Pantanal Escapes


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.

Although there's plenty to do all year round, the best time to visit is generally the dry season. This is when sites are easier to access. The clarity of the waters for diving and snorkelling is also better in this period, since less rain means less surface run-off and a lower water table. In the wet season, tour choices may be 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.

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 walk through forests. Descent into the cave is via stairs carved into the rock. The tour lasts two hours, usually leaving in groups of 15 people at half-hour intervals. A maximum of 225 visitors per day is allowed. Tours are around R$45. Sports shoes or hiking boots with good grip are strongly recommended.
tv_icon Gruta do Logo Azul (portuguese)

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

Rio Sucuri
Fazenda São Geraldo, 18 km from Bonito.
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. 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.

Tourists snorkel along a small length of river (about 750m) with dense underwater vegetation. Staying on the surface is mandatory so as not to impact this vegetation or the riverbed. Trips cost around R$200, 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.

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.

Aquário Natural – Baía Bonita

Parque Ecológico Baia Bonita, 7 km from Bonito
Open: 7:30am - 3:30pm (onsite till 7pm)

This is 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).

Abismo Anhumas
22 km from Bonito. Open: 7am onwards.
This is a great option for thrill seekers - but with numbers limited to 20 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. The trip lasts all day, with prices around R$ 200 per person.
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The interior of Anhumas Abyss lit up by a ray of sun entering through a natural skylight. Photo: Caio Vilela.

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 (portuguese)

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.
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computer_icon_black Parque das Cachoeiras (Facebook)

Grutas de São Miguel (Caves of São Miguel)
A 18 km from Bonito, by dirt road.
Open: 7am -5pm (summer); 8am-4pm (winter)

Access to the caves is via a suspension trail 200 m, passing through a dense forest. The main cave has speleothems and is home to animals like owls-of-towers and bats. The return ride is made in electric carts. Visitation rate up charges (R $ 18), with an average duration of two hours, limited to 285 visitors a day in summer and 255 in winter. There cafeteria on site.

Bonito Aventura
6 km from Bonito, for asphalt and dirt road at the end, to Jardim
Open: 7:30am - 4pm

Held in Rio Formoso, it is much sought after because of its proximity to the city. After walking for an interpretative trail of 1.500 m by riparian forest on the banks of the Rio Formoso, began a snorkeling over 2000 m, where the exploitation of natural cavities submerses and small waterfalls is possible, with the observation of fish , aquatic plants and trees be trunks. The price of the activity (between R $ 15 and R $ 20), with an average duration of two hours, does not include wetsuit, which can be rented. There cafeteria on site.

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

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

The ride (R $ 85) starts by an interpretative trail through the gallery forest of Mimoso River, with caves, birds, mammals, ferns, orchids, bromeliads and trees. The road goes for more than eight different waterfalls, waters rich in limestone tufa, limestone formations resulting from the action of algae, trunks and leaves. There are five areas for swimming, located in waterfalls and natural pools with 6-meter platform heels. At the end of the tour, a snack is served in the farmhouse, with typical sweet and salty in the region, made the wood stove.
The price of attraction, with an average duration of five hours, includes typical snack. 5 years old don't pay. There is shop with souvenirs on site.
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Balneário do Sol
12 km from Bonito.
Open until 7pm

Located on the banks of the Rio Formoso, the Balneário do Sol has natural pools, waterfalls and a cave. It possíval observing piraputangas, curimbas and golden. His cave, the East has given rise to a legend that couples in love, when they enter the cave in hand and a drink the other hand the water in the spring, become happy and inseparable for the rest of their lives. It offers reels, trampoline, snack bar and sports fields. Cobra visitation rate (R $ 10) and requires no guide. Features diner.

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

Balneário Municipal
It is 7 km from Bonito, road asphalt and dirt at the end, to Jardim.
Open: 7am - 6pm

The crystal clear waters of the Balneario Municipal are suitable for fish viewing. It has limestone tufa, formations resultants of action, rich in calico carbonate on algae and mosses. A wooden deck by the river facilitates access to water. It has sand and snack volleyball courts. Cobra visitation rate (R $ 10), but does not require guide.
tv_icon Balneário Municipal

Balneário Ilha do Padre
A 12 km from Bonito dirt road to Ilha do Padre.
Open until 7pm

Located on the banks of the Rio Formoso, its attractions are waterfalls, forests and natural pools. It has camping for infrastructure (R $ 12), cabin (R $ 20) and snack. Cobra entrance fee ($ 5) and does not require guide.

Balneário Rincão dos Sonhos
Is 13 km from Bonito by dirt road to Rio Sucuri, Fazenda São Geraldo. Open: 8am - 7pm
Fluctuation in Rio Formoso with watching fish and aquatic vegetation over a period of 40 minutes.

A trail of 1,800 m in the woods; the other, suitable for people with good physical prepare, includes steep Morro da Cruz and takes 1:30 a.m. to be covered.

The horse rental costs $ 5 and takes about 50 minutes. The trip is made on the river and returning the grazing field. It has camping area (R $ 10), volleyball and beach soccer. Cobra visitation rate (R $ 10), but does not require guide.

