After the weekend in São Paulo, a friend from university and I went to Bonito. Bonito is a beautiful nature reserve located four hours away from Campo Grande. It is on the edge of the Pantanal, a rainforest area with countless expedition opportunities. Outside of Brazil, few people seem to know about this place, and it also has tourism restrictions in the form of daily quotas.

We had a flight from Rio to São Paulo and after a couple of hours, São Paulo to Campo Grande. We arrived late at night on Wednesday, and stayed until the next morning.

flight to São Paulo
Arriving in São Paulo

Thursday morning began with an amazing breakfast and a little bit of running at the bus terminal. We wanted to leave on time, but after a little chat with the owner Maria, who explained everything about Campo Grande to us the night before, we had to hurry. We made it, just when they started boarding.

Once we got to Bonito, we were super tired, but determined to find some activities for the next few days. We went to one of the major tourist agencies ABN. All activities have limited spaces, so booking in advance is usually recommended. We did not but were still able to get all the activities we wanted. One floating experience in ‘Aquarios Natural’, a waterfall excursion and some tubing and municipal baths. One thing that I did not particularly like was the transport… You have to pay extra (between R$45-50) and the times the transport picks you up is not set in stone. Also, you may arrive at 8:00, but your activity only starts at 10:30.

Fazenda Bonito
Typical waiting in the Fazendas

On Friday the 21 of April, we were picked up by our mini-van at 8:10 with direction towards Aquário Natural. This translates to natural aquarium and that is the best possible description for this river floating experience.

At the entrance, you get equipped with wetsuits, water shoes, snorkeling masks and life jackets, before it’s onto a training session in the pool. Our guide explained to us how to position our body so not to touch the riverbed, as this would disturb the crystal clear water. After some experiments and much spitting into our masks (this prevents them from fogging up), we went into a little trail towards the river.

Bonito Floating in Rio Baia Bonita
Floating with clear vision (except for the particles in the water)

It was a magical underwater land, with fish swimming right in front of your nose and more beauty than I’ve ever seen before. The fish were not bothered by the humans at all. As we started going down the river, the only thing I could think was how fitting the name was to this place. It really looked just like the inside of an aquarium, only that it was real!! The water is shallow too, which means you get lots of colors when the sun shines in. There are 36 species of fish in Rio Baia Bonita, and it was super cool that I was able to recognize some of them.

fish in rio baia bonita, bonito brazil
Imagine this, all around you!

At the end, I took some underwater pictures, before we went back onto a trail. This trail however, did not lead back to the Fazenda. No, no, no, we were going zip-lining into a basin surrounded by waterfalls. My friend and I squealed with excitement and did the whole thing twice. After having to leave for good, the trail took us to the wildlife preserve of the Fazenda, where we saw an alligator.

Alligator in Bonito, Brazil
When not hunting, they are as still as wax figures

The next day, went to Estância Mimosa, a farm from where we started our waterfall hike.The procedure was pretty much the same at all of them, getting there, jumping in, swimming around, getting out, continuing the trail. One different part was a boat ride along a smaller part, where once again, we saw an alligator chilling right next to the little paddle boat.

Waterfall Bonito
One of the seven waterfalls

The day before, it only occurred to me at night how crazy it was that literally 100m from where we swam/floated, there were wild alligators hanging out. I can’t imagine the guides can guarantee anyone’s safety. I know that they only attack when something hits the surface of the water, but people were zip-lining into that river!!

Bonito Boat Ride
Boat ride

On the second to last waterfall, we had the chance to jump from a 5m jumping board, something I had not done before but loved so much I went up again. As a little kid, anything above 3m scared me and I was really proud of myself for doing it now.

Foodwise, it was amazing to have Açaí everywhere you go in Mato Grosso do Sul, we probably ate a combined two kilos in five days. In Bonito, there was an Açaí shop right next to our accomodation. Apart from that, we cooked for ourselves mostly, except for one night where I tried the caiman/alligator meat. Honestly, everyone told me it tasted like chicken. That’s pretty much true, mine was oversalted and overall, I could have skipped it. Now I know.

Acai in Bonito
Preferred this over alligators

One the last day, we had two activities planned. We started with river tubing, where we went through rapids and down several waterfalls. Even though it wasn’t as exclusive to this part of Brazil as the other activities, the adrenaline and just the fun made it one of the best. I was only a little scared of having an alligator magically appear next to us.

In the afternoon, we went to a municipal river bath, where once again, you could swim through schools of fish the entire time. Before we knew it, our time in Bonito was over.

Balneario Municipal Bonito
Even in the municipal baths, you get fish swimming around you!! and for R$30 only… You have to go

On the way back, we could have organized our transport a little smarter. We stayed one night in Campo Grande again, which would not have been necessary. The way we did it, we travelled back for 1.5 days, the minimum time would be seven hours. Nevertheless, it was a perfect vacation week.