Wildlife Wonders of South America

Safari through Brazil’s Pantanal Wetlands

September 28–October 8, 2024

Discover a Southern Hemisphere safari like no other on our small group tour through the largest wetlands on the planet, the Pantanal. 

Trip Highlights

  • September 28–October 8, 2024
  • Escorted by BJ & Lauren, owners of RetreaTours
  • Explore the world’s largest wetland, the Pantanal
  • Spot jaguars along the rivers of Porto Jofre
  • Experience all-new species on safari: tapirs, capybara, caiman, anteaters, river otters, and endless gorgeous birds, including the Hyacinth Macaw and Toco Toucan
  • This journey is double carbon offset
  • Maximum of 12 guests
  • $5999 per person based on double occupancy. Please see the “Price and Inclusions” boxes below for inclusions and private room supplements.

How to Register When You Are Ready

  • Click the button below to complete the Registration Questions
  • Lauren will email you with options to pay the deposit

Cuiaba, Brazil

Porto Jofre, Brazil

Transpantaneira

Sao Paulo

Daily Itinerary at a Glance

September 28  Welcome to South America! We’ll stay overnight in São Paulo, Brazil tonight in preparation for our Pantanal adventure!  (Overnight in São Paulo, Brazil)

September 29  This morning we’ll depart from São Paulo and make our way over to the world’s largest wetland, the Pantanal. We’ll stay overnight in the town of Cuiaba, and tomorrow we’ll begin our gorgeous  drive along the Transpantaneira. (Overnight in Cuiaba, Brazil)

September 30  This morning we’ll drive south on the Transpantaneira, a small road through the Pantanal that is a safari in its own right. With plenty of stops to see wildlife along the way, we’ll arrive at our beautiful lodge for lunch and an afternoon (and night!) safari.  (Overnight along Transpantaneira–Aymara Lodge)

October 1   Aymara Lodge is a fantastic place to explore the Pantanal’s wildlife, with fabulous walking trails and vehicle safaris. The owner here literally wrote the book on the Pantanal’s gorgeous bird life!  (Overnight along Transpantaneira-Aymara Lodge)

October​ 2  We’re blessed with one more morning to enjoy sunrise (and all the sunrise animal activity at Aymara!) After lunch, we’ll continue our journey along the Transpantaneira south to Porto Jofre, the jaguar-watching capital of the world.  (Overnight in Porto Jofre)

October 3, 4, 5​ ​​  Welcome to the end of the Transpantaneira–where the road ends, the boats begin! We’ll take morning and afternoon safaris daily to discover the life along the river’s edge.  The star of the show in this area is the jaguar, the only ‘big cat’ native to the Americas. Along the way, we also will have the opportunity to see the endangered giant river otter, as well as capybara, caiman, tapir, and more. (Overnights in Porto Jofre)

October​ 6​  Today we head north on the Transpantaneira again, with a stop at a wonderful lodge full of wildlife on its grounds and along the river.  (Overnight along Transpantaneira, Rio Claro Lodge)

October​ ​7  One more beautiful sunrise and morning boat safari here in the Pantanal! After lunch, we’ll head back toward Cuiaba.

October 8  Sadly, it’s time to say goodbye to the Pantanal. Your flight to Sao Paulo, Brazil is included for this morning.   

Who is this South American Safari for?

You don’t typically hear the words “safari” in relation South American wildlife, and we think that’s a shame! When you hear the word “safari,” your mind probably drifts to the African savanna and images of elephants, lions, and giraffes, right?

But what about jaguars, the largest cat native to the Americas and the third largest in the world?  How about the beautifully strange silhouette of tapirs and anteaters? The piercing call of the giant river otter and the adorable face of the capybara? And that’s to say nothing of the gorgeous birds of the continent, in every color combination imaginable.

If you love exploring your home planet and you love animals, we invite you to explore the wildlife wonders of South America with us!

 

Detailed Daily Itinerary

Why is the Pantanal special?