Ceita Corê
Ceita Corê farm, 36 km from Bonito, the dirt road to Bodaquena.
Open from 8am

Trails amid mature trees in an area of 4000 ha lead to different waterfalls, good for bathing.

For persons qualified in diving in flooded cave, you can meet an underground river. Entering through its source, it can achieve depths up to 90 m. Price (R $ 20) may include farm typical lunch to complement the ride (in this case, an additional $ 20).

Fazendas Princesinha and Santa Marta, 51 km from Bonito (over 23 km to the headquarters) the dirt road to Field of Indians.
Open: 7am - 6pm

Here, fans of extreme sports will be delighted. All activities have comm support of specialized professionals, communication via radio and call in English. It has outdoor equipment shop, snack bar, restaurant, hotel accommodation and traveling with eight beds, the Jabuti Radical for overnights in the woods. It offers free flight courses and rappelling.

The Cachoeira de Santa Marta, 55 m high, is surrounded by walls of stone and wood.

The caves Pérolas and Princesinha have great variety of speleothems.

The Roncador streams, Cafezinho and Naticuê are suitable for swimming.

There are four types of routes with various levels of difficulty, through the main attractions of Bonito. Distances range 52-162 km, traveled between two and five days with overnight accommodation in itinerant Jabuti Radical. They are provided bikes, helmets and food. The groups are of at least four and at most six. Take backpack with thermal blanket, lantern, choke, repellent, sunglasses and a hat.

The wide variation in temperature causes ocurram many thermals, allowing admire the entire landscape of a more than privileged location. Here they were installed ramps of 190 and 280 m. They are open to all qualified pilots, including the possibility of conducting dual flight, where the instructor takes the visitor no Experiença flight.

The Bathed Laudejá allows the observation of animals and vegetation in 860 hectares of preserved area.

There are 32 kilometers of trails in the Serra da Bodoquena, through caves, waterfalls and viewpoints. Script four days. They are provided lodging, meals and specialized guide with support from radio. Groups of at least six and at most ten.

Parque das Cachoeiras
A 17 km from Bonito, by dirt road to Aquidauana.
Open: 8am - 4pm

It offers visitation and bath in the Mimoso River waterfalls, with viewing of birds and animals typical.
Walking along a trail 2 km by riparian forest, with dips in Rio Mimoso waterfalls, six in total, followed by typical lunch. After the meal, the visitors can rest in hammocks under pergolas. Another option begins with breakfast, which is followed by the ride. Cobra visitation rate (R $ 20 to R $ 32).

The Rio do Peixe (River of Fish) is a idyliic swimming hole for local and visitors. Photo: Felipe Nunes.

Cachoeiras do Rio do Peixe
Fazenda Água Viva, 35 kilometers from Bonito.
The area has trails that pass by waterfalls and natural pools.
3 km trail passes by waterfalls and natural pools. In the farmhouse are offered a typical lunch.

Stretch of 500 m. Cobra visitation rate (R $ 25), but if you want, you can include lunch (in this case, an additional $ 17). The tour lasts four to eight hours.

Monte Cristo Parque
Source of the River Formosinho, 9 km from Bonito, towards Fazenda São Geraldo, 7 km.
Here, where born one of the cleanest rivers in the region, there are options like slide the reel, walking trails, diving, waterfalls, craft shop and sports fields. The ticket (R $ 20) can also include lunch (additional $ 12).

There are waterfalls and cascades, with decks to swim in the river.

Of more than 2 km trails with suspended walkways.

Bóia Cross
A 7 km from Bonito, towards the Balneário Municipal.
Open: 8am - 6pm

Held in Rio Formosinho rapids, with individual floats on a journey accompanied by monitors. It is mandatory the use of lifejackets. Not recommended for people who do not know nadir. Cobra visitation rate (R $ 15), with an average duration of 40 minutes.

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.

Rafting on the Rio Formoso

It is 12 km from Bonito, with access from the road to São Geraldo
It is made in rubber boats, accommodating up to 14 people, a distance of 7 km, to the Padre Island, passing by three waterfalls and two rapids. When the boat passes in calm waters, a parade for diving is possible.
Rate up-charges for the ride (R $ 20), with an average duration of three hours. They are provided lifejacket and plastic bags for photographic equipment protection.
Organized only by agencies, offers night tour option at night and full moon.

Fazenda Lomba
A 2 km from Bonito, on the road to Guias Lopes (MS-382), 1 km
Route taken in a disabled old road, through a grassland and savannah forests. Prohibited for children under 10 years. Cobra visitation rate (R $ 15), with an average duration 1h30. Wear long pants and closed shoes. There is another path, suitable for more experienced riders ed the same time duration.

The resort in Rio Formosinho has good structure, which includes a snack bar, restaurants, toilets, volleyball court, playground and hammocks. The ticket (R $ 10) is entitled to know his two decks, one in shallow site is suitable for children, the other with 5 m deep, is for adults. It is also completing cottages to receive guests.
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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)