Jaguar Spotting in the Pantanal: South vs. North

Posted by on July 13th, 2023


Perhaps one of the best-kept wildlife secrets in South America is the Pantanal of Brazil. Often referred to as a “Brazilian safari,” there are 2 main regions in the Pantanal where it is possible and even common to see jaguars in the wild, as well as many other beautiful species. I was lucky to visit both on my last trip to Brazil. As with almost every travel destination there are pros and cons to each area which I will summarize below.

Southern Pantanal

To access this region you would fly into Campo Grande, the capitol of Mato Grosso do Sul. The lodge we most recommend in this area is Caiman Ecological Refuge. This is also without a doubt one of the highest-end lodges in the Pantanal. It sits on 53,000 private hectares and the owner is a major proponent of conservation in the area. Caiman has several interesting partnerships with conservation groups but one of the most important is called Onçafari (please click to learn more about their work). Onçafari is headquartered on Caiman’s property, though they are involved in several conservation projects in other areas of Brazil. While at Caiman you can choose to book a day with the Onçafari biologists to learn about their conservation efforts and of course to go looking for jaguars!


  • Caiman is a luxury lodge with many creature comforts and gourmet cuisine.
  • The Southern Pantanal is greener and cooler generally compared to the north which makes it a bit more comfortable while you are out on excursions.
  • Caiman provides a well-rounded wildlife experience. Their guides have the goal of every guest getting to see what they call the Top 5 on their property (Tapir, Giant Anteater, Pantanal Deer, Capybara, and of course Jaguar). Caiman has a healthy population of Giant Anteaters and for me to see this incredibly strange animal in the wild was an absolute thrill!
  • Caiman features a private landing strip so you can take a private charter flight to / from Campo Grande if you want to avoid the 4-hour drive in one or both directions.
  • The flight connections from Rio / Sao Paulo to Campo Grande tend to be better and one can choose to extend to other interesting areas of Brazil such as Bonito. Please click here to view a sample itinerary of this combo on our website.


    • Although the chances of spotting a jaguar here are very high and the statistics get better every season, it is possible that you will only see jaguars that are wearing collars (which is a very important part of the habituation work being carried out by the Onçafari Project).
    • Caiman was originally a cattle ranch and although ecotourism is a major focus, the farm continues to raise cattle. You will spend your time on excursions in large, open safari vehicles driving on the many dirt roads that crisscross the property with some repetition. Compared to the Porto Jofre area in the Northern Pantanal it feels less wild and more like you are on a large (though quite beautiful) farm.   
    • Arranging for a private guide here is not possible, instead you will go out with other guests of the lodge on all excursions.

    Northern Pantanal

    To access this area you would fly into Cuiabá, capitol city of the state of Mato Grosso. This is the location of the famous Transpantaneira, the dirt road that runs from outside of Poconé to the Cuiaba River. The Transpantaneira features 126 wooden bridges that you will cross if you drive the full 145 km (90 miles) of it. The Brazilian government originally had the plan to continue the road through Mato Grosso do Sul but that never ended up happening. At the literal end of this road you will find the Hotel Pantanal Norte. This was originally a fishing lodge and although they do still host fishermen, the other main attraction is that this is arguably the best place to view jaguars in the Pantanal. Thanks to the efforts of conservationists, the jaguars in this area have become habituated to humans and so each year it is becoming easier to see them as each successive generation of jaguars no longer has the instinct to hide from humans. Wildlife viewing happens by speedboat here, from the Pantanal Norte Lodge you travel about 30 minutes upriver until you arrive to the Encontre dos Aguas State Park. With your expert guide you will explore the Cuiabá and Piquiri Rivers looking for jaguars and other wildlife.


    • Although wildlife sightings can never be guaranteed, it would be extremely unusual for you to spend a few days in this region and not spot a jaguar. Porto Jofre has become the most reliable place to view jaguars in the wild in the world.
    • This could be a pro or con depending on your perspective: because it has become a popular place to see jaguars there are many boats out on the river during high season and everyone has radios and communicates to each other, which also significantly helps to increase your chances of spotting jaguars.
    • Hotel Pantanal Norte has a private landing strip so you can choose to take a private charter flight from Cuiabá in one or both directions.


    • In the high season there can be as many as 30 boats on one jaguar sighting and some travelers do not enjoy being nestled next to other boats and people while viewing jaguars.
    • Also during the high season there is the rule that boats are not allowed to use sun covers so that no one’s sun cover blocks any other boat’s wildlife viewing. It is imperative that you bring a good sun hat and long-sleeves to protect yourself from the sun.
      • The Hotel Pantanal Norte Lodge is a basic hotel with very few frills. The owners are very friendly, the food is surprisingly good, but the rooms are basic. They do however feature very strong air conditioning units.
      • The major focus at this lodge is spending time on the river to spot jaguars, so your chances of seeing other land animals are low. That is why we always recommend our travelers also spend time at another lodge (such as Aymara Lodge) in combination with the Hotel Pantanal Norte so that you can experience the full diversity of the Pantanal which is very much worth it. Please click here to read through the itinerary on our website that features both Aymara Lodge and the Hotel Pantanal Norte as well as time in Sao Paulo and Rio.
      • It is a solid 6 hour drive from the nearest airport so it takes more travel time to reach. However, the Hotel Pantanal Norte Lodge also features a landing strip so it is possible to arrange a private charter either to or from the lodge.


      For any wildlife enthusiast the Pantanal of Brazil should absolutely be on your bucket list. Please reach out to one of our knowledgeable destination specialists so we can help you decide where to go and how to plan a truly memorable experience in the Pantanal.

      Call us and start planning your journey today.

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