Bonito is a small town in the Mato Grosso dol Sul state of Brazil. This region is known as Central Western Brazil and borders with Paraguay. It is famous for it’s beautiful crystal clear rivers and Eco-tourism industry. We visited at the end of July, which is winter and also the end of the high season. This is the dry season and the weather was arid and dry, with hot days and cool nights and was actually quite pleasant. To get to Bonito we flew to the city of Campo Grande and then hired a car. I would highly recommend this option as it is very easy to drive here, with quiet flat roads and transfers for the tour trips to rivers and other attractions are only included at an extra cost. It takes about 4 hours to drive from Campo Grande to Bonito. The town of Bonito is a good central point and the various rivers and attractions are scattered between 25km – 70km from the town center. The internet does not function particularly well in Bonito and we had almost no luck with the existing wifi, I think physical connections with an actual cable run a bit better, but bear this in mind if you plan on working online. We stayed at the Bonito HI Hostel. It was perfectly adequate, while managing to be nothing special at the same time. The room was fairly clean and the bed was slightly more comfortable than average, with a simple Brazilian style breakfast included.
All trips and visits to rivers and attractions in Bonito have to be booked through one of the travel agents in town. You have to make a pre-booking to visit any of the these places as they are all on private land and numbers of visitors are strictly controlled in order to preserve the state of the rivers. We used Agência Sucuri and they were great, with a high level of customer service and good information and suggestions about logistics and when to do what in relation to location. There are a number of dive operators in town and we ended up diving with Jardimsub, who were excellent and manage the scuba diving at Rio da Prata (Silver River) and the lagoa Misteriosa (Mysterious Lagoon).
Just before we arrived in Bonito we decided to visit a swimming area called “Balneario Municipal (Municipal Bay)” which is on the way into the town and located at the start of the Rio Famosa (Famous River). The water here is green and not super clear but there are a lot of fish. The water was also freezing, I would guess about 16C. This might be a good place to come with a family or hang out and drink beer all day, but I was a bit disappointed after hearing about Bonito’s famous clear water. The price tag was a steep R$36,00 per person to enter, that’s about $10 US and I found it to be way over priced. You can enter into some world class nature reserves for that about of money and this was really just a local swimming hole. The Balneario Municipal is the one place that is still technically public in Bonito and the residents who live here do not pay to enter it. I dropped my Polar Pro Magenta filter in the water here, but Luckily I was able to find it again!
Fazenda Cachoeiras da Serra
The next day we visited Fazenda Cachoeiras da Serra, which loosely translated means “Mountain Waterfall Farm”. This 400 hectares farm includes a restaurant and a hotel and is a fairly new attraction in the region. It is located near Bodoquena, another town about 70km from Bonito. It took us about 1 hour to arrive in Bodoquena by car. The farm includes a slow guided walk along a 2.5km forested trail, with plenty of time to swim in the cool, clear green river water and at the many waterfalls. The tour peaks with swimming at a large waterfall and a group dingy ride up the river where everyone gets to paddle. We saw some Toucans and a few red headed Macaw parrots flying overhear during the dingy ride. After the tour there is a standard Brazilian style Buffet lunch and you can hang out at the river using the kayaks, zip line and other water toys until the place shuts at 5pm.
The third day was the highlight of the trip, we visited Rio da Prata for a “Flutação (Floatation) snorkel trip in the morning and in the afternoon we went scuba diving in the Lagoa Misteriosa. Both of these attractions are located at the same farm, about 50km outside of Bonito. Snorkeling gear consisting of mask, snorkel, wetsuit and boots and lunch were included in tour as well as all diving equipment at the Lagoa Misteriosa. No sunblock or insect repellent are allowed on any of the river trips around Bonito in order to preserve the water quality.
Rio da Prata
Rio da Prata is an amazing place.We were in one of the first groups of the morning and as a result the water was incredibly clear and a shocking crystal blue and it really has to be seen to be believed. The clarity of the water is due to the water been filtered through the limestone of the region and the shocking blue colour is from high levels of magnesium in the water. The temperature was also a pleasant 25C and the river was filled with fish and also some really cool bright green plants. It really is like been inside a giant tropical freshwater aquarium. The trip last about an hour and you are not allowed to kick at all in order not to kick up silt and scare the wildlife. The river is teaming with large fish such as Piraputanga, Piau and some large Dourado. we also saw a Jacaré which is a type of crocodile or Alligator ( Caiman if you want to get technical) and you can also spot the infamous Sucuri, which is an Anaconda snake, but we never saw one unfortunately. I also spotted some interesting catfish and suckerfish hidden on bits of wood. Towards the end there is a giant sandy pool where you can dive and splash around. The river part of the tour lasts at least an hour which was a perfect length and you are also given plenty of space to do your own thing without too much pressure. The last part of the river is deeper and colder with poorer visibility and there is an option to exit the water here and finish the trip on a support boat. Of the two floatations we did, I liked Rio da Prata the best, but be sure to book early for the clearest water before the other groups arrive.
Lagoa Misteriosa is an amazing phenomenon, a natural formation consisting of two tunnels of unknown depth with the most incredible crystal clear water I have ever seen and an average visibility of about 50 Meters. It has been explored to a depth of 225 meters. There is a wooden dive platform at the bottom of a steep set of steps, where you enter the water with your guide. The dive site sits at an altitude of just under 300 meters and is treated as a sea level dive. Dive profiles are controlled, Advanced go to exactly 25m, Open waters to 18m and the discover scuba dives go to 8m. I think there are also technical diving options available. The Lagoa is at the bottom of a steep forested ravine and is mostly in full shade, as a result it is quite dark and my Gopro photo’s came out mostly quite blurry. Our dive guide was called Sato and he was really great, helping where needed and giving us a good underwater tour of the Lagoa. The water has such a different quality about it that it almost takes on a sort of magenta colour at times. Diving here is a unique experience and the magic of the place only fully dawned on me when I was thinking about it the next day, wondering about how it came to be formed and how amazing it is to find such a deep hole filled with such clear water.
On the final full day we visited Gruta da Lagoa Azul( Blue Lagoon cave) for a short tour of this cave which has a deep pool of the bluest water I have ever seen at the bottom. You can’t enter the water here , so it’s just to take a look. The water almost looks like it has a blue dye in it and it is quite impressive just to see. In the afternoon we went to Rio Sucuri(Anaconda River), famous for having the third clearest water in the world. The river gets it’s name from it’s long windy snake shape and is a really beautiful place with lots of interesting birds and plants along it’s banks. You basically ride a rowboat up the river about 1.5km and then float down it while the boat follows you. The water here was not as clear as I was expecting, I think this was due to the fact that it was late in the day and many groups had already done the floatation tour. I think at least three groups passed us on the way up the river, so try to make an early booking if you can. The river has lots of interesting aquatic plants growing in it and there were also a few large schools of smaller fish as well as the regular Piraputanga fish that you see everywhere. We also spotted a baby Caiman crocodile hiding in the floating plants, but unfortunately no Sucuri. There are also some nice monkeys on the farm where the river is located.
Before we left Bonito we stopped in at the Aquarium, it’s interesting because you get to see all the different fish of the region and they have some very interesting freshwater Rays and cool Piranhas. The Bonito winter festival was also on while we were there and it was a pleasant atmosphere, with funky local crafts and presentations and some live music concerts on a big stage. If you are looking for a different type of Brazilian experience with some of the best river diving in the world I can stongly recommend Bonito and I’d go so far as to say it’s a must see destination in Brazil!