Located in central Western Brazil, the Pantanal is a large mosaic of three of the most important ecosystems of South America. This region is unique in that it is home to one of the highest diversities and concentrations of fauna on the planet, including the world’s largest jaguars.
This is even more impressive considering ninety-five percent of the Pantanal is privately owned and the land is primarily used for cattle ranching and agriculture.
Our ride covers the estates of three such ranches - known locally as Fazenda's. Both are located in the Miranda region, approximately 135 miles from Campo Grande, rich in flora and fauna of the typical savannah bush land, seasonal wetlands and tropical forest areas.
The Fazenda's are intimate ranches that have retained their traditions, both are active and work over 3,000 head of cattle. The Cruz was founded before the war with Paraguay in the midst of the 19th century and is one of the oldest Fazendas of the Pantanal. You will be welcomed as friends, treated as guests and enjoy exhilarating riding with exceptional game viewing on the working horses of the ranch.
Please Note: The opinions expressed in these reviews are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unicorn Trails Ltd. These reviews are "directly from the horses mouth" and unedited. Unicorn Trails may make additional comments for clarification clearly identified in red.
Review received from CF of Swindon on 20/10/2016
Pick-up at Campo Grande airport and transfer to the Hotel Vale Verde (or similar) and have the rest of the day to relax. Depending on the time of your arrival however you may have some time to do some shopping for items you may need for your ride. There are specialised outfitters for ranch and horse equipment nearby. Sun block and mosquito repellents are available in the pharmacy next to the hotel (dinner is not included on this night).
A guide picks you up at 07:30am with the 4x4 vehicle and you'll arrive at the ranch at around 13:30pm. A warm welcome is offered from your host Fernando, the friendly owner of the Fazenda and your host. After lunch, relax in a gently swinging hammock under the shadowy porch or, if you prefer, in your air conditioned room. Later in the afternoon, during a short ride through the vicinity of the ranch, you can check out your trail horse and get a first impression of the wildlife around you. The horses are all well trained, surefooted, calm and yet forward going. Back at the guesthouse, you have some time to check out the surroundings of the ranch. In the meantime, Anna, the cook has prepared the dinner and you are welcome to enjoy her local delicacies. Finish the day on the terrace listening to the sound of the night animals. Riding time 2-3 hrs.
Note: there is also the possibility to take a private air charter flight into the Pantanal wilderness. The panoramic flight to the Fazenda takes about 60 minutes and offers spectacular views from the low flying plane. Please ask for details.
The day starts with a Pantaneiro farmers breakfast that makes you think you just woke up for lunch instead. In the meantime horses are saddled and ready to go. Today the group rides out with the peões, the cowboys of the Pantanal. The idea is to round up and tend to the calves at the outposts of the property. Return to the ranch for lunch. After a siesta, the group gets on the horses again to explore the vastness of the property. There is a great variety of preserved wildlife to see; the birdlife is extraordinary, but many other animals including black howler monkeys and capybaras have also made the region their home. Return during sunset. Dinner and overnight. Total riding time 6-7 hrs.
After an early wake up and a quick coffee you go on a short walk to a nearby pond where hundreds of herons start their day picking fish for breakfast. The approach needs to be careful as the birds will fly off at the slightest movement. But, no worry, they land and take off again in an endless movement, presenting a beautiful spectacle. Return for breakfast. Today you will ride a loop around the ranch and watch and photograph as much wildlife as there is. The American rhea, several species of birds of prey, nine banded armadillos, macaws, ant eaters, the huge marsh deer, are all out there. The schedule has been arranged to ride out with the cowboys for another day of cattle work. It’s a full day on the range so a saddle bag picnic and a teréré Mate tea are provided to keep your energy levels up. The schedule is flexible however, so that the group can always ride off for other adventures.
At sundown the jeep is ready for a night safari when you can look out for the sleeping places of hundreds of white herons, as well as the night time activities of animals such as Maned Wolf, Crab Eating Foxes, raccoon, tayra and ocelots. Then it's back to the ranch for an open barbecue with Fernando and his family. Don’t get tricked by the open bar tonight as there is an early departure the next day!
7 hrs in the saddle.
