The Pantanal is a region in South America lying mostly in Western Brazil but extending into Bolivia as well. It is considered one of the world's largest and most diverse freshwater wetland ecosystems. The Pantanal is also one of Brazil's major tourist draws, for its wildlife. Some of the large cattle farms offer accommodations and organized tours.
The Pantanal is accessible through four major gateways: Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul in the south, Cuiaba, Mato Grosso in the north, Coxim, Mato Grosso do Sul in the east and Corumbá, Mato Grosso do Sul in the west. Cuiaba and Campo Grande are the capitols of the their respective states and have major international airports. From Campo Grande you can access Bonito and from Cuiabá Chapada dos Guimarães. Corumbá can be reached by plane, or by train from Bolivia, through the border crossing at Puerto Suarez. The southern Pantanal is more strongly influenced by the Chaco and the Atlantic Rainforest fauna and flora and the northern part of the Pantanal by Amazonia. But this doesn't make one area better than the other.
Buses from Rio de Janeiro to Cuiabá take 30 hours, while the journey to Campo Grande is 22hrs from Rio de Janeiro and serviced by the Andorinha company. From Sao Paulo you can also use Andorinha to travel 16hrs to Campo Grande, and from Foz do Iguacu the trip is 10hrs traveling with the Novo Integração company. To book buses online you need a CPF (Brazilian Tax File Number) to reserve direct with the companies.
For those heading into the Southern Pantanal from Campo Grande you can take a taxi from the airport to the rodoviaria (bus terminal). From the bus terminal you take the Andorinha or Expresso Mato Grosso bus to the gateway city of Miranda (Mato Grosso do Sul). From here almost all ranches, fazendas and lodges will organise a pick-up service to bring you to your accommodation. The journey is approximately 3 hours and prices are in the range of R$ 37 to R$ 43.
Beware of unscrupulous operators targeting tourists arriving at the Campo Grande rodoviaria (bus terminal) or airport. Their prices will fluctuate and these operators will tell you what you want to hear in order to get commission on the tour that they sell. They will also show you photographs that may not match where you will end up staying. Your best option is to use the recommendation websites such as trip advisor, search for Pantanal or Miranda and book directly with a ranch or fazenda as they will assist you directly and you can review their website to ensure that you know who you are booking with.
It is also possible to get into the Pantanal from the Bolivian side. You can take the train from the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz to Puerto Suarez, cross the border here and use taxi or bus to reach the city of Corumbá - from the cities of Puerto Suarez and Puerto Qujarro there are no organised visits due to nature protection, politics or incapability of infrastructure. From Corumba, you can take a bus directly to Miranda. Prices range from R$ 40 to R$ 50 and it takes approximately 3 hours.
From Campo Grande you can catch a bus to go to lodges or fazendas in the Pantanal. Depending on where you plan to go it may take between 4 to 5 hours to get to your accommodation.
Depending on the time of year and the guide you hire, you can expect to see a variety of different animals. Unlike many other biologically intense areas, in the Pantanal you are virtually guaranteed to actually SEE the wildlife. There are close to 10 million Yacare Caiman present within the Pantanal and during the Dry Season every bridge crossing on the Transpantaneira is surrounded by hundreds or even thousands of Caimans basking or fighting for space in the ever dwindling lagoons. Capybara, like the Caiman, are also present in the millions and are likely to be encountered every few seconds while driving. The Pantanal is also home to a variety of birds (including the endangered Hyacinth Macaw, which is easily spotted.) Other mammals are slightly harder to spot, but still much easier than in the Amazon. On a boat ride through the river you are likely to spot the endangered Giant River Otter and Red-bellied Piranha (the Otter's favorite meal.) With the right guide and a couple of days on the river the chances of spotting a Jaguar (or perhaps even more than one) are actually very high. The Pantanal is the best place in all of the Americas to spot a Jaguar in the wild, given the relatively small amount of thick rain forest cover.
The best time to see a jaguar is between June and November. The Pantanal is certainly one area of the world where there are a lot of birds. From small and delicate hummingbirds to large ones as the jabiru. Several types of macaws, parrots, parakeets and other are easily spotted. The wildlife in the region of Porto Jofre is fantastic and there is a very good chance of spotting the elusive and impressive jaguar.
It may be hot, so do bring enough water. Further, in some accommodation you may not find fresh water from the tap.
Lodges on "fazendas" are the best way to experience the real Pantanal. Several of the traditional cattle stations, called fazendas, nowadays accommodate guests in their lodges and show them what makes the Pantanal a special place. Many of these lodges take only a few guests, making your stay a unforgetable experience.
In the Northern Pantanal, your best option is the Pantanal Jaguar Camp  which is set up along the riverine forest in a private reserve. North of Porto Jofre more lodge options available.
It is important to note that, although it is recommended by the Brazilian government to obtain vaccinations, it is not required and the fact is that mosquito-borne illnesses in the Pantanal are very rare in the Dry Season, when you would be hard pressed to even find a mosquito. During the Wet Season the occurrence of illnesses rises, but much less so than the Amazon or many other parts of South America. Since pre-travel vaccinations and medications may indeed cause problems themselves the best protection one can use against mosquito-borne illness is wearing long sleeve shirts and DEET repellent. Keep in mind that the Pantanal is not at the same risk level as somewhere like Amazonia or parts of Africa, where the risk of illness is high enough to warrant preventive medication.
Yellow Fever.Vaccination against yellow fever is compulsory for all travellers visiting Mato Grosso, the region where the Pantanal is. Please note that yellow fever vaccinations take approx 10 days to become effective. That being said, Yellow Fever is very rare and the best precaution against it is a good long sleeve shirt.
Malaria is not a high risk in this region, with reports of the illness only occurring very occasionally during the wet season.
Dengue Fever. The threat of Dengue Fever in the Pantanal is real, but only a major concern during the Wet Season and in some other parts of Mato Grasso do Sul. In March 2007 health authorities in Brazil declared a health alert in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul where the highest concentration of the disease has been reported, although the Pantanal itself is still considered to be less risky, especially during the dry season.
Rotavirus is common all over Brazil. The symptoms are severe diarrhoea, stomach cramps, vomiting and fever. It can also lead to dehydration and shock if not treated. This virus is highly contagious and usually spread through contact with an infected person but can also be spread through the air. If you suspect you may have contracted the disease, seek medical advice.
Bilharzia (schistosomiasis) is present.
Other infectious diseases prevalent in Brazil include trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease) and mucocutaneous leishmaniasis (on the increase). There are epidemics of meningococcal meningitis in and around the Rio area. Air pollution, especially in São Paulo, may aggravate chest complaints. Rabies is present.
Food and drink. Water should not be consumed unless boiled or sterilised first. Even filtered water in more remote areas should be avoided and bottled water should be drunk instead. Pasteurised milk and cheese is available in towns and is generally considered safe to consume. Milk outside of urban areas is unpasteurised and should be boiled. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled.