Pantanal’s Big Five


August 26 - September 12, 2017
Cost: $9,750
Leader: Helder Brandão
Group Size: 10
Days: 18

Safari Overview

Tour the north and south Pantanal via boat, bus, and safari vehicles to seek South America’s “Big Five” including Jaguars. Travel to both the north and south Pantanal regions where marshes, lakes, and streams provide diverse ecosystems that foster superb wildlife encounters of South America’s Big Five: Jaguar, Giant Anteater Giant Otter, Ocelot, and South American Tapir. Travel down the famous “Transpantaneira Highway” to Porto Jofre where day tours on the Cuiabá River afford numerous opportunities to see Jaguars, Giant Otters, and others not easily seen by land. While in the southern Pantanal, stay at Caiman Lodge, a top wildlife destination in Brazil, and also a sure bet for Giant Anteaters and Ocelots. Find a plethora of beautiful birds, such as the Hyacinth Macaw, to photograph and enjoy. The Pantanal Conservation Complex is a UNESCO world heritage site and biosphere reserve of spectacular beauty.


  • Cruise rivers in a comfortable riverboat for many wildlife encounters, including the elusive Jaguar.
  • Night drives to find nocturnal animals such as the Ocelot, Giant Anteater, and South American Tapir.
  • Jabiru and Hyacinth Macaws up close and personal along the Transpantaneira highway.
  • World-class Caiman Lodge with gourmet food, top-rated accommodations, and plenty of wildlife.

Itinerary Updated: September 2016

FAQ Print Trip
Date Description Lodge Meals
Aug 26 Travel to Brazil.
Aug 27 Meet Zapa in São Paulo then fly to Cuiabá and head for the northern Pantanal. Pantanal Mato Grosso Hotel D
Aug 28 Boat the Pixaim River to find birds and drive the Transpantaneira "Highway" for more wildlife. Hotel Porto Jofre Pantanal Norte Lodge B, L, D
Aug 29 - Sep 1 Boat the Cuiabá River to find Jaguar, Giant Otters, monkeys and birds. Hotel Porto Jofre Pantanal Norte Lodge B, L, D
Sep 2 - 3 Boat trip then travel up the Transpantaneira to Araras for tapir, tamandua, and birds. Araras Lodge B, L, D
Sep 4 Complete the Transpantaneira then fly to the southern Pantanal. Fazenda San Francisco B, L
Sep 5 - 6 Search for Giant Anteater, Ocelot, and other wildlife at Fazenda San Francisco. Fazenda San Francisco B, L, D
Sep 7 - 9 Look for deer and more around Caiman Lodge, best in all of Brazil for wildlife. Caiman Lodge B, L, D
Sep 10 Morning game drive and return to Campo Grande for overnight. Hotel Deville Prime, Campo Verde B, L, D
Sep 11 Depart from Campo Grande on flights homeward. B
Sep 12 Arrive home.

Our Trip Leaders

Helder Brandão

Born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil, Helder followed his passion for nature at the University of São Paulo earning a biology degree. Afterwards he explored the natural world and learned from the best guides throughout South America and Africa. Back in Brazil, he was head guide at one of the best eco-lodges in the Pantanal and now he leads tours while consulting with organizations focused on sustainable ecotourism.

Detailed Itinerary

A glimpse into our journey

Travel to Brazil

Aug 26

We strongly recommend that you arrive in São Paulo on August 26 for an overnight (not included).

Fly to Cuiabá then head for the northern Pantanal

Aug 27

Arrive by early morning today at the latest. Your leader will meet you at the São Paulo Airport to catch the mid-morning flight to Cuiabá located in the northern part of the state of Mato Grosso. Drive across 90km of Cerrado (Brazilian savanna) to the town of Poconé, then drive about 15km south to the entrance of the Transpantaneira Highway - a truly extraordinary gravel road traversing some 150km of the Pantanal. Then continue south down the Transpantaneira to the Pixaim River.

Boat the Pixaim River then drive the Transpantaneira

Aug 28

Chestnut-eared Aracari

An early morning boat trip on the Pixaim River gives an excellent opportunity to see herons, storks, ibis and waterfowl busy on the river. Keep your eyes peeled for the beautiful, but shy, Agami Heron and the rare, endemic Chestnut-bellied Guan.