A hearty breakfast will prepare you for a tough riding day. With a goodbye to Fernando and his crew, you will leave before sunrise in the direction of a new ranch some 35 kms ahead. The guide will set a swift pace to cover most of the distance, taking advantage from the early morning hours, when the horses are fresh and the air is cool. The ride along the Vazante Mangabal and Castelo takes roughly 6-7 hours. Vazantes are areas with retained water from the last rains. These areas present lush vegetation and plenty of wildlife. Stop halfway for a saddlebag lunch. This is also the place where new horses will be supplied, while the others are returned to Fernando.
In the early afternoon you will be greeted by our new hosts Doio and Rita. There is time to have a refreshing shower and relax after the long ride before drinks on the terrace, followed by dinner and overnight. The meals are absolutely delicious and are taken together with our hosts. 7 hrs in the saddle
The traditional Fazenda is a property that encompasses some 16,000 hectares and about 10,000 Nelore cattle, an Indian Brahma cross, perfectly adapted to the variable hot and humid climate of the Pantanal. The Fazenda is located at the edge of the Vazante Castelo, hosting a great variety of wildlife which can easily be observed on the wide stretching and flat savannah bush land. Each day during the stay here you will ride to different locations to observation the wildlife. Nature will gradually reveal its wonders, offering fascinating sights. The Nhecolândia region offers great riding at all paces on the wide land. The rides are divided into morning and afternoon rides, usually coming back to the main house for lunch and to relax. Rita and Doio will make sure that you feel comfortable and at home. There is time in the late afternoon for a relaxing canoe ride and piranha fishing in a nearby lake. We also recommend sharing a round of teréré Mate tea with the peões. The peões, mostly descendants from indigenous people of several tribes of the region, are the authentic representatives of the Pantanal. By riding and chatting with them you will get to as close as possible to the core of Pantanal traditions and history. From them you will learn what the Pantanal is all about. 6-7 hrs in the saddle.
After another opulent breakfast you are prepared for whatever comes for the day ahead. The activities today include a ride on the property in the morning and in a 4x4 driven vehicle photo safari in the afternoon. As an option we can ride out with the peões again to help with their cattle work - they always have something to take care of with such a big herd. The wildlife on this property includes enormous flocks of water birds, like pink spoonbills, several species of herons, jabiru giant stork, all 3 big macaws including the hyacinth macaw, toucans right at the porch, peccari, giant and lesser ant eaters, marsh deer, capybaras, nine-banded armadillo, among others. Since this will be last night at this ranch, a special dinner might consist of generous chunks of roasted wild boar or lamb, either one washed down adequately with some good Brazilian wines on the house. 6-7 hrs in the saddle
Today the group will depart early again for a full day of riding fun to the São Luis campsite. Riding for miles and miles at the edge of the beautiful Vazante Castelo one cannot help but to marvel at the wide open spaces covered with spots of lush native forest. Observe the animals en-route or enjoy a great canter on these lands blessed by nature. Lunch is delivered by the 4x4 support vehicle which also carries your belongings to the campsite. You will stop in a shadowy place for lunch followed by a much welcomed siesta, as the riding day is a long one. The night is spent at the São Luis campsite, which is nicely structured with bathrooms, showers, kitchen, refrigerators, ventilators, window screens and staff on hand. After refreshing drinks, cold beers and a good meal it's time to hit your hammock, or you might prefer to stay awake for some storytelling around the fireplace. From the nearby lake you can hear the unusual sounds of caiman hunting for fish. 8-9 hours in the saddle
Today is the farewell day. Enjoy your last Pantaneiro breakfast before being transferred to Campo Grande airport. Depending on flight times there may be time for a short ride in the morning before departure. The 4x4 vehicle drive takes around 6-7 hours.
There is also the option of doing one of our extensions; Iguacu Falls or Rio de Janeiro and Arraial do Cabo Beach - please enquire.
There is plenty of time for wildlife observation and photography, swimming in the rivers, fishing, etc. The trails lead through large areas of bush land and require occasionally crossings of rivers on horseback.
When is the best time to visit the Pantanal?
A good time to visit the Pantanal is from April to September, because it is winter in the southern hemisphere and the temperatures are more pleasant. This is also the best time to view wildlife as the animals concentrate on the fewer ponds and other water sources available. It is also the nesting season for most birds and macaws. July and August are busy seasons for Brazilian holidays so reservations must be made well in advance.
It is not possible to guarantee a single room each night of this trip and you should be prepared to share.
