Campo Grande is the capital of Mato Grosso do Sul, and is the gateway into the Southern Pantanal. It's also a great place to learn more about Pantaneiro Culture and History, experience the phenomenon of Música Sertaneja, or explore the many parks - including the new Pantanal Aquarium.
It's likely that you'll pass through here on your way to/from the Southern Pantanal since this is the hub for local transport services. Although it probably isn't anywhere that's featured on your tourist wish list, it's worth having a look around to give you further insights into the history, nature and culture of the Pantanal. Plus, if you've been in out in the Pantanal for any significant length of time, then going to a show, a shopping mall, or enjoying the latest blockbuster movie in a modern air-conditioned cinema is a great option to reacquaint yourself with civilisation. The city is known locally as the Cidade Morena thanks its dark red (and fertile) soil.
Although the climate is fairly hot (average temperature peaks at 28°C in July-August) it's slightly cooler and much less humid than the surrounding Pantanal region.
The settling of the territory mirrors the story of the American West. Although there had been settlements in the Mato Grosso territory since the early 1700s, most were located around rivers - the primary arteries for transport in the region. This left the cerrado grassland relatively untouched until the late 19th century when soldiers returning from the Paraguayan War spread the word about the large areas of unclaimed territory which was perfect for cattle grazing - triggering a new influx of settlers. One of these would-be settlers was José Antônio Pereira.
In 1872, Pereira set out from Minas Gerais, travelling in a small wagon train to the Mato Grosso territory. He eventually reached a spot in the open cerrado grasslands, at the confluence of two streams where he stopped and chose to establish his farm. The location of this first settlement is today occupied by the city's Horto Florestal park. Pereira travelled back to Minas Gerais, gathering his wife, 18 children, slaves, horse, parrot and a house cow and bringing them out to the new settlement - Arraial de Santo Antônio de Campo Grande (later just Campo Grande). Further settlers arrived over time, resulting in the growth of the small town. It was raised to the status of a municipality in 1899.
The region's economy was cattle ranching. Roads were established for cattle runs into the neighbouring Paraná and São Paulo states. In the meantime, the military also selected the town as the location to centralise its Military Command for the protection of Brazil's western frontiers. However, it was was the arrival of the railway in 1914 which set the stage for the future - with Campo Grande becoming the major railway junction for cattle and other products being shipped out of the southern Pantanal and onto Paraná or São Paulo. The town quadrupled in size between 1915 and 1922. By 1932 it had quadrupled again.
In July 1932 Campo Grande became, briefly, capital of the newly declared State of Maracajú - in which it declared southern Mato Grosso region's independence from the northern portion of the state (governed in Cuiabá) and sided with São Paulo in Brazil's Constitutionalist Revolution. This revolution was Brazil's last major internal armed conflict. It pitted São Paulo and its allies against the dictatorship of Getúlo Vargas who had seized power in 1930. Despite promises from other states, the southern Mato Grosso region were the only ones who actually provided combatants fighting alongside São Paulo. These revolutionaries were heavily outnumbered and outgunned when confronted with the full force of Brazilian military. Several battles were fought around Coxim and Porto Murtinho over the next few months as Brazilian nationalist forces entered into the territory to reclaim the seceded state. Although it was a military loss, this conflict remained a rallying call for a southern separatist movement against the Cuiabá-based state government. Separation was finally realised in 1977 when the new state of Campo Grande (later renamed to Mato Grosso do Sul) was announced by President Ernesto Giesel - with Campo Grande selected as it's new capital. This triggered a new period of growth with the city's population grew from 180 thousand to around 850 thousand today.
Campo Grande Today
Although it still has the air of being an oversized cowboy town, Campo Grande offers everything expected from a modern metropolis with a surprising amount of diversity for the Brazilian interior - having seen large-scale immigration from Japan, Germany, the Middle East, Spain, Italy and Paraguay. It's also the location of Brazil's only urbanised Indian reserve. Although the region's economy is still dominated by cattle ranching, the economy has also grown as a result of Soy which has become a major export crop taking over much of Brazil's formerly vast cerrado grasslands. Visitors will encounter a new city with many parklands and recreational areas. Significantly, for culture lovers its also the regional capital for Música Sertanja with stars such as Michel Teló and Luan Santana having started out in the city. Visitors are strongly encouraged to attend a show while they're in town.
Things to See and Do
Av. Afonso Pena , 4329 .
Open: 9am - 10pm. Closed Mondays.
This (along with Casa do Artesão) is a common destination for visitors seeking regional arts and crafts. It includes varied selection of Pantanal-themed ornaments, ceramic works, paintings, wall-hangings and some indigenous pieces.
