Bonito: football is not everything, even in Brazil!

By | Category: Travel destinations
Welcome to Brazil. And Bonito

Welcome to Brazil. And Bonito

Soon Brazil will be the beating heart of football afficionados.  Without doubt the matches will attract a large number of Brazilian spectators since football is something standing on the same level as food in France. It’s an essential part in the country’s life, and its inhabitants can talk for hours about football players, teams and matches.

During the competition happiness and sadness will be equally shared among spectators, but there will also be great fun. One “Ola”,  and the Mexican wave being circle 2 or 3 times around the stadium. Brazil will be a great melting pot for football lovers from all around the world, giving them the opportunity to discover the pleasure to be all linked by the same passion that is no more than a simple game. Football, sometimes, can be magic.

Obviously Brazil is not a next-door country for European travellers. It would be a pity for visitors to only get as far as the stadiums. Brazil is so large and has so much more to offer than a simple overview of a single spot. A wise traveller going to Rio de Janeiro should have programmed an extra visit to Sao Paulo or Bahia, for example, so that they can plunge into incredible cities mixing historical and cultural areas,lively chic districts as well as really poor zones, the ‘favellas’ where it’s really not recommended to go on your own. In these districts your life has no more value than the content of your wallet, whatever its amount.

Even if the names of some of  the Brazilian cities are well known, the best secret of the country is its incredible nature offering a huge variety of attractive destinations including white sandy beaches lined by palm trees, the mythic great rainforest of Amazonia with its amazing net of rivers filled with friendly (!) ‘piranhas‘ and also large plains dedicated to cattle farms and unlimited cereal crops.

the landscape around Bonito...

the landscape around Bonito…

But an amazing gem of Brazilian nature is settled around the small town of Bonito in the state of Matto Grosso do Sul. Bonito is located on the western part of Pantanal, the largest flooded lowland on the planet and also the third largest environmental reserve in the world. Pantanal, shared between three countries, Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia, possesses an incredibly various fauna of birds, fish, reptiles and mammals. It’s also home of an extremely rich flora.

At first glance Bonito is a small town with wide streets and large pavements mainly lined by small two floored building including lots of open-air bars, restaurants and  pousadas, the local name for budget hotels. Outside the town, high-rise hotels have been built so they can benefit from having large, lush gardens. The streets are at right angles to each other which gives a modern, planned feel.  Really though, this hides an older heritage and a heritage that changes when dusk comes. Bonito’s nights are famous among Brazilian students who come there in large numbers to party for spring break holidays.

which can change to this...

which can change to this…

But the real attraction of Bonito is as the place to be able to enjoy the most amazing adventure vacations. That doesn’t mean only daredevils should visit the town. Bonito offers adventure for all! Taking advantage of its geological situation, Bonito is surrounded by a beautiful net of narrow rivers with the clearest waters in the world. The high level of limestone in the local soil acts as a huge natural filter giving an incredible transparency to the water. The most popular tours are snorkelling, walking along easy trails in the forest, swimming at the foot of waterfalls or even diving in deep caverns.

To protect the environment there are strict rules. For each activity the number of daily visitors is strictly controlled. These rules, enforced by the owners of all these natural wonders, (98% are on private properties) allow them to ask – and get – high prices. But even if the fees seem sometimes a bit over the top, the activities are worth the expense.

Any tour must be booked in advance through any of the several tour agencies in town, or through the excursion desk available in many hotels. That booking indicates also a specific timing for the activity and if you aren’t there at the right time, you will be denied entry.  Such rules give guests the advantage of visiting in small groups of eight or so.  And with a minimum of half an hour gap between two groups, everyone has the same chance to spot at the wild life that the local guide who comes with the group will point out. There are many tours on offer and these are among the most popular.

River Snorkelling on Rio Sucuri

...or this - the cave of Lago Azul

…or this – the cave of Lago Azul

On arrival at the fazenda ( large farm or plantation) you receive a wet-suit and a mask before walking to the banks of the river. The water is as clear as crystal, the river is quite narrow and the depth is from 1 to 3 metres and you can see easily at a distance up to 20 metres. No need to swim, the wet-suit allows you to makes you float. That also avoids anyone having to touch the river bed thus preserving the delicate eco-system. The tour floats down- stream. Immediately begins a stunning underwater vision, the river is filled with dozens of great fish, mainly piratangas, which come close, unafraid of visitors. Slowly swimming for more than two hours among these thousands of fish is a sort of jump back to Eden. There follows a delicious, homemade lunch based on local tasty produce that is served to visitors.

