A Jaguar rests along the Rio Cuiabá Photo: Rich Hoyer
Use a map to trace the geographical center of the South American continent and you will find yourself pointing at the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. Straddling the continental divide between the Amazon and the Plata river basins, this amazingly diverse state provides the easiest and best access to the largest variety of habitats on the continent. While this was a very remote and rugged territory just a century ago, a major airport in Cuiabá and highways in all directions have made it an ecotourism hotspot and the best region for a single trip to Brazil. By visiting three major ecoregions, we’ll experience an incomparable diversity of tropical bird families including cracids, parrots, toucans, woodcreepers and ovenbirds, antbirds, and cotingas.
The Chapada dos Guimarães, at the western edge of the Brazilian Plateau, is a flat-topped escarpment very close to our arrival city of Cuiabá, allowing us access to the widespread, seasonally dry woodland and scrub called cerrado, an ecoregion almost endemic to east-central Brazil. Our brief sojourn to this habitat will complement the rest of the trip with several unique species and striking scenery.
The best access to the famous rainforests of the Amazonian Basin is not via the Amazon River itself but on its uppermost tributaries, far from the fluvial mega-highway that has been a conduit for commerce for centuries. Cristalino Jungle Lodge is located on such a tributary, and we’ll arrive here through the “back door” of Alta Floresta, relishing the pristine setting of our comfortable lodge along the Cristalino River and marveling at the mixed-species flocks in the forest: how can so many birds appear (and disappear) so quickly? The rare treat of being able to observe cotingas and canopy flocks at eye level from the lodge’s two unique free-standing towers will make canopy birders of us all.
Finally, we’ve altered our itinerary slightly during our days in the Pantanal, the world’s largest freshwater wetland, to increase our chances of seeing the nearly mythical Jaguar. We’ll spend an afternoon and a morning where there are daily Jaguar sightings, while the multitude of waterbirds will compete for our attention with many other species, including the striking Hyacinth Macaw. Our time here will be unforgettable.
This ornithological extravaganza, combined with an excellent infrastructure of lodges, friendly people, and superb food, sets the stage for one of the best birding experiences imaginable. Comfortable accommodations situated close to our birding sites will maximize our time in the field while offering optional opportunities for those who may desire a respite from intensive all-day birding.
Day 1: The tour begins this afternoon with the final arrivals at the Cuiabá International Airport. From here we’ll continue on our private bus northward to the Chapada dos Guimarães National Park, just an hour away. We should have enough daylight left to bird along the entrance road to our hotel, located within the park boundaries. Night in Chapada dos Guimarães.
Day 2: We’ll spend a bird-filled day in the Chapada dos Guimarães and surrounding areas. Located on the edge of Brazil’s central plateau, the Chapada offers impressive monolithic rock formations and a spectacular waterfall. We’ll spend the morning in a cerrado area searching for target birds such as White-banded and White-rumped Tanagers, Collared Crescentchest, and Chapada Flycatcher, a species described only in 2001. The final hours of the day will be spent scanning for Red-and-green and Blue-winged Macaws returning to their cliff-side roost sites for the night. Night in Chapada dos Guimarães.
Day 3: We’ll have much of the morning to bird near the lodge before we’ll need to return to Cuiabá in time for our noontime flight to Alta Floresta in the southern Amazon basin. Here we’ll feel as though we have entered a different world. Our excellent hotel is just five minutes from the airport and adjacent to a large forest fragment that is home to several species we probably won’t see elsewhere. We’ll bird in the late afternoon here, hoping for a sighting of the Harpy Eagles that have been breeding here since 2005. Night in Alta Floresta.
Days 4–9: The transfer to Cristalino Jungle Lodge is merely an hour by dirt road and 15 minutes by boat—quite a short trip for the transformation from extensive ranch lands and forest fragments (a transformation that has transpired only in the last 40 years) to countless hectares of unspoiled rainforest. We’ll bird along the way, stopping for Point-tailed Palmcreeper and any other specialties found on the Fazenda Cristalino property.
After reaching the Teles Pires River, we’ll take our time on the short boat trip up the pristine Cristalino River as we make our way to the lodge. Any trip along the river can hold numerous surprises, and our introduction to the Amazonian forest could include Scarlet, Red-and-green, or Blue-and-yellow Macaws flying overhead, an Amazonian Umbrellabird crossing the river in front of us, Red-throated Piping Guans perched high in trees, or, with incredible luck, a tapir taking a cooling swim in the river. Our lodge is just a short walk from the riverbank, with comfortable rooms, friendly and helpful staff, and birds, birds, birds.
