The Pantanal  is filled with natural attractions that dazzle the senses. Although there are several small and very basic hotels in nearby towns, you’re better off staying at one of the numerous, more comfortable (and more expensive) fazenda lodges where you can get up close to the amazing wildlife that inhabits this wetlands region.
Aside from full-board accommodations, fazenda lodges offer recreational activities and a variety of guided excursions into the wilder regions of the Pantanal. Here is just a sampling of some of my favorite lodges. Prices below are per person.
One of the least expensive Transpantaneira options is the Pousada do Pixaim (Rodovia Transpantaneira Km 62, tel. 65/9968-2269, www.pousadapixaim.com.br , R$150–210), which sits on the banks of the Rio Pixaim and whose typical pantaneiro whitewashed buildings are on wooden stilts. Accommodations are basic (although there is air-conditioning), but offer great river views as does the restaurant where tasty regional fish dishes are prepared. Although guided hikes are included in the rate, canoe, boat, and horseback excursions are extra.
Close to Poconé , Pousada Piuval (Rodovia Transpantaneira Km 10, tel. 65/3345-1338, www.pousadapiuval.com.br , R$195–210) is an appealing place located on a sprawling ranch with lakes and patches of forest. Rooms are a little tight but inviting and there is a large pool. Included in the daily rate is a guided hike and the choice of an excursion by boat or horseback.
The Pousada Araras Eco Lodge (Rodovia Transpantaneira Km 29, tel. 65/9603-0529, www.araraslodge.com.br , R$350–440) is one of the Pantanal ’s eco-pioneers, and the owner’s conservationist efforts ensure that there is plenty of wildlife in close proximity. Bilingual nature guides offer myriad excursions (all included in the daily rate) on horseback and in canoes (by day and night) as well as photo safaris, piranha fishing, and overnight trips. The lodge is stylishly rustic and makes creative use of organic materials. There is a lovely pool and wooden walkways lead across the lagoons to lofty wildlife observation decks. Reflecting regional culinary traditions, the menu relies on local fish, meats, and organically grown fruits and vegetables. Minimum stay is two days and its international reputation means you’ll need to reserve in advance.
Some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Poconé  along the road to Porto Cerrado, the Hotel SESC Porto Cercado (tel. 65/3688-2021, www.sescpantanal.com.br , R$165–198) is within a private eco-reserve, along the banks of the Rio Cuiabá. The sprawling infrastructure offers the comfort of a sizable resort (both standard and luxury rooms are well-appointed) at great value. Amenities include multiple restaurants, swimming pools, squash and tennis courts, as well as Internet access and even a butterfly zoo. Activities and excursions—and there are many of them—are extra, but very affordable and include a variety of river outings.
At Fazenda Pequi (BR-262 Km 497.5, tel. 67/3245-0949, www.pousadapequi.com.br , R$140–240), get a privileged behind-the-scenes insight into life on a family-owned pantaneiro cattle ranch that dates back to 1850. Guests stay in fairly basic, comfortable rooms in the main house (groups of five or six can also rent bungalows). Other permanent residents of the property include jacarés, capybaras, and various bird species. The wide range of activities includes piranha fishing, night forays, and horseback riding. Only 48 kilometers (30 miles) from Aquidauana , this fazenda is less expensive and easier to get to than most in the southern Pantanal .
Fazenda Rio Negro (tel. 67/3326-0002, www.fazendarionegro.com.br , R$350–450) can only be reached by taking an aero taxi (a round-trip flight from Aquidauana will set you back around R$600 pp). The subsequent price is pretty hefty, but this fazenda is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. On the banks of the Rio Negro, the vast wetlands are an ecological reserve maintained by a Washington, D.C.-based NGO, Conservation International. The abundance of flora and fauna attracts professional birders, conservationists, and researchers from around the world. Tours by bilingual guides—by horseback, Jeep, or canoe along the Rio Negro—are topnotch. Aside from two VIP rooms, accommodations are fairly modest, but atmospheric—you can choose between a rustic lodge and the picturesque late 19th-century main house featuring polished wood and sweeping verandas.
The location of Refúgio da Ilha (tel. 67/3384-3270, www.refugiodailha.com.br , R$335–460) is really exceptional: on an island in the Rio Salobra completely surrounded by water and dense greenery. Although fishing is prohibited, masks and snorkels are de rigueur. Bilingual guides share all sorts of fish lore and lead Jeep, canoe, and horseback excursions to spots where it’s possible to catch sight of the elusive jaguar. Accommodations are simple, but comfortable, and there are plenty of areas for relaxation and reflection. There is three-day minimum June–October and a two-day minimum December–May. Access is at Km 573 of the BR-262 between Miranda  and Corumbá .
One of the Pantanal ’s most established, most luxurious (and most expensive) fazenda lodges, Refúgio Ecológico Caiman (tel. 67/3242-1450, São Paulo tel. 11/3706-8000, www.caiman.com.br , R$420–500) is reputed for its outings, led by excellent bilingual guides and local pantaneiros, who know the wetlands inside-out. Despite the fact that Caiman isn’t deep into the Pantanal, and its landscapes have been somewhat tamed by intensive cattle farming (guests are encouraged to take part in ranch activities), there is a wealth of wildlife. Accommodations are quite plush—you can choose from rooms inside the original main house or in two outlying pousadas. All three are beautifully furnished and equipped with swimming pools. The meals are also quite outstanding and include a traditional outdoor churrasco pantaneiro featuring beef raised on the ranch. Canoe, bike and horseback trips, photo safaris, and night outings are all included and there is a three-day minimum. The fazenda is 37 kilometers (23 miles) from Miranda , on the road to Agachi. Transfers are available.