You’ll journey down the Transpantaneira "Highway" to the Cuiabá River in Porto Jofre, making stops along the way. Water lingers alongside the Transpantaneira concentrating a wide variety of wildlife. Helder is very familiar with this area and knows some excellent places to stop to stretch your legs and take photographic opportunities.

The principal avian emblems of the Pantanal are the Jabiru Stork standing five feet tall and the Hyacinth Macaw, the world´s largest parrot. The Hyacinth Macaw is usually near lodges where they easily steal the show while feeding on palm seeds. The calls of Chaco Chachalaca reverberate along the highway, whenever family groups are disturbed. Two species of brocket deer, plus Pampas and Marsh deer, can sometimes be seen in the tall grassland.

Search the Rio Cuiabá surroundings by boat for Jaguar

Aug 29 - Sep 1


The best chances to spot Jaguar are on the Rio Cuiabá. The Jaguars in this region are protected and become more accustomed to boats of photographers pointing lenses at them each year. You’ll ride in boats that can quickly reach the Tres Irmaões River, a tributary of the Cuiabá, another excellent river for Jaguar. Chances of spotting Jaguar are good anywhere from Porto Jofre, up the Rio Tres Irmaões (within the Parque Estadual Encontro das Aguas) and the Rio Piguiri, another tributary of the Cuiabá. The best way to find Jaguar is to travel slowly, searching the banks and vegetation for signs of this special big cat.

You'll enjoy full days of morning and late afternoon private boat trips with one afternoon to walk along the woodlands and at the marsh bordering the lodge grounds - all excellent places for special land birds and energetic troops of Black-striped Tufted Capuchins. Other mammals to keep and eye out for include the Crab-eating Fox, South American Tapir, and the enigmatic Ocelot. Hundreds of Yacaré Caimans and some Green Iguanas are the most noteworthy reptiles throughout the Pantanal. If lucky, you may come across a rare Yellow Anaconda.

Search for Jaguars then walk Araras trails

Sep 2 - 3

Giant Anteater with young

You'll spend the morning back on the Cuiabá River in hopes of more Jaguar. Then after lunch, make the long drive to Araras Lodge via the Transpantaneira. Once at Araras, look for wonderful birds, including less conspicuous species such as the White-wedged Piculet, a small woodpecker. Cinereous-breasted and White-lored spinetails, and Band-tailed and Mato Grosso antbirds can all be found in the woodlands around the lodge grounds and along an elevated boardwalk. The grounds of this pousada (inn) include wetlands, forest and savannah, in 3,000 hectares. One night after dinner you will go on a night drive, the best time to encounter Tamandua (the Lesser Anteater) and perhaps a South American Tapir. The Araras property extends east of the Transpantaneira into the Passo da Ema, where dry grasslands offer a great chance of both Lesser and Giant Anteaters.

Travel the Transpantaneira then fly to the southern Pantanal

Sep 4

At dawn, travel the Transpantaneira to an amazing feeding frenzy – a true spectacle at a very large roadside marsh – where we have counted over 50 Jabiru Storks at one time, plus many caimans, Wood Storks, Purple Gallinule, aggressive birds of prey, and much more. Enjoy the beautiful flowering tree, Piuva (the pink species of Tabebuia), which should be in full flower, to add great scenic beauty to the Pantanal.

Dinner is not included today (and is not served on the flight to Campo Grande), but easily gotten at the “Food Court” in the airport before or after the flight, depending on the flight schedule.

Explore the Pantanal around Fazenda San Francisco

Sep 5 - 6

South American Tapir

You’ll have your best hopes of finding Giant Anteater and Ocelot on game drives and during nightspotting in this area. Even Jaguar, Maned Wolf, and South American Tapir are sometimes encountered. Fazenda San Francisco has extensive native forest, wetlands, and grasslands, but it’s also a working ranch with cattle pastures and vast rice fields. The owner and staff work very hard to preserve wildlife, particularly to protect the rare mammals, especially the cats, both Jaguar and Ocelot. Blue-and-yellow Macaws, parrots, parakeets, toucans, and toucanets are plentiful right around the lodge and are extremely habituated. You’ll go on game drives in the evening and at dawn for the best action and enjoy breaks on the lodge grounds during the warm part of the day.

