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Where to see the wildlife of Brazil

By Martha Hales

A country the size of Brazil harbours many different ecosystems, each one supporting a different variety of species. Exotic creatures are everywhere, unsurprising when you consider that Brazil is the most biodiverse nation on earth. Its territory includes 60% of the Amazon rainforest, the world’s largest wetland, as well as tropical savanna, grasslands and mangroves.

Lily pads on the waters of the Pantanal

The sheer abundance of species in Brazil is so extreme that experts can’t even agree on the numbers, but it is a known fact that this enormous country is home to more species of plants, insects and freshwater fish than anywhere else, and comes third in the global rankings for the most species of birds. In terms of endemic species Brazil is second only to Indonesia, meaning there are many natural phenomena here that you can’t see anywhere else.

A hyacinth macaw with bright blue feathers

Centre stage, amid the 55,000 plant species and more than a million different varieties of insects, are the country’s birds, reptiles and mammals. Among the most colourful and exotic of the bird species are the various parrots, toucans, trogons and flamingos, while reptiles such as the giant anaconda and the caiman can’t fail to grab your attention. The thrill of spotting a jaguar stalking through the undergrowth is up there with the top wildlife experiences on the planet, but spotting some of the more unusual species such as the armadillo, capybara, tapir and sloth is just as rewarding.

A family of capybaras swimming in the Pantanal

Given the sheer magnitude of wildlife to observe in Brazil choosing where to spot it can be overwhelming, so we’ve outlined three of the country’s best destinations for observing a wide variety of species.

Birdwatching in the Amazon

While large mammal sightings are scarce among the dense vegetation, the Amazon experience is all about the unsung wildlife. Exploring creeks, rivers and lakes by boat gets you right into the heart of the forest, and while you are marvelling at the incredible plant life all around you, keep your eyes peeled for snakes, frogs, ants and butterflies. These creatures might be small, but what they lack in size they make up for in intrigue. Beware of bullet ants and poison dart frogs, both of which merit a closer look but approach with care as they can both cause great harm to humans. Hundreds of species of butterfly flit through the greenery, some as big as birds and, under the water, huge anaconda snakes and fierce piranha fish compete for your attention.

A tree frog in the Amazon rainforest

Birds and mammals are present in huge numbers too, notably various monkeys, marmosets, sloths and giant otters. Birds such as toucans, macaws, hoatzins and parakeets are the most eye catching but hundreds of other intriguing species make the Amazon their home. Broad stretches of river or wide lagoons offer the long views and open skies that make spotting birds and other wildlife more likely.

A scarlet macaw flying through the Amazon

Jaguars in the Pantanal

One of South America’s finest destinations for wildlife is the Pantanal wetland, the world’s largest flood plain. Covering an area around five times the size of Switzerland, this vast flat basin is surrounded by hills and subject to seasonal flooding. When the rains come the water has few points of exit from the basin and spreads across the floodplain until around two thirds of the area is underwater, while in the dry season the heat is intense and water is much more scarce. The wildlife here has become very adept at coping with these seasonal fluctuations, and during the dry season it is humbling to see many types of creatures all gathering at the remaining water sources to drink and cool down.

Jabiru storks in the shallow waters of the Pantanal

Exploring the Pantanal wetlands by boat is the most effective way to cover ground, as this is a region with scant infrastructure. What makes this area so appealing for wildlife enthusiasts is the visibility of the flora and fauna. Vegetation is much less dense than in the Amazon, and with large swathes of open water or grassland teeming with birds and mammals, there is much to look out for. Spot a capybara nibbling on a tasty frond or a hungry caiman slipping from the riverbank into the water. Watch tapir and anteaters snuffling for food, and listen for capuchin monkeys playing in the canopy. Racoons and coatis forage for crabs in the shallows while marsh deer cool off in lagoons. The apex predator everyone is looking for is the jaguar, a solid and powerful cat with the strongest bite of any feline.

A jaguar on the banks of the Pantanal

Monkeys in the Chapada dos Guimaraes National Park

Reddish rocky bluffs and canyons break up the ancient plateau in the Chapada dos Guimaraes National Park in western Brazil. These canyons are believed to have once been the shores of a long dried up sea (15 million years ago this whole area was submerged under water) and the rosy cliffs delineate the land. Archeological studies of the area back up this theory and many fossilised sea creatures have been discovered here.

The red cliffs of the Chapada dos Guimaraes National Park

Among the caves and waterfalls of the Park, there is an impressive diversity of flora and fauna, and botanists will find many interesting species of flowering plants throughout the protected zone. Hiking is one of the major activities in the park, and there are peaks, viewpoints and waterfalls to visit as part of a longer trek. Trails are often too wet outside of the dry season to enable comfortable walking conditions, so visit between May and October when most of the routes should be open.

The waterfalls of the Chapada dos Guimaraes National Park

The Park is also home to a variety of animal species, notably the pampas deer, maned wolf, howler monkey, coati, tapir, anteater, armadillo, and the elusive jaguar, though the population of these magnificent cats is small. Birders can spot a great diversity of species, but most are hoping to spot red macaws.  

An armadillo wanders through the undergrowth

Make it happen

Brimming with creatures great and small, Brazil’s biodiversity makes it a true hotspot for anyone looking for a trip with a wildlife theme. Contact our local experts today - they are on the ground in Brazil and know their destination inside out, making them the best people to help you plan your Brazil holiday. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.