Pantanal Escapes

Bonito

In English, the name "Bonito" translates as "beautiful" - no other name is more apt. This region, just outside the southern Pantanal, is the jewel in Brazil's adventure and ecotourism crown. Yes, the town itself is touristy - with tourist prices - but its still worth the time and expense to visit.

Located in the southwest of Mato Grosso do Sul state, Bonito sits on the western edge Serra da Bodoquena ranges which rise up to 650m above sea level. These limestone-rich hills form the headwaters for many local rivers and streams. This limestone means that area is rich with caves, sinkholes, waterfalls, rapids, and other natural features. However, what makes Bonito truly special is its crystal clear rivers. The waters for these have filtered up through the limestone from underground sources. Dissolved minerals such as calcium and magnesium bicarbonate also help the water clarity since these help trigger the settling of particulate matter. The spectacular result is a series of natural clearwater aquariums allowing visitors to view and swim alongside schools of dorado, pacu and piraputanga.

Climate : When to Visit


Although Bonito is classified as tropical, it's higher altitude makes it slightly cooler than the nearby Pantanal - especially during the evenings. In the dry months (Jun-Oct), the temperature averages 20°C but can drop to lows of almost zero. The wet season (Dec-Mar) averages 26°C but may occasionally peak at around 40°C.

There's plenty to do all year round, but the best time to visit is generally the dry season. During this period, the sites are easier to access, and the clarity of the waters is better for diving and snorkelling since less rain means less surface run-off and a lower water table. In the wet season, tour choices are more limited since this corresponds with the tourism low season - meaning fewer visitors - although room rates and tour fees can be cheaper.

Environment and Vegetation


The region's dominant vegetation is the small forest and scrubland of the Cerrado, with patches of larger forests in the hills and along river banks. These forests are important for protecting Bonito's clear waters since they fix the soil - reducing erosion, meaning that less silt and run-off get mixed into the pristine rivers. Pastures and cattle-grazing dominate in the lower altitude regions.

Things to See and Do


Bonito has built a reputation as Brazil's adventure sport capital. There's a wide choice of activities including caving, rafting, snorkelling, cave diving, abseiling, horse treks and hiking. The local tourism industry is well integrated, meaning that you can (usually) arrange all tours and activities through your selected agent or hotel - rather than needing to make arrangements with the individual operators. Since most tours take you out into the countryside, you'll also get glimpses of local wildlife such as macaws, toucans, monkeys, peccaries, tapir, anteaters, and capybara.

One secret to the success of Bonito as a tourist destination is the close involvement of Brazil's environmental agency, IBAMA. Tourist numbers and environmental impacts are carefully managed - with preset maximums for group sizes and number of visitors per day (even for sites on private property). This means that pre-booking, especially during the high season, is strongly recommended. Having an authorised guide is mandatory for some locations. Some activities are prohibited, such as motorboats and fishing ... despite the large number of fish that you'll see in the clearwater streams. In addition to Bonito, don't forget to check the activities available nearby in Jardim and Bodoquena.
tv_icon Tourism activities in and around Bonito
Tour Bookings
Bookings for all tours and attractions need to be purchased through local agencies. Bookings and vouchers can be arranged at agency offices or hotels in town, or purchased online. Voucher costs should be the same irrespective of where they are purchased.
computer_icon_black www.h2oecoturismo.com.br
computer_icon_black www.bonitour.com.br
computer_icon_black www.bonitoway.com.br
CAVING ADVENTURES
Gruta do Lago Azul (Blue Lake Cave)
Fazenda Jaragua, 20 km from Bonito
Open: 7 am - 1pm.

