The Pantanal can be accessed from Cuiaba in Mato Grosso, Campo Grande in Mato Grosso do Sul, or for the really adventurous from Boliva or Paraguay. We chose to go from Cuiaba which provides access to the most lodges and is the most popular route. Cuiaba itself is around two and a half hours by plane northwest of Sao Paulo where we entered the country. From Cuiaba it is then a 3-4 hour drive to the nearest lodges on the Transpantaneira highway - about 7 hours to Porto Jofré although you can charter a small plane to fly you there.
While there are a couple of more luxurious lodges on the Transpantaneira, the ones that we stayed in were comfortable although certainly not luxurious! Simple clean rooms with noisy fans and air conditioning appeared to be the norm. Food was plentiful although I do find Brazilian food quite bland and benefitting from a good spash of chilli sauce. Of the two South Wild lodges, the first - also known as Fazenda Santa Theresa and formerly Pantanal Wildlife Centre - was the more comfortable. Up river at the Jaguar Retreat (below top) you got the impression that you were lucky to be there at all. Our room was tiny although there was still a clean shower. This was compensated for by decent food and daily wildlife lectures.
Porto Paraiso (below bottom) was a charming family run fazenda where we had the best food. Only downside was the electrics in our bathroom which were scary! As mentioned in the intro, we felt that Pouso Alegre was rather crowded although the estate itself was spectacular with fantastic opportunities to view wildlife. My guidebook - "Pantanal Wildlife, A visitor's guide to Brazil's Great Wetland" published by Brandt provided good information on both the wildlife and the practicalities of where to stay and what to take.
Before we went we had been warned that the bugs were horrendous - that we would be eaten alive by mosquitoes and had to watch out for jiggers that crawl into your skin. In fact we may have been lucky but it was fine and we only found a few mossies and had very few bites. Perhas it was the "Skin so soft" we were wearing or tucking our safari pants into our socks. Certainly no worse than an African safari.
We had also been very wary of security, not so much in the Pantanal but in Sao Paulo, Cuiaba and other places that we stayed. Again we were pleasantly surprised as we were never threatened or felt nervous in the streets. Clearly you need to be sensible, don't wear a lot of flashy jewellery, and avoid the dodgier areas of town after dark.
We mapped our ride on the boat one afternoon (left) and you can see how windy these rivers are and also how various tributaries come off the main Cuiaba river. It is cold in the morning and evening so take a light fleece and windproof. We had also been told to take waterproof ponchos but we were lucky and it did not rain. It did get very hot in the middle the day though so hats and strong sun screen are essential.
We were visiting in the dry season (July to September) which is also the best time to see jaguars. It is possible to go in the wet season (peak December to March) when there is much more flooding.
Other things to take include a good pair of binoculars and a camera with a long lens if you want to take photos (note the "Canon Club" above). I reckon that 400mm equivalent is necessary for good close ups and bird pictures. For charging we found both European style two pin - with the sunken (hexagonal) rather than flush sockets, and the US twin flat pin. Some operators move people in closed buses but we were in a safari viewing vehicle in the park which is great but dusty! So scarves and protection for cameras are a good idea. If you are not a beer and caiparinha fan then a bottle of whisky for night caps. You can buy wine but it is expensive. Lastly we found a tube of travel wash very helpful as laundry facilities were either expensive or non-existent.