The Phantom and the Wetlands - Wildlife Photography Tour
You peel your eyes. You ache to see form in every dark recess. You scan each break in the foliage. You vie for that fleeting glimpse; that quivering look; that obscure form.
But as the boat drifts ahead, strutting out in the open like a ruler and not skulking in the shadows like a ghost is a phantom who has shed his invisibility cloak to reveal his rosetted raiment.
You've opened your eyes to the jaguar and your heart to its greatest wetland home - the Pantanal.
How is it?
In the heart of South America, imagine one of the planet's largest wetlands, sprawled over at least 140,000km2 in three countries, and you begin to get a picture of the Pantanal. A basin that is a result of the depression of the earth's crust, it constitutes an epic river delta that will ward away your depression with its wealth of unique wildlife.
The world may regard the Amazon as a great wilderness, but for those with wildlife at heart and camera in hand, the Pantanal has emerged in recent times as a destination second to none.
Hundreds of species of birds, butterflies, flowers, fish and mammals constitute this precious paradise. Flora are rich, with around 3500 plant species inhabiting the 'complex', and the forests are moist tropical Amazonian and semiarid woodland, and grasslands covering the areas of seasonal flood.
Inarguably, though, the prime attraction of this paradise is the apex predator, who, in all his felinity, is that intoxicating mélange of power, beauty and grace that has inspired an array of consumer products from bathroom fittings to luxury car marquees.
The jaguar was born to dominate your psyche. A solitary predator that enjoys swimming, hunting and biting - for its jaws are twice as powerful as a lion's — this star of many an ancient Mayan myth is quite literally armed to the teeth. With the looks of a leopard and the habits of a tiger, it commands fandom and elicits total fascination. And in the Pantanal, it comes in size XL as standard.
At 160kg, a male can weigh as much as a lioness, and easily trounce its forest counterpart, which is decidedly smaller. All that stockiness helps because the jaguar is a heavy diner, preferring to fetch its meat from the mart wholesale, and to that end routinely wrestling down big prey that is on the wrong side of 300kg.
While deer, tapir, and capybara — the world's biggest rodent — are fair game, even the caiman and the mighty anaconda might not escape ending up on the jaguar's spread if it sets its eyes on them. With a unique killing technique of puncturing the victim's brain with its lethal fangs, the jaguar packs quite a crack in its jaws and an inescapable magnetism in its eyes that is well worth flying miles to see.
What you will see and photograph:
There is one of two things you can do in your lifetime — see a jaguar on the riverside from a boat or not see a jaguar on the riverside from a boat. If you prefer the first option, which is the one we'd recommend, the Pantanal is arguably the best place in the world to do it.
Although the Pantanal is submerged underwater for most of the year, in the dry season starting June, with all the cat lovers in the same boat, a glimpse of the 'Tiger of the Americas' can get you doing a samba. But this is far from a one-dimensional quest for the protagonist, and rather a spirited pursuit for the multi-hued riches of the Pantanal wetlands.
And so you are likely to experience photographic satisfaction from eclectic sources, including at least seven species of mammals, two varieties of reptiles and virtually countless species of birds.
Around the swamps if you smell a rat, it must be a capybara, the world's largest living rodent. Looking like the fruition of a quirky amorous liaison between a swine and a marmot, these gregarious creatures, otherwise closely related to guinea pigs, can be seen in groups of up to 20 when they're not hiding from predators underwater, which they can do for up to five minutes at a stretch. Apparently they seem to like nothing as much as a relaxing swim in the water, because they're also perfectly capable of doing the one thing you'd never want to do during a swim — snoozing!
South America's second largest land mammal is no less an object of intrigue. The South American tapir, which can live up to 30 years if a jaguar doesn't bite its lifespan short, looks like a developing elephant nipped in the bud and finished with the ears of a hippopotamus. But all comparison ends there, as this precious species inhabits an altogether different continent, fighting its vulnerability to extinction.
