The Mato Grosso region is essentially an enormous plain with a handful of small mountain ranges. Equally Brazilian, there's a firm political boundary, a line on a map, across the heart of the Pantanal swamp marking the competing ambitions of 2 mammoth states: Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul. Until 1979 Cuiaba was capital of the entire Mato Grosso.
Campo Grande in the south, however, was also growing rapidly and playing an increasingly important financial and administrative role within Brazil. The old state was sliced very roughly in half; Campo Grande becoming capital of the brand-new state of Mato Grosso do Sul.
The northern half of the region, the state of Mato Grosso, is sparsely populated with the only settlements of any size, Cuiaba, Rondonopolis and Caceres, having a combined population of little over a million.
Most of the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, which is marginally more populous, is either seasonal flood plain or open scrubland. To the west of Mato Grosso do Sul there are Bolivian swamps and forest; the mighty rivers Araguaia and Parana (one flowing north, the other south) form a natural rim to the east, while the Rio Paraguai and the country named after it complete the picture to the south.
The name Mato Grosso, which means "thick wood", is more appropriate to the northernmost state, where thorny scrubland passes into tropical Rainforest and the land begins its incline towards the Amazon, interrupted only by the beautiful uplifted plateau of the Chapada das Guimarães.
The simple road network and the limited sprinkling of settlements make getting about within the Mato Grosso fairly hard work. Distances are enormous, and although most of the buses and trunk roads are good, any journey is inevitably a long one. But the variety of landscape alone makes the trip a unique one and, for the adventurous traveler, there's any one of a wide range of fascinating locations; from swamps and forests to endless cattle ranches, riverine villages or jungle Indian reservations.