The Pantanal is the world’s largest wetland–ten times the size of the Everglades in Florida (and bigger than the entire state of Florida itself!) In 2000, a small sliver of the Pantanal was named a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the third largest biosphere reserve on the planet, containing at least 4,700 flora & fauna species. The bulk of the wetlands lie in Brazil, but it also spreads into Bolivia and Paraguay. The basin of the Pantanal is the remnant of an ancient inland sea that dried up 65 million years ago; each year during the wet season (December to March), these wetlands flood and become inaccessible by road.

Where do you see the animals of the Amazon? In the Pantanal!

The magic of the Pantanal’s wide open wetlands is how relatively easy it is to spot animals that would otherwise be obscured by the dense jungle of the Amazon Rainforest. The Pantanal boasts the highest concentration of jaguars in the world (perhaps the solar system), and it’s home to the planet’s biggest parrot, the Hyacinth Macaw. Capybaras, caimans, giant river otters, tapirs, anteaters, southern tamanduas, coatis, agoutis, and countless birds–the Pantanal is a wealth of wildlife well worthy of a safari!

Welcome to Brazil!

We’ll begin our adventure in São Paulo, Brazil–the largest city in the southern hemisphere and the largest city in the western hemisphere! Your hotel night is included on September 28 in São Paulo, as we anticipate our flight into the Pantanal tomorrow.

Down the Transpantaneira

We’ll fly into Cuiaba, Brazil (via Sao Paulo) on September 29th and start out the next morning on the Transpantaneira, the only road through the Pantanal and a destination in itself. It is over 90 miles long and crosses over 120 bridges (as you might expect in the world’s largest wetland!)  The bridges are a great place for your first taste of Pantanal wildlife, including hundreds and hundreds of caiman. Don’t worry you worry about those chubby capybaras sharing the waterways with these alligator-like creatures–they’re mostly interested in eating fish!

We’ll arrive at our lodge, Aymara, and enjoy lunch before setting out on an afternoon (and night!) safari. Aymara will be our home base for two nights, set in the middle of a 588-acre Private Natural Reserve. Aymara is a perfect place to begin our adventure, as there is so much wildlife on the grounds, including the stunning blue hyacinth macaw. The owner of the lodge literally wrote the book on birds of the Pantanal!

During our time at Aymara, we’ll have the opportunity for daytime safaris (a mix of walking and in vehicles) and nighttime safaris, allowing a special glimpse into the nocturnal world of the Pantanal. Giant anteaters and lesser tamanduas are more active at night, as are crab-eating foxes, nightjars, and even ocelots.

Jaguar Country

On October 2nd, we’ll delight in a beautiful sunrise followed by a morning safari; after lunch, we’ll continue south on the Transpantaneira toward Porto Jofre, the jaguar-watching capital of the world! Our next home base is the waterfront Santa Rosa Pantanal Hotel, set directly on the Rio Sao Lourenco.

We’ll enjoy 4 nights at Santa Rosa, complete with two boat-based safaris each day (one in the morning, one in the afternoon) on the lookout for jaguars, giant river otters, tapir, and more. There is amazing wildlife around the hotel grounds, as well, including capuchin monkeys and plenty of toucans in the morning!

Jaguars are the third largest big cat species (after lions and tigers) and the only big cat native to the Americas. (Before you ask: mountain lions are not considered “big cats,” as that term is reserved for the Panthera genus.) Adept swimmers, they hunt along the river banks both day and night and can prey on everything from capybara and caiman to fish and birds. They generally lead solitary lives, except for mamas and their cubs. They are classified as “Near Threatened” by the IUCN, and they are still under threat from trophy hunting and deforestation for logging and cattle farms.

Spotting a jaguar in the wild is phenomenally exciting. If you’ve been with us on safari in Kenya before, you may immediately notice the differences to the African leopard. Jaguars are larger and more muscular, with a giant head! Their spots are actually quite different from a leopard’s, and we’ll teach you how to tell the difference (then you can go home and see if your favorite jacket is actually leopard-print or jaguar-print!) 

