If Mato Grosso is not at the top of your list of places to go in Brazil, it will be by the time you finish this article. This midwest state gives Brazil its potent agricultural industry, the backbone of our economy, while also being home to one of the world's most spectacular ecosystems: the Pantanal.
We are talking about the largest wetlands in the world. The Pantanal is so large that it spreads to other countries in South America - Bolivia and Paraguay - though the vast majority of its 210,000 square kilometers is within Brazil. It spans two of the country's states: Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul.
People of the region are proud of their land, so much so that there's a friendly dispute between both states to decide who "owns" the Pantanal. Alternating wet and dry seasons that completely change the landscape of the region, the Pantanal has also shaped the character and mood of its people. The region brings a mix of native populations' ancestry, with Portuguese, Italian, and even German influences. They are hard-working people who are respectful of the land - and live off of it.
Flora and fauna are the kings here. It has the highest concentration of wildlife in South America, as well as being a UNESCO World Heritage site (one of many in Brazil). Estimates say there are 325 species of fish, 159 species of mammals, 656 types of birds, 53 species of amphibians, and 98 species of reptiles living here. It's almost like a wetland safari. If you're lucky enough, you might even see a Brazilian jaguar, one of the most beautiful and impressive creatures of the Pantanal.
Serra da Bodoquena
Serra da Bodoquena is another great place to see wildlife. It is home to more than 400 species of birds. It is a refuge for native and migrating species, a true sanctuary. In the midst of the forest, you will find crystal clear waters that seem almost unreal. Many of the Pantanal's river springs are located here. There are also waterfalls and caves to be explored.
Chapada dos Guimarães
Chapada dos Guimarães (70 km from Cuiabá, Mato Grosso's capital) is a national park with rock formations, hilltop views, animals and plants. It is located in the Brazilian cerrado, a biome composed mainly of savannahs and shrubbery forests. Majestic rivers cross the Chapada creating stunning waterfalls such as Véu da Noiva, 86 meters tall and surrounded by sandstone.
In Alta Floresta (792 km from Cuiabá) the cerrado and the Pantanal are mixed together. Bromeliads and orchids embellish the scenery, which includes fascinating animals such as monkeys, deer, tapirs, and other fascinating animals. This place is perfect for those who like to go fishing and bird-spotters: there are over 500 bird species that call Alta Floresta home.
Nature is abundant in this lesser-explored state of Brazil. You can't go wrong in Mato Grosso: there's beauty everywhere you look.