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July-August 2010

by Barry S. Levine

I'm following report only deals with practical information that we hope could be valuable to someone setting up a trip.  Our 31 day tour of the country included stops in the Atlantic Rain forest, Iguazú Falls, Alta Floresta and Cristalino, The Pantanal, Chapada Do Guimaraes, and Manaus.  With information provided by group members and trip reports, we were able to set up an almost perfect trip to an amazing country.  We have nothing but great things to say about Brazil and would encourage those of you who have not ventured there to put it high on your list. 

Our questions centered around the following:

Which Field Guide to take? 

We ended up taking Van Perlo's Book.  The problems with the book have been discussed often, but most in Brazil agreed it is your best option at this point.  It sounds as though Kevin Zimmer's book will not be available until early 2012. 

Which is the best way to navigate around Brazil? 

We had thought about driving the great distances around the country, but are very glad we didn't go that route.  Road signs are difficult to follow and/or nonexistent.  Even with GPS I think you'd be hard pressed to get where you need to go without a good working knowledge of Portuguese.  On a trip back to Rio there were no signs for the airport, and I wouldn't suggest one get off of the roads in that neighborhood to ask for directions. 

That leaves you with flying as your best option.  There is a Brazil pass that Tam offers that gives you 4 flights for about $550 US.  You cannot purchase this in Brazil.  A possible problem is that they do not fly to Alta Floresta so if you're going that way you must use Trip airlines, or ride the supposedly comfortable overnight bus.  Tam can set up the flight for you and ultimately we had them do that.  The round trip to Alta and back to Cuiaba (Tam does operate out of there) was about $400.  Also be aware that the pass does not allow you to fly on certain flights between cities.  So for instance, we could fly from Iguazú to Cuiaba (basically your gateway to the Pantanal) but we would have to go through Sao Paulo, then Brasilia and then to Cuiaba.  A very circuitous route that would have taken 16 hours to complete.  So we paid extra to get it done in 5 1/2 hours. 

Itinerary suggestions?

We were told often that we had made a good choice in going to Cristalino first and then following it with the Pantanal.  Cristalino is exceptional birding both for species and in difficulty.  The Pantanal is much more open. 

Some members said that Iguazú wouldn't be as important bird-wise as the other places and I would agree.  Yet, I think travelers would be missing an incredible site.  We didn't enjoy the crowds, but loved the falls.  The Mucaco Trail on the Argentinean side was loaded with birds. 

Due to suggestions from members we opted for 7 day at Itatiaia, Pereque, around Paraty and Ubatuba on the Atlantic.  This seemed about right to us.  The only proviso is that it is a rain forest and if you get rained out, or in our case winded out, and lose time at one of these spots you can easily miss some of the specialties.  We lost almost a day and a half due to weather, but we were still able to see most of the expected birds.  We stayed outside the park in the town of Itatiaia about a 15 minute ride from the Hotel Ipe.  Much less expensive but not nearly as nice.  In the upper part of the park we stayed in a small hotel in a town about 15 kilometers away.  As you approach the top rather than staying at the hotel there continue on the winding road for about 20 minutes to the next town.  The hotel is above a restaurant near the center.  Worked fine for us.  We liked being in a less touristed area.  It also gave us the opportunity to interact with the local people.  We also spent one night in Pereque, one night near Ubatuba at Corcovado, and one night in the charming city of Paraty. 

We had 4 days at Iguazú.  3 were extremely cold and wet so that limited our birding.  But as stated above this is not as important a birding area as the others we went to.  Still in all, we saw some great birds in the area.  We stayed at Colonial Harbor Hotel for 2 nights.  They are right near the Brazilian side of the falls about a 1 kilometer walk away from the park entrance.  One of our rooms was very nice, the other in an older part of the hotel was pretty dated.  Still in all, great proximity to the falls.  I'd recommend a pass on the Bird Park unless you are visiting with kids who like that sort of thing. 

The other 2 nights were spent at the Sheraton on the Argentinean side.  A very nice spot, though some will find it to be very expensive.  We did, but it can't be beat for location.  It should be noted that going from Brazil to Argentina is not a short walk over a bridge, but is instead a longish cab ride that can cost $40 US or more.  You can ride buses, but that involves a change of buses before you hit the border and then extended time crossing the border as they process all the people on the bus.  If you chose to try to go to Paraguay, that's also a distance from the falls themselves.  We passed on the experience. 

We set up the trip with an off day between Iguazú and Cuiaba in case of any flight problems and lo and behold we were glad we did.  The frozen (2 degree Celsius) weather caused a closing of the airport in Iguazú, so were still able to make our connection for Alta Floresta and our time in Cristalino.  Before going to Cristalino we had one night at the Hotel Alta Floresta run by the same family that owns Cristalino.  It is well known for it's Harpy Eagle nest found a short distance inside the forest behind the hotel.  No one had seen the harpy for over a month, so we enjoyed birding the forest and the locale.  Really a very nice quiet place.  Betania, who runs the place for the owners, is just a delightfully funny human being. 

We spent 6 night at Cristalino and loved it.  Our original question to the group was “Are there any options?” and many said basically no.  I believe that's about right.  Great trails, lots of access by boat to more remote areas, huge tower, and as luck would have it, we were the only birders at the lodge.  Well worth it to us. 

After returning to Alta Floresta we then caught a flight back to Cuiaba (Hotel Las Velas right across form the airport). Funky looking place, but we liked the people working there a lot.  Cuiaba itself will hold little interest to most of the group.  It is basically your jumping off place for the Pantanal.  We then had 7 days in the Pantanal and 3 in Chapada.  Again just about the right amount of time.  Perfect for the Pantanal with 3 days at Pousada Piuval, 2 at Santa Thereza (AKA Jaguar Wildlife Center), 1 at the Platform (set up through Santa Thereza) and 1 night at Pouso Allegre.  This allows you to hit the different areas and try for the specialties at each lodge.  We loved the Pantanal. 

At Chapada, we stayed in the town center (sorry can't remember the hotel name).  Again weather became a deterrent.  We lost the first 2 and a half days to 55 km (35 mile) an hour winds.  Lucky for us we had an incredible last day there that ranks with the best we've had anywhere in the world.  So again about the right amount of time, especially if the weather cooperates. 

We had only a day and a half at Manaus.  Way too little time.  I'd recommend about a week, and like any of these places, more wouldn't hurt.  We took a cab from the airport with our luggage in tow and got out for an afternoon in the Presidente Figuerido area. 

The last day we organized a 5 hour boat trip at the docks at the river going to Marchanteria Island.  In the afternoon, we birded at the Tropical Hotel.  A ritzy place that has a bit of forest behind it.  We stayed at the St.  Paul Hotel which advertises itself as being in the city center.  Nice hotel, but a terrible location.  Really too far to be called the city center, yet in the city enough that it makes it difficult to get outside to bird.  I'd recommend staying for a few days in Presidente Figuerido at the Iracema Hotel about 10 kilometers north of the town center.  Others have gone to lodges and birded for at least a few days farther up river from Manaus itself.  That would have been our choice as well if we'd have had more time. 

All the best. 

Barry Levine

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