Life on the River

We’ll see many other animals on our river safaris, as well. The endangered giant river otter can reach 6 feet in length and their personalities are just as big. They are social animals and they are extremely vocal–wait until you hear what they have to say (it’s more the tone of their voice!) Capybaras are famous for their friendship with all animals, and we know you’ll fall in love with them, too. They are the world’s largest rodent (they can grow to 175 lbs!) and can live in groups of up to 40 members. They are remarkable swimmers, with webbed toes and the ability to stay underwater for up to 5 minutes. Tapirs are the heaviest land mammals in South America–you might think that they look like an elephant had a baby with a pig, but their closest relatives are actually the hippo and the horse. They are excellent swimmers, and can even use their prehensile snout as a snorkel!

After lunch on October 6th, we’ll bid farewell to the Porto Jofre area as we head north up the Transpantaneira and stay overnight at the Rio Claro Lodge. We’ll enjoy a different sort of river safari here on the Rio Claro, and the birdlife is amazing. They’ve set up bird feeders all over the property which are constantly full of colorful specimens–and the trees are often filled with naughty monkeys who snatched a pastry from breakfast!

We’ll enjoy one last sunrise in the Pantanal on October 7th and head back to Cuiaba in the afternoon. Your hotel in Cuiaba is included tonight, as well as your flight to São Paulo, Brazil on the 8th.

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Price & What is Included

There is a minimum of 4 guests required for this journey and a maximum of 12. When we have reached our minimum, we will let you know, at which time you can buy airfare and your travel insurance.

  • Trip cost is $5999 USD
  • The non-refundable deposit is $1000 and holds your space
  • The 2nd installment of $3000 is due on April 1, 2024
  • The balance is due June 1, 2024
  • The single room supplement is $675 (Please note: We will do our best to match you with anyone else looking for a roommate, but if one cannot be found, you are responsible for the private room supplement)

Price Includes

  • Hotel accommodation starting from September 28th through October 7th
  • All ground transportation starting with airport pickup in São Paulo
  • Roundtrip flight from São Paulo to Cuiaba
  • All meals starting with breakfast on September 29
  • All entrance fees
  • All tips to guides
  • All tips at hotels and restaurants
  • Online photo album after the trip
  • Double carbon offsetting for the entire journey

Price does not include:

  • International airfare (although we will be more than happy to help you decide on arrangements)
  • Travel insurance (required)
  • Alcohol
  • Laundry services
Payment Information

Please refer to the Price tabs for specific information about price & what is included in your journey.

The non-refundable $1000 deposit guarantees your space and internal airfare. The 2nd installment of $3000 is due on April 1, 2024 and the balance on June 1, 2024. The private room supplement of $675 will be added to the final balance.

For our American guests, we accept payments via check, credit, or debit card (via PayPal), Zelle, or Venmo. Lauren will send you these details after receiving your registration form.

For our guests outside the U.S., Lauren will connect with you about the best ways to transfer money.

Cancellation Policy & Contract

We do everything in our power to do right by our guests. We are proud to say that in the wake of our COVID-related trip cancellations through 2020 and 2021, we were able to offer each of our guests the choice of a 100% credit, if not a full refund.

We’ve re-examined each trip and done our best to reduce the deposit amounts as much as possible. Upon your registration, your deposit immediately goes toward reserving your space for flights, hotels, and excursions that must be booked months in advance and are often non-refundable.

Cancellation by our guests

The cancellation charges are as follows unless otherwise indicated on the detailed itinerary for each trip. All cancellations must be received via e-mail or US mail.

  • Cancellations prior to 120 days to departure, money will be refunded minus the non-refundable deposit. Please note that deposits for any pre-trip or post-trip extensions are not transferable to another portion of the trip should you decide to cancel that module of the journey.
  • Cancellations received 61 to 119 days prior to departure are subject to a penalty of 50% of the total cost of the trip.
  • Cancellations received 60 days or less prior to trip departure will forfeit the entire cost of the trip.

If a trip is cancelled by RetreaTours

When a tour is cancelled in the case of force majeure, the Tour Participant will receive a refund minus any funds that we are unable to recover from any supplier.

You can see the full cancellation policy in our contract here. 

Travel Insurance

Required Coverage

RetreaTours requires that each guest carries travel insurance that covers emergency medical treatment and emergency evacuation and repatriation. The minimum coverage should be $100,000 emergency medical treatment and $250,000 emergency evacuation and repatriation. Please send Lauren your policy information as soon as you have it.

