Travel guide to Bonito | Southern Pantanal, Brazil
Updated: Jun 9
Bonito lies in the state of Mato Grosso du Sul, which makes up the largest part of the Pantanal. The Pantanal is the largest wetland in the world & houses the highest density of animals anywhere in South America.
Although Bonito is starting to appear on a few travellers’ itinerary it is still a far cry from saying it is on the typical “Gringo Trail”. However, to say Bonito is undiscovered would also be a lie; it is Brazil’s number one ecotourism destination, well known to Brazilians.
Bonito, translated from Portuguese to English means beautiful. However, to say the town itself is beautiful would be a bit of a stretch. Bonito has everything you need as a tourist, plenty of pousadas/hotels, a vast array of restaurants/bars & dozens of tour agencies to book your various excursions. The beauty of Bonito lies outside of the town’s borders in the abundance of wildlife, crystal clear waterways & stunning azure grottos.
Table of Contents
1 - Ecotourism Tours from Bonito
Lovers of independent safari’s would be better served heading to one of the plentiful estância (ranch) or refúgio (retreat) in Mato Grosso du Sul, which often offer the option to explore their lands or take a horseback ride safari. Bonito’s tourist sector seems to have a very strict way to operate, meaning you can’t even simply drive to an attraction & purchase a ticket at the door. You need to purchase all of your tickets from a travel agent. You can do this in person in the town or remotely in advance of your trip. During the high season, which is October to March, the attractions can get very busy.
All tour providers in Bonito have to charge exactly the same for the entrance fee to each attraction so you won’t save any money shopping around. The main thing to look for is the company reputation & the cost of the transfer if you don’t have your own vehicle. We opted for Santa Rosa Pantanal Tours & we were extremely happy with their service & communication.
Contrary to many blog reports there are options to hire cars in Bonito. Localiza has a branch in central Bonito to pick up a car from, or if like us you turn up without one you can pop into branch & they have the option to hire cars there & then. We priced up the option of hiring a car to the cost of a transfer provided by the tour operators & it worked out better for us to go with the transfer. If you are a group of 3 or more there is a good chance car hire would work out to be a more favourable option. When we visited in October 2022 the cost of hiring a budget car with full insurance would have been R$180, so for 2 of us including fuel it would have been slightly more than transfers.
2 - Which tours are right for you
Having researched the tour options, we opted to visit:
2.1 - Buraco das Araras
The largest sinkhole of its type in Latin America. For many years it was used as a bit of a rubbish tip by the local residents & unfortunately for some time local hooligans used to come to the crater to practice their shooting with the brightly coloured Scarlet Macaws offering bright if not fast target practice.
The now land owner, Sue Modesto, upon inheriting the land decided enough was enough & took it upon himself to painstakingly rid the sink hole of rubbish & fence off the land to stop locals continuing their cruel target practice of these beautiful endangered birds. Today there are over 60 mating pairs of Scarlet Macaws, along with 157 species of birds and animals as registered by the RPPN Buraco das Araras. These include toucans, hummingbirds & woodpeckers. To see the full list, click here
Circling the sink hole you are taken to two large viewing platforms where you can watch the Macaws and other birds fly across. If you are lucky you may also see caiman at the bottom of the sink hole. As you walk through the Raparian forest your guide will point out many species of plants and trees. The most striking of which to me was the Alligator Juniper so named for its unusual bark which runs in ridges. The bark formation offers amazing protection against forest fires.
Sorry, we don't have any decent pictures of the macaws as we only had our phones with us & they move bloody fast!!
2.2 - Rio de Prata
The tour starts with a guided tour of the ‘farm’. This eco-friendly farm has an organic vegetable & herb garden, a wormery, rears pigs and foul & has a strict composting system. Our guide didn’t speak English so sadly we didn’t understand what he was saying but there are plenty of information boards to read as you go round. Be warned, there are a lot of mosquitos and for some reason they choose to do this tour when you are already in your wetsuits ready for the swim! As you are not allowed to wear mosquito repellent before entering the water it is a little uncomfortable!
After the walk you reach the Olho d’agua river source, which is an immense warm pool with visible volcanic springs on the river bed, bubbling the sand with the release of fresh warm spring water. Due to the constant refreshing of the water from these many springs down the Olho d’agua the water is crystal clear & offers visibility of up to 40m!
