Bonito lives up to its name: Beautiful.
Located in the southern Pantanal, Bonito is best known for its crystal-clear waters. The town itself sits 260km (161 miles) from Campo Grande, where the nearest airport is located, and about 200km (about 130 miles) from the Paraguay border. It´s a thriving tourist hub in the middle of nowhere.
There are dozens of attractions: spelunking, rock climbing, rappelling, snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming, hiking… the list goes on.
We took two tours: Rio da Prata and Gruta do Lago Azul.
Gruta do Lago Azul (Blue Lake Cave) is a cave with a subterranean lake thought to be fed by a yet undiscovered river. In the early 1990s, divers found prehistoric animal bones at the bottom of this 200ft lake — including those from saber tooth tigers and giant sloths.
Our group of about 20 people navigated steep, slippery switchbacks — while gawking at the dazzling stalactites and stalagmites — down to the lake, which turns a brilliant cornflower blue when the sun hits it.
The second day we went to Rio da Prata. This tour involved snorkeling down a river for about 90 minutes. I have snorkeled many times before, but only in tropical oceans. This was a unique experience. We saw tons of fish that, while not colorful like those in tropical waters, were very different from anything I´ve seen; we saw fish that were tiny, gigantic, toothy and some that changed colors closer to the surface.
The pristine clarity of the water is something I have never seen in a river; the ´´No Fishing´´ policy helps keep the aquatic wildlife thriving.
Check out the pictures below OR if you have 4:30 minutes to kill, you can see for yourself how clear the water is and how many fish there are in this video:
HOW WE DID IT:
ALL of the attractions in Bonito are only accessible via a guided tour at a (expensive) set price. I say expensive because when we were booking them from afar, they seemed pretty pricey. However, in hindsight I believe the prices we paid for our two tours were well worth it.
Still, accommodations, food and transportation were greatly inflated — even for Brasil — and transportation TO/FROM each attraction is NOT included in the cost of the tour.
Bonito was by far the city with the most tourist information, but even here there was little in the way of explanations. And unlike other cities we visited in the Pantanal, there was not much room for haggling.
You can read more about how we figured out transportation and accommodations HERE.
Bonito HI Hostel: http://www.ajbonito.com.br/ingles/index.php?idcanal=188
We had a private room (R$115 per night (w/o membership)
Pros: This was the nicest accommodation of our trip and the rooms were all new construction.
Breakfast is included — and quite good (ie: eggs! Not just bread and cheese)
Really clean kitchen, pool on site.
Overall, one of the nicer hostels I´ve stayed in.
Cons: What they don´t tell you on the website or in email is that the private rooms are NOT located in the main compound, and are in fact 1/2 a block away. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but a mention would have been nice.
Also, wi-fi is ONLY available in the common area — again, not a deal breaker, but kind of inconvenient.
Many people wrote in reviews that this place is far from the center of town — and I guess technically that´s true — it´s about a 15-minute walk. However, this town lacks a real town center that it´s necessity to be close to — and the hostel is just one-block from a supermarket.
As we traveled during high season, we organized both of our tours in advance through our hostel.
Gruta do Lago Azul:
R$36 + R$20 for transportation per person
This was a 30-40 minute drive from town and we were part of a larger group of about 15-20 people. Despite this, our transportation was more expensive than that for Rio da Prata, which made no sense since we were told the price depends on the size of the group. But, so goes it in Brasil! We were outfitted with hard hats and walked about 10 minutes to the mouth of a cave, before using a stone-cut staircase to descend into the cave. The stairs are not for the weak of heart, as they are poorly lit, slippery and a bit treacherous. They were building a new stair-path when we were there, which we were told would be more stable.
Rio da Prata:
R$165 + $R15 for transportation per person
This includes wet suit, snorkel, mask and lunch. The price of transportation can vary, depending on how many people are in the tour to share the cost of the van transfer.
The drive takes a little more than 1 hour from town, half of which is over bumpy (but scenic) dirt roads. The tour is run by the farm on which this part of the river runs through, and the location is very pretty. There are hammocks, a bird feeder (which is always crowded with bright green squawking parakeets) and horses that wander freely when they aren´t giving tourists rides. This place had THE best facilities, and was amazingly organized (a rarity in Brasil.)
Once we squeezed into our wet suits, traded our sandals for booties and grabbed our mask and snorkel, we took a 5 minute drive into the forest and followed our guide on a 40-minute hike, in our wet suits, to the start of the river. Yes, it was a hot and sweaty walk. But just when you think ´´This is ridiculous! I am hiking in a rubber suit in a humid jungle´´ you arrive at the river and can cool off. We snorkeled down the river for about 45 minutes, then to avoid some rapids, we had to hike another 10-minutes through the jungle to a calmer section of the river, where we hopped back into the water for another 45 minutes. At the end, there is someone there to collect your gear and drive you back to the farm, where a well-deserved and delicious lunch awaits.