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Charlie Brazil Paraty Pantanal Rio

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Charlie Goes To Brazil: Paraty to Pantanal to Rio

Paraty, Portuguese Colonial Town

After landing in Rio I set off the following morning towards my first destination, Paraty. A Portuguese colonial town recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and famous for being one of Brazil’s best sources of Cachaça, the spirit used for Brazil’s national cocktail the Caipirinha, the captivating and energetic atmosphere in this historical town is one I can’t wait to get back to.

In Paraty I stayed at the Pousada Literária – a restored colonial house in the centre of Paraty with a serene courtyard adorned with native plants, natural furnishings and its very own library. A twenty-minute walk from the Pousada there’s a beach bar frequented by locals called BalacoBacco. Here, I had my first ever Caipirinha with a phenomenal view of the ocean and tropical islands ahead, listening to the waves drifting on powder sand – the perfect way to start my trip.

By the afternoon it was time to explore the cobbled stone streets of Paraty’s historic centre; art exhibits from local artists, Brazilian coffee houses, traditional Portuguese restaurants and Samba street performances are all part of the town’s allure to persuade you to wander the streets long into the night.

My next day in Paraty began at the town’s harbour where I met my guide for the day on a Land and Sea tour hosted by the Sandi Hotel – the first luxury inn in Paraty, with beautifully preserved 18th century architecture. The private speed boat allowed us to visit the most remote spots of Paraty from narrow bays to swim in, to a secluded beach famous for filming a honeymoon scene for one of the Twilight movies (it really did look like something from a movie!). Next was the island adventure by land, visiting the only tropical fjord on the Brazilian coast, waterfalls and a Cachaça tasting experience at the distilleries of Paraty.

Charlie Brazil Paraty

“My highlight from Paraty has to be diving off the boat into the hidden bays – surrounded by tropical islands swimming in the warm waters and no crowds in sight.”

Charlie Simmons
Marketing

The Pantanal, Brazil’s Wetlands

 

Day 1 – Caiman Ecological Refuge 

After a short flight to Campo Grande the next day and a scenic drive along red-colored dirt roads, I arrive at the Caiman Ecological Refuge, Pantanal. After being shown the suite, I am greeted by my safari guide Rafael who starts by getting to know what brought me to the Pantanal. The Pantanal has the world’s largest tropical wetlands and has one of the highest density of jaguars, the largest cat in the Americas. My biggest pull to the Pantanal was of course to spot the elusive jaguar but also the wide variety of mammals and birds that live in this region, from giant anteaters to the hyacinth macaws.

The Pantanal also has the largest concentration of crocodiles in the world with around ten million caimans, so what better way to start off my adventure with a canoe tour through a lake full of them. Canoeing in a lake with hundreds of caiman sounded terrifying at first but surprisingly it was my most tranquil experience in Brazil. Caiman are timid in nature and paddling with the sound of birds above whilst watching the sunset hit the water was an astounding first experience to say the least.

On the way back in the 4×4 at dark we hear the radio come in – there’s been a jaguar sighting. Our driver races through the grasslands at ‘hold your hat’ speed until we reach the sighting area and continue to creep closer until we see her, the largest female jaguar known to the area, with her cub following at the heel and stalking his mother’s tail.

Caiman Ecological Refuge water exterior

Embrace ranch life and support eco-tourism with an unforgettable stay at Caiman Ecological Refuge, Pantanal.

Explore Caiman Ecological Refuge

Day 2 – Onçafari Conservation Project

5am alarm, double espresso and mosquito spray at the ready, the Onçafari Land Rover pulls up with expert tracker Mario and wildlife biologist Bea at the entrance, ready to take me on the much-anticipated jaguar conservation tour. Onçafari has dedicated ten years to the protection and conservation of jaguars through ecotourism and the monitoring and rehabilitation of jaguars, so I knew a day out with this specialist team was going to be something truly special.

Using a tracking antenna to listen to signatures from the jaguar’s collars, a system that Onçafari uses to collect data like territory migration, Bea gets a faint beep in a south-westerly direction, guiding Mario through thick grasslands and vegetation. Seeing these experts track a jaguar in real time using specialist technology is an exhilarating experience. We didn’t manage to spot the jaguar because this one hadn’t been habituated. Once a jaguar is spotted, Onçafari’s habituation protocol is to switch the vehicle’s engine off whilst coughing, before slowly moving closer. This process allows a safari vehicle to get closer to the jaguars and once they are familiar with the sounds of the vehicle and the people in them, they almost completely ignore you as you admire them up-close, in their natural habitat. 

Observing the largest jaguar known to the area, Tupã is having tapir for lunch, apparently a rare kill for a jaguar due to its tough, rhino-like skin being unfamiliar compared to their usual prey of capybara and caiman. We spent the day roaming the vast grasslands, catching glimpses of more jaguars, spotting marsh deer, capuchin monkeys swinging on trees and a pair of crab-eating foxes.

At sunset, Mario spots a jaguar from afar – I couldn’t see it anywhere but Onçafari trackers are trained to see tiny differences in the landscape to identify jaguars. I finally see a jaguar cub in the distance but it’s startled by the noise of the vehicle – Oreo hasn’t been habituated. Mario starts the habituation process which was an incredible experience to see first-hand – when the engine started Oreo would go back into a nearby forest for safety. It took patience to wait for the cub to come back to the old carcass he was feeding on (the wind was blowing in our direction too!) and then start the process again to come ever closer to the jaguar. To this day, this is the most memorable day of my travels so far.

Day 3 – The Big Five

The last day in the Pantanal was spent on multiple safaris with my personal guide Rafael, searching for the last of the Big Five before I leave and visiting some of the most picturesque spots around. The Big Five in the Pantanal are: jaguar, marsh deer, capybara, tapir and giant anteater. The best thing about a safari in the Pantanal is the unpredictable nature of it all, like driving along the dirt road as a female jaguar is just sat upright, staring directly at you before slowly walking back into the jungle.

On my three day trip I was lucky enough to spot eight different jaguars in ten sightings, but the most memorable encounter had to be  watching this majestic female jaguar almost arm length’s distance apart, looking straight up at me as she came side-by-side with the 4×4, before slowly disappearing back into the jungle. A humbling experience when you realize that you are sitting there with only a car door between you and the largest predator in Brazil. 

Rio, Carnival

 

Arriving in Rio was a massive contrast to the Pantanal. and this year, Rio’s carnival had been rescheduled to the weekend of my last few days in Brazil – the atmosphere was like no other. People dressed in carnival outfits, music pouring out of bars on the streets and beaches, and almost everyone with a beer or caipirinha in their hand – it was totally care-free and infectious seeing so many people dancing and enjoying a long weekend in the city.

The next day I saw all the touristy sites: Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain, the Selaron Steps, Ipanema and Copacabana beaches. Afterwards, I traveled north to join a street party or ‘bloco’. The bloco in Perdo do Sal, an area known as the ‘cradle of samba’ (where it all began), was full of locals and away from the tourist areas. Street food, caipirinhas from stalls, drums beating from every corner and Brazilian anthems being sang (which everyone knew the words to, except me) and people from all walks of life dancing together to the same beat – this is authentic Rio.

My last day was spent with Tom at Eat Rio, a food tour that has recently been featured on the most recent Netflix series of Somebody Feed Phil. This was the perfect end to my time in Brazil, soaking up all the food and culture that’s been brought to Rio, a melting pot of heritage and traditions from Portugal, the Amazon and Africa.