The endangered giant river otter brings up the trio of glossy-brown-coated mammals sporting a predilection for aquatics, with the added distinction of being the longest weasel. And perhaps because it haunts the Amazon River and the Pantanal with unique vocalizations, it is known by a variety of imaginative names, among which 'River Wolf' and 'Water Dog' are chief, but when 'periscoping' in the midst of a fishing hunt, it most closely resembles a limited aquatic edition of a meerkat!
Reptilian attractions are not trivial in the very least. While anacondas, who can swallow down prey as big as marsh deer and as unwieldy as caiman, are seen in the swamps, the caiman themselves are material for intriguing observation and rewarding photography, as they lie close to water hyacinth or on a stunted tree stump looking like living fossils.
And then there are the lovely birds that are known to have roughly the same effect on man as trance music. Toucans, with their garden-scissors-sized beaks and beautifully coloured eyes and necks, the astounding red-and-green macaws and hyacinth macaws in their resplendent plumes, and the Amazon kingfisher lead the 'aero show', while the sight of a jabiru stork tending to her young on the nest in the midst of sensational baby-pink piuva flowers provides the kind of moments that life is worth living for.
But the weirdest of them all is the giant anteater — the largest species of anteater anywhere in the world, the best chance to see which lies on the optional pre-Tour extension to Bonito. Although its diet is composed of the minuscule creatures that ants and termites are, it can grow up to seven feet in length, and is one of the few mammals with absolutely no teeth, for the simple reason that it doesn't need any. Its peculiar looks, however, are bound to yield images with a cutting bite!
Finally, the showcase species, the capuchin and howler monkeys, ensure that touring a place with lofty expectations was truly never so justified.
Behind Jayanth's awe-inspiring work are a fierce commitment to nail the composition in the field, an assiduous abstinence from digital manipulation, a nearly devotional love for quality, and zero appetite for compromise. Jayanth uses the strengths of his tools to his immense advantage, creating powerful vignettes of optical excellence designed to pamper the aesthetic corner of a nature lover.
Jayanth is one of the co-founders of Toehold and you can have a look at his work on his website www.wildlifetimes.com or keep a tab on him on his Facebook Page.
Read more about Jayanth here.
WHY GO ON A TOEHOLD PHOTO TOUR?At Toehold, we are passionate about photography just as you are, which lets us understand your travails and needs perfectly. And we use this insight to specially design our Photography Tours so they give you a toehold to excel at the art and set you up for success.
The Toehold team at your disposal will keep you tuned and geared, so you come in empty-handed but go out with bagful of images and tales of an experience that is better lived than heard.
- A clinically organized tour with utmost attention to your comfort and needs
- An open, informal environment that promotes interactive learning
- A team that will strategize and work to a plan to optimize opportunities and ensure a great tour
- Practical, hands-on assistance in photography from the tour Skippers both in the field and off it
- A wealth of subject matter knowledge
- Individual interaction with the Skippers over general or specific issues
- First-hand learning from the masters in the art and craft of photography
These exclusive, informative and interactive sessions are -
TESTIMONIALS BY OUR PREVIOUS TOUR PARTICIPANTSPhotography enthusiasts who were a part of a similar Tour previously said:
Rewarding expedition. Jaguars, Macaws, Anteaters - super fun
- Saurav Mahanta, Bangalore
Still remember the mother and cub amongst other remarkable opportunities. Very happy!
- Mohan Thomas, Bangalore
After Tigers, Jaguars were high on my list and this place is magic! Super tour and great photo ops.
- Angshuman C, Kolkata
If Brazil was closer to India, I would go every year on this tour to Pantanal. Light is magical! Jaguar is divine!
- Ramesh S, Chennai
The decision to sacrifice a hotel and stay in the boat closer to the Jaguar is a gem of an idea, I loved this tour and have great photographs to show off now.
- Murali, Chennai
I sincerely suggest this specialised expedition to anyone interested in the Jaguar.
- Mr and Mrs Kareem S, Mumbai
Please click on any thumbnail and use the left and right arrow keys to navigate between photos in the gallery.
Entry into Brazil requires a valid visa. Please get in touch with us well in advance to have your visa application for the Tour processed.
