Tips for Traveling to the Pantanal, Brazil
Airports, Airlines, and Transportation
- Leave generous connection times between flights, especially in São Paulo. The airport is huge! It took us at minimum 25 minutes to walk FAST from the gate at which we landed with American Airlines to reach the Gol Airline ticket counter to go to Cuiabá. Fortunately, we didn’t have to check bags as the line was extremely long. We were able to use the kiosks to check-in which saved us. After going through security and walking to our gate, we used up our hour connection (which was originally longer before our other delays). We got to the bus five minutes before it left for the plane.
- Both Gol and Avianca are good local airline options. Avianca has in seat entertainment.
- Change money at an ATM in São Paulo as there were not any ATM’s at the Cuiabá airport. The information desk told us to “Go to the Shopping.” That seemed weird so we waited to go to a bank near our hotel which limited us to $100, so then we had to go to a gas station that charged a significant fee.
- It’s easy to get Uber or a taxi at the airport. I’m told Uber costs less.
There isn’t much exciting in Cuiabá. There is no need to book any extra time to see drab buildings or breathe the stinky air. Just leave a safety net to arrive before the tour pick up time to get to the Pantanal.
Where to Stay
Hotel Deville Cuiabá
Upon arrival we stayed at Hotel Deville Cuiabá. The friendly front desk staff spoke English, but no one else did. This was fine. The hotel room was simple and nice, especially for the price. The hotel’s restaurant was spectacular. Apparently, it is more conveniently located than the other nice hotel in the city, the Gran Odara Hotel.
Gran Odara Hotel
We stayed at the Gran Odara Hotel upon our return from our tour. The room at this hotel was fantastic, and the towels were the first soft towels we found during our week stay in the Pantanal.
Where to Eat
Hotel Atrium Lobby Bar
After a very chaotic over-night travel trip, we were tired and hungry and settled on lunch at the Hotel Deville Cuiabá as we didn’t feel like going in hunt for food. What a pleasant surprise! The Hotel Atrium Lobby Bar served fantastic food. Though it took a while to get the food, once on our table, we surely enjoyed it. The hearts of palm soup, fish and salad were huge portions and quite savory.
The hotel’s breakfast buffet the following morning at Ventana’s Restaurant was extensive. It included fruits, cheeses, yogurts, meats, cereals, vegetables and more.
We took Fodor’s advice and ate at Choppão for dinner. I was a little nervous that it would be filled with tourists given it made it into the travel guide, but we enjoyed a tasty meal among the locals on the patio. Established in 1974, this is a popular outdoor eatery and the best place to go for local specialties. I ordered the escaldado cuibana, an unusual chicken soup which was fantastic. After Rootie tasted it, she wanted some too! Little did we know, it came with unlimited refills. We certainly didn’t need the beef kabob, which was also good.
Getting to the Pantanal
It is easy enough to drive on the Pan American Highway all the way to a lodge, though we didn’t know this. It is likely just as easy to stay at any lodge and book any game drives, horseback riding, and fishing tours with such lodge. For that matter, we saw some people driving their own car around the lodge and nearby national park. While such options likely decrease the cost of the trip, for a safari, this is a highly inexpensive place to visit for a solid five-day tour, and the expert advice is worth it.
Before going to the Pantanal, our tour company Gasparetour, ranked #1 on Trip Advisor, took us to Chapada dos Guimarães National Park and Nobres. I would definitely do this two-day tour prior to going to the Pantanal rather than after simply because a good wildlife encounter would make the hike to waterfalls and seeing monkeys feel a little anti-climatic. While this two-day trip adds a little more driving to the over all expedition, it was fun and a good introduction into Brazil’s wilderness.
Where to Stay in Nobres/Bom Jardim
I’m uncertain as to how many hotel options are available in this area. We stayed at Bom Jardim, and aside from the simple motel like accommodations there wasn’t much in the tiny town except nearby Josias restaurant where we ate dinner. The nice part about Bom Jardim were the gardens, fish ponds, and birds that the owners attracted. I wouldn’t have guessed that this place would turn out to be the easiest and best location to snap a photo of a toucan and macaw.
Where to Stay in The Pantanal
After two days in the Nobres area, we returned to Cuiabá to take the highway to Peconé, the gateway to the Pantanal. In the Pantanal, there are a variety of lodges called pousadas. We stayed at Pousada Piuval. Our guide felt like this lodge was the best one, especially to see jaguars at the time of year we visited. Unfortunately, the jaguar eluded us, but the grounds at the ranch were nice.
The Pousada included a lobby, gift shop, restaurant, a pool, and outdoor game area with fooseball, billiards, etc. The rooms were nice and spacious. In addition, a handful of roads led us through the expansive 7,000 hectars which included cows, horses, birds, anteaters, monkeys and more. The lodge also includes a boat dock where river cruises and piranha fishing are fun options.
A Few Tips
- May is a little early for visiting with the idea of seeing Jaguars. They are much easier to see on a specific jaguar tour at a preserve which is not accessible at the end of the rainy season. I wasn’t sure if the preserve was a natural habitat, which I now know it is, so I would add this day tour on to any visit to the Pantanal.
- It is also difficult to drive off the road and into some of the fields at the end of the rainy season as while they appear dry on the surface, the vehicle sinks! Thus for more variety, waiting until June is a better option.
- Bring a mosquito netting jacket and bug spray. Normally, I’m a magnet for mosquitoes, but they didn’t bother me with all the Deet I was wearing. Frankly, I didn’t even see that many mosquitoes. On the flip side, the night safaris which utilize a spotlight attracted all sorts of bugs that smacked into us as we bounced along the dirt roads. I was thankful for my mosquito netting for which I was originally teased and later envied. It is good to bring a buff too.
Overall, we had wonderful trip to the Pantanal! ETB