poconé the tarmac finishes and the adventure begins!

Tip: It’s a good idea to download Map.me, even if you are paying to use your phone in Brazil as there isn’t much signal on the Pantanal. If you download Map.me and the appropriate map you can use this offline.

pantanal jaguar safari


How to Rent a Car in Pantanal

When it comes to hiring a car for visiting Pantanal you don’t need a 4×4, but you will want one with a high ground clearance, this is due to covering 145km on unsealed roads. When doing our research and speaking to the lodge owners they recommended any of the following car models; VW Gol, Renault Duster, Fiat Uno or Toyota Sienna.

We opted for a Renault Duster, and it was perfect for the job. We always book our car hire through Discover Cars as they’ve consistently given us the best customer service and best rates. Car hire approx. $60 per day.

Search for car hire!

renting a car in pantanal


Is It Easy to Drive in the Pantanal?

To get to the Pantanal, you need to navigate the dirt road, the Transpantaneira, for approximately 147 kilometers (91 miles) from the city of Poconé to Porto Jofre. The road can be challenging to navigate, especially during the rainy season when it becomes muddy and waterlogged. In drier seasons, the road conditions tend to be better, but it can still have rough patches and potholes.

The Transpantaneira is a remote route, and there are limited services available along the way. You may find a few small lodges, farmhouses, or rest areas, but don’t expect frequent access to amenities such as fuel stations, restaurants, or repair shops. It’s advisable to ensure you have enough fuel, food, and water supplies before embarking on the journey.

It is relatively straightforward to navigate since it is a single road leading from Poconé to Porto Jofre. However, it’s essential to pay attention to signage and markers as they can be sparse in some areas. Having a GPS or a reliable map can be beneficial to avoid getting lost. Overall, driving on the Transpantaneira highway can be an adventurous and rewarding experience. 

pantanal jaguar safari - self drive in pantanal


Is It Safe to Do a Self-Drive Jaguar Safari?

While it can be an incredible experience to see jaguars in their natural habitat, it’s crucial to exercise caution and respect their space. Jaguars are wild animals, and it’s important to maintain a safe distance to avoid any potential conflicts or accidents.

If you choose to self-drive, it’s recommended to have some prior experience in off-road driving and be prepared for potential challenges. You will be in the safety of your vehicle when spotting jaguars, but you’ll need to know what to do in case you break down.

Still, it’s important to note that guided tours with experienced local operators are a safer option for exploring the Pantanal, especially if you are unfamiliar with the area. 

cruising the river - jaguars in pantanal


Where to Stay in the Pantanal

Accommodation in Poconé

We stayed at Pouso Alegre Lodge and highly recommend them. The rooms were simple but comfortable and there was plenty of activities at the lodge. The cost per night was $190 per night for 2 people sharing, full board. Here are the prices for activities organised by the lodge:

  • FREE – walks and use of trails, roads and ways and use of 24-meter observation tower.
  • Horseback ride, R$140 (US$28) per person / 2 hours.
  • Night safari is R$240 (US$48) for all.
  • Walking safari with a local is R$100 (US$20) for all.

Accommodation in Porto Jofre

We absolutely enjoyed our stay at Pousada Porto Jofre Puma Lodge. The cost for the stay there is $390 per night for 2 people sharing. That included a full day river safari for every full day spent in Porto Jofre and full board meals.

pantanal jaguar safari - toucan spotted in pantanal


Cost of Pantanal Jaguar Safari

Total Cost for Self-driving (Prices below are based on 2 people):

  • Self-drive = $2,210
  • Organised tour = $8,424

The total cost of our 6-day self-drive jaguar safari added up to a total of US$2,210 for two of us.

The prices for organised Pantanal jaguar tours usually range from $2,000 to $5000 or more per person. These tours often provide accommodations, meals, transportation, guided activities (including jaguar spotting), and sometimes additional wildlife excursions such as birdwatching or canoeing.