- DAY 1 24 September 2017, Sunday: Anteaters in Bonito
We recommend you take the Azul Brazilian Airlines flight AD-2912 departing Sao Paulo (GRU) at 09:15 and arriving in Campo Grandé (CGR) at 09:55.
Upon arrival, we are greeted by our trusted guide, who is extremely experienced and has a wealth of knowledge on reptiles, birds and the coveted jaguar. We drive to reach Bonito, a small town famous for its blue waters, and check in to our hotel. In the evening, we pursue giant anteaters and hopefully enjoy some wonderful photographic opportunities with these unique creatures.
In the evening we enjoy the first of many interactive sessions from the Skipper before dining and retiring for the night.
- DAY 2 25 September, Monday: Sinkhole Photography and Optional Floating Tour
In the morning we explore a nearby sinkhole and spend a generous amount of time enjoying photography around its surroundings. A sinkhole is a natural depression in the earth formed by a chemical phenomenon. The sinkhole we will visit is a great place to photograph macaws, especially, various perspectives of which can be made at this picturesque location.
After 11 in the morning we then take a floating tour (optional) of Rio da Prata which is a fantastic excursion on a river, where we float using snorkels for four kilometers amidst plenty of beautiful fish and other underwater creatures. Swimming is a mandatory skill to complete this tour and this is an optional excursion. Participants can spend time at the sinkhole or at the hotel if they are not interested in the floating tour.
In the evening, we return to the domain of the giant anteaters to better our images of them.
- DAY 3 26 September, Tuesday: Morning Macaws and Transfer to and Overnight in Cuiabá
Following another hopefully productive session photographing macaws, we drive to Campo Grandé, and take the 22:15 flight to Cuiabá (CGB; please see below for flight details). Overnight in hotel.
- DAY 4 27 September, Wednesday: Transfer to and Overnight on the Pixaim
Leaving early in the morning, we drive to Southwest Pantanal. We spend the day around the incredibly located lodge looking for toucans, anaconda, hyacinth macaw, Amazon and giant kingfishers, hawks and the jabiru stork, before retiring overnight in the lodge. This evening we get a final opportunity to capture some stunning sunset and back-lit images of the birds and caiman in the Pixaim as we set on smaller boats for a short boat ride in the evening.
- DAY 5 28 September, Thursday: All Day on the Pixaim
We spent the entire day exploring the wildlife of the Pixaim. Between the field sessions we enjoy highly illuminating sessions on natural history and photography from the Skipper, enabling ourselves to make the most of our photography.
- DAY 6 29 September, Friday: Boat Safaris to Sight and Photograph Jaguars
After breakfast we board the safari boat, and venture through the curvy river, making our way to the flotel close to the heart of jaguar land which will be our home for the next four nights. A flotel is a 'floating hotel' — essentially living quarters built on top of rafts that float over water, decidedly a most romantic hideout on a trip to the Pantanal.
Then we set out on our maiden boat safari, looking for jaguars. Small speed boats are the best way to explore and photograph in the narrow waterways of the Pantanal. Being completely open, they are ideal for photography and seating only three participants in each boat, we ensure everybody has ample room for storing their equipment as well as positioning themselves in the right angle for a photograph.
Smooth-sailing in the shallow waters, we acquaint ourselves with the unique habitat and look for subjects to photograph in the ecosystem. Early luck can produce the coveted sight of a jaguar but even otherwise, there is plenty to keep you occupied.
Upon our return from the safari, we dine and retire overnight in the flotel.
- DAYS 7 TO 9 30 September to 2 October, Saturday to Monday: Boat Safaris and Overnight Stay in Flotel
For three more magical days, we enjoy day-long boat safaris, giving ourselves thereby the maximum chance to bag memorable experiences and make images of jaguars, chiefly, and all the other attractions, including caiman, capybara and the bounteous avian life.
Both mornings we leave after breakfast at around 7:00, and stay out on safari all day, coming back for a short lunch break or carrying packed lunch for the afternoon to keep us going.