This cave is Bonito's most famous attraction - containing a small lake with brilliant blue waters. It was discovered by local Terena indians in 1924 - and is one of around 500 known caves in the region. These caves formed over millions of years as slightly acidic groundwater or underwater rivers dissolve the limestone rock leaving natural cavities which continue to grow over time. These can prove a treasure trove for researchers since they often contain fossilised remains of long-extinct animals which visited the cave, fell via natural sink holes above, or whose remains got washed in. Within the Gruta do Lago Azul, researchers have found stone tools, pottery, plus the remains of sabre-tooth tiger and a giant ground sloth. Trips into the cave are extra special if visiting in late December or early January. From 8 to 9am the sun shines directly over the cave entrance - lighting up the interior and illuminating the lake. Getting to the cave involves a short forest walk with descent into the cave is via stairs carved into the rock. The tour lasts two hours, leaving in groups of 15 people at half-hour intervals. Tours cost around R$50 (US$ 15). Sports shoes or hiking boots with good grip are strongly recommended.
tv_icon Gruta do Lago Azul (portuguese)

Above:The iridescent blue of the waters inside the Gruta do Lago Azul. Photo: Rosanetur.

Below: The interior of Anhumas Abyss lit up by a ray of sun entering through a natural skylight. Photo: Caio Vilela.

Abismo Anhumas
22 km from Bonito. Open: 7am onwards.
This is a great option for thrill seekers - but since there are limits on the number of visitors per day, it should be booked in advance. The adventure begins with a 72 metre (24 story) descent via abseil into a dark cavern into a cave - leading to a small lake with crystal clear water, about the size of a football field. This descent takes 15 minutes and is done in pairs. Once inside, visitors are taken by dinghy to a drier part of the cave to explore large limestone stalagmite and stalactite formations. Divers can explore the clear lake waters going down to a depth of 20m (the lake, itself is around 80m deep). The water has a constant temperature of around 17°C. Visitors need to attend training in Bonito the day before the tour to familiarise themselves with the abseiling equipment, and the all-important technique needed to make the ascent to get back OUT of the cave. Groups head out the next day at 7am. This is a half-day trip, costing R$ 910 (US$280) per person for snorkelling, or R$ 1,270 (US$380) for the scuba dive option.
tv_icon Abismo Anhumas video
computer_icon_black abismoanhumas.com.br

Grutas de São Miguel (Caves of São Miguel)
18 km from Bonito. Open: 7am -5pm (summer); 8am-4pm (winter)
Access to the caves is via a 200m long suspension bridge passing through a dense forest. The main cave has speleothems and is home to animals including owls and bats. The return trip is made in electric carts. Tours costs R$50 (US$ 15) per person and typically takes around two hours. A cafeteria is located onsite.
computer_icon_black www.grutasdesaomiguel.com
WILDLIFE EDUCATION
Projeto Jiboia
Rua Nestor Fernandes 610, Bonito
This educational presentation runs nightly from 7-9pm, teaching visitors about non-venomous boa constrictor snakes which are native to much of Brazil. The lectures are primarily aimed at Brazilians - demystifying these under appreciated and often persecuted creatures who play an important role in our environment and which are actually beneficial. At the end of the presentation there's usually an opportunity to get up close and get your photo taken with the snakes. Cost is R$40 (US$12). Note: Since most of the audience is Brazilian, the presentation is primarily in Portuguese.
computer_icon_black www.projetojiboia.com.br
FULL DAY ECO-FARM EXPERIENCES
Cachoeiras do Rio do Peixe
Km 35, Rodovia Bonito-Bodoquena, Fazenda Água Viva.
This is a relaxing full day experience with hiking trails that pass through forest, waterfalls, and natural clearwater pools. Its a great place to unwind, to swim, and enjoy the beauty of Bonito's natural surroundings. There are also opportunities to get up close with local wildlife such as macaws, toucans, capuchin monkeys and a tapir - many of which live wild in the surrounding area but which have become accustomed to the staff and visitors. A huge buffet lunch is included which features many foods traditional to the region. Cost for the day is R$211 (US$65).
tv_icon Rio de Peixe video

Fazenda Ceita Corê
Km 30, Rodovia Bonito-Bodoquena. Open from 8am
This is another full day farm experience offering a range of activities. This include hiking, horse riding, swimming in an area of the river with natural waterfalls, a lake, a games area, birdwatching, and a rest area with deck chairs and hammocks. For qualified divers, there's a flooded cave an underground river which you can explore - going down to depths of around 90m. The name Ceita Corê means "My children's land" in Tupi-Guaraní, which is one of the main indigenous languages originally spoken in the area. Cost is R$184 (US$57) per person which includes a traditional lunch.