We’ll quickly realize that five days, five weeks, or even five months would not allow us to absorb all that the lower Amazon Basin has to offer. We’ll spend our days walking trails near the lodge, surveying the canopy from both of the 52-meter towers, and exploring the riverine forest by boat. With luck we may encounter an antswarm, allowing us to watch at close range such species as Bare-eyed Antbird, Black-spotted Bare-eye, or even White-chinned Woodcreeper. The birdlist for Rio Cristalino and the surrounding area exceeds 600 species—a higher diversity than for any similarly sized area in the world—and the many furnariids, antbirds, and flycatchers combine with such locals as Crimson-bellied Parakeet, Striolated Puffbird, Musician and Tooth-billed Wrens, Rufous-capped Antthrush, Gray-bellied Hawk, and Kawall’s Parrot to have us wanting to bird from dawn to dusk and beyond. But every outing is optional, and we’ll all pause for breaks during the heat of the day and for the incredibly delicious food provided by the staff, not to mention the absolutely authentic caipirinhas, the Brazilian national cocktail, which tastes its best in the tropical lowlands. Nights at Rio Cristalino Lodge.
Day 10: After a final morning birding this superb area, we’ll sadly say farewell and take a last boat trip along the river to meet our transport to Alta Floresta for our afternoon flight to Cuiabá. From there we’ll settle down for the bus ride south to Poconé, where we’ll connect with the Transpantaneira Highway. Not a highway by modern definition, this is actually a raised dirt track that crosses part of the world’s largest freshwater wetland, the Pantanal, which covers approximately 90,000 square miles across Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay. The Transpantaneira extends for 90 miles to Porto Jofre, with excellent roadside birding over its entire length. Once we’ve reached our lodge, we’ll have dinner and mentally prepare for the exciting birding that awaits us in the next days. Night near Pixaim.
Day 11: Our morning will be spent birding gallery forest trails and the open grounds of our lodge, and we’ll be stunned by how different it is from the rainforest we’ve just come from. For one, most of the birds are out in the open, but the sounds and feel of the habitat will be utterly new as well. Pale-crested Woodpecker, Mato Grosso Antbird, and White-lored Spinetail will be some of these new sights and sounds. We’ll then drive south to the terminus of the Transpantaneira Highway at Porto Jofre and board a boat on the Rio Cuiabá for our afternoon river excursion to look for Jaguar. Along the way we’ll also see some birds: Black-capped Doncobius, Yellow-billed and Large-billed Terns, and several species of kingfishers, herons, and ibises will keep us alert and excited. Night near Porto Jofre.
Day 12: We’ll rise early for a delightful sunrise on the peaceful river and greet the day with multitudes of birds and animals. We’ll keep an eye out for early-rising Jaguars again this morning as well as any other animals—perhaps including Giant Otter—and birds we might have missed. By late morning we’ll be on the road again, making frequent stops on the Transpantaneira for the likes of Scarlet-headed Blackbird, Southern Screamer, Rufous Cacholote, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, and Nanday Parakeet before we arrive at our next lodge. A night drive after dinner will provide opportunities to search for nightjars and potoos, along with such mammals as Crab-eating Fox or possibly even a South American Tapir, Giant Anteater, or Ocelot. Night at Pouso Alegre.
Day 13: Based in the northern Pantanal, our private fazenda (plantation) is known for its comfortable lodging and superb birding, and affords us easy access to the Pantanal and its birds. Walks from the lodge and a drive along the entrance road will provide opportunities to feast from dawn to dusk on the avian offerings of this vast wetland. Hyacinth Macaw, the world’s largest parrot, can be seen in the palms around the fazenda grounds. Greater Rheas may be spotted walking sedately through the grass while Buff-necked and Plumbeous Ibises call from the background. The wetlands and gallery forests here are home to many of the birds we’ll be seeking. In addition to enjoying the spectacle of herons, ibises, Jabirus, Sunbitterns, and parrot flocks, we’ll spend time looking for such gems as Chaco Chachalaca, Chestnut-bellied Guan, and Helmeted Manakin. Night at Pouso Alegre.
Day 14: Following a dawn bird walk and breakfast at the fazenda, we’ll return to the Cuiabá airport, where the tour will end in the afternoon with check-in for our departing flights.
Updated: 09 July 2012
- 2013 Tour Price : $6,200
- Single Occupancy Supplement : $730
- 2014 Tour Price Not Yet Available
This tour is limited to eight participants with one leader.