Riding in Brazil’s Pantanal

In 6 hours of travel the road went from tarmac to murrum to sandy tracks with countless gates leading from one fazenda to another. We finally pulled up beneath a large grove of mature mango trees with numerous little black pig families enjoying the cool shade and noisy parrots squawking overhead. Stepping past the verandah with inviting easy chairs, we were welcomed into the cool family home with fresh fruit juices. After a lunch featuring home grown vegetables with a meat dish and tasty desserts, and a long nap, we sallied forth in the late afternoon to meet the horses. Following the “line up” we were introduced to our mounts and tack (sheepskins thrown over the saddle tree, very basic stirrups and rather severe bits). The horses were lovely to ride, very responsive, but a little reactive on the ground. That first evening we saw crab-eating foxes, pampas deer and caiman in every pool, as well as numerous exotic birds, whose names we were just starting to learn.

The days merged into each other; up at 5am to the call of the southern screamers, ride, returning mid morning, lazing the day away and another evening excursion. Sometimes we came across the pantaneros cowboys working their white cattle, lassoing, doctoring, sorting. The Pantanal is 90% privately owned and ranching traditions are proudly upheld.

Pantaneros working their cattle

This is the largest wetland in the world and when the rains come the animals are forced to move off lush green pastures to high and more arid land. All the ranch buildings are situated in these areas and many have rough airstrips since they can be cut off for months at a time. The rides take place in the dry season of June through October.

We stayed at two different fazendas, quite some distance apart, with a night in hammocks along the way.  There was a river running by the second fazenda and one of the activities on offer was boat trips. It was magical motoring along through the shallow water, stopping to photograph capybara, giant river otter and numerous kinds of kingfishers, herons, ducks and  birds that one could never have imagined. Our guide Daniel, who accompanied us on the whole trip, is an excellent ornithologist and made sure everyone was engaged and happy. This was an interesting and wonderfully relaxing holiday that could easily be shared with a non riding partner.

Written by Mel Fox