The Rio do Peixe (River of Fish) has hiking trails with waterfalls and idyllic swimming spots such as this. Photo: Felipe Nunes.

BIKE ADVENTURES
Lobo Guara Bike Adventure
Rua Coronel Pilad Rebuá, 2156
This is probably the most eco-friendly way to explore Bonito, and nearby countryside - in a guided bicycle adventure. Most trips only take a few hours, but they occasionally organise bigger group trips going into the hills of the Serra da Bodoquena and into the Pantanal.
computer_icon_black www.loboguarabikeadventure.com.br

Quadriciclo Trilha Boiadeira
Rua Nova Jerusalem, 06
Take a guided tour on quad bikes through the countryside along an old cattle trail. The ride takes about a hour - with daytime and nighttime tours possible. After rains, the tours take on an extra dimension crossing through streams and mud. Dirty but fun.
computer_icon_black www.trilhaboiadeira.com

Central Bike

Rua Coronel Pilad Rebuá, 1100
Rent a bicycle and explore the countryside on your own.
computer_icon_black Facebook page

PARASAILING & PARAGLIDING
Bonito Fly
Rodovia Bonito-Bodoquena Km 2.5 - Bonito
This provides visitors with an aerial view of Bonito and the surrounding area from a microlight (essentially a motorised hang glider). It's a short trip taking less than one hour - but is certain to be memorable. Best in the early morning or late afternoon to ensure the best views.
computer_icon_black www.bonitofly.com.br
RAFTING AND BÓIA CROSS
Eco Park Porto da Ilha / Balneário Ilha do Padre
Km 13, Rodovia do Turismo Rio Formoso.
Now known as Eco Park Porto da Ilha, but formerly known as Balneário Ilha do Padre (Priest Island), this popular swimming spot is located on the banks of the Rio Formoso. It's attractions include natural waterfalls, forest trails, and water activities such as rafting, tubing, kayaking, and stand up paddle boarding. It's a good way to spend a relaxing few hours, although it has received mixed feedback concerning questionable "safety" rules prohibiting cameras on the raft rides. The raft trip descends a few small waterfalls, but is a gentle ride overall that's fine for kids and not restricted only to thrill-seekers. Entrance into the park area costs R$50 (US$15), with extra costs depending on the activities.

Bóia Cross
Km 6, Rodovia Bonito-Guia Lopes da Laguna (MS-382)
Hotel Cabanas runs Bóia-Cross (tubing) and Duck (inflatable kayak) tours along the Rio Formoso in a private reserve area adjacent to the hotel. This has the advantage of being relatively close (6 km) to central Bonito. The activity lasts around 90 minutes and costs R$80 (US$25). Bookings can be arranged through various agencies around town, so you don't necessarily need to be a guest of the hotel.
computer_icon_black www.hotelcabanas.com.br

Above Bóia Cross on the rapids of the Rio Formoso in Bonito. Photo: Mark Hillary.

Below: Rafting in the Rio Formoso in Bonito. Photo: Filipe Nunes.

Although touristy, and with obvious "tourist prices", shops in Bonito have the best selection of souvenirs and artwork in the region. Photo: Andrew Mercer.

SWIMMING, HIKING & WATERFALLS
Aquário Natural – Baía Bonita
Parque Ecológico Baia Bonita, 7 km from Bonito
Open: 7:30am - 3:30pm (onsite till 7pm)

This is a small lake of crystal clear water fed from a natural underground spring. As with Rio Sucuri and other nearby locations, the clarity of the water allows the observation of dorado, piraputanga and other aquatic life. Visitors snorkel along a 900m stretch of river - and are restricted to the surface so as not to disturb the limestone gravel lake bed (or negatively impact the water clarity). Visitors are supplied with a neoprene wetsuit, life vest, snorkel and face mask and taken out in small groups with a guide. A support boat stays behind the group in case anyone gets tired or needs assistance. Use of sunscreen in the water is prohibited. Although the tour takes two and half hours, the main snorkelling activity (after some basic training) typically lasts only about 40 minutes. Other activities include zip lining, a floating trampoline, and a heated pool with hydromassage. There's and a snack bar and restaurant. Price is R$170 (low season) to R$190 (high season).
tv_icon Aquário Natural at Baía Bonita

