Are you ready for the ultimate Bonito Travel Guide? Bonito is a city in Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil and is known as the top eco-tourism destination in Brazil. This little one-street town exploded on the ecotourism map in the early 1900s, which lead to the creation of the 76 square kilometre Serra de Bodoquena National Park in 2000. Bonito is known for crystal-clear rivers like the Rio da Prata, a snorkeling destination abounding with fish, Abismo Anhumas, a huge, stalactite-covered cavern that offers abseiling and diving in an underground lake and flocks of macaws, which nest in the deep, ochre-colored depression of Buraco das Araras. In short, if you are craving an adventure, than Bonito is the just the place for you. Are you ready for our Bonito travel guide? Here we go!
Top Tips for Bonito Travel
- Brazilian power voltage is 127 V / 220 V and their power out is style C / N
- The Real is the present-day currency of Brazil. It’s sign is R$ and its ISO code is BR
- There is a saying in Brazil: the signal of the internet depends on whether it is raining. Don’t expect a strong or fast signal in Bonito, especially if it’s raining.
- The attractions have a fixed price that is determined on a yearly basis by the owners of the properties and published by the association of attractions in Bonito: ATRATUR. There is a “high season” and “low season” price – it is not possible to shop around for better prices.
- If possible RENT A CAR from Campo Grande. Prices for tours do not include transportation. So instead of paying for transportation for each activity [transport costs can vary from R$50 – R$150 per activity], why not rent a car. HOWEVER, there are no car rentals shop available in Bonito so plan ahead!
- Unfortunately A LOT of the tours are in Portuguese, which can be incredibly frustrating if you do not speak the language. Make sure to ask your tour agency if there are any tours available in English BEFORE booking. I would also highly recommend traveling with a Portuguese-speaker to get the full Bonito experience.
But WHY a Top Eco-tourism Destination?
“Welcome to the Capital of Ecotourism” reads the sign at the entrance of town. But WHY is Bonito considered one of the best eco-tourism destinations in all of Brazil? The International Eco-Tourism Society writes that: the key to Bonito’s success in ecotourism is its unique voucher system which ensures a standard for all ecotourism activities. Let’s dive a little deeper:
- All of the 38 accredited attractions in Bonito can only be booked by purchasing a unique voucher
- Unique vouchers for any of the trips can be bought at accredited travel agents of Bonito (found in most hotels and on the ‘strip’), thus allowing the Bonito travel agencies to coordinate with various attractions to ensure that trips are not overbooked and there is no violation of the capacity limit.
- The price of each activity is regulated though the voucher. Prices are non-negotiable, no matter where you buy them.
Clayton Castilho Gomes, the director of Tourism for Bonito, states that this system allows for the regulation of reservations as well as ensuring that there is a fair and fixed price. But before giving out unique vouchers, destinations that wish to become an accredited attraction need to first undergo environmental impact studies to determine appropriate carrying capacities. Each tour in Bonito must be done with a qualified guide and all of the guides must take a technical 2-year program at a federal university to be certified. FINALLY, in order to further lessen the human impact on the environment, visitors are discouraged from wearing any bug-spray and/or sunscreen while participating in water activities and fins are NOT given out during snorkelling excursions to avoid disturbing the sediment at the bottom of Bonito’s lakes and rivers.
The best period to visit is between December and March, during the rainy season, when rivers are high, allowing for green vegetation and abundant food for the animals. Between May and August there is limited rain which means that the waterfalls are not as spectacular, but this is still a great time to visit the other sights. November is the wettest month and should be avoided. May to June is wintertime in Brazil, this means that the weather can be quite cool – in the mornings we would often wake up to 10 Celsius (°C) [which is 50 Fahrenheit (°F) degrees]. However, as the majority of the activities in Bonito are water based, it is quite a miserable experience putting on a suit and jumping into the water at this temperature. However, this is low season… translation: low prices / fewer tourists.
Bonito’s climate is classified as tropical – it has significant rainfall most months with a short dry season. The basic idea is that Bonito in an adventure-sport destination, therefore it would be wise to pack adventure-type clothes like hiking shoes and comfortable/warm clothes that can be layered.
