(Updated February 2019)
Bonito is one of Brazil’s internationally hidden gems: While Brazilians – as well as other South Americans, for that matter – come to Bonito to enjoy the lush nature, the serenity between the rolling hills and the pleasure of waters in caves, creeks and natural pools, only few international tourists find their way to the Mato Grosso region, located relatively close to the Pantanal, a wetland rich of the most exquisite flora and fauna.
|Bonito’s strongest suits: Lush vegetation and flowing waters|
It’s not very complicated to get to Bonito, but it requires some stop overs. Although the town even has its own airport, you can get there only via a weird, complicated routing, so your best option is to go either to Campo Grande or to Dourados and continue from there by bus (about four hours).
Since I didn’t have so much time, I flew from São Paulo to Campo Grande where my hostel had arranged a shuttle straight from the airport to their place. It was much more expensive than going from the airport into town to take the Cruzeiro do Sul, but for me it was worth to pay about 10 US$ more and not having to meander around downtown Campo Grande – and Vanzella grants a plane to door service.
I must admit that I was a bit disappointed when I first arrived in Bonito: having expected cute little houses with some colonial charm, I arrived in a town where streets seem to be drawn with a ruler.
|Bonito is certainly not called bonito (=pretty) because of his charmless streets decorated with pointless planks,….|
Bonito’s architecture is not colonial at all, the town itself deems rather mundane: a dull bus terminal, a big super market, around the town square a couple of banks, along the main road cafés, restaurants and souvenir stores. Friendly, but nothing special at all.
|…it’s called Bonito for its breathtaking surrounding!|
The strongest suite of Bonito – which means pretty respectively cute in Portuguese (and in Spanish, too, by the way) – start at its outskirts and goes for miles and miles in all cardinal directions: It’s the nature!
It’s the fields, the pastures, the bushes, the flowers, the trees. It’s the waters that have formed mysterious caves, that are rolling in creeks and rivers and form natural pools for visitors to enjoy.
|South America at its best: Gauchos mustering their cattle.|
Visiting Bonito means spending the day outdoors. And it means spending money, too, since the day trips are far from being cheap.
All the nice places – whether caves, waterfalls, rivers, or pools – are private property and entrance fees are high – between about 50 R$ for a cave tour and about 270 R$ for snorkeling in the Rio de Prata (US$ 15 to US$ 82) – and transportation is not included.
Since Bonito has more national tourism, there is not much public transport to the points of interests – and it’s quickly sold out. So I can only recommend to book your tours as soon as you get there. Since all the tours depend on the weather, it doesn’t make much sense to book long in advance. So yes, it’s a bit of a lottery.
Another thing is that at most places you cannot just waltz in, you need to have a voucher. That’s easy to obtain: every hotel or hostel in town or one of the many, many tour and travel agencies around Bonito will arrange your booking and supply you with a voucher. But this is important – since everything is very eco-oriented, places for basically everything are limited.
Since you have to book your voucher with one of the agents, anyway, it doesn’t make sense to give you the addresses or contacts.
Another thing that I don’t do on purpose is quoting prices: The prices vary (= go up) so fast that it doesn’t make sense that I tell you how much it is right now. For a day including flotation you will pay between 180 R$ and about 300 R$ (55 US$ to 90 US$). Yes, it’s overpriced, but by avoiding a sell out, they are protecting the environment and keep it eco- friendly.
Most of the following places offer a combination of activities like flotation, swimming, horseback riding, and bird watching. Sometimes the rivers also have a smaller waterfall or a cave. I sort them by what they are mostly known for.
You won’t be able to avoid spending much money in Bonito. But I can recommend you very much the hostel I stayed at – you’ll find it in the RATING and CONCLUSION section. They have small dorms, but they have also private rooms with en suite bathrooms at unbeatable prices. There is a pool, you can use their kitchen and they are super nice and fun and helpful.
Since ‘flutuaꞔao’ – flotation, i. e. basically snorkeling without moving your legs – is the big thing everybody comes for to Bonito, I first list the rivers where you can do it.
It’s actually quite nice and very unusual to snorkel in sweet water – you eyes and mucosa do not burn even if water gets into your mask or snorkel.
You can enjoy ‘flutuaꞔao’ at the Parque Ecológico Rio Formoso (about 7 km / 4.5 mi from Bonito) as well as floating down the river in a tube, ‘fly’ along a zipline, ride on horses and on bikes. Like all the other parks, they have great, clean facilities and a restaurant.
At this place, located about 20 km / 12.5 mi south of Bonito, you can also do ‘flutuaꞔao’, horse back riding or cycling. It’s a 0,5 km / 0,3 mi walk to the starting point from were you float along almost 2 km / 1.2 mi.
|First I thought it was a bit exaggerated to dress us up like we were joining Jacques Cousteau; after half an hour in the water I agreed that the suits are a useful protection against the cold.|
They supply you with a neoprene suite against the ice cold water and crocs as well as a snorkel and a mask.
