Guest Contributor Alexandra DeVries, Author Frommers Guide to Brazil

I just returned from the Pantanal and was greatly impressed by the organization of the tour, and most importantly of all, with the destination itself. Although “site tour” may not be the most accurate name for this trip; it was more like Boot Camp! Up at the crack of dawn (or shortly thereafter), early morning hikes, afternoon hikes, swimming in frigid rivers where piranhas, alligators and anacondas lurk, canoeing, biking and horseback riding….not to mention falling into (very comfortable and cozy) beds by 10 pm. Very unlike my normal more bohemian ways.

However, the one week trip was a fabulous opportunity to experience Mato Grosso. This state in central Brazil allows visitors to experience three different ecosystems; the Amazon, the Cerrado and the Pantanal.

THE AMAZON

The most southern part of the Amazon rainforest dips all the way down to Mato Grosso and is only a 5-hour drive from Cuiabá. Our “home base”, the Pousada Jardim Amazônia, is nestled in a well-preserved piece of rainforest and run by a friendly, outgoing couple, whose three enterprising daughters own and manage the fabulous Zank Hotel in Salvador.

Zanketi and his team have carved a beautiful and comfortable property out of the rainforest. The main lodge is the original family house and features a dining room, small reception and 4 rooms. The rooms are small but pleasantly furnished, with a bit of an old homestead feel to it. Just across from the lodge are 4 new bungalows with spacious rooms that can comfortably accommodate3-4 people. A number of wooden walkways lead to the natural swimming pools, formed by a small stream.

Although this part of the Amazon is not as grand and vast as what you may see on a trip further north, it offers an excellent introduction to this ecosystem as the flora and fauna are most certainly Amazonian. Various large fishponds surround the pousada where Zanketi breeds several beautiful (and tasty) species of Amazonian fish. Activities include nature walks, canoeing and swimming. We enjoyed a fascinating forest walk to observe the various Amazonian species of plants, trees and birds, and learned a great deal about the workings of this ecosystem. After a 2-hour walk we were rewarded with a delicious lunch that included freshly grilled Amazonian fish. Then it was time for a boat ride to look for anacondas and other critters. We stopped at a lovely white sandy beach(completely deserted as you can imagine) and went for a swim. The fact that we hadn’t found any anacondas earlier was somehow not that reassuring. Our return to the lodge was by canoe, gently floating downstream without the noise of a boat engine, observing the river and the vegetation.

The next day we headed to Nobres, an area almost halfway between the Pousada Jardim Amazônia and Cuiabá. This region is blessed with many limestone caves, springs and rivers, very similar to those in Bonito, without the crowds and hype. Unfortunately our swim coincided with one of the colder days of our tour. (I must disclose here that I have a particularly low tolerance for cold water, but even by objective standards it was #¨#%#% cold!). However, duty called so in the river we went with a mask, snorkel and floating sandals to prevent you from touching the bottom (kicks up the sand and could possibly disturb the stingrays, which might attract the piranhas who would chew on you just enough to peak the interest of the anaconda… ok, only the part about the sand and stingray is really true; the piranhas don’t actually seem to bite any snorkelers and the anacondas are happy eating other critters). Because of the limestone, the river is crystal clear, just like the ones in Bonito. The region offers several other snorkel and even dive sites, hikes and horseback riding. Our dive master Edson runs a number of dive tours in this region.

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