Bonito lives up to its name

brasilobserver - Mar 20 2015
Into the wild, Bonito is Brazil’s main destination for ecotourism

(Leia em Português)

Awarded as the best destination for eco-tourism at the World Travel Market in London, Bonito in Brazil’s Centre-Western state of Mato Grosso do Sul enchants visitors with great natural beauty and plenty of leisure options


By Cati Calixto

The person who created the stereotype that Brazil is a country where everyone lives in a paradise, bathes in crystal clear rivers, eats fish and regional fruits and lives alongside incredibly colourful birds and monkeys must have visited Bonito for such inspiration.

With nearly 21,000 inhabitants, the small town is located in the Serra da Bodoquena, on the south-western edge of the Pantanal Complex. Bonito – which after all is Portuguese for ‘beautiful’ is a place of wonderful natural beauty which has been celebrated and protected with sympathetic yet comprehensive tourist infrastructure. It is not uncommon to see gringos circling the main street, going from store to store to buy local handicrafts, or enjoying themselves in the city’s bars and fine restaurants. Then there are the many Brazilians from different regions who arrive with only one purpose: to experience the city magical city of Bonito.

There are a number of special tours available, all focussed on ecotourism. These tours are well organised, easy to book and offered exclusively by properly regulated agencies in accordance with the laws of tourism and environmental preservation. As the city is very busy and places limited, it is important to book in advance, which also applies to the various lodges and hotels.




My time in Bonito was relatively short. In one morning, I visited the incredible Gruta do Lago Azul, or Blue Lake Grotto, one of the city’s ‘picture perfect’ locations. At around 9am each day the sun’s rays directly penetrate the cave, illuminating the underground lake. Sunlight combined with the unique composition of the water, rich in calcareous and magnesium, makes the lake shine in an indescribable shade of blue.

You can only visit the cave in small groups and accompanied by a guide and all safety equipment required for the descent are available. Except the trail used to the lakeside, the rest of the cave remains virtually untouched – only researchers who study the site are allowed to explore other areas of the breathtaking cave.

On the same day, I visited the Natural Aquarium of Bonita Bay. The main attraction is having the chance to snorkel in the source of the Formoso, Bonit’s main river. All equipment, such as bathing suits and masks, are provided and the tour is also held in groups, with a guide. In order not to contaminate the water source, visitors need to take a shower before to remove chlorine, sunscreen, insect repellent or any other chemicals.

Before snorkelling in the river, visitors undertake a short training session in a pool. During snorkel dive, you can see more than 30 species of fish. The feeling is of belonging: the shoals swim close to you and the underwater vegetation creates an alternative underwater world.

The water is so crystal clear that you can observe the underwater plants performing photosynthesis (releasing air bubbles out of their leaves). Seeing the bottom of the bubbling spring, reminds us of the restorative power of nature and how it keeps everything in place.




Bonito, however, is not only a place to see beautiful scenery from afar. You can be part of it’s natural beauty through adventure. The Eco Park Porto da Ilha offers a combination of activities that can be done for a whole day, such as duck tours, boat rides, tubing and standup paddling. The complex borders the river of Rio Formoso, and also has an area for swimming, waterfalls and retreats to rest – to relax a bit after all the excitement.

The duck tour is done in pairs in a kind of inflatable kayak. The guides offer tips on how to paddle and then have to go a few meters downstream, including the decline of some waterfalls. The boat ride is similar but groups are larger and the route is longer.

The buoy-cross or ‘tubing’, is a fast and fun ride where visitors ride the river rapids on top of an inner tube. The park’s route includes three waterfalls and it is hard to stay on top of the ‘donut’ through all of them. Standup paddling is the practice of standing on a surfboard with a paddle so you can go further out depths. At first, trying to stand on the board is almost impossible, but once you get the hang of the game it is fun and even a little relaxing.

Anyone who visits Bonito will be inspired to go for another snorkel session Rio Sucuri. The small river is among several that flows into the Rio Formoso and its water is among the clearest in the world. The water is very cold, but the feeling of having the light current of the river gently leading you is wonderful.


When to go

The best time to enjoy the scenery is during the rainy season of December to March, when the vegetation is lush, the rivers are high and the waterfalls, most powerful. During the winter, while the fields become drier, the waters are lighter, improving visibility for snorkelling.

How to get there

The Azul air company ( schedules flights from Campinas, in the State of Sao Paulo, to Bonito, departing on Wednesdays and returning on Sundays. Airport of Dourados, 254 km from Bonito also receives flights of Azul, from Campinas, twice a day. The airport of Campo Grande, capital of Mato Grosso do Sul, which operates flights from several companies, is 310 km from the city.

You can also travel by bus. Gontijo (, Motta ( and Andorinha ( have buses leaving from various Brazilian capitals to Campo Grande. The Cruzeiro do Sul company operates the line from Campo Grande to Bonito.

Where to stay

There are lots of hotels in Bonito, for different tastes and budgets. In low season, out of the summer months and school holidays, you can find a place from 90 reais a day (around £20).

For more information, visit