Bonito Aventura
6 km from Bonito. Open: 7:30am - 4pm
Located conveniently close to Bonito, on the Rio Formoso, Bonito Aventura is always popular with visitors. This is an easy 1,900m trail passing through by riparian forest on the banks of the Rio Formoso. There are stops where visitors can swim, snorkel and scuba dive. There are also small rapid and waterfalls. As with other locations nearby, the clear waters allow close observation of fish and aquatic plants. Tours last around 2.5 hours, and costs R$115 (US$ 35). Wetsuits aren't included in this price but are available for rent. A cafeteria is also located on site.
computer_icon_black bonitoaventura.com.br

Cachoeiras do Rio Aquidaban

54km from Bonito. Located on Fazenda Baía das Garças, MS-382.
This is a 1.8km hiking trail passing a series of natural swimming holes and waterfalls, and providing viewpoints looking out over natural forest and (in the distance) the Pantanal. Waterfalls on the property range from 5m up to an impressive 120m high. The trail requires good walking shoes and an intermediate level of fitness. It isn't recommended for children under 10 years. Bring water and a snack. Trips generally take around four hours. Check with your hotel or local tour agency for transport and current prices.
tv_icon Cachoeiras do Rio Aquidaban

Parque das Cachoeiras
Km 11, Bonito/Bodoquena Highway (MS-178)
Located 15 minutes from the town centre, Parque das Cachoeiras is 1.7km hiking trail passing seven waterfalls and natural swimming holes. Visitors might also glimpse local wildlife such as monkeys and macaws. Entry is R$120 (US$ 35) with typical treks and swimming lasting around three hours. A restaurant and snack bar is also available on site.
tv_icon Parque das Cachoeiras
computer_icon_black Facebook: Parque da Cachoeiras

Nascente Azul
Km 22, Bonito/Bodoquena Highway (MS-178)
Nascente Azul is a picturesque clear water spring set within an area of natural forest which has gained a reputation as one of the best locations for snorkelling and scuba diving. Tours can purchased from agencies in Bonito. Snorkelling cost R$150 (US$ 45), with scuba diving costing R$170 (US$ 52). Tours typically last around 90 minutes.
computer_icon_black www.nascenteazul.com.br

Estância Mimosa is a popular location to enjoy waterfalls and natural swimming baths. Photo: Ambiental Turismo.

Estância Mimosa
24 km from Bonito, Bonito/Bodoquena Highway (MS-178).
Open: 8am - 3pm

Estância Mimosa offers a half-day tour costing R$100 (US$ 30). This includes a walk along a riverine forest trail near the Mimoso river, exploring small caves, observing birds and other wildlife, and learning about the local flora including orchids, ferns and bromeliads. Along the way, there are several waterfalls and natural clearwater pools suitable for swimming. At the end of the tour, a snack is served in the farmhouse, including local cuisine made in a traditional wood-fired stove. There's also shop with souvenirs on site.
tv_icon Estância Mimosa Video Promo
computer_icon_black www.estanciamimosa.eco.br

Balneário do Sol
Rodovia do Turismo, km 8. Open 8am - 5pm
Located on the banks of the Rio Formoso, the Balneário do Sol is a swimming and picnic area with natural pools, waterfalls and a cave. Here, in the clear waters, its possible to observe local fish species such as piraputangas, curimbas and dorado. As for the the cave, there's a local legend that if a couple enters the cave hand-in-hand then shares a drink of the natural spring water, they will be happy and inseparable for the rest of their lives. No guide is needed to visit the Balneário, although there is a R$50 (US$ 15) entry fee. A snack bar and diner is also available onsite.

Feeling at one with nature. The municipal baths (Balneário Municipal) in Bonito. Photo: Rosanetur.

