Bonito is a must-see ecotourism destination if you are visiting Brazil, especially if you enjoy the great outdoors! Admittedly it’s a tad off the beaten track but is worth it to spend some time in the ecotourism capital of Brazil . It’s also not too far from South Pantanal so is easily combined with some wetlands wildlife spotting! Keep your eyes peeled for my new post coming soon about The Pantanal!
Bonito itself is a charming town with a great central square lit up at night with tiny lanterns hung from the trees – it is always a hive of activity. You could happily while away a few hours in a nice coffee shop or by browsing the boutique stores, but most people come to Bonito in order to escape urban life and get into the countryside. I was surprised, given how beautiful the scenery is near Bonito, that there wasn’t a huge amount of tourists. The tourists that were there were mostly Brazilians on their annual leave. Therefore don’t be surprised if most tours are in Portuguese only! But on the flip side, nothing feels ‘overly- touristy’ or crowded!
Accommodation, Food and Drink in Bonito.
I stayed at Hi hostel which is a friendly hostel with a pool, pool table and pretty good wi-fi. There are single and double rooms and options for dormitories and camping so it will suit most budgets. They also have a great tourist information centre which can help book trips and transport for you. The food isn’t brilliant at the hostel I must admit, but there are some great options in town, my favourite being Casa do Joao which was rated number 1 restaurant in Bonito by trip advisor. It’s got a really friendly feel about the place, great service, fantastic cocktails and tasty food, mostly fish based but they do have several veggie options and a couple of meat alternatives. I can recommend the Pintado in passion fruit sauce served with fried banana, garlic breadcrumbs and rice. You can even get piranha soup as a starter! For somewhere to drink, I recommend Taboa Bar With an impressive cocktail menu, regular live music, a quirky decor (feel free to write on the walls and tables) and a great atmosphere, it makes a great place to hang out and have a few caipirinhas!
Top places to visit
Grotto de Azur (The Blue Cave)
Descend 269 steps into a cave and you will be rewarded by the most beautiful crystal clear bright blue pool of water. The deep blue colour is a result of sun reflecting off limestone particles in the water and as such is best seen early in the morning around 8.30 am for the best views when the sun shines directly into the cave. The lake looks so inviting but sadly there is no swimming allowed here – if you see the stalactites above you will understand why! It is however quite the view and the cooler temperature below ground is a relief from the hot Brazilian sun. The tour is well organised and safety is clearly a priority for them. Sadly the tours are only available in Portuguese! There is a small snack shop but no proper food here but you can enjoy a well-deserved ice-cream after all those steps and why not combine it with a trip to an estancia and have lunch there?!
Estancia waterfall walks
Close by to Grotto de Azur, there are plenty of estancias which have opened up their land for ecotourism. The most popular being Estancia Mimosa. On some, you will find horse riding and zip lining but the most popular activity is swimming in the beautiful waterfalls. Several waterfalls are connected by wooden platform walkway which spans about 1 km of rainforest. Entrance included a friendly guide who was very informative about the flora and fauna and he was happy to let us stay at each waterfall as long as we liked. You have the option to swim in all the waterfalls but be warned, you are likely to get attacked by mozzies walking between each one if you don’t have a long sarong or towel to protect you! The photo below probably doesn’t do the scenery enough justice. A few days before I visited there was a big storm and the water which is usually aqua in colour had turned a less appealing brownish colour. Still beautiful none the less but it’s likely to be EVEN better for you!
Snorkelling Rio de Prata
I have to admit I was a little nervous about this one. Googling photos beforehand of Rio de Prata and I was concerned to see photos of anacondas – even a caiman crocodile! But I’d also heard it was one of the top destinations for freshwater snorkelling in the WORLD and so I knew I’d take the gamble on the caimans and go for it anyway. I’m so glad I did. Firstly, I have been informed by numerous people that caimans don’t grow big enough in this region to be problematic – in fact, river otters are actually more of a risk to humans! Also, anacondas are fine if you leave them alone. One estancia guide proudly told me he’d even touched one once and survived to tell the tale!
The centre itself is well equipped and you can chill out before or afterwards on the hammocks and make use of their wi-fi. They also provide a buffet lunch which was absolutely delicious. They give a detailed safety briefing, use excellent equipment and have a training area at the start of the river for practising with the snorkel. I certainly felt like I was in safe hands. Before the snorkel, there is a 30-minute rainforest walk and for environmental reasons, sun cream and mosquito repellant are not allowed to be used prior to snorkelling! The long sleeve wetsuit helps a lot! But it’s worth bringing mozzie repellant with you for the route back!
Once in the water, I was blown away. I had read about the incredible visibility but I didn’t expect it to be so crystal clear with a visibility of up to 50 metres! You could see right under the roots of the trees bordering the river – I was keeping a close eye out for the beady eyes of an anaconda but didn’t see any at all. I did, however, see lots of huge fish, some of which were pretty colourful. Dotted along the way were several springs bubbling up and the plant life under the water was also beautiful – bright green, it looked like an underwater garden.
We were in the water for about 90 minutes after our briefing and saw 2 different rivers. The current in the second was faster but still required very little swimming as you are advised just to float with the current so not to disturb the plants and fish. There is a short section at the end where the visibility is reduced but it only lasts 10 minutes or so before you are picked up by a boat and delivered back to the centre in a truck.
It’s not cheap at 224BRL but I would say is definitely worth splashing out for – it will be an experience quite unlike any other!
Buraco das araras
If wildlife and landscapes are your thing, don’t miss Buraco Das Araras, a 20-minute drive from Rio de Prata. A beautiful sinkhole created by eroded limestone, contrasting red rock with green rainforest. The spectacular colourful macaws swoop and fly from one side to the other (whilst making an absolute racket!) If you’re lucky you may even spot a wild toucan! The walk is short and on flat ground so is accessible to most. Entry costs 68BRL and includes a guide.
If you have longer than 48 hours, there are countless other options to enjoy from horse riding or rainforest trekking to river canyoning. You can even abseil into a cave and go diving in the crystal clear water. No doubt you will have an amazing time as I did – just don’t forget the mozzie spray!
Have you been to Bonito? I’d love to hear about your own experiences so feel free to comment below or to share this article if you enjoyed reading it!