Safari-drive the expansive Caiman Lodge grounds

Sep 7 - 9


Caiman Lodge, which is “best of the best” of nature lodges in South America, has charming accommodations, a very experienced friendly staff, delicious food, very high quality service and best of all, amazing wildlife! You’ll begin your explorations with a walk or a game drive in the beautiful surroundings this afternoon for birds and other wildlife. You’ll also enjoy night drives to spot nocturnal wildlife in action. You have good chances for locating Jaguars, but the overall wildlife experience while immersed in beautiful native habitat is the highlight here at Caiman, named for the plethora of Yacaré Caimans who peer out with their beady eyes gleaming at night. With luck, encounter mother Giant Anteaters with a young on her back, Gray Brocket Deer, Pampas Deer, two species of armadillos, Tapeti (Brazilian rabbit), plus Crab-eating Raccoon. Elusive wildlife is very challenging to photograph, so a lot of time will be spent in the field to be sure to get some great photographic results.

Morning at Caiman Lodge then depart to Campo Grande

Sep 10

Yacaré Caiman

Spend the last morning photographing the resident macaws and other photogenic species. If the light is not ideal, or the group prefers, you can take a drive to the river for some action there!

Travel homeward

Sep 11

Greater Rhea by Debbie Thompson

You’ll transfer as a group to the Campo Grande Airport for your morning or early afternoon flight connections homeward, most likely via São Paulo.

Arrive home

Sep 12

Depending on your flight schedule, arrive home today.


Tour the north and south Pantanal via boat, bus, and safari vehicles to seek South America’s “Big Five” including Jaguars.

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Cost & Payments

Costs (in US$)

Type Cost Per Person
Trip Cost, double occupancy $9,750
Single Supplement $2,750

We reserve the right to charge for cost increases that occur between when we set tour prices and the date of travel, for example, changes due to the cost of lodging and transportation. If you are a single traveler and you desire, we will find a roommate for you. If we cannot find you a roommate, we may charge you a single supplement fee. Single rooms are subject to availability.

Payment Schedule

Payment Due Date Amount Per Person
Deposit Due now to reserve your space $500
Second March 15, 2016 $1,000
Final March 15, 2017 Remaining Balance

Payments will be due based on the schedule above. All reservations require a deposit to confirm reservation of your space. For reservations made after a due date, all past payments will be due with registration. By sending your initial deposit, you agree to accept our payment schedule as a contract. If payments are still outstanding two weeks after the due date, your space may be forfeited.


Until the Final Payment due date, deposits are refundable except for a cancellation fee of $150 per person, which can be applied toward another tour if reserved within six months of the cancelled trip’s departure date. No refunds are given after the Final Payment due date.


  • All leaders, transport, park entry fees, vehicles, and boat trips for all activities described in the detailed itinerary.
  • Lodging for the night of August 27 through the night of September 10.
  • All meals from dinner on August 27 through breakfast on September 11, except dinner on September 5.
  • Airport transfers from the hotel to the Campo Grande Airport on September 11.
  • Bottled water is provided in the vehicles and boats, but not always at meals, depending on the lodge policy.
  • Trip Materials – information about flights, packing, entry and departure requirements, airport transfers, gratuities, etc.

Not Included

  • All airfare including international and three internal group flights booked by Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris, airport and departure taxes, and excess baggage fees. Airfare is approximately $1,000 to $1,500 round-trip from the continental US, plus about $350 for three internal flights (estimated July 2016).
  • Brazilian visa fee. (~ $160 for US citizens as of July 2015)
  • Dinner on September 5.
  • Gratuities: tipping is, of course, discretionary, however we suggest budgeting about $15 to $20 per participant per day for August 27 to September 10 with our guides (about $225 to $300 total per participant).
  • Emergency medical and evacuation insurance and trip cancellation insurance. Read more about travel insurance.
  • Items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone calls, medical costs or hospitalization, room service, soft drinks, some bottled water, and alcoholic bottled beverages, and items not on the regular menu, etc. If you have special dietary needs, please indicate them on your Reservation/Release Form.