Balneário Municipal
7 km from Bonito, On MS-178 towards Jardim.
Open: 8am - 5pm

This popular swimming spot is located on the Rio Formoso. As with other swimming locations around Bonito, the clear waters are ideal for snorkelling to view fish and aquatic plants. Some of the pools also flow over natural limestone rock formations. The location includes a snacker and a beach volleyball court. There's a R$30 (US$10) entrance fee which visitors pay by purchasing vouchers via local tour agencies.
tv_icon Balneário Municipal

Rio Sucuri
Km 18, Rodovia Bonito, Fazenda São Geraldo.
Open: 8:30am - 3pm (onsite till 6pm)

Rio Sucuri is a 2km stretch of river running along the eastern edge of Serra da Bodoquena. Visitors can snorkel along the surface of the river's crystal clear water observing pacu, dorado, and schools of piraputanga. Staying on the surface is mandatory so as not to impact the vegetation or the riverbed. The name of the river (sucuri) signifies Anaconda, which can also sometimes be observed in the dry winter months. Aside from the aquatic life, macaws, toucans, emas, capybara and other wildlife can be observed in the forest alongside the riverbanks. Trips cost around R$200 (US$ 60), lasting about three hours. Snorkelling masks, floatation boards, and shuttle bus from/to Bonito are included. Note that the use of sunscreen in the water is prohibited. Guided horse rides and cycle tours through the farm area and nearby countryside are additional options for visitors.
computer_icon_black riosucuri.com.br

Above: Snorkelling through the crystal clear waters of the Rio Sucuri. Photo: Rosanetur.

Below: Snorkelling through the crystal clear waters of the Rio Sucuri. The clarity of the region's rivers means that visitors can enjoy natural aquariums. Photo: Ambiental Turismo.

Places to Eat


Bonito has many great restaurants and eateries. Those located along the main strip (Rua Coronel Pilad Rebuá) are generally excellent - but touristy and expensive. A plate of Arroz Carreteiro, a traditional Brazilian fried rice, will cost you R$60 (US$19) at Tapera - but if you're prepared to walk one street over to Rua Luís da Costa Leite or Rua das Flores, you can sometimes find equally tasty but less fancy versions in the R$10-20 price range.
See TripAdvisor reviews for a longer restaurant list.

Name

Description

Pantanal Grill
Rua Cel. Pilad Rebuá, 1808
Facebook page

Great option to treat yourself after a hard day sightseeing. Specialises in grilled meats including farmed jacaré (caiman). Good but expensive by local standards.
Open 11am-11pm

Casa do João
Rua Nelson Felício dos Santos, 664-A
www.casadojoao.com.br

Restaurant serving many regional and traditional Brazilian dishes. Great reputation for variety and good service. Their fish is reputed as the best in town.
Lunch 11.30am-2.30pm
Dinner 6-11.30pm

Tapera
Rua Coronel Pilad Rebuá, 1957
Facebook page

Fairly reliable with a good range of tasty dishes. Sometimes a little pricy.
Lunch 11am-2pm
Dinner 7-11pm
Sundays lunch only

Churrascaria Cupim
Rua Monte Castelo, 949
website

Great value but tasty option away from the main strip. Try the espeto where you order several types of meats which can be shared. Lacking in any fancy decor - but popular with locals by virtue of it's great food.
Lunch 11am-2pm
Dinner 6.30-11pm (wed-sun)

Pache Pizzas
Rua Luís da Costa Leite, 2193

Good pizzas, reasonable value with friendly service - although apt to very busy. Diners at the streetside tables sometimes get shows from wandering street performers in return for a small donation.
6pm-midnight

Restaurante Do Marco Velho
Rua Luiz da Costa Leite, 2184
Facebook page

Great reasonably-priced buffet lunch featuring regional dishes. Popular also for dinners. Not touristy or international but very well-rated by local Brazilian visitors.
Lunch 11am - 2pm
Dinner 6-10pm
Closed on Sundays

Places to Stay


Bonito has a large number of hotels and pousadas catering to visitors. Availability may be an issue in the peak season, so booking ahead of time (checking room rates and availability through sites such as Trivago or booking.com) is recommended.

Name

Description

Muito Bonito
Coronel Pilad Rebuá, 1444
www.pousadamuitobonito.com.br

One of the pioneering pousadas in Bonito, which has grown and re-modelled over the years. Still fairly rustic despite being located in the middle of town. Friendly, helpful, english-speaking and has one of the best agencies in town for arranging tour bookings.
See Trip Advisor reviews.

