Blowing the Budget in Beautiful Bonito

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South America » Brazil » Mato Grosso do Sul » Bonito
March 19th 2008
Published: March 21st 2008
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Bonito is experiencing an Eco-tourism boom, in the south of Matto Grosso do Sul - it has an extraordinary diversity of natural wonders, in a relatively compact area. Blessed with caves, waterfalls, crystal clear rivers, forested hills all within a 50km radius - a very small distance in Brazilian terms - Bonito is riding the eco-tourism wave very well. I travelled directly from a few days in the wet-lands of the Pantanal to the Bonito Eco-tourism Hostel - the only Hostel (HI affiliated) in the area. My aims - rappel and then dive the abyss, snorkel in the crystal clear "Rio da Prata" - with dorados, pacu and many other species of Brazilian river fish - anything else would be a bonus.

March is the low season - I had been worried about an influx of tourists due to the Easter weekend - but for most in Brazil - I think this holiday is a time to be with family and tighten the belts after the excesses of Carnival - the hostel was more or less empty - capacity 150, occupancy 30.

Unfortunately - Bonito is not a backpackers paradise - the Real (Brazilian currency) has gone from strength to strength, almost doubling in the last 6 years - Brazil is expensive for even a rich European backpacker like myself (sarcasm) - so many assume that everyone from Europe is extremely rich here. So - I blew the budget - with $1 ~= 1.6R$ I gritted my teeth and told myself I'd probably never be in Bonito again so blow the budget and experience as much as I could.


Rio da Prata - River of Silver.

Best time of year to experience - June, July, August - the dry season with less rain means that the clear spring water that feeds this crystal clear river isn't polluted by rainwater run off from the jungles. But one of the tributaries isn't affected as much and remains clear even during March - the end of the wetter summer.

I took the tour through the hostel and found myself the only gringo on the tour - but friendly Sao Paulistas (Brazilians from Sao Paulo) translated where the guide didn't and chatted throughout the tour.

The river ranges from 50cm to 7m deep - the fish from 1cm to 75cm (maybe a 1m! for the one that got away) - they have very little fear of the floating humans - the experience is so much more amazing than the postcards suggest. I hope these photos do justice to the experience.

Buraco das Arras - the hole of Macaws

While out near the Rio Prata it's well worth visiting the Macaws. A crater like formation, about 500m in diameter is the nesting site of the splendid blue and red macaw, they swoop in from the surrounding area at dusk to roost, calling out in the harsh eerie screech as they glide down towards the walls. The bottom of the crater is home to caymen and the disposal site of several contract killers - at least so the stories go.

Toucans, parakeets and blue and yellow macaws also can be seen easily in the area.

Balneario Municipal

A park established on the edge of one of the clear rivers - provides a much cheaper alternative to the Rio da Prata or Sucuri - but the water is not as clear or the fish life as varied. But at 10%!o(MISSING)f the cost... 7km from the town, an easy trip by bicycle.

I was in for a treat though, mid-way through the day, a 7m sucuri (large snake arguably an anaconda) brought down a catito (a jungle pig) and decided that the river was the perfect place to crush the bones of the pig before spending the next night swallowing it. The snake chose to do this 100m from the busiest section of the park. I dove in and got as close as I dared (and the park rangers would let me) to photograph from under and over the water as much as I could. Due to low light the photographs are a little grainy - and the head isn't visible - but the experience was fantastic - many locals had never seen this either so I was very lucky to see it.

Rappelling the Abissmo Anhumas and diving the Lago Anhumas

The most expensive and most intense of the activities I tried in Bonito.

After a short training session in a controlled environment the day before - I got up early with my fellow adventurers for a unique experience. The hills near Bonito are pocked with subterranean caverns the sizes of cathedrals - the Abissmo Anhumas is unusual in that it has a relatively small opening (15m) almost directly above the internal lake, and no other way in. A small platform floats on the lake and we rappelled 70m down toured the area and I went scuba diving in the lake. 2/3rds of the cavern is aquatic - a vast area opening out into one of the strangest environments I've yet experienced. Hundreds of stalagmites rise up from the depths, with just enough natural light to see by, we spend an intense half hour touring the cavern. At only 19'c the water is too cold to spend much more time there.

My photographs in no way capture the experience, gloomy, intense, oppressive, alien. A few blind albino shrimp and tiny fish are the only life, but the skeletons of unfortunate animals that slip into the small opening litter the floor - and the rock formations keep you occupied during the dive.

Gruta do Lago Azul and Gruta de Sao Miguel

Two beautiful show caves one with an unaturally blue lake are situated near to the abyss. A couple more hours and long exposure photography. Well worth the try. The guide (Pedro) at the

A baby being hand reared by the workers of the Rio da Prata
"Gruta de S~ao Miguel" is particularly knowledgable about the formations and excited to explain about the formations that take thousands to millions of years to appear.


The tours are well worth the money - but to do them the budget will be stretched and snapped in many cases. Just bite the bullet and remember that you've probably just experienced something unique. Three days and I'm 300 pounds lighter...

Additional photos below
Photos: 38, Displayed: 26


Wild TucanWild Tucan
Wild Tucan

Heavily cropped!

21st March 2008

hey, cool photos man . we where thinking of going to south america and your blog has definatly been inspiring.
21st March 2008

nice pics
really nice pics! have you been in the water while taking the pic of the anaconda and the pig?
21st March 2008

Yep... I was in the water with the snake...
About 3m from it... I'm not sure if I am brave or stupid...
22nd March 2008

Hi, your photos are awesome. What camera gear are you using?
22nd March 2008

That really looks like a trip of a lifetime! Sounds absolutely out of this world ! Waouh !
22nd March 2008

nothing like a pig feast to inspire...
Impressive pics Ali- inspiring as usual!! Hope all is well :)
17th April 2008

I have to ask you ! What type of work do you do to be able to travel around the world ? Don't you need an assistant ? I am a very good cook too, lol
15th September 2008

pig eating anaconda
obviously, the snake was more interested in eating pork meat than human meat!
3rd October 2011
Gruta do Lago Azul

What a beautiful blue
Ali, this is a fantastic photo, mum
5th October 2011
Anaconda and Wild Pig Dinner

AMAZING shot Ali!!

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