WHEN TO GO: The best time to view wildlife in the Pantanal is from July through September, when the flood waters recede -- which also makes travel considerably easier. Fishing, however, is at its peak from about November through May, when the swollen rivers cover roughly two thirds of the area.

GETTING THERE: Before your departure, contact the Tourist Dept., Brazilian Government Trade Bureau, 551 Fifth Ave., New York, N.Y. 10176, 212-916-3200. They can send you brochures and the names of tour operators who can get you in and out of the Pantanal with English-speaking safari guides. Though you may be able to contact them directly, most travelers probably will find it more practical to work through a U.S. travel agent. Only those who are adventurous and fairly fluent in either Portuguese (Brazil's official language) or Spanish will feel comfortable making their own arrangements after arrival in the country -- or driving through the vast Pantanal without a hotel reservation or guide. Once you're in Brazil, you can fly to Cuiaba' or Corumba' almost daily from any of Brazil's major cities on one of three airlines: Varig Brazilian Airlines, Vasp or Cruziero do Sul. Varig offers an add-on Airpass for travel within Brazil on a number of airlines. The pass is sold only outside Brazil and must be purchased in conjunction with an international ticket. The 14-day pass costs $250; the 21-day pass, $330.

WHERE TO STAY: Spending four or five days at the Santa Rosa Pantanal Hotel in Po rto Jofre is a pleasure but in an area this size, there are dozens of other equally alluring spots where one can enjoy different views of the Pantanal -- and a guide makes it easier. Starting from Corumba', you can venture forth by rental car, train or boat to fazenda hotels located on the Paraguay, Miranda or Vermelho rivers. Or, from Cuiaba' in the north, you can drive south to the town of Bara o de Melgac,o on the Cuiaba' River, or southeast to fazenda hideaways in Ca'ceresq at the head of the Paraguay River.

MORE INFORMATION: A photographic exhibition titled "The Pantanal: Brazil's Forgotten Wilderness" will open in May -- the date has not yet been set -- at the art gallery of the Brazilian-American Cultural Institute, 4103 Connecticut Ave. N.W., 362-8334. The presentation will include historic photographs, maps and contemporary photographs of the region by photographer Vic Banks of Chicago.