Layers, layer, layers. I really can’t stress this point enough, ESPECIALLY if you plan on visiting the region during the winter months. The weather outside can pretty cold! The problem is that because winter lasts only a couple of months, many business [including hotels/hostels] have not invested in central heating. This means that it will probably be just as cold inside your room as it is outside. As a result, make sure to pack lots of thick layers – start of with a warm merino wool base layer, mid layer, outer layer and finished off with a nice windbreaker [that is also waterproof if it starts to rain!]. I am a personal fan of Arc’teryx and Icebreaker gear as they provide me a wide range of layers that keep me incredibly toasty whether I am exploring outside or sitting inside my hostel. Plus don’t forget the hat, gloves, scarf and warm socks! 4°C / 40°F doesn’t seem too cold, however when there is no option to escape from the cold [no heating and only lukewarm showers], then the cold can definitely get to you, so be prepared.
Thin Sleeping Bag with Reflective Liner. This isn’t a MUST, but it saved me a couple of times during those cold Brazilian winter nights, especially when all I was offered by my accommodation is a thin sheet that barely keeps me warm. The point is that the reflective lining traps your body heat while providing breathability. There are numerous options out there including liners from Columbia and Sea to Summit. My tip? Google: sleeping bag liner reflective inside.
Hiking / walking shoes. You will be walking A LOT. 90% of the tours need you to bring a pair of closed-toe and sturdy shoes.
Long pants that are not Jeans. This is especially the case if you plan on going to Abismo Anhumas. Due to the fact that you have to climb back up to the entrance of the cave [72 ascent!!], you need to pack a pair of extremely comfortable and bendable pants. I would recommend leggings.
Sun / Bug Protection. If you plan on hiking or going on any trails, please bring bug spray [the strong stuff], hat, sunglasses and lots of sunscreen to protect yourself [especially during the summer months].
Swimming Suit. This is a no brainer. As most of the tours are water-based, it is important to bring at least one bathing suit [I would recommend two, one to wear as the other one is drying].
Underwater Camera. The fantastic visibility, which extends to 50 meters (165 feet), is due to the water’s high limestone content, which acts as a natural filter, leaving the rivers exceptionally pure. Don’t forget to bring an underwater camera to capture all the underwater life. I personally have the Sony DSC-TX10 with an underwater housing that I’ve used countlessly in Panama and Brazil.
Collapsable backpack. This backpack is essential to carry around extra clothes, dry socks, a towel, snacks, food etc. etc., as most tours last from morning until late afternoon and can include a number of activities from swimming, hiking, climbing and more. I personally have this Osprey Daypack – I love it primarily because it takes up virtually no space in my suitcase and yet can fit quite a bit of things inside once it is expanded.
The most common way to reach Bonito is through Campo Grande International Airport, which is located in the capital of Mato Grosso do Sul state. Campo Grande is located around 300 KM away from Bonito and visitors can either opt to take a bus/van service [approximately 4 hours] to reach Bonito or rent a car.
In February 2013, Azul Brazilian Airlines announced that they will be flying to Bonito Airport twice a week from Viracopos International Airport in Campinas. Please note that Campinas is a city approximately 1 hour away from São Paulo. A free shuttle bus is offered by Azul Airlines São Paulo Congonhas Domestic Airport to Viracopos. From Bonito Airport, taxis into the city are available for around R$60 or you can request a van pickup by your accommodation.
Once you arrive in Bonito, you will HAVE to pay extra for transportation to each tour, which is not included in the price of the tour but is usually arranged separately by your tour agency and/or accommodation. Expect to pay around R$50 – R$150 for transportation per tour, depending on whether it is private or shared transportation. If you are flying into Campo Grande, I would highly [HIGHLY] recommend that you rent a car, as it would not only cut costs for transport to and from Campo Grande [and Pantanal if you plan on going there], but also to and from each of the tours.
