Chase Jaguars in Brazil's Serengeti
The best place to see megafauna on this side of the Atlantic isn't in the jungles of the Amazon; it's in the wide-open expanse of the Pantanal, a tropical wetland larger than Illinois where elusive species like jaguars, anacondas, tapirs, and giant river otters roam free. "Most people see more animals on their first day in the Pantanal than in four days in the Amazon," says André Von Thuronyi, who owns an eco-resort here. "Wherever you look, there's an open view to life on the move."
This floodplain, in the center of South America, is the continent's equivalent of the Serengeti, but there are many ways to access it. A canoe trip can take you within feet of basking caimans; horseback rides in the grasslands pass herds of 100-pound capybaras; and from the river town of Bonito, snorkel dives offer glimpses of more than 50 kinds of fish in some of the clearest freshwater on Earth. "The Pantanal has this special energy as a totally preserved place," says Von Thuronyi. "All the activities available here are designed to get you as close as possible to it."
Getting There: Flights connect through São Paulo to the two Pantanal gateway cities of Campo Grande and Cuiabá.
When: May to September, when waters recede.
Keep in Mind: Araras Pantanal Ecolodge offers lodging, meals, and two or three activities per day with an English-speaking guide for $315 a night.