To put it into perspective, comparing what we spent with the Viator (the cheapest international tour company) 6-day safari, you would save over $6.000!

pantanal jaguar safari - jaguars in pantanal


Jaguar Fun Facts

  • Jaguars love to swim, unlike many of their feline relatives, who avoid water, jaguars have adapted to their wet environments to be extremely good swimmers.
  • Jaguars are the 3rd largest cat in the world, and they are the only big cat that can be found in the Americas.
  • Jaguars in Pantanal can be up to twice the size of jaguars found in Central America. Males in the Pantanal can weigh up to a hefty 120kg (265lbs); their humungous size is needed to take down prey such as large caiman.
  • Jaguars are not the same as leopards. Although they look strikingly similar to leopards, they are not the same. The main difference in appearance is that jaguars have a spot within their spots, whereas leopards don’t.
  • Jaguars have the most powerful bite of any big cat. The name jaguar has come from the indigenous word ‘yaguar’ which means ‘he who kills with one leap’. Their bite force is around 1,500-2,000 PSI which is strong enough to bite through a caiman’s skull or a turtle’s shell!
  • Jaguars are randy! When breeding jaguars can mate up to 100 times per day.
  • There is only one species of the jaguar. Although there are 34 sub-populations, 25 of which are classed as endangered.
  • A black jaguar and a spotted one are the same species. Often people refer to a black jaguar as a black panther. However, a black panther isn’t a species at all, it’s either a leopard or a jaguar with more melanin. In fact, black jaguars have the same markings as spotted ones, it’s just harder to see! 

pantanal jaguar safari - jaguar up close


What to Pack for your Pantanal Adventure

  • Plenty of cash – Make sure to withdraw cash in Cuiabá, there are no ATMs in Porto Jofre. We paid for some of our accommodation in cash. The only other thing you will need cash for is drinks, tips & and extra activities.
  • Portuguese phrase book – It’s best to learn some basic Portuguese: “olá” (hello), “bom dia” (good morning), “por favor” (please), “obrigada/o” (thank you). If your Portuguese isn’t great, download the Portuguese dictionary on Google translate, as you won’t have internet for the most part in Pantanal.
  • SPF 50+ sun cream – You will be spending some long hours out on the river and there’s a good chance you will not have any shade. 
  • Sun hat – Whilst spending many hours on the river it is important to protect your head. It’s easy to get sunstroke if you don’t wear adequate sun protection.
  • LifeStraw – Not all lodges offer free drinking water in Pantanal. We absolutely swear by our LifeStraw Go filter water bottle! Not only does it reduce plastic waste, it will save plenty of money on the road as you can drink the tap water (or any other water for that matter) even in places where it isn’t advised.
  • Long sleeve, light weight t-shirt – If you are fair-skinned and burn easily it’s a good idea to wear long sleeves on your days on the boat in Porto Jofre, as mentioned above, you’ll be on the river for around 8 hours with little shade.
  • Lightweight hiking pants – We opted for zip-off hiking trousers rather than traditional safari attire to give us the option to expose our legs for periods of time to cool down.
  • Camera – If you don’t already have a camera you love, have a look into canon EOS r5 – r7 range. We didn’t have one but a guy we met visiting Pantanal had one and it is absolutely awesome. They are pricey but they have an animal eye autofocus which will means your pictures will be amazing.
  • Pantanal’s Wildlife Guidebook This guidebook is an absolute must if you are self-driving to help with identifying the animals. We had great fun with this and found it really useful when continuing our travels in the Southern Pantanal and Bolivia.
  • Binoculars – Binoculars are a great help for spotting animals. We use the Steiner Navigator Pro and swear by it! It’s not cheap but well worth the investment if you love wildlife travel.
  • Torch – If you can take a high-powered torch, it will be invaluable on night safari & also as a backup for the less than reliable electricity in Porto Jofre.

pantanal jaguar safari - spotting animals with camera


Enjoy Your Pantanal Jaguar Safari!

Thank you for reading this far. I hope this guide has helped you plan your own Pantanal jaguar safari. If you have any questions on seeing jaguars in Pantanal, please leave them in the comments below and I will be happy to reply to any questions you have.

Read my articles on Brazil and wildlife below:

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links i.e. if you book a stay through one of my links, I get a small commission at NO EXTRA COST to you. Thank you for your support!


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