Suggested Coverage

We suggest trip cancellation insurance, as well, as you never know what obstacles life can toss at you leading up to a trip. However, we do not require this coverage, we only suggest it highly.

Please familiarize yourself with RetreaTours’ guest cancellation policy in your journey’s contract. Please read this article to understand a bit more about trip cancellation insurance and what it may or may not cover. “Cancel For Any Reason” policies do exist, as well, although do check to see what percentage of the trip cost they actually reimburse.

When to purchase your policy

Please purchase this insurance as soon as we tell you the trip has reached its minimum. Please do not wait until the last minute, should you need to use your (optional) cancellation coverage before then.

Where to search for policies

Below you will find some options to start your search for trip insurance. However, we ask that you carefully consider your choice in travel insurance. What works for some people may not work for others, particularly if you have any pre-existing conditions. Please do take the time to consider the best policy for your individual needs.

InsureMyTrip.com and Squaremouth.com  are two sites where you can see and compare many policies at once, and you can refine the options by what coverage you would like. Both of them allow you to research policies with or without trip cancellation coverage and to put in your own parameters for coverage that is important to you.

World Nomads provides policies for guests under 70 that include trip cancellation options. Use the link above and pop in your info to get an immediate quote.

It may also be a good idea to check with your credit card companies, especially American Express, to see if they offer any medical coverage for travel.

Passport and Visa Requirements

Your passport must have at least 2 blank pages and be valid for at least 6 months beyond the end of the trip.

Brazil is revising their visa policies for Americans, Canadians, and Australians as of early 2024. If Brazil require visas in late 2024, they will most likely cost $80 USD, and we will talk you through the application process. 

Vaccines and Staying Healthy

Vaccines

RetreaTours requires proof of a COVID-19 vaccine and booster for this journey.

No vaccines are required to enter Brazil, but we highly encourage you to work with your local travel clinic or the travel department of your local health department (often a much cheaper option). Please visit the CDC and NHS links below, and feel free to seek guidance from your own country’s health department.

Consider making sure all of your routine shots are up to date, including your annual flu shot and tetanus.

We will be eating in tourist-centered places that focus on hygiene, so keep that in mind when you read about Typhoid and other food-borne illness vaccines.

Malaria & Yellow Fever

Please note that we will be visiting the Pantanal in the dry season, so we don’t expect many mosquitos. Malaria is present in the state of Mato Grosso in Brazil, but the NHS has the Pantanal in the “low to no risk” category.

However, both the NHS and CDC recommend the Yellow Fever vaccine for Brazil.   The latest advice is that your Yellow Fever vaccine covers you for life, no matter when you got the vaccine.

Your best line of prevention against mosquito-borne illnesses is wearing long sleeves and pants at dusk and dawn and using a good insect repellant made with Picaridin or DEET. 

Staying Healthy on Tour

We will be taking 8-10 river safaris  along with 1-2 whale watching boats. We don’t expect this to trigger motion sickness but if you are sensitive to it, please see the motion sickness prevention and treatment section of our comprehensive article, “How to Stay Healthy While Traveling…Naturally” here.

Expected Temperatures & Suggested Packing List

We’ll provide a suggested packing list several months before this journey.

The Pantanal will be 75-95°F, with high humidity and some chance of rain.

About our Hotels

Each of these hotels was carefully chosen for its comfort, location, and character. They each have their own private bathroom and shower.

Here is a list of all of our hotels:

About the Food

Most any dietary requirements can be met on this journey with enough notice. Please indicate any special requests/allergies on the registration form and we’ll reach out to you with any advice or information necessary before taking your deposit.

Bringing Snacks

If you are a “snack-y” person, you may wish to bring some snacks from home as it won’t always be easy to get snacks (especially ones you are familiar with) on the road in the Pantanal. This might mean nuts, protein bars, or other sealed, portable goodies.

Can I drink the tap water?

Please stick to bottled or filtered water on this journey.

Internet & Electricity

The internet in the Pantanal can be very slow, which is manageable once you set those expectations!

