Bonito is a quiet little town set in the middle of eco tour heaven. It is halfway between Campo Grande and Corumbá in the southern Pantanal. From Bonito a variety of tours are all within a day’s travel of the town centre. In fact, just about every activity that your travel insurance probably doesn’t cover is on offer. Rappelling, rafting, bike riding, diving and horse riding to name a few.
Experiencing a whole river that has the clarity of a fish tank is pretty amazing and something that only Bonito offers (that is if you ignore the lesser known but equally clear waters of Nobres). The transparency of the water in Bonito is a result of the abundant natural limestone that exists in the surrounding area. The limestone acts as a natural filter leaving the rivers with an unbelievable level of visibility.
However, if Bonito were a girl she’d be high maintenance. Every time you want to do something you’re putting your hand in your wallet. This leaves you in two minds about Bonito. The rivers have the clearest water you will have ever seen, the countryside is beautiful and the people friendly but the prices make you wonder if you’re getting full value for money. And like high maintenance girls after a while you become a little tired of it.
Main Attractions in Bonito
Many of the local attractions are on private land with a limit on the number of daily visitors. A simple precaution is to have the hostel or pousada in which you are staying to ring ahead and make a reservation for you.
Forget shopping around for the best priced tours. Tour prices are set by the local tourism authority which means everyone charges the same price. In theory these monopolistic pricing practices stop exploitation of the local environment. Instead the exploitation is transferred to your wallet. It is not just foreign tourists but Brazilian tourists as well.
Most tours revolve around waterfalls, snorkelling with fish, diving in caves, abseiling or hiking. I’ve managed to collect as much information about the tour prices as possible. Like any tourist town there are enough tour brochures on hotel reception desks to clear the Amazon (this is where its all going) but the guide below should give you a good indication of what you’ll be spending.
IMPORTANT: Tour prices do not include transport. The best tip I can give is to team up with a couple of people and hire a car. Car hire is around $R90/day plus fuel. Split the costs and it will come out a lot cheaper than the local transport options (another monopoly). If you’re coming from Campo Grande, investigate hiring a car here and driving to Bonito.
All prices are fixed. It doesn’t matter what tour agency you go to you will pay the same price.
In high season it is advisable to try to book ahead. At other times you should have no problems booking tours the day before you wish to go.
Best time to travel to Bonito?
That’s a good question. I’ve seen several differing reports on the best time of year to visit Bonito. Between November and January the rivers are at their clearest, not that they aren’t crystal clear any other time of year.
February, March and April are the wettest months in Bonito making some tours difficult or impossible. In the wet season everything is green, animals appear and the rivers flow. These conditions are ideal for rafting and you'll find waterfalls at their most voluminous but it also means that roads will be more mud than anything else. July is the driest month of the year with good conditions for diving and towards the end of the year river levels are falling.
A minor point is that in July, August and early September the fields and pastures in the districts surrounding Bonito are burnt off. This is unlikely to ruin your holiday but you might see and smell a bit of smoke. The upside from this contribution to atmospheric pollution is that you’ll walk away with some pretty good sunset photographs. I travelled here in July and didn’t notice a thing.
If you’ve come from, or are heading to the Pantanal you may only want to spend a day or two in Bonito. If travelling by bus from Campo Grande it is a good stop over point to break the journey. 4 days in Bonito is usually sufficient time for most as there is only so much wildlife one can see in one’s life. Besides, you’ll be starting to run out of money after this anyway.
High and Low Season in Bonito
Bonito, like every tourist destination has it’s high and low season prices. Most easily summarised as every school holiday or public holiday long weekend (Carnival, Easter, Nossa Senhora Aparecida). Brazilian school holidays commence in December and run until early February. July is also high season as it includes the mid year school holidays.
Transport to and from Bonito
The 290km (180 mile) trip Campo Grande to Bonito bus runs at 07.00, 11.00 and 16.00. Takes about 5 ½ hours (over 7 if the gear box in the bus breaks). About $R35.00
From Foz do Iguaçu there is a 06.00 bus arriving in Dourados at 14.50 which connects with a 15.30 bus going to Bonito. It arrives in Bonito at 20.30. If you wish to travel to Foz from Bonito or vice versa Viacão Nova Integracão (aka Ecuatur) run buses daily at 08.25 and 15.25 from Campo Grande to Foz do Iguaçu for $R90.00 though I’m unsure of the exact route.
From Corumbá a bus leaves at either 13.30 or 14.00 (please double check this) and arrives in Bonito around 19.30. It costs around $R40.
Several different airlines fly into and out of Campo Grande,Corumbá and the Pantanal but I don’t know of any that fly directly into Bonito. If any do they would be very small private operators working out of Corumbá or Campo Grande. See the page on Brazilian airlines in the transport section.