Our Bonito travel guide is all about adventure. From diving to snorkeling in underground caves to hiking and rappelling in the forest, there are more than 30 tours in and around the Bonito area. This is by no way an exhaustive list of activities as I was only in Bonito for seven days and couldn’t experience all that this ecotourism destination has to offer. This is our epic Bonito travel guide to slow travel activities:
Recanto Ecológico Rio da Prata is located in the Fazenda Cabeceira do Prata, located in Jardim. The snorkelling tour starts with a trail through the forest of the Prata River. The area is protected by a Private Reserve (RPPN). The trail leads to the main spring of Olho d’Água River where the snorkeling tour begins and where you will experience the sensation of floating in an immense aquarium of crystalline waters. Rare geological properties make these waters unique. The current of the river carries you downstream until Olho D’Água meets with Prata River – so relax and make sure to enjoy the sight of different species of fish and aquatic plants. As you return, a lunch buffet awaits you!
Snorkeling with Lunch Buffet 240R$.
According to Moon, “when a cattle farmer purchased the Fazenda Alegre, he wasn’t pleased to find a giant buraco (hole) sitting in the middle of his pasture. The hole, with a lake at the bottom, has a diameter of 500 meters (1,640 feet) and a depth of 100 meters (328 feet). However, he soon found out that the Buraco das Araras was a favourite roosting spot for over 40 exotic bird species, among them the arara vermelha (red macaw).” Now an ecological refuge, the Buraco can be visited with an excursion (the tour lasts an hour). The best time to see the macaws is in the morning when they rise from their nests and start to sing in unison. Bring binoculars. The Fazenda Alegre is some 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Bonito.
BR-267 Km 58, 7 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, R$25
Abismo Anhumas is the name of a cave located 23 km [14.3 m] from downtown Bonito. This submerged cave was discovered 1984 by a local cowboy after a fire and was officially opened in 1994 after extensive mapping, training and team qualification. Don’t be fooled by it’s modest setting, all the action is underneath the your feet. Once you arrive, you are instantly strapped into a harness and directed to an incredibly small hole where you will rappel 72 metres (236 ft / 26 stories!) down into a cave. The opening might be small but it instantly opens up as you dangle over a crystal clear lake, 80 metres (260 ft) deep, with the area equivalent to the size of a football field. Snorkelling or diving reveal the breathtaking beauty of this place: some of the largest underwater stalagmites in the world [up to 18 metres (59 ft) high] can be found here!
Estrada Campo dos Índios, Fazenda Anhumas, 22 kilometers/14 miles from Bonito. R$750 plus R$300 for option of scuba diving.
Estância Mimosa was used only as a livestock farm until April of 1998. After the farm was acquired by a new owner, the main objective of the farm was to develop it into an ecotourism activity. The destinations main tour is a guided walk through the forest of Mimoso River, reaching eight different waterfalls of various sizes and shapes. Along the trail there are small caves, suspended wood trails, observatories, a small boat ride and a 6-meter high diving board.
Gruta do Lago Azul
The Gruta do Lago Azul is a deep cavern (accessed by stairs) filled with stalactites and stalagmites at the bottom of which is an impossibly blue-green lagoon. It turns a piercing turquoise when hit by the sun’s rays, which happens November–January 8:30–9 a.m. The whole tour takes around 60-90 minutes and is only available in Portuguese [so make sure to bring a friend that can translate].
Rodovia Três Morros Km 22, R$36
Scared of snakes? After visiting Projeto Jiboia, you won’t be! The project, which started in 2005, seeks to educate and inform individuals about non-venomous snakes and their behaviours. Creator, Henry Naufal, is quite the snake whisperer, housing 12 boas and one python at the project’s headquarters. Henry hosts daily presentations at Projeto Jiboia, that begin with a hilarious introduction to the world of snakes [in Potuguese-only] and is followed by the highly anticipated holding of the snake portion of the evening where individuals get to unleash their inner Britney Spears while taking videos and photos.
