The Pantanal is a huge South American wetland. Spanning an area of around one hundred and forty thousand square kilometers, the Pantanal's surface area is far greater than any other wetland in the world. It was declared a "World Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage of Humanity site" by UNESCO. With over four thousand species of life forms, the hallmark of the Pantanal is its rich ecological diversity because of which it is called "The Serengeti of South America".
The history of the Pantanal dates back to the 1500s when the Portuguese advanced through Brazil seeking gold. Originally, due to the flooded plains, they thought that Pantanal was in fact a landlocked sea. They called it "Sea of Xaraés". It was in 1864 that the Portuguese discovered its fertile lands and renamed it "O Pantanal" (The Swamp). Until railway lines were established in the region in 1914, Pantanal was quite remote.
Most of the Pantanal is located in Brazil, although small regions of the wetland do lie in neighboring countries of Bolivia and Paraguay. The entire region of the Pantanal is divided into Northern and Southern parts. The Northern part can be accessed through the city of Cuiaba and the Southern, through Campo Grande.
The Pantanal wetlands are floodplains that are characterized by swamps, grassy plains and different kinds of forests. This diverse landscape contributes greatly towards the bio-diversity of the Pantanal. The region receives heavy rainfall during the rainy season (from October to February) causing the Paraguay River to swell and flood more than two-thirds of the Pantanal.