I have long wanted to make a visit to the Pantanal, one of the biggest wetland complexes in the world. I can now say I have been there but only just. We spent a week based at Bonito, which for reasons that are not really clear to me has become a centre for ecotourism - much of it Brasilian. There seemed to be many star-struck young couples - perhaps honeymooners - intent on placing themsleves in almost every photo they took. We stayed at the delightful Hotel Pousada Aguas de Bonito and mixed quiet days with full days out and about, usually on a tour with a guide - mainly Portuguese speaking.
Bonito, in the south of Matto Grosso do Sol state is on a limestone plateau from which many of the tourism highlights derive. But it is not the Pantanal! Highlights around Bonito in ranked order were:
1. Swimming with fish in the Silver River (Rio da Prata) south east of Bonito; just as we were about to enter the water a Tapir plunged in ahead of us and swam past. This was unusual - something our guides had not experienced before. The water was crystal clear - the fish huge and varied and a delighful experience overall. Over lunch (also good) we chatted with two German guys doing a six month motorbike trip around the south of South America - see their trip blog. If I were only a little younger!
2. Late afternoon on the same day we went to Buraco das Araras - a large sinkhole that is a major nesting site for macaws. Our timing was perfect as macaws in significant numbers were flying back to roost whilst we were there. They are impressive as they swoop in.
3. We had another good day - despite the rough roads - at Boca da Onca. It is advertised as 11 water falls - see photos - with an 866 step climb to finish off. Not much wildlife and wrong time of day for the birds but enjoyable none-the-less.
4. We had fun - including great water fights - on a boat trip along the Formoso River
5. The blue lake cave (Gruta do Logo Azul) was worth seeing - but not a highlight. It is quite close to Bonito and can be done in half a day - as can the boat trip on the Formoso River (which flows into the Miranda River).
Fazenda San Francisco. From Bonito it was a long day - and made me realise that given another opportunity I would not base myself in Bonito to see the Pantanal - not that I regret seeing much of what Bonito had to offer. I cannot remember spending a more enjoyable day in a long time - perhaps 30 new species of birds to see, deer, capybora etc. This was also a good example of how agriculture and ecotourism can be combined in a private enterprise activity, though I remain concerned that private enterprise alone cannot conserve all that demands conservation or protection.