R. Nestor Fernandes, 610 – Vila Donaria, Bonito – MS, 79290-000, Brazil. R$40. Shows start in the evening
Pictures can be deceiving, but not at Lagoa Misteriosa. Yes, the water IS that blue. This “Mysterious Lagoon” is known for it’s breathtakingly beautiful blue waters [due to magnesium deposits] and incredible depth, with 60m of visibility. It is one of the deepest flooded caves in Brazil – it has two deep long and narrow oceanic trenches which are over 220 m (721 ft) deep and interconnected at about 60 m (196 ft). Covered and surrounded by forest, the lake is located at the bottom of a steep set of stairs, so be careful as you descend. In addition to scuba and technical (cave) diving, Lagoa Misteriosa also offers trails and snorkeling. The lagoa is normally closed in the summer months because of the algae bloom that sets in January to April. I also would recommend that you skip the diving part [save your money for Abismo Anhumas] and opt for snorkelling. Finally kill two birds with one stone by pairing your trip to Lagoa with Rio Prata.
R$140.00 for snorkeling / R$300 for scuba diving
Vroom Vroom. An incredibly exhilarating experience that leaves you wanting more. We decided to take a ride through the Bonito trails during the night time. The instructors will first take you on a “practice ride.” Apparently individuals get a little too trigger happy and tend to accelerate instead of break in certain situations [like when going over a large bump] so instructors make sure you are comfortable with the ATV and [more importantly] if you can keep up. The scenario is like this: its completely pitch black and all you can see is the back-end of the ATV in front of you as you drive down an incredibly bumpy and narrow path that ends with a stop in an open field to star-gaze. Just remember to keep your eyes on the road [I mistakenly drove over a snake 🙁 ].
Ok, have you heard of cachaça? Well the Kitchnn breaks it down: “production of the country’s national spirit dates back some 400 years, and while only a handful of labels have made their way out for export, over 5,000 brands (yes, 5,000!) are currently available in Brazil, ranging from the artisanal to the industrial. It is a cane-sugar-based spirit, and is actually a very close cousin of white rum. But the key difference between the two spirits lies in the way the base ingredient is handled: while rum is traditionally made from processed cane (molasses), cachaça is made from fresh-pressed, unprocessed cane juice.” Head over to the Kitchnn for some great cachaça recipes! The Taboa Bar is known as THE only “party place” [and I say that loosely] in town. But located a couple of kilometres away from the bar is their factory where all the magic happens. Visitors learn about the history behind Taboa, watch as the bottles are assembled by being covered in dried cattail and have the pleasure of taste-testing over 20 different types of artisanal cachaça [my favourite is passion fruit]. And if that isn’t reason enough to visit their factory, Taboa is also known for providing jobs to Bonito youth. In fact, the owner is a strong supporter of skill sharing and cultural exchanges – she doesn’t hire anyone with a resume, and makes sure that their job is part-time so that it doesn’t interfere with school.
R. Filinto Müler, 1125 – Atlântico, Bonito. R$50
Other tours that are not mentioned in our Bonito travel guide include: Ceita Core [my friends went on this tour and absolutely loved it], Rio do Peixe, Cachoeira Boca da Onça [home of the largest waterfall in Bonito], Nascente Azul and Parque Ecológico Rio
You should always have accommodation booked before arriving at Bonito. It does not matter what period of the year you go there, the city will always be full. Bonito has a large variety and range of accommodations from rustic-style luxury guesthouses like Refúgio do Rio Bonito to hostels like Bonito HI Hostel.
