The Paraguayan Chaco is likened to the Brazilian Pantanal because it is rich in wildlife and a great destination for birdwatchers. The regions have a lot of species in common. However these are different ecosystems: much of the Chaco is semi-arid: although it does rain it does not flood seasonally like the Pantanal.
The Chaco really is an adventure destination, rewarding for those who are seeking out wilderness places in an increasingly developed and accessible world. It’s for those who would actually be enticed by the regions’ nickname, the ‘Green Inferno’ – the land is flat, thorny and sweltering, though it does support vast cattle ranches in the zone of humid savannahs.
For centuries, no one lived there except a few hardy indigenous tribes and neither Paraguay nor its neighbour Bolivia cared in whose territory it fell: this changed when the possibility of (as yet unmined) oil reared its head and a bitter war took place in 1932-5. The population is tiny, swelled only by the existence of Mennonite colonies. Members of this European Christian pacifist sect prefer to life apart from other cultures and their towns, such as remote Filadelfia, have striking blond inhabitants who still speak a kind of High German. A visit to their settlements is most intriguing.
Travel to the Chaco to observe cacti the size of houses in what is really a beautiful if melancholy landscape, seeking out wildlife such as caiman, lowland tapir, giant anteater, armadillo and Chacoan peccary. It's an exciting destination for birders: Birds include eagles, rheas, tinamous, black-bodied woodpeckers and woodcreepers. The saltpans and swamps attract a large number of waterfowl.
Unlike the Pantanal, the Chaco is totally undeveloped for tourism: there are no upscale lodges, you stay in Filadelfia or Loma Plata and drive to the best spotting locations.