The Phantom and the Wetlands
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.
- An utterly invigorating excursion into one of the greatest tropical wetlands of the planet
- A fabulous opportunity to see and photograph the otherwise elusive top-cat, the jaguar
- A plethora of interesting subjects encompassing mammals, reptiles and magnificent birds
- An unforgettable experience of visiting a unique and invaluable ecosystem
- Extensive on-field photography assistance and off-field learning with Skipper Jayanth Sharma
- A wealth of natural history revelation and an array of captivating events and experiences
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.
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.
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.
Please note: The Jaguar Expedition commences at Campo Grandé on the morning of 11 August 2019, and end at Cuiabá on 20 August. Participants are advised to arrive in Brazil at Sao Paulo on 10 August, stay overnight and take a morning flight on 11 August to Campo Grandé. Participants from India are advised to take the Emirates flight arriving on 10 August, and book a room in the Bristol hotel for that night’s stay.
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.
Bonito (South Pantanal)
11 August 2019, Sunday
We recommend you take the LAN Airlines LA-3138 departing Sao Paulo (CGH) at 10:05 a.m. and arriving in Campo Grandé (CGR) at 10:55 a.m.
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.
12 August, Monday
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 11:00 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.
13 August, Tuesday
Following another hopefully productive session photographing macaws, we drive to Campo Grandé, and take the 08:40 p.m. flight to Cuiabá (CGB; please see below for flight details). Overnight in hotel.
Southwest Pantanal (PIXAIM)
14 August, Wednesday
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.
15 August, Thursday
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.
Jaguar Expedition — Pantanal
16 August, Friday
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.
17 to 19 August, Saturday to Monday
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 07:00 a.m., 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 Sachin Rai will chair fascinating and highly interactive sessions of ChaayaaChitra, ChitraTantra and CharchaaLoka which 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.
20 August, Tuesday
We recommend participants travelling from India to take the Emirates flight which departs for Dubai at 01:25 a.m. on 14 October, Monday.
- Per Person on Twin Share Accommodation
- Per Couple on Twin Share Accommodation
- Per Person on Twin Share Accommodation
- Twin-sharing accommodation in comfortable lodges
- All meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and hot beverages (coffee and tea)
- All transfers within Brazil except domestic flights
- Visa invitation and registration
- Permits and photography fees
What’s Not Included?
- All airfare, for both international and domestic flights
- Stay in Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro while transiting to Pantanal
- Any kind of personal expenses or optional tours, extra meals and beverages ordered
- Insurance, laundry and phone calls
- Bottled water and soft drinks
- Alcoholic drinks
- All applicable taxes
- Anything that is not included in the Inclusions list
- USD 1500 booking amount (non-refundable)
- USD 3000 before 10 March 2019
- Remainder before 10 July 2019
All figures per person.
- USD 1500 on or before 10 March 2019
- 50% between 11 March and 15 July 2019
- 100% on or after 16 July 2019
Please note: The date of written (email) communication of intent to cancel is the date considered for calculation of the cancellation fees.
While Toehold Photo Travel is one of our most popular offerings, we work as a travel agency without bringing the photography guide element in to your travel. In short you would be using our travel experts service to just plan the vacation and execute it.
- Unlike a Photo Travel experience, your Vacation is completely personalised.
- The dates, style of travel, class of hotels and lodges, destinations, everything is tailor-made to suit your custom requirement.
- A Skipper or a photography guide doesn’t travel with you to guide you unless you decide to take our customised and guided photo travel experience.
So take advantage of the immense experience and field knowledge that we bring in to your Vacation’s planning without having to pay for our time and costs. Plus, we don’t charge an additional fee for our time and travel planning services.
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 an Art and Science of Photography Workshop before the Tour.
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.
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.
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. Visit our Rental Store 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.
Rewarding expedition. Jaguars, Macaws, Anteaters – super fun
Still remember the mother and cub amongst other remarkable opportunities. Very happy!
After Tigers, Jaguars were high on my list and this place is magic! Super tour and great photo ops.
If Brazil was closer to India, I would go every year on this tour to Pantanal. Light is magical! Jaguar is divine!
I sincerely suggest this specialised expedition to anyone interested in the Jaguar.