Southern Pantanal Region

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The Southern Pantanal occupies almost two thirds of the Pantanal in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul.

The Southern Pantanal is an excellent starting point for those wishing to explore the Pantanal in depth – with some of the best cattle ranches in the Pantanal, the usual variety of Pantanal wildlife and the unmissable Bonito amusement park.

For those arriving from elsewhere in Brazil, your main point of entry will probably be Campo Grande, the state capital.

Map of the Pantanal
Map of the Pantanal

This is a modern, planned city with wide streets and avenues. It also has an impressive number of parks that are worth exploring and provide interesting information about the culture and history of the region.

Despite being located outside the Pantanal, it is a convenient hub for traveling to various Pantanal locations.

Corumbá has earned the honorary title of “Capital of the Pantanal”.

Although considerably smaller (and sleepier) than Campo Grande, it is the largest city in the Pantanal and an important historical center.

In the past, it was one of the busiest river ports in the world, transporting the region’s products (including exotic animal skins) to the rest of Brazil, North America and Europe.

Old buildings in Corumbá dating from this period still line the riverbank and are being progressively restored.

The city even has its own touch of Rio de Janeiro, with its statue of Christ the King of the Pantanal overlooking the city and the big annual Carnival festivities that attract participants from all over the region.

Corumbá is also a favorite destination for Brazil’s sport fishing fraternity, with many fishing boats and Barco-Hotels operating on the waterfront. Corumbá is likely to be your gateway to the region if you arrive from Bolivia on the infamous Death Train.

For those interested in seeing wildlife, the Estrada Parque is another great attraction.

This is an unpaved road that leaves Corumbá and provides a route to several small villages and cattle ranches in the heart of the Pantanal.

Arara no Parque Nacional do Pantanal Matogrossense
Arara no Parque Nacional do Pantanal Matogrossense

Although it doesn’t have the fame of the Transpantaneira, travelers along the Estrada Parque will often see capybaras, caimans (in their thousands), giant anteaters, anacondas and various birds.

Jaguars are also sometimes seen, but they are rare and require a lot of luck.

Aquidauana is another region of the Southern Pantanal that is very popular with visitors.

This region, along with neighboring Miranda, contains most of the cattle ranches accessible to tourists in the Southern Pantanal.

Aquidauana and Miranda guarantee a complete immersion in your Pantanal experience, offering comfortable accommodation with ample wildlife watching opportunities and a chance to experience the culture of the Pantanal cowboy.

This region includes small mountain ranges, known as the Maracajú Plateau and the Serra.

The higher altitudes mean cooler and more comfortable temperatures, as well as several fast-flowing rivers suitable for kayaking, fishing and picturesque waterfalls.

The Pantanal region of Nhecolândia is located between the Taquari River and the Negro River, including the towns of Coxim and Rio Verde.

This is a popular area among sport fishermen, with rapids and small waterfalls that provide a spectacular sight as the fish make their way up the river during the annual spawning season (November to March) and guarantee a feast for the region’s alligators.

The Pantanal region of Nhecolândia is also historically important, as more than two centuries ago the local rivers were the main road for the first settlers and prospectors via the monções (river expeditions).

An ancient rock known as Pedra do Leireiro, which served as a landmark and contains inscriptions from these expeditions, can still be found here.

The southern end of the Southern Pantanal region is the Nabileque area. It includes the city of Porto Murtinho, which is the last major Brazilian city before entering Paraguay. This is another historic city, as well as another major fishing center.

Cities and Regions in the Southern Pantanal

1. Campo Grande

Campo Grande is the capital of Mato Grosso do Sul and is the gateway to the Southern Pantanal.

Campo Grande is also a great place to learn more about the culture and history of the Pantaneiro, get to know Sertaneja music and explore the parks with the local wildlife… just don’t mention the new Pantanal Aquarium.

It’s likely that you’ll pass through here on your way to/from the Southern Pantanal, as this is the hub of local transport services. Although Campo Grande is probably not at the top of your wish list, it’s worth spending a day or two getting to know the history, nature and culture of the Pantanal better.

Also, if you’ve been in the Pantanal for a long time, going to a concert, a shopping mall or seeing the latest blockbuster movie in a modern, air-conditioned cinema is a great way to reconnect with civilization.

The city is known locally as Ciudad Morena, thanks to its dark red (and fertile) soil. The climate is quite hot (the average temperature reaches 28°C in July and August), but it is cooler and less humid than the Pantanal.

