Pantanal and the Caiman Ecological Refuge – Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil

A Wetland Wonderland

The largest wetland in the world, Pantanal is an oasis of water and wildlife whose numbers and variety are staggering. It is the meeting place of rivers, the last intact ecological paradise, home to a wealth of wildlife elsewhere hunted to extinction – and most South Americans don’t even know about it. Spoonbills, chaco chachalacas, coatis, jabiru, rheas – chances are you’ve never heard the names of many of these exotic creatures, let alone seen them. Others (wolves, anteaters, tapirs, jaguars, deer, armadillos) you may have seen before, though not of this size: Here they grow to be the largest of their kind on the conti­nent. Most of the South Dakota-size area is privately owned by huge fazendas (cattle ranches).

Cows and caimans live side by side in a curious alliance, while the spirit of the pantaneiros, cowboys of the Pantanal, prevails. The Caiman Ecological Refuge – a combination cattle ranch and ecotourism destination – is the perfect home base for exploring the teeming Pantanal. Although the refuge’s 131,000-acre range is but a sliver of the fascinating Pantanal pie, the possibilities for round-the-clock field excursions are nearly limitless. Expert professional guides take you on foot, by boat, by pickup truck, or by horseback through and around the intricate web of rivers, canals, and lagoons. Nature’s spectacle continues at night, when millions of fireflies create Christmas-like effects, and the eerie sounds of the hunt are everywhere. Wild vistas under an open sky are shared by the ranch’s 20,000 head of cattle and other visitors to the refuge.

Life on this working fazenda centers around the main pousada, a handsome, even elegant, Mediterranean-style building that was originally the manor house of the owner’s family. Together with three other buildings scattered across the vast grounds, it accommodates guests who come for total immersion in this unique wildlife reserve, giving them air-conditioning, a pool, and some great home cooking thrown in for good measure.

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