Pousada Remanso
Rua Coronel Pilad Rebuá, 1515
www.pousadaremanso.com.br

Across the road from Muito Bonito, this is another great option - and slightly more comfortable. Friendly and helpful staff.
See Trip Advisor reviews.

Hotel Cabanas
Km 6,Rodovia Bonito-Guia Lopes da Laguna (MS 382)
www.hotelcabanas.com.br

This is a great option if you prefer somewhere to stay outside the town. It's rustic cabin-style accommodations provide a comfortable getaway located just 6 km from the town centre. Also runs tubing (boiá-cross) tours on the Rio Formoso behind the hotel.
See Trip Advisor reviews.

Pousada Surucuá
Rua Bongiovani, 860
www.pousadasurucua.com.br

Aiming for the higher-end of the market. Good reputation and very well rated. Two blocks away from the town centre.
See Trip Advisor reviews.

Wetiga Hotel
Rua Coronel Pilad Rebuá, 679
wetigahotel.com.br

Also aiming for the higher-end of the market - even though rooms are simpler than the grandiose external architecture suggests. This is a comfortable option with helpful staff and great service.
See Trip Advisor reviews.

Pousada Gira Sol
Rua Persio Schamann 710
www.pousadagirasol.com.br

Comfortable and very well-rated mid-range option. Not too far from the town centre.
See Trip Advisor reviews.

Hotel Pousada Aguas de Bonito
Rua 29 de maio, 1679
www.aguasdebonito.com.br

Located several blocks away from the main strip (where the restaurants and agencies are located) - but the few minutes extra walk is compensated for by the extra space.
See Trip Advisor reviews.

Bonito HI Hostel
Rua Doutor Pires, 850
bonitohostel.com.br

Pioneer of Bonito tourism. Well organised, well run, and one of the best options for budget-minded travellers.
See Trip Advisor reviews.

CLH Suites
Rua Luíz da Costa Leite, 2085
www.clhsuites.com

Formerly Che Lagarto Hostel Bonito. Comfortable budget/mid-range option close to the town centre.
See Trip Advisor reviews.

Pousada São Jorge
Rua Coronel Pilad Rebuá, 1605
pousadasaojorge.com.br

Budget pousada with low cost backpacker hostel and camping option (located at Rua 15 de Novembro, 1023).
See Trip Advisor reviews.

Getting There and Away


By Air: Azul has daily flights travelling to Corumbá and Bonito from Campinas (São Paulo), with connections onwards to Campo Grande.
computer_icon_black Azul Airlines
computer_icon_black Flight times (Feb 2017)

By Bus: Bonito is current serviced by the bus company Viação Cruzeiro do Sul. They have 3-4 buses per day travelling between Campo Grande and Bonito, and a daily bus travelling between Bonito and Corumbá (and onwards to Ponta Porã). Both buses take around six hours. Note that the buses are convencional meaning that they lack the bigger more and comfortable seats of executivo class. The Campo Grande/Bonito trip also involves a bus change at Jardim.
worthwhile.
computer_icon_black www.buscaonibus.com.br

Vanzella and Terra Transportes have a minibus service departing Campo Grande airport to Bonito at 1pm and 3pm daily. This is a little quicker, more convenient and cheaper overall if flying into Campo Grande.
computer_icon_black www.vanzellatransportes.com.br
computer_icon_black Terra Transportes (facebook)
If travelling to Aquidauana, Formoso Transporte (Ph. 067 3255-1298) has a minibus service at 5.20am Mon/Wed/Fri. This trip takes 5-6 hours travelling on the unpaved MS-345.

By Road:
If driving from Campo Grande, head out via Rua Brilhante and Avenida Marechal Deodoro along BR-060 to Sidrolândia, travelling onwards to Nioaque then Guia Lopes and Bonito. This route is paved with good road conditions. Avoid the route via Aquidauana (sometimes suggested by Google Maps and GPS systems) as these travel on unpaved roads through hill country and will add several hours to your trip.
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Toyota Bandeirante jeep in the Pantanal
Amazon kingfisher in the Pantanal
Sunrise in the Pantanal
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Photo Credits: Leaping Dorado sculpture in Bonito (Flickr/Luís Costa)

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