Av. Afonso Pena,
Corner of Rua José Antonio.
Small but historically significant monument built in honour of the town's founder, José Antônio Pereira, and inaugurated on the city's anniversary in 1933 .
José Antônio Pereira Museum
Av. Guiacurus, Vila Monte Alegre.
Open 9am - 5pm. Closed Mondays.
This museum is a memorial to Campo Grande's founder, and is located about 5 km from the city centre on the site of the old Fazenda Bálsamo, where Pereira and his family resided. It includes a small wattle and daub house, water mill and an ox cart, and other things which provide a view of life as experienced by the early pioneers.
Casa do Artesão
Av. Calógeras, 2050
Weekdays: 8am - 6pm; Sat: 9am-5pm Sat; Sun: Closed.
Located in the old Banco do Brasil building, constructed in 1929, the Casa do Artesão contains arts and crafts from around the state. These include ceramic works illustrating the flora and fauna of the pantanal, religious works, and indigenous pieces.
Church of Santo Antônio / Cathedral of Nossa Senhora da Abadia
Rua do Padre.
Open to visitors: 2- 5pm weekdays. Closed to tourists: Sat/Sun
Originally built in the 1880s, was Campo Grande's first church and was named in honour of the patron saint of the city's founder. The original structure was demolished in 1922, being replaced by a modern temple featuring several beautiful works in stained glass. The church received the new title Cathedral of Nossa Senhora da Abadia following a blessing by Pope John Paul II.
Church of São Francisco
Rua 14 de julho, 4213.
Weekdays: 7am - 5pm; Sat: 7 - 11am
One of the beautiful historic buildings in Campo Grande, the church was built in the 1950s by Franciscan Friars helped by German immigrants who were supported by local farmers during the construction period.
Praça Oshiro Takmori
Open 6:30am - 8pm.
Installed in the same square housing the Municipal Market, the indigenous fair is open on weekdays, selling crafts and produce cultivated in the villages of the Terena Indians.
Rua do Parque
Open 5am - 9pm. Closed Mondays.
Also known by its newer name, Parque Florestal Antônio de Albuquerque. This is located on the the site of the José Antônio Pereira's farm where Campo Grande was founded.It occupies a 5 acre area with a jogging track, plant nursery, BMX track, fitness equipment and a performance area.
Morada dos Baís / Pensão Pimental
Av. Noroeste, 5140
Open 9am to 8pm.
Originally built in 1918 as a residence for one of the city's first merchants. It was transformed into a pensão (bed & breakfast) when the owner died in 1938 - running until 1979. For last few decades the building has served as the city's tourist information centre with space for exhibitions and cultural performances.
Memorial of Indigenous Culture
Aldeia Indígena Urbana Marçal de Souza (Tiradentes suburb).
Open: 8 - 11:30am, and 1 - 5:30pm
This is an exhibition and performance space located in the Marçal de Souza urban indigenous village. It's built in the style of a traditional indigenous communal hut, using treated bamboo and covered with bacuri palm straw.
Don Bosco Museum (Museu do Indio)
Av. Afonso Pena, 7000
Parque das Nações Indígenas
Tue-Fri: 8am - 5pm; Sat/Sun/Holidays: 1 - 5pm; Closed Mondays
This houses a diverse collection of indian artefacts and stuffed animals collected by Salesian priests during their time working in the Pantanal and surrounding areas. Their main collection consists of 1,000 specimens of stuffed animals - mostly birds and mammals. There's also a collection of around 5,000 indigenous artefacts from the Xavante, Bororó, Moros, Carajás and other others - providing insights into indigenous history and culture. Admission is R$ 5.
Aquario do Pantanal
Parque das Nações Indígenas
Scheduled to open in 2016
With an estimated cost of $R170 million (USD55 million), this new aquarium will be the world's biggest freshwater aquarium consisting of 32 giant walk-through tanks (totalling 6.2 million litres) with around 12,500 fish split across 263 different species. The tanks are split thematically representing the Pantanal, Paraguay river, the Amazon, coastal sea and mangrove environments. This is your best opportunity to learn about the region's diverse aquatic ecosystems including species such as piranha, dorado, various species of giant catfish, freshwater stingrays, and electric eels to name a few. The admission price will be around R$ 15.
Update July 2015: Construction of this facility has taken a sad turn. It was originally scheduled for completion in Oct 2013 but was then repeatedly delayed due to slow progress, escalating costs and changing priorities of successive state governments and political parties. Rather than being a showpiece for conservation, the aquarium has now hit the headlines for having lost over 80% of their stock (i.e. over 10,000 fish). These were purchased for a then-planned Dec 2014 opening date - but have since died due to inadequacy of the temporary storage facilities over an extended period. Most work has been completed but no confirmed opening date has been set.