Very often after snorkelling, you can walk back to the fazenda with the guide to discover mammals and birds in the surroundings or, if you prefer, you can rent a bike – in my case -after a rest. Horseback rides and four-wheel motorbike rides are also available.

River Snorkelling on Rio da Prata

Parque das Cachoeiras

Parque das Cachoeiras

There is a trail from the Fazenda Rio da Prata to the spring of the river and it is here that you begin snorkelling. Lasting about an hour and twenty minutes, visitors enjoy the array of fish that slowly move around. You move slowly, why shouldn’t they? This is Brazil after all! Gaze at the river bed and you’ll spot small, fresh water springs that create sandy whirlpools.

Another tour from this fazenda is to the Lagoa Misteriosa (mysterious lake). After a 15 minute walk, the lake appears through the trees and bushes like a mirror. The colour shimmers from emerald green to azure blue. Despite this vision of paradise the best is to come. The water is so clear that the underwater visibility is about 60 metres, surely a world record. Snorkelling is like flying in the air. Sadly the snorkelling is limited to only 30minutes per person per tour. Odd how so many visitors, don’t hear the guide when he calls them back. A second and third call has to be made. Maybe there is something in the beauty that infects everyone with communal deafness!

Rafting in the Rio de Formoso

about to start rafting on the Rio Sucuri

about to start rafting on the Rio Sucuri

This is a great adventure in rubber boats for a maximum of 14 people. It is an eight kilometre trip to Isla do Padre (Father Island) sailing in along several rapids. On the river banks you can watch monkeys, birds and maybe sucuris (anacondas) which, normally in winter, leave the waters and climb trees or find a secure place in the bushes. On this adrenaline tour even Harrison Ford – surely the most adventurous screen hero of modern times – was astonished at the sights when he visited Bonito. When there is more than one boat rafting down the river, the adventure is much more stirring, because boats become competitive and races break out with tourists fiercely rowing to outperform each other. The odd water battle seems to break out fairly often as well. When calmer waters are reached that is the time for enjoying snorkelling, swimming or just lazing in one of the most crystalline rivers in the word.

Waterfalls at Parque das Cachoeiras

The Fazenda das Cachoeiras, located by the Rio Mimoso, offers a nice trail under green vegetation going from waterfall to waterfall. All six main waterfalls are different in form and size and, for each one, a wooden gangway gives access to the water. The guide invites everyone to swim at the foot of the waterfall and even to go under the falling water.  After lunch, a few hammocks await everyone for this is, after all, siesta country!

descending to the Lago Azul cave

descending to the Lago Azul cave

Gruta do Lago Azul is an azure lake at the bottom of a deep open cavern, and to reach its bank, the only way is to go down a 100 metre, narrow, steep flight of stone steps.

Having said that everyone but the most unfit should be able to manage it.  Abismos Anhumas is a real adventure tour. The total number of daily visitors to the cave is limited to eighteen so imagine how few people have been to this part of the earth? A small crack opens, widens and you descend  72 metres to reach the bottom of the cave. There you find a large, deep lake where you can snorkel, scuba dive or swim. If you opt for scuba diving in the lake, you must be a certified diver and only four divers are allowed each day.


Many more activities are available including night expeditions in the Pantanal to see tapirs, alligators, capybaras, deer or the mysterious jaguar.

How to get there

The main way to reach Bonito is through Campo Grande International Airport, which is linked to all the major cities in Brazil.Swimming a tthe Waterfalls Parc From Campo Grande International Airport visitors can rent a car to drive the 300 kilometre long journey, a four hour trip on a very easy road, just a long flat straight line. There are also several bus and van services. As you can see, this is no easy place to get to for the normally busy visitor who wants to cram everything into one holiday. For this you need time but it will turn into a holiday of a lifetime.

For more information, click here.

Story and images © Frederic de Poligny







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