My personal impressions of Bonito HI Hostel [🌟🌟🌟] So why three stars? Let me count the reasons:
⇒ The staff was bilingual [English & Portuguese] and incredibly helpful. ⇒ They have their own tour agency within the hostel so it was incredibly easy to book any type of tour through the hostel ⇒ Decent breakfast, including scrambled eggs, freshly squeezed juice, coffee, cakes and so much more ⇒ Great facilities that included a pool table and pool. We opted for private rooms [as there were 3 of us] and we were happy with the cleanliness of the rooms, the modern bathrooms and ample space. ⇒ Location, location, location. The Bonito HI Hostel is around 2 kilometres away from the Centre – which is approximately a 15 – 20 minute walk. The last thing you want to do after an exhausting day, is walk to the centre! However, staff can also call you a mototaxi that can take you to the centre for around R$7. This also means that restaurants, grocery stores etc. etc. are far away and you are at the mercy of hostel’s kitchen [which serves sub-par lunch and dinner options that are insanely expensive]. ⇒ I was a little disappointed that concessions could not be made when I had to wake up early for a tour and wanted to have breakfast. I remember seeing the lady preparing the food and refusing to give me ANY food even after I explained my situation. Although this was not the fault of the hostel per say but probably the result of a staff member that might have not been in the best mood in the morning.
⇒ The staff was bilingual [English & Portuguese] and incredibly helpful.
⇒ They have their own tour agency within the hostel so it was incredibly easy to book any type of tour through the hostel
⇒ Decent breakfast, including scrambled eggs, freshly squeezed juice, coffee, cakes and so much more
⇒ Great facilities that included a pool table and pool. We opted for private rooms [as there were 3 of us] and we were happy with the cleanliness of the rooms, the modern bathrooms and ample space.
⇒ Location, location, location. The Bonito HI Hostel is around 2 kilometres away from the Centre – which is approximately a 15 – 20 minute walk. The last thing you want to do after an exhausting day, is walk to the centre! However, staff can also call you a mototaxi that can take you to the centre for around R$7. This also means that restaurants, grocery stores etc. etc. are far away and you are at the mercy of hostel’s kitchen [which serves sub-par lunch and dinner options that are insanely expensive].
⇒ I was a little disappointed that concessions could not be made when I had to wake up early for a tour and wanted to have breakfast. I remember seeing the lady preparing the food and refusing to give me ANY food even after I explained my situation. Although this was not the fault of the hostel per say but probably the result of a staff member that might have not been in the best mood in the morning.
**my stay at Hi Hostel Bonito travel was sponsored **
Bonito is a small tourist town, so expect food that will be somewhat overpriced and a nightlife that will be quite limited. Nevertheless, there are a couple of gems to be found in Bonito. I want to add that although I personally never ate at Juanita Restaurant, it was recommended to me [as was their pacu fish dish]. The reason why this list is a little limited is primarily because the majority of my breakfasts and lunches were covered and my dinners were either skipped, eaten at the hostel or paired with a strong caipirinha from Taboa!
If you are going to eat at only ONE restaurant in Bonito, than make sure it’s Casa Do João, rated the #1 restaurant in Bonito on TripAdvisor. I can not rave enough about this restaurant. It really has it all – adorable décor, attentive and professional staff, cold beers, souvenir shop and most importantly mouth-watering freshly caught food. I would highly recommend the piranha soup followed by the famous Traira Vestida. Enjoy!
Pantanal Grill 🌟🌟🌟
The Pantanal Grill will be forever known as the restaurant were I tasted jacaré [caiman] for the first time. And YES! It actually does taste like chicken. Overall the restaurant is OK. The menu offers a large selection of food, but prepare to pay tourist prices. I would highly recommend the jacaré, piranha and/or the piraputanga fish – one of the most common fish found in Bonito.
Rua Coronel Pilad Rebua 1808 | Centro, Bonito
The atmosphere is pleasant and modern, and the people were friendly. Absolutely delicious ice cream. You can use the WiFi and it is a nice place for you recover. Prices are very reasonable.
Rua Coronel Pilad Rebua 2070
It is a very small shop in the main road. Here you find delicious confections, juices, sandwiches, pies, etc. The best thing are the confections made of regional fruits like bocaiuva and guavira.
R. Pres. Olegário Maciel – Centre
Looking for a night out on the town? Well you have only one option, but thankfully it’s a great one. Taboa offers live music, great walls painted with clients’ names and makes its own unique cachaça mixed with local ingredients. They had a gigantic cocktail menu and a decent food menu. My recommendation? A capitaboa [a capirinha made with taboa cachaça]
Rua Coronel Pilad Rebua 1837
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