In Portuguese, bonito means beautiful and the name is certainly an apt one for this patch of paradise on the southern fringe of the Pantanal. One of Brazil’s hippest ecotourist destinations, the small town and surrounding area of Bonito offer visitors a stunning range of natural attractions including caverns, waterfalls, and crystalline blue rivers that are ideal for snorkeling, along with hiking trails that wind through the verdant forests of the Serra da Bodoquena.
Until a few years ago, off-the-beaten track Bonito was completely unknown. Then, along came TV Manchete, which featured the region in one of its lushly shot series, and overnight the place was mobbed by young Carioca and Paulistano ecotourists. Luckily, the summer crowds have done nothing to mar this unspoiled spot.
Bonito is one of Brazil’s most shining examples of sustainable tourism. The region’s attractions are situated on privately owned land that is accessible by car or van. In order to preserve nature, rules abound: Nobody can set foot on any trail or enter any river without making a reservation, paying an eco-charge, and hiring a guide. Moreover, each attraction has a limit of tourists that can visit at any given time.
Paradise doesn’t come cheap—guides and entrance fees will cost you upwards of R$150 a day—and the further-flung attractions such as Rio da Prata and Buraco das Araras involve spending a frustrating amount of time on the road. However, most admit that the distances and costs involved are a small price to pay for experiencing Bonito’s natural marvels.
In terms of when to travel, winter (with the exception of July) is recommended—not only will you avoid the summer crowds (and obtain low-season discounts), but reduced rainfall means increased visibility in the region’s rivers. The downside is that bathing in the waterfalls is an icy experience.
Getting to Bonito
Cruzeiro do Sul (tel. 67/3255-1606 in Bonito, www.cruzeirodosulms.com.br) runs several buses a day between Campo Grande and Bonito. The trip takes around five hours. If you’re driving, from Campo Grande take the BR-060 and then the MS-382, both of which are paved.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition