The Pantanal, an area of vast wetlands, the biggest in the world, covering an estimated 54,000 square miles, and stretching from Brazil into parts of Bolivia and Paraguay. In another words, a really really massive swamp! Crammed with thousands of species of animals, a massive variety of plants and many an adventure, the Pantanal was somewhere we wanted to visit, and visit we did!
The only way to see the Pantanal effectively and safely is by booking a guided tour. There are lots of tour companies to choose from, and most offer almost the same packages, 3 or 4 days in the Pantanal, filled with a number of activities including Piranha fishing, horse riding etc. Of course, like with most things, some companies are better than others! The Internet provides a lot of conflicting info on this subject, but hopefully out experiences will prove useful to you if you are ever in the same position.
As always, our first port of call was Google. On this occasion Google turned up a load of Lonely Planet forum posts. Excellent, this should be what we need. A quick but entertaining read through the posts proves otherwise! It is quite obvious that a lot of what is on the forum is fake. In another words competing companies creating false identities and slagging each other off! Not very helpful.
A few days before, we had been lucky enough to stumble across a great website called Green Toad Bus. Basically we were trying to book a bus online from Sao Paulo to Foz Do Iguacu using the bus companies website. If you have ever tried this you will realise it is impossible. Firstly you need a CPF number, whatever that is, and secondly the websites just don’t seem to work properly. Pretty frustrating when you need to book a bus for the following day!
Green Toad Bus saved us! A many failed attempts at booking a ticket on the companies website. A Google search revealed the Green Toad Bus site. They basically book the bus tickets on your behalf, as well as offer a number of package trips etc. Whats more, the tickets even cost us less than if we were to book them ourselves! Just what we needed and highly recommended.
Funnily enough, Green Toad Bus had an office at the Foz Do Iguacu, we met Val, the nice guy who had got us onto the bus at such short notice, but also sharing the office was Diego, a representative from Ecological Expoditions Pantanal tours. Diego was extremely helpful and honest about the content of the tour and pricing etc. He drew us a nice little map of where we would be going, listed the activities we would be doing, wrote down important contact numbers etc, sorted out accommodation in Campo Grande the night before, and gave us info on onward travel. Really helpful, but the thing I most liked is that at not one point did he try the hard sell, and force the tour upon us. We were allowed to go away and think about it, and after doing a bit of research on the company, we enthusiastically came back the next day to book the four day and three nights tour for R$ 350.
From what I have read online, it seems that the problem that most people have been having with all of these Pantanal tour companies is not the tour itself, but the tour being mis-sold by shady agents who like bending the truth a little too much. Fortunately this wasn’t a problem for us as Diego was great, and as you will find out in later posts the tour was amazing, but to avoid this sort of thing its important you ask a lot of questions before handing over any cash.
Don’t leave any stone unturned. If they say 3 meals are included, ask what the meals consist of. If you have a clear picture of what you are getting before you leave, you won’t be disappointed when yo get there.
Don’t rely on online reviews. (Did I just shoot myself in the foot? haha) With most reviews online you usually only see the extremes. Either someone really loved a product so thought it was worth writing about, or some one really hated it and were so annoyed the only way they could release their pent up anger was by writing a 500 word rant describing, and probably exaggerating the extent of their terrible experieinces. Finally, like I mentioned before it could just be a another company sneakily trying to sabotage their closest rivals. Talk to the agent, use your judgement to decide whether they are trustworthy or leading you on, ask the right questions, and book a wicked trip. I suppose this applies to a lot of things as well as the Pantanal tours.
Alternatively, you could just book with Diego at the falls and be almost guaranteed a great trip!