2. Corumbá

Corumbá is a small historic city located in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul, on the border with Bolivia.

The city offers an opportunity for visitors to appreciate the faded elegance of its cobbled streets and art deco architecture, recalling its heyday as a bustling trading port for products from the Pantanal and the Bolivian Amazon.

Corumbá is one of the oldest cities in Mato Grosso do Sul. Although many buildings in the city center and along the waterfront date from the 19th and early 20th centuries, the city was founded much earlier, in 1778. The oldest structures have not stood the test of time or were destroyed during the Paraguayan occupation of the city during the Paraguayan War (1864-70).

Most of the historic buildings that visitors see today date from the post-war period, when the city’s strategically important river port brought new settlers, trade and the establishment of new military bases to strengthen the border.

However, the advent of railroads and road transportation meant that the focus of the region’s development shifted to other cities, such as Campo Grande, Aquidauana and Dourados, leaving behind the living time capsule that visitors can see today. Recently, the city has recognized its heritage, with many old buildings being restored to their former glory.

Corumbá is nicknamed the Capital of the Pantanal because it is the largest city within the boundaries of the Pantanal.

It is also known as the White City due to the light color of its soil, which has a high limestone content.

The local economy is based on cattle breeding, fishing, tourism, cement production and maintenance of the Brazil-Bolivia gas pipeline. Several small iron and manganese mines were also operating in the nearby hills until recently.

Although Corumbá is the main town, the immediate region is actually a conurbation with several other towns, including:

  • Ladario: is the site of a Brazilian naval base established in 1872, after the Paraguayan War
  • Puerto Suárez: on the Bolivian side of the border, it has a large shopping center, banks, hotels and tours of the Bolivian Pantanal
  • Puerto Quijarro: also on the Bolivian side. There’s not much to see, but it’s the site of the train station that offers transportation to Santa Cruz.

Traveling to and from Bolivia is fairly straightforward, but you may need to get your passport stamped (not always necessary for a simple shopping trip) and switch between Brazilian and Bolivian cabs at the border.

Brazilian cabs can be very expensive, so be aware that there is also a regular bus on the Brazilian side that travels to the city center.

2.1 Tourism

Until a decade ago, Corumbá was a popular transit point for backpackers traveling to and from Bolivia.

The city of Corumbá had several backpacker hostels and was a good place to organize excursions to the Pantanal.

However, these agencies have moved away or no longer exist. Although local hotels can sometimes offer details of particular guides, their quality can vary significantly.

The safest bet for visitors wishing to spend a few days in the Pantanal is to book directly with a pousada or fazenda online or to use one of the better-known agencies operating in Campo Grande.

On the other hand, if you want to take a leisurely day cruise along the Paraguay River (still a great opportunity to see wildlife) and/or try your hand at fishing, there are plenty of agencies to choose from along the riverbank at Porto Geral.

The agencies even allow you to rent a small boat so you can set your own pace.

For Brazilians, Corumbá’s main tourist attraction is fishing, with boat hotels and fishermen’s lodges providing an ideal haven of tranquillity.

The city also hosts important events, such as the annual carnival and the South America Festival.

3. Aquidauana

Aquidauana is one of the best places in the Pantanal to get to know the Pantanal lifestyle, as many nearby cattle ranches have been opened up to tourists.

As well as enjoying the local wildlife, this gives visitors the opportunity to experience the life of the Pantanal cowboys with their cattle rides, music, traditional leatherwork and the sharing of iced tereré (mate tea) at the end of a long day.

The municipalities of Aquidauana and Anastácio together cover almost 20,000 km2, bordering other nearby municipalities such as Corumbá and Rio Verde.

The region can be divided into two geographical areas: a plain that occupies around two thirds of the region and the remaining third occupied by the Serra da Maracaju and Serra da Piraputanga mountains.

These mountain ranges are a popular refuge, as the extra altitude helps to alleviate the heat and humidity during the summer.

There are also several fast-flowing rivers that are popular with locals for canoeing and rafting, and are said to have some of the best fishing in the Pantanal.

The municipality of Aquidauana is actually two towns: Aquidauana (on the north side of the river) and Anastácio (on the south side).

The two towns grew independently and were connected for the first time in 1926 with the construction of a small single-lane bridge.

This bridge (known as the Friendship Bridge) still exists, but is now complemented by two other large multi-lane bridges, allowing the twin cities to effectively function as a single entity.

The cities are located 140 km from the state capital, Campo Grande, and have a combined population of around 70,000 people.