If you are a non-rider or perhaps simply have no time for the full itinerary, fazenda ranch stays are a good alternative. Trail riding guests may either want to stay after a trail ride a few more days with their hosts, others want to spend some time in the Brazilian countryside, enjoying the authentic rural lifestyle, away from the hassle in the big cities.
Cattle ranches in the Pantanal by far exceed in size from those in the south. Just like our partner ranch on 30,000 acres of land, there are about 12,000 cattle and 250 working horses. Some of them are of the finest Pantaneiro breed. A farm stay at the fazenda offers not only an insight into the traditional cattle business of the Pantanal but also a wildlife experience. Guests will ride out every day or undertake 4WD trips around the property joining the cowboys in their daily tasks.
When staying on the fazenda visitors are offered great wildlife observation and outstanding photography opportunities. Guided by the competent and friendly fazenda staff, guests will explore the natural beauty of the Pantanal on horseback, hiking and on jeep tours. There is also the opportunity to take part in the every day work of the pantaneiro peões, the Pantanal cowboys. Trailing cattle, learning about the secrets of regional horsemanship, or, on the other hand, participating in preparing the delicious food that is produced right there at the fazenda's own facilities, are other experiences that you would not want to miss.
Our ranch in the Pantanal features a 30,000 acre property with some 12,000 of cattle. It belongs to a traditional family who has engaged in cattle breeding for 4 generations. The cultural aspect of the Pantaneiro people, both land owners of European descent and the peões of Indian-Bolivian ancestry, carry a rich heritage of traditions and culture.
We're avid readers here at Unicorn Trails and have selected several books connected to this ride. If you're interested in reading more about the area before you travel, or want to get into the cultural background, here are some suggestions that may inspire you. Click on the links for more information.
The Pantanal: Brazil's Forgotten Wilderness - Vic Banks
Please note: All itineraries are given for your guidance only and it may be altered on the ground and in accordance with the prevailing conditions by the organising team.
The ranches own some of the very best of the Pantaneiro horses, a criollo crossbreed, adapted perfectly to the characteristics of the flooded lands. You will find the Pantaneiro horses suitable even for the less experienced riders. The horses and the saddles are made for comfort and security - and there are many changes of horse during the trip. They are all calm, surefooted and yet forward going.
The trails lead through large areas of bush land and require occasionally crossings of rivers on horseback. Tack is South American / Brazilian / Australian or criollo saddles.
The Pantaneiro Horse has been developed as a cattle horse during the last 200 years to serve on the large farms which usually measure some 150-200 thousand acres. The Pantaneiro or Poconé Horses resemble the Criollo horse from the Southern Brazilian pampas. It has adapted, through natural selection, to the temporary flooded terrain of the Pantanal, feeds even with the pasture under water and does not develop hoof diseases. The horses used by the peões (cowboys) to work the extremely agile Nelore cattle, are very alert and enduring even under heavy work load, when temperatures may reach 40 ºC and more. We offer those horses to the better qualified riders of the group. Handling and tack of the horses is similar to the Western Style. Saddles are lighter and covered by 2-3 colourful sheepskin layers for long days riding.
Competent riders at all paces will get the most out of this ride. You should be able to walk, trot and canter and be comfortable for up to 6 hours in the saddle.
The weight limit for this ride is 209 lb/95 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.
The accommodation on this ride is in simple and traditional working fazendas.
Fazenda Março breeds cattle and sheep and has 5 air-conditioned double rooms between the main house and the chalets. There are separate social areas and a dining room overlooking the cattle and sheep pasture. Hammocks are provided and there is internet access and a nearby lake for fishing.
Fazenda Cruz is a traditional working fazenda with cattle, there are also 5 double rooms in the main historic house plus a fully-screened dining area and large social area. Bicycles are available to use.
Fazenda Recanto Barra Mansa is situated in an isolated, preserved and re-generated area. At all fazendas there are separate toilet and shower facilites, all with hot and cold running water.
All meals are highlighted by local cuisine with some of the most delicious meat you have ever tasted, homemade breads, beignets and rolls, exotic fruits and vegetables, homemade cheeses, compotes and cane fudge and caramel sauces. During your trip you will be treated to fresh piranha, caiman, suckling pig, a BBQ of the hump of the Asian cow and many other delicacies local to the country and the Pantanal.
