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  • Writer's pictureBecca Jackson

5 fantastic reasons to self-drive the Northern Pantanal | The ultimate Brazilian wildlife adventure

Updated: Jun 9, 2023

In September 2022 whilst travelling around Brazil we decided to visit the world’s largest wetlands, The Pantanal. September is dry season, the rains stop, and the land begins to dehydrate. Throughout the wetlands this makes for the best time for wildlife spotting, nowhere more so than in Porto Jofre. Porto Jofre is world renowned for being the best place to spot jaguars in the wild, during dry season you can almost guarantee it. They head towards the only remaining water sources, the rivers, from which you can observe these beautiful creatures in their nature habitat. Jaguars are not all that inhabit the wetlands, it is also teaming with birds and other mammals such as the tapir, giant anteaters, southern tamandua, giant otters and capybara, just to name a few.


Visiting this remote wilderness is not cheap unfortunately, and for those on a strict backpacker budget going on one of the expensive organised tours is often not an option. That would have also been the case for us as the costly tours were way out of our budget, and at first glance seemed to be the only option.


However, we are here to tell you that it isn’t the only option! You can self-drive your trip into the Northern Pantanal for half the price! Cost is not the only winning argument for this either, there are many benefits. Dubious? Read the 5 fantastic reasons below and start planning your self-driving the Pantanal adventure!


Jaguar in Porto Jofre, northern Pantanal, Brazil
Jaguar in Porto Jofre

5 fantastic reasons to self-drive the Northern Pantanal


1. It is much cheaper than going on an organised tour

Probably the most important reason for budget backpackers like us, organising your own adventure and self-guiding it too is always cheaper than a tour. We were quoted, by several tour companies, £1,000 - £1,500 ($1,200 - $1,800) per person for a 4D3N tour. We were able to replicate the tour companies’ itineraries add extra adventures for half the price!


2. It is so easy to do!

The idea of making your own accommodation, hire car and safari arrangements may feel daunting at first but it is honestly very straightforward. Car hire was easy, there are some very good safari lodges that welcome self-drivers and offer safari day trips directly from the lodge. We were able to arrange all of this with a little googling & a few emails all within a 24-hour period.


3. You are the master of your own itinerary

All the tours we looked at followed a very similar itinerary, which isn’t necessarily bad, but gives no flexibility for personal preferences. The tours tended to be described as either ‘North Pantanal Safari’ which didn’t include heading into Jaguar territory, or ‘Jaguar safari’ that spend most of its time in Porto Jofre jaguar spotting and hardly any time further north near Poconé. What if you want to spend equal amounts of time doing both? Avid bird watchers will definitely want more than one night in the north before heading further down to Porto Jofre.


4. You can go on your own safari

The lodge we stayed at near Poconé, Pouso Alegre, had huge grounds littered with tracks you could drive down and explore. The owner, Luiz, was more than happy to give you a map of the land and you are free to drive around and do you own safari wildlife spotting. Additionally, on the drive between lodges, travelling down the Transpantaneira, you will spot lots of wildlife and when self-driving you are free to stop and spend as long as you want watching. We must have stopped for a good half an hour watching a family of Capybara grazing in the grass. I’m fairly certain an organised tour would not stop for that long, if at all!


5. Because you can – be a dare devil!

Organising and executing anything yourself is always more of an adventure and obviously comes with a little more risk. However, we find adventures such as this leave you with the best memories and the most incredible stories and if you are anything like me, pride that you did something out of the ordinary and potentially even your comfort zone.


Summary

As I said at the beginning of this post, for a lot of people the cost visiting the northern Pantanal on a guided tour means it is a nonstarter so hopefully this article has inspired you to start planning your own self-drive trip. It honestly is very easy to arrange, to make it even easier you can even follow the itinerary we did and stay at the lodges we did as we would highly recommend them both. Read our northern Pantanal blog for all the information to organise your trip.


Visiting the northern Pantanal is not something you will ever regret; the abundance of birds and wildlife is incredible; and if you do get chance to see jaguars, it is an experience you will never forget.


Family of capybara spotted on the drive down the Transpantaneira, northern Pantanal, Brazil
Family of capybara spotted on the drive down the Transpantaneira

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