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It’s Brazil’s Amazon that we all know about. The gargantuan rainforest teeming with wildlife of all shapes and sizes. But the sheer density of its vegetation means it’s pretty hard to actually see much wildlife. For that, head south to the more open Pantanal wetlands, spanning Brazil’s centre-west and parts of Bolivia and Paraguay, and totaling half the area of France.
There are two main access points to the Brazilian Pantanal: Cuiabá in Mato Grosso state to the north is one, but we opted for the less well-known southern section for which Campo Grande in Mato Grosso do Sul state is the gateway.
From Campo Grande, we drove three-hours along an excellent smooth highway to the small town of Miranda, around which are several fazendas, or working ranches, that offer accommodation and spectacular opportunities to see the region’s exquisite wildlife up close.
We stayed at Fazenda Baía Grande, about 30 minutes along a dusty track in our 4X4 from Miranda.
It’s a rustic but beautiful place with space for 15 guests among the well tended gardens and open-sided dining and sitting areas that come alive with humming birds, squawking toucans and even a couple of sleepy dogs.
We rode by ‘limousine’ - the affectionately named open-topped carriage pulled by a tractor, down to a small lake on the edge of the fazenda’s land, stopping a couple of times to allow families of capybaras to cross the road.
We jumped down to walk along the banks and were soon joined by a couple of stern-looking vultures. But the birds stepped back when Tony the caiman (a cousin of the alligator) slipped out of the lake to say hello.
Our guide Edmundo assured us that that these type of caimans are not dangerous to humans, but it took more than a bit of nerve to hold our ground when three or four of them came up from the lake and stopped just a few metres from us, all teeth and eyeballs.
We later returned on a night safari, with several million mosquitoes wizzing about in the torchlight, and the caimans’ eyes lit up like neon in the distance. We saw a family of pig-like peccaries and Bibi was convinced she saw a silent black puma flash by our carriage to hunt down a surely-doomed capybara behind us.
The closest encounters came on our horseback ride early the following morning, before the heat grew too stifling. Along with its working horses, the ranch keeps several older, calmer horses so even complete riding novices like us can have a go.
We saw several giant anteaters snuffling around among the many termite nests, their huge bushy tails giving them away, while giant green macaws squawked their deafening protests overhead.
Encountering dozens of curious cows felt a lot safer on horseback, as they first clambered over each other to see us then reared back as the horses pushed through them. We also spotted several types of wading bird and bright-billed toucans.