The swim around this pool allows you to get used to your snorkel equipment but we actually found it also offered the highest density of fish on the trip. It could have been an aquarium & I would have happily swum around that pool for hours.
Once your group are all comfortable with their equipment it’s time to start your tour. The Olho d’agua river has a nice gentle current which allows you for the most part to simply float downstream & enjoy the vast array of marine life. The river maintains a pleasant 26°c year round due to the hot spring sources. You follow the river all the way to the end, 1700m to the Prata river. The day we did the tour wasn’t the warmest by Brazil standards but still lovely & warm in the Olho d’agua.
Upon reaching the Prata river the temperature drops slightly as does the visibility as the rivers mix.
The swim down the Prata river for the final 600m has much lower visibility & as such the spotting of the marine life becomes less frequent. At this point we spent more time looking to the surrounding jungle rather than the river in hope of seeing a rare mammal or tropical bird. Sadly, we didn’t see any on our last stretch, but we were speaking to a former guide at the Buraco das Araras & he reported seeing Puma on one occasion!
Sorry, we don't have any decent pictures of the fish as we only had our phones with us.
The above two tours more than lived up to our expectations & we would strongly suggest taking part in both of these. Due to their proximity & time required, both tours can be completed in one day. Starting in the morning at Buraco das Araras before heading over to Rio de Prata for lunch which is included in the ticket price & is a delicious buffet showcasing many of the produce from the farm. I would say it was one of the best meals we had whilst in Brazil.
By doing the tours on the same day it meant only paying the one transfer cost of R$90pp
3 - Other tours to look into
3.1 - Lago Azul
A cave with an eerie blue lake. The lake was found in 1924 and the picture perfect water has made it one of the top attractions from Bonito. Its dimensions make it one of the largest flooded cavities in the world. The tour takes about 90 minutes.
3.2- Waterfalls & trails of Boca da Onça/Estância Mimosa
Both tours take about 4 hours & allow you to explore the many surrounding trails along with taking a relaxing swim amongst the cascading waters.
4 - Eating & Drinking in Bonito
Although there weren’t many European travellers in Bonito when we were there it was far from quiet. Most bars had live music (we were there mid-week not weekend) & there were multiple options for restaurants.
4.1 - Imperial Hamburgueria
The name surely gives it away; this is a burger joint. Becca had chicken & I had the house special which were both great burgers. They also have happy hour most nights on chopp (draft) beer for only R$5 each!
4.2 - Framboesa Sucos
Great place for a cheap eat. They do deep-filled jacket potatoes from only R$20. We both had the chilli jacket & can highly recommend.
4.3 - La Bonita
As far as food goes we only grabbed a plate of loaded fries which were fine but nothing to write home about. The main draw of this place is that is seems to have a constant stream of live music & is extremely popular with the Brazilian holiday makers!
4.4 - Varandas Restaurant
Like many Brazilian restaurants they seem to love the idea of one meal for two people. We had the usual, which was nice, steak, rice, fries, salad & manioc crumb. (To see more info on typical Brazilian dishes, see Brazilian Food & Drink)
5 - Where to stay in Bonito
5.1 - Bonito HI Hostel Suites
Although the hostel is a little off the main drag taking 30 minutes to walk into town & 15 mins to the bus station it is a nice hostel. We stayed in a private double ensuite with aircon which was nice & clean. You also got a plentiful, tasty breakfast included in the price which was R$251 per night.
6 - Getting to & from Bonito
The main gateway to the Southern Pantanal is through Campo Grande as this has an international airport, unlike Bonito’s own airport which is serviced by only a few domestic routes. From Campo Grande you can either hire a car or jump on a bus. We opted for the later which took 5 hours 10 minutes with Cruzeiro do Sul costing R$85.22pp.
Leaving Bonito you can either retrace your steps back to Campo Grande or if like us you are heading onto Bolivia the cheapest option would be to take a bus to Corumba (the boarder town with Bolivia) which takes 7 hours 50 minutes with the bus leaving everyday at midday. By the time you get to Corumba the border will be closed so you will need to spend the night there before continuing on. Click here to read about the Brazilian/Bolivia border crossing from Corumba and onto Santa Cruz, Bolivia.