We recommend staying connected with your loved ones via WhatsApp (which we will also use on the tour to communicate the schedule and updates). WhatsApp seems to work with the slightest wisp of wifi.

Electrical Outlets and Adaptors

You will need some sort of Universal Adaptor for this trip (such as this), which also has USB and USB-C outlets so you can charge multiple devices at once.

Suggested Fitness Requirements

There are no strict fitness requirements required for this trip because all activities are optional. However, in order to get the most out of your experience, here are our suggested fitness requirements.

We recommend being comfortable (or at least making peace with!) driving on a bumpy road; although we’ll be driving along the Transpantaneria in Brazil, we’ll stop often for photo breaks.

We recommend being comfortable walking 1.5 to 2 miles at a moderate pace (often much slower, along trails in the Pantanal). This will sometimes be over uneven terrain (dirt and sand).

You’ll be entering and disembarking from a small boat for our river safaris in the Pantanal.

It is going to be warm and humid in the Pantanal; you’ll have A/C in your rooms, but when we are out and about, you’ll be able to enjoy a “Pantanal Sauna”  ;)

If you have any questions about your fitness for this trip, please reach out to us and we’ll answer any questions you have!

Travel Times on the Road

We won’t be in a vehicle too much on this journey, but we want you to be prepared. Our vehicle travel times are as follows: 

  • Cuiaba to Aymara Lodge: 2 hours (with stops)
  • Aymara Lodge to Porto Jofre: 2.5 hours (with stops)
  • Porto Jofre to Rio Claro Lodge: 2 hours (with stops)
  • Rio Claro Lodge to Cuiaba: 2.5 hours (with stops)
About your International Flights

We are more than happy to recommend international flights, but ultimately you will make the purchase yourself. We recommend purchasing them directly through the airline when you can, as this makes any potential changes a bit easier than going through sites like Expedia or Kayak.

Arrival

You’ll begin this journey by flying into São Paulo, Brazil by the night of September 28th.

Departure

Your departure flight should leave from Sao Paulo, Brazil anytime from the late afternoon of October 8th. If you need to get home sooner, we can arrange to have you fly from Cuiaba back to São Paulo the night of October 7th.

 

We’ll be more than happy to help you make decisions based on your specific circumstances! Please do wait to purchase flights until we tell you which airport you’ll be arriving into in São Paulo at the end of our trip.

Our Carbon Negative commitment

RetreaTours is Climate Positive!

We purchase double carbon offsets for your travels with us—that’s from your home, through the entire tour, and back to your home again, times three

RetreaTours is officially a Carbonfree® Partner with Carbonfund.org, as well as a partner with Cool Effect.

You may have heard the term “carbon neutral,” which means that a company offsets as much carbon as it produces. With this 200% offset, RetreaTours is actually offsetting more carbon than we produce each year, making us “carbon negative” (or “climate positive,” which has a nicer ring to it!)

Since 2012 we’ve focused on making travel safe and easy for our guests; with our double carbon offset tours, we’re pleased to make our trips as sustainable as they are memorable.

Please see more at RetreaTours.com/CarbonNegative

About BJ and Lauren of RetreaTours

BJ Graf and Lauren Rathvon at Torres del Paine. We love our tours to Patagonia!


You’ll be joined on this journey by Lauren & BJ, owners of RetreaTours–and we are so excited to show you the Wildlife Wonders of Brazil!

Husband-and-wife team BJ Graf and Lauren Rathvon have traveled the globe year-round since January 2013, researching, designing, and leading impactful journeys. We are deeply grateful for the trust that our guests place in us to save them time and resources while they enjoy a memorable journey.

We are committed not only to our guests but to our host destinations and the planet at large. We engage with local businesses and guides to keep money within the community, and we double-carbon offset each of our tours.

We invite you to visit our Testimonials page to see what other people have to say about us!  You can head to our About Us page to learn more about our story.

Contact RetreaTours

Please write Lauren@RetreaTours.com for any questions you may have about this journey.  If you have not received a reply within 48 hours, please do check your spam folder.

How to Register When You Are Ready

  • Click the button below to complete the Registration Questions
  • Lauren will email you with options to pay the deposit

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