A short hop south of the Pantanal - bearing in mind that here, in the world's fifth largest nation, the word 'short' takes on new meaning - is the small, modest town of Bonito. Rarely has a town lived up to its name so fully - in Portuguese, as in Spanish, "bonito" means beautiful. Indeed, Bonito lies at the heart of a captivating region filled with natural marvels, from vast limestone caves dripping with stalactites to myriad waterfalls and pools hidden away in pristine forest. Touted as South America's prime example of ecotourism gone right, Bonito is an absolute treasure. A little corner of paradise in southwestern Brazil.
The region's most compelling attractions, however, are its unique rivers, world-famous for their astonishing clarity. Filtered by layer upon layer of limestone rock, the water of Bonito's rivers teems with life - these rivers are real-life freshwater aquariums just screaming to be explored. Luckily for me, I get to do just that: one of Bonito's best loved activities is flutuação
, freshwater snorkelling along several kilometres of these stunning waterways. I chose to head to the Prata and Olho d'Água rivers, particularly well-known for their abundance fish, crystalline waters and astonishing visibility, which
can easily exceed 25 metres in optimal conditions. Flutuação
is a delightfully simple concept: you squeeze yourself into a wetsuit (the difficult part), you don a mask and snorkel and some neoprene booties, you saunter down to the river's edge, from where you can already see the fish swimming in water so clear it could have come straight out of the tap. You ease yourself into the water - we may be in the tropics but at twenty degrees it's not exactly warm! - and the let the current gently carry you along. Lush vegetation arches over the river. The air is filled with the calls of monkeys and birds. Dappled sunlight falls on the river's sandy bed. The water teems with thousands of fish of two dozen of more different species, going about their lives as if you weren't even there. It really is like floating over a giant fish tank, without the glass - and it is without doubt one of the most wonderful things I've done on this trip. And that, as I hope previous blog entries since October last year will attest, is saying something.
Bonito's environment is absolutely pristine, unusual for a place
which attracts so many visitors (flutuações
in the December-January high season book out months in advance). Indeed, strict limits on visitor numbers, impeccable management and high prices (something of a downside, although Bonito is without a doubt worth every single real
) have helped keep this little corner of paradise the way Nature intended. Travelling around South America provides depressingly ample opportunities to appreciate what a negative impact travel can have on the environment. Bonito is living evidence that it doesn't need to be that way - we definitely need more Bonitos.
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