The Pantanal can be very hot, from 90 to 100+ °F (32 to 38+°C), especially during midday and afternoons. Stormy, windy weather from the south can make boating on the rivers very chilly (30°F colder than normal, so in the 60s °F (~15-20 °C)), so plan to layer clothes to be prepared for these drastically changing conditions!

Fitness Level

Most wildlife viewing is done from small boats and vehicles. Walks to search for wildlife are generally less than an hour over relatively flat trails or along the gravel roads.


All airfare, including internal flights, is not included in trip costs. Detailed flight information and the contact information for our recommended flight ticketing agent is included in the Trip Materials we will send after we receive your reservation; she can help you arrange your flights. Please let us know if you are arriving earlier or staying later.

Flights you (or a travel agent) book: Arrive at São Paulo – Guarulhos International Airport (GRU) early enough to connect with a 10:00 am flight to Cuiabá, Brazil (CGB) on August 27. We recommend arriving a day early for an overnight to guard against flight delays or cancellations. Depart from São Paulo – Guarulhos International Airport (GRU) in the late afternoon or at night on September 11.

Flights we book for you: Three internal flights (São Paulo to Cuiabá, Cuiabá to Campo Grande, and Campo Grande to São Paulo). The cost of these internal flights will be added to your final balance.


When is the best time to go to the Pantanal?

We tour the Pantanal in August and September during the dry season after the waters that flooded the Pantanal receded, forcing the wildlife to concentrate around leftover ponds. Fields are now dry enabling us to hike and drive safari-style through them to look for wildlife. It is also warmer (but not too hot for us yet) during these months and the coolness of the river entices Jaguars to the riverbanks to cool off. August and September are also good months to see plentiful birds.

Am I guaranteed to see the Pantanal’s “Big Five” - Jaguar, Giant Anteater Giant Otter, Ocelot, and South American Tapir?

We cannot guarantee that we will see all of the “big five” Pantanal mammals. Wildlife is wild and does its own thing. But to meet this goal, we spend the maximum time possible in the field to greatly increase our chance of seeing the Big Five and lots more.

Why do you spend so much time on rivers in the Pantanal?

During days near the Cuiabá and other rivers, we spend a lot of time in boats since that is the best way to see Jaguar and other wildlife. Wildlife is accustomed to tourist boats and feels safe around them generally allowing us to approach close. The boats have limited space, but you will have room near your feet and on your lap for your daypack and camera gear. The boat seats are comfortable with back rests. We usually go out early in the morning, return for lunch, and go out in the afternoon again, perhaps returning late.

Should I worry about seasickness on rivers in the Pantanal?

The rivers in this region are calm and we have never had problems with anyone getting seasick.


All lodges have private baths and air conditioning. The eco-lodges follow the Brazilian custom of placing used toilet paper into the provided receptacle to avoid plumbing problems.



Travel will be by mini-bus, boat, and commercial air. The mini-bus is air-conditioned. Some remote roads in the Pantanal can be unpaved, dusty, and bumpy. Some of the drives between regions are long, between one and five hours, but most of these are on paved, modern roads. The boats are comfortable and easy to board and unload.


  • Non-smoking policy: We have a strict non-smoking policy. Smoking is not permitted at any time or any place during our tours.
  • Maximum time in the field: We try to spend as much time in the field as possible to observe wildlife behavior, sometimes resulting in long days but giving you a more in-depth experience.
  • Itinerary route: The itinerary route, stops and plans are subject to change by unforeseen circumstances beyond our control, such as weather or road conditions.
  • Additional forms: For some of our tours, you may be asked to fill out additional forms (e.g., medical questionnaire).
  • Travel to remote places is exciting, but it is important to understand and accept the risks, both medical and logistical. Minor medical problems can usually be treated, but because we are often far from medical facilities, there can be no expectation for immediate medical treatment or evacuation, even in cases of trauma. Anyone with health problems needing close medical supervision should not consider going on this tour. Bring enough medication for the duration of the trip for any chronic medical needs, since pharmacies are usually not available. When you send your deposit and signed Reservation/Release Form, you certify to us that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions that would create a risk for yourself or for other trip participants.