The farthest and most popular day trip to do engage in ‘flutuaꞔao’ takes you to the Rio da Prata, the silver river, located about 50 km / over 30 mi east of Bonito. Here you can engage in all the activities that are described above, but in addition there is some wonderful bird watching here, too.
|Floating in the ice cold water….
(Photo: Marcos Dias/Grupo Rio da Prata)
|…and observing large schools of colorful fishes.
(Photo: André Turatti/Grupo Rio da Prata)
Rio da Prata is the most expensive of these trips, but its also very nice. However, I’ve met people who found it far too expensive.
Very similar activities like on and in the rivers, only that they less sporty and more family oriented. The pools are all natural and a couple of fun water games and activities are included. You can decide whether you want the day with our without ‘flutuaꞔao’, the price difference is about 100 R$ / 30 US$.
This public pool is located about 7 km / 4.5 mi north east of bonito – and actually reachable by bike.
Here too: good, well maintained facilities. Although far cheaper than the trips on the rivers, still overpriced for what you get – which is nice floating with the fishes in clear waters. But face it: That’s Bonito.
This pool – located about 11 km / 7 mi north of Bonito – offers more games and fun activities than the Balneário Municipal and is more family and kid oriented. Of course they, too, have a good restaurant and impeccable facilities – and if you are not too much of a coach potato and don’t mind exercise in the sun, you can get here on a bicycle, too.
|While you are sunbathing, you can observe the most
beautiful and exotic birds.
(Photo: Maurício Neves Godoi/Grupo Rio da Prata)
This pool, located 34 km / 21 mi west of Bonito, can definitely not be reached by bike, unless you did participate in the iron man contest (don’t underestimate the sun – and the dirt road is not shady at all!). It’s very similar zu the Balneário do Sol with lots of activities in and around a natural pool. There is also a small artificial and a big natural waterfall. You can do – you probably guessed so – some really good ‘flutuaꞔao’ – the Nascente – which means source – is where the Rio do Peixe begins, so that the water is very clear. Here too, after the floating, you can go back to the pool really fast by using a zipline.
All the waterfalls worth seeing are west of Bonito.
Parque da Cachoeira is located about 16 km / 10 mi from Bonito is a nature reserve mostly known for its waterfall. Of course there is also some nice hiking and you can spend the night camping.
|Cool waters making this vegetation so lush.
(Photo: Parque da Cachoeira)
Since it’s more about natural beauty than facilities, the entrance fee is about 5 US$. Finally a place that does not burn a hole in your wallet! (If you go on an organized trip including guided tours through the forest, it’s of course about the same price as the other activities listed above).
The Estȃncia Mimosa is a nature reserve in a breathtaking setting.
|Exploring the Edenic surroundings on horses brings you even closer to nature.
(Photo: Beto Nascimento/Grupo Rio da Prata)
On a guided tour, you can enjoy the serene nature – horse back riding is optional, too – and observe some wonderful birds in their natural habitat and swim in the ice cold waters coming from a majestic water fall – simply Edenic. The reserve is about 25 km / 15.5 mi from Bonito.
The farthest from Bonito – 62 km / 38.5 mi – is Boca da Onꞔa – and actually it’s the most spectacular place.
|The highest waterfalls can be found at the Parque Boca da Onꞔa.
(Photo: Boca da Onꞔa)
Not only is the waterfall really high – 156 m / over 500 ft, you also can go down 90 m / almost 300 ft on ropes to have a closer look into the Rio Salobra canyon. Yap, there is some adrenaline involved.
Yes, here, too, water is involved: It was the water that created the beautifully shaped formation of the caves that now can be visited around Bonito.
Gruta São Mateus e Museu
Located less than 4 km / 2.5 mi north of Bonito, you can cycle or even walk here. The first thing you notice is the majestic manor that gives you an idea of the former owner’s wealth. Inside there is a nice museum showing antique tools and utensils. The exhibition on the first floor is a bit creepy – it’s stuffed animals, partly in weird poses.
|After a visit to the museum located at this gorgeous old farmer’s mansion, you reach the cave by crossing the pendant bridge on the left side.|
The upper floor grants finally access to a pendant bridge that leads into the jungle. After a short hike you reach the entrance of Gruta São Mateus.
Nothing spectacular, but very nice.
|Water – and many, many, many years have carved these unique formations.|
Only the very sporty ones will go to Grutas de São Miguel by bike since it’s located 18 km / over 11 mi south east of Bonito. Although this is Bonito’s most popular cave – and bigger than Gruta São Mateus, I’m not sure if it’s really worth the detour if you’re no geologist.
Gruta do Lago Azul
Located about 22 km / 14 mi from south west of Bonito, Gruta do Lago Azul – the cave of the blue lake – is the most beautiful one; exactly for the blue lake, a water of an incredibly shiny blue color – partly 90 m / almost 300 ft deep. Here, too, I would say if you have seen grottos like this before – e.g. in Italy, its questionable if the trip, that in total will take about three hours, is worth the effort.
Wanna read how Bonito was for me after days of heavy rain? Check out this lesson of my Class of Brazil series:
Do you want to read about all the other cool places I’ve visited in Brazil?
Then go to the main post and take your pick!
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