Vegetarian or other dietary requirements can be accommodated with advanced notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests.
Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct documentation in place for your trip. If Visa’s are required the requirements can change from year to year depending on diplomatic relations. Please request information from the appropriate Consulate in your home country. Unicorn Trails will assist with any questions you have or supply any necessary supporting documents as required by the consulate on request.
British nationals are normally admitted to Brazil without a visa as tourists or business visitors for an initial maximum stay of 90 days. You should retain your immigration landing card (green) and enough cash to pay the US$38 or R$ 115 airport tax, if this has not been paid with the airline ticket; both the landing card and payment of the airport tax are required to leave Brazil.
In the UK the British Foreign Office gives travel advice on 020 7008 0230/ 0233 or www.fco.gov.uk
In the UK the Brazilian Embassy Consular Sectioncan be found at: 3rd and 4th Floor, Samuel House, 6 St Alban's Street, Haymarket, London SW1Y 4SQ, tel: (020) 7930 9055 web site: www.brazil.org.uk
In Brazil the UK Embassy can be found at, Setor de Embaixadas Sul, Quadra 801, Conjunto K, CEP 70200-010,Brasilia – DF, Brazil Telephone: (55) (61) 3329 2300, local opening hours Mon-Fri: 0830-1730, Website: www.uk.org.br
There is a very distinct wet season, with almost all the rain falling between October and April. There is not a great variation in average monthly temperatures around the year but during the drier months of low sun the daily range of temperature is greater because the nights are generally clear and the days are sunnier. These months are the most comfortable because midday humidity is lower. The wet season has more cloud, higher humidity and higher night temperatures.
Average daily sunshine hours in this region range from five to six during the wetter months to as much as nine to ten during the dry season
At Unicorn Trails, the health and safety of our customers is of paramount importance.
Tap water is heavily treated giving it an unpleasant chemical taste but is safe to drink in most urban areas providing it has been passed through a charcoal filter system; you should check with your hotel/restaurant management before drinking tap water. Tap water in remote areas can be unsafe even if filtered; stick to bottled mineral water, which is available virtually everywhere.
As a preventative to Dengue fever you are advised to minimise exposure to mosquito bites by covering up and using repellents. Malaria is also a risk in some northern parts of Brazil. You may need to take anti malarial medication, depending on the areas to be visited. Take medical advice before travelling.
You are recommended to have good medical insurance.
Electricity 110/220V 60HzHz. Electric Plug Details: European plug with two circular metal pins, American-style plug with two perpendicular flat blades above a circular grounding pin, Japanese-style plug with two perpendicular flat blades.
We recommend that you bring all required equipment, including batteries with you when you arrive.
It will be hot during the day and possibly cool in the morning or evenings.
Riding hat, riding boots and chaps
Long sleeved and comfortable shirts
Walking shoes and sandals
Sweater or pullover for mornings and evening in winter (dry season July to November)
Insect Repellent - we recommend at least 50% DEET
Sunscreen and sunglasses
Camera on a shoulder strap with a pouch which can be secured to your belt and batteries/chargers
*Please note laundry services are available at Nhecolândia and Barra Mansa.
This is a 9 day/8 night programme with 7 riding days available on set dates. Other dates available by arrangement for groups of 4 or more. Based stays at one Fazenda can be arranged on request.
2019: 12 Apr; 3, 31 May; 5 July; 9 Aug; 6, 27 Sept;
The Pantanal: Brazils Forgotten Wilderness - Vic Banks
There is plenty of time for wildlife observation and photography, swimming in the rivers, fishing, etc.
Black howler monkeys, water birds, pink spoonbills, several species of herons, jabiru giant storks, macaws, toucans, pecari, giant and lesser ant eaters, marsh deer, capybaras, nine-banded armadillo, caiman, jaguar, maned wolf, bush dog, giant otter, Brazilian Tapir.
The vegetation of the Pantanal is mainly a mixture between three of the most important ecosystems of South America; the Chaco with its dry forest formations to the south, the savannah-like Cerrado to the east and the Amazon jungle to the north. As a result of the topography and the seasonal climate the landscapes consist of swamps, seasonally flooded grass and woodlands, and various types of forest (evergreen, semi deciduous, gallery etc.). This mixture has caused the Pantanal to house the highest concentration of wildlife in all of the Americas.
Around 156,000 British nationals visit Brazil each year.