In the evenings, Skipper Jayanth Sharma will chair fascinating and highly interactive sessions of ChaayaaChitraChaayaaChitra: Photography Techniques, Tips, Tricks, ChitraTantraChitraTantra: Photo Principles, Reviews, Critiqueand CharchaalokaCharchaaloka: Presentations, Lectures, Discussionswhich are designed to be extremely informative, engaging, inspiring and an awful lot of fun. Participants get to learn a wealth of photography and natural history during these talks and can glean highly useful tips and techniques that can then be put to use during the next day's shoot.
A scrumptious buffet dinner will be spread out each night to augur well for a good night's rest, so we may rejuvenate ourselves for a full day's adventure and photography ahead.
- DAY 10 3 October, Tuesday: Morning Boat Safari and Transfer to Sao Paulo via Cuiabá
After an early-morning boat safari as a final attempt at finding jaguars, we lunch and are transferred to Cuiabá by road, whence we fly to Sao Paulo.
We recommend participants travelling from India to take the Emirates flight which departs for Dubai at 01:25 on 4 September, Wednesday. Participants will have a layover of about six hours in Sao Paulo to connect to this flight.
BONITO (SOUTH PANTANAL)
SOUTHWEST PANTANAL (PIXAIM)
JAGUAR EXPEDITION — PANTANAL
Exclusive of service tax
Exclusive of service tax
Exclusive of service tax
* Exchange rates listed here as on the date of payment will apply. Additional bank charges may be payable at actuals.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What are the requisites to participate in this Tour?
Apart from interest, a valid visa and related documents, and a minimum level of fitness are essential. Visa assistance will be provided.
- I am a newbie in nature photography. Am I eligible?
Absolutely! This Tour is meant for fledgling as well as experienced photographers. Beginners get all the advantages of learning on and off the field from Toehold's eminent Skippers. In fact if you are a newbie, you should jump on this terrific learning opportunity and sign up right away! However, in order to make the most of the Tour photographically, we recommend that you be familiar with photography fundamentals. If you're not, we suggest you join a Art and Science of Photography Workshop before the Tour.
By what mode or modes will we explore the Pantanal?
We will go around in the Pantanal by boat, by motor vehicle, on foot and optionally, even by horseback.
How sure are you about photographing wildlife on this Tour?
Considering the meticulous attention to timing we pay while scheduling Tours and the local expertise we leverage, we believe that it would be extremely unfortunate if our sightings and photography were unsatisfactory. The Pantanal is a great place to photograph the elusive jaguar and an array of other species but since we will be in an uncontrolled environment, we do not claim that sightings are guaranteed.
What equipment do you suggest on this Tour?
For birds, a lens with a focal length of around 400mm is essential. For mammals, a telephoto zoom lens in the range of 100 to 400mm works very well but since a lot of the photography will take place from a boat, a longer focal length can come in handy as well. A wide-angle or normal zoom to capture landscapes or creative perspectives of wildlife is recommended, along with a macro lens if possible for closeup flora work. An image-stabilized lens and a camera body that performs well at high sensitivities are boons since light conditions can often be challenging and a great deal of photography will take place from a boat. However, if you do not have appropriate equipment, there is no need to fret. Toehold offers an exhaustive array of cameras and lenses for hire, so you can always hire what you need. Click here to see what we offer.
- How different are your Photo Tours from ordinary tours?
Unlike travel agents who plan your holiday from a remote destination to places they sometimes haven't experienced themselves, Photo Tours offer a comprehensive toehold to experience a place through the guidance of a professional photographer. The common ingredients in all our Photo Tours are fun and a lot of learning and knowledge-sharing. Besides, most or all of our Tour participants are photography enthusiasts, which keeps the group in harmony and helps make your experience focussed.
© - All Text, Photographs, Videos and Narrations are properties of Toehold Travel & Photography Private Limited.
- Date: 23 September to 3 October 2017
- Tour Cost:
Per person exclusive of service tax
Per couple exclusive of service tax
Per person exclusive of service tax
All fares excluding flights
- Skipper: Jayanth Sharma