Aquidauana is known as the Nature City, and its proximity to the Pantanal means that wildlife can even be seen in its parks, including macaws, herons and tuiuiú, which sometimes nest in the Praça da Matriz, near the cathedral.

4. Miranda

Miranda is a small town of 25,000 inhabitants located between Aquidauana and Corumbá.

It’s so small that you can walk from one end to the other in about 10 minutes. However, as well as being the heart of a cattle ranching area, the surrounding region is known for its fishing and Pantanal lodges.

This is a popular spot for tourists, with several well-established Pantanal lodges, such as the Caimain Ecological Refuge, which has earned a good reputation among international visitors and for its support of conservation efforts, such as the Blue Macaw Project.

The average temperature varies between 20°C and 24°C, depending on the time of year, reaching 10°C in the dry season (winter) and rising to 35°C in the wet season (summer).

5. Coxim and Rio Verde de Mato Grosso

The cities of Coxim and Rio Verde de Mato Grosso are the gateway to the Nhecolândia region of the Pantanal.

These towns lie outside the Pantanal ecosystem, but have achieved local fame for their abundance of sport fishing and for being an idyllic refuge with waterfalls and clear water streams.

The Nhecolândia region covers the area between the Taquari River and the Negro River.

The temperature varies from 20°C in winter to 41°C in summer.

The two main cities are Coxim and Rio Verde de Mato Grosso, located on the outskirts of the Pantanal, in an area predominantly of cerrado and woodland.

The cerrado is renowned for its high biodiversity and is Brazil’s second largest ecosystem, originally covering an area of over two million km² and spread over four states in central Brazil.

5.1 Coxim

Coxim is a popular spot for fishing and is located at the confluence of the Coxim and Taquari rivers.

The city is also surrounded by several other rivers, which makes it known locally as the “Paradise of the Waters”. In these rivers, fishermen can find catfish, jaú, dourado and piraputanga.

5.2 Rio Verde de Mato Grosso

Rio Verde de Mato Grosso is located 52 km south of Coxim, along the BR-163 highway.

It shares a similar history, having also been originally settled by the Kayapó.

Rio Verde has recently begun to invest in tourism, establishing new services and infrastructure.

Packages are aimed at Brazil’s sport fishing community and weekend trips for residents of Campo Grande, the state capital, located 200 km away.

These packages emphasize the region’s picturesque waterfalls, swimming spots, spas, campsites and other idyllic hideaways.

Activities include horseback riding, archaeological sites and abseiling down waterfalls, Acqua rides and even hang gliding from the Pindaivão viewpoint.

6. Porto Murtinho

Porto Murtinho is a small town of 14,000 inhabitants, located at the southern end of the Southern Pantanal.

It is at this point that the Paraguay River leaves Brazilian territory, heading towards the Paraguayan capital, Asunción.

The town is not much visited by foreign tourists, but it does have several small inns and boat hotels used for fishing trips.

The stretch of the Paraguay River around Porto Murtinho is considered one of the best in Brazil for fishing.

There is also a selection of flora and fauna in the Pantanal, although not as abundant or diverse as in the north.

As elsewhere in the Pantanal, the economy is based mainly on cattle ranching, but also on tourism, agriculture and the production of tannins for leather processing from quebracho hardwoods.

The climate is very hot, with heavy rainfall, especially between October and January.

During this period, the temperature reaches around 38°C. In the winter months (June/July), it drops to around 10°C.

When to go to the Pantanal in Mato Grosso?

The best time to visit is from May to September, when it rains less. In the months of April to May, when the waters begin to recede, wildlife watching becomes better.

The rainy season begins in October and lasts until April, with January and February being the wettest months.

See in detail the climate of the Pantanal in Mato Grosso

See the following publications on the Pantanal of Mato Grosso:

  1. Watching Mammals and Reptiles in the Pantanal
  2. Fishing in the Pantanal – Best places, baits, methods and seasons
  3. Most common fish species in the Pantanal
  4. Bird watching in the Pantanal of Mato Grosso
  5. Most common bird species in the Pantanal of Mato Grosso
  6. Flora of the Pantanal of Mato Grosso
  7. Fauna of the Pantanal of Mato Grosso
  8. Mato Grosso Pantanal – Geography, Climate, Soil and Rivers
  9. History of the Mato Grosso Pantanal – Discovery and Economic Development
  10. Southern Pantanal Region
  11. North Pantanal Region
  12. Why go to the Pantanal in Mato Grosso?

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