Museu de Arte Contemporânia (MARCO)
Rua Antônio Maria Coelho, 6000, Parque das Nações Indígenas
Weekdays: 8am - 6pm; Sat: 9am - midday; Sun: Closed
Contains exhibitions of regional artwork, as well as exhibitions from other national and international artists.
Parque das Nações Indígenas
Altos da Av. Afonso Pena.
Open 6am - 9pm. Closed on Mondays.
According to the locals this is the world's biggest urban park. We're unsure if that claim is true - but at 119 ha its certainly big. It includes several interesting monuments (including that of a horse mounted Guaicurú warrior), 4km of walking trails, a small lake, and exhibition areas (including the Dom Bosco museum, Art Gallery and Aquarium).
Av. Calógeras 3110
This is a set of historic railway warehouses restored for use as a cultural and performance space. It includes room for around 1000 people, with kitchens and other facilities - and is a popular location for cultural events.
The best resource to find details of shows and events in Campo Grande is:
The list below shows some options available tours of Campo Grande as organising trips into the Pantanal.
Places to Eat
Visitors to Campo Grande are spoilt for choice for places to eat. You'll find typical Brazilian restaurants (Churrascaria, fish, feijoada, mouqueca, comitivas etc), Italian, Japanese, Middle Eastern or pretty much whatever else suits your tastes. If all else fails (or you just don't want to experiment) then the city also has all the other usual fast-food chain stores.
Bars and Nightclubs
Campo Grande has an active nightlife with plenty of bars and clubs to choose from. A small selection is listed below:
Place to Stay
As a major city, there's also a large selection of hotels and inns. These include many international chains. Brazil used to offer cheap accommodation but prices are now far more expensive than they used to be. Sometimes its useful to check prices on Booking.com or Trivago.com (or any of the many other similar sites) to try getting a discount deal. TripAdvisor.com has the benefit of reviews.
Campo Grande airport is 7km from the city centre. Campo Grande has flights to/from most other major Brazilian cities via LATAM, Gol and Azul, as well as international flights to/from Santa Cruz in Bolivia. Azul has flights from Campo Grande to Corumbá and Bonito - although these require a connection via Campinas (in São Paulo state).
Air taxi services are also available from the providers below if needing to arrange flights directly to Pantanal lodges and fazendas.
If travelling between the airport and the bus station, there's an InduBrasil bus every 30 mins. Alternatively, a taxi costs around R$30.
Vanzella Transporte have a bus service departing Campo Grande airport to Bonito at 1pm and 3pm daily.
Campo Grande's new Rodoviária is located 6km outside the city centre at Avenida Gury Marques 1215. From here there are buses departing to/arriving from most other Brazilian cities. The website below can be used to check times and bookings:
Approximate travel times are as follow:
Foz do Iguaçu, PR
Ponta Porã, MS
Porto Velho, RO
Rio de Janeiro, RJ
São Paulo, SP
Foz do Iguaçu, PR
Ponta Porã, MS
Porto Velho, RO
Rio de Janeiro, RJ
São Paulo, SP
Local buses 061, 085, 087, 162, 165, and 189 go between the Rodoviária and city centre, costing around R$ 3. Using the inner-city requires you to purchase an Assetur bus card. These are available from news agents, pharmacies and bus stop kiosks in single-use (unitário) and rechargeable (recarregável) versions. Alternatively, a taxi to the town centre costs about R$ 25.
Travelling to Campo Grande from other Brazilian states really isn't a practical option as (1) the railroad is very slow, and (2) it mostly only carries freight. However, there's the weekly Trem do Pantanal service running between Campo Grande and Miranda (via Aquidauana).
The train leaves 7.30am Saturdays. The return trip from Miranda leaves 8.30am Sundays. Tickets are R$150 one way. the train leaves from the Estação de Indubrasil (on Rua Cascatinha) which is about 17km from the central city.
Braziian Federal highway BR-262 heads east-west, passing through the outskirts of Campo Grande. On the eastern side, this connects Campo Grande to other major Brazilian cities such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. On the western side, this leads through to Miranda, Aquidauana, Bonito, Corumbá and the Bolivian frontier.
The north-south highway is BR-163. To the north, this leads up towards Cuiabá, and the northern Pantanal region. To the south, this leads through to towns such as Dourados, and Ponta Porã on the frontier with the Paraguayan city of Pedro Juan Caballero.
A third major highway, BR-060 heads south-west towards the town of Jardim, then joins with BR-267 going to Porto Murtinho.
Banner image: Spectacled Caiman (Shutterstock/Dirk Ercken)
Other photos: Andrew Mercer