One of the surprises i got in 2018 came in the last month of the year. It has a name that gives away all its beauties: Bonito (meaning Beautiful, in Portuguese). The small town of 22,000 inhabitants in the countryside of the Brazilian state Mato Grosso do Sul has been a famous ecotourism destination in Brazil since 1992 and annually wins several awards worldwide. But it wasn’t until December 2018 that I came sccors the chance to visit it on an “opportunistic” trip, so to speak. A great friend of mine was having a wedding in Campo Grande, and since I knew I wouldn’t miss this party, I took the opportunity to visit Bonito the week before. Best decision I´ve ever made. I left the place completely mesmerized by the natural beauty!
We did absolutely every tour we wanted and went to every restaurant on our list – and we still managed to discover some new secrets over there. As the idea of this post is to make a summary, I’ll divide it into Q&A style topics for you guys:
When to go to Bonito? What season did we go and how many days do we recommend?
The duration of our trip was from November 30th to December 7th (late afternoon arrival and morning departure). So in total, we had 6 days/7 nights to enjoy the beauties of Bonito and its region. I’ll already say here that 5 days/6 nights would be more than enough, and depending on the tours you choose you can do everything in 4 days/5 nights (if you don’t go to the Anhumas Abyss or Mysterious Lagoon, for example).
I read many blogs recommending staying at least 5 days in Bonito, but the truth that I noticed is that you can enjoy the best tours in a smart but tight schedule, in 3 days/4 nights, ideal for a long weekend or short holiday. Having more days, of course, is always the best option, but you don’t have to keep yourself from going if you only have 4 nights available. This is the minimum number of nights I recommend to be able to do at least one tour of each kind (waterfall, float and a more adventurous ride).
Where we stayed in Bonito?
We chose and stayed in two hotels. The first one we found ideal for families, well located and with several things to do after the tours such as swimming pools, whirlpool baths, restaurant, gym, game room, hammock, and a travel agency. This was Águas de Bonito.
The second hotel we stayed at had a very different vibe from the first. It was entirely geared toward couples and had only 7 rustic chalets and a pool in the middle of a thicket. Our second hotel was the Chalé do Bosque.
Which agencies did we use or recommend in Bonito?
We closed virtually all our tours with the ABN for two reasons: fast and objective communication by phone and WhatsApp (I wanted to get it over with soon and not going back and forth with 20 emails) and because once in town they were the only agency that stayed open until 10 pm (one day we went there at 9 pm to close the deal on some extra tours).
I used the Bonitour website to check prices and build the schedule I wanted and found it VERY good, although I didn’t close any deals with them in the end. And we had great recommendations for H2O Ecoturismo, from our cousin who lives in Campo Grande and travels a lot with his family to Bonito. Finally, we used Bonitoway to buy the tickets for the Balneário Municipal, the decision was solely and exclusively because it was this agency that was on the way to the Balneário, but the attendant was very helpful.
All 4 agencies are highly recommended.
What tours have we done in Bonito?
-We made three snorkeling tours in natural spring rivers: Rio da Prata, Rio Sucuri and Aquário Natural.
-Visited two farms with waterfalls: Boca da Onça and Estância Mimosa.
-Visited caves in Gruta do Lago Azul and Gruta de São Miguel.
-For contemplation, we visited Buraco das Araras.
-We also did the “bóia cross” (water tubing) of Bonito Aventura.
-We relaxed one day at Balneário Municipal,
-And we managed to include the most complete and surprising tour of Bonito: the Anhumas Abyss (combine cave + rappel + snorkeling + boat ride).
Which tours we liked the best and which tours we liked the least?
I already point out that this is my personal opinion, and it´s also based on what was avialble at the time I visited Bonito- December: fish reproduction season, some rains and when the Mysterious Lagoon is closed – so I didn’t do this tour.
My favorites were Anhumas Abyss, for being a unique and very complete tour, and a super different experience; snorkeling at the Aquário Natural and Rio da Prata, which has crystal clear waters and several tiny fish and other aquatic animals; and also the waterfalls of Boca da Onça (the most different falls) and Estância Mimosa (many beautiful options for bathing).
The one I liked the least was the Balneário Municipal and the Bóia Cross. The first one because when we went the water wasn’t so clear (after heavy rain) and because it’s “only” a small beachside space with a structure that reminded me of the clubs I went to when I lived in the countryside. And the second one because I did it on the last day, and after so many amazing rides it got a little bland, and because I also expected a more radical ride than it actually was.
Where did we eat in Bonito?
We visited the restaurants: Casa do João; Juanita; Tapera; Sale e Pepe; Pastel Bonito; and the one at the Santa Esmeralda hotel. We went to the Taboa and La Bonita bars (from the Devassa brewery, a well-known brand of beer in Brazil). We also tasted the ice creams from Allegra (very creamy and with much quality) and Delícias do Cerrado (lots of variety and different flavors).
How to get to Bonito?
Airplane + Car: We flew to Campo Grande and rented a car at the airport. The process was very easy and the car gave us the autonomy to go to the tours in Bonito on our own, without having to buy the transportation from the agencies. Even being located at only 300km away from Campo Grande, it took almost 4 hours to Bonito on a single paved road. If you go by car, the tip is to travel during daytime and pay attention to the road as there are always animals crossing (we saw several little armadillos and a rhea that had been run over …). At night, when it’s cooler, the animals move and cross the road more often, making travel more dangerous and less recommended.
Plane: Leaving Viracopos (Campinas), there are direct flights by the Brazilian company Azul to Bonito that fly quite regularly. Although it seems a much more practical option, there are some disadvantages. The first is that the cost of the ticket is much higher than the cost of a ticket to Campo Grande. The second disadvantage is that often – and especially during rainy summers – planes fail to land in Bonito and end up landing in Corumbá. In these cases, passengers travel by bus from Corumbá to Bonito on a longer and worse trip than Campo Grande to Bonito.
Shared or Private Transfer: You can also fly to Campo Grande and hire a shared or private transfer to Bonito. These options are sold by the same agencies we mentioned above and that sell the tours. The value for the shared van is R$ 100 per person per way (200 for the round trip). See more options on the Bonitour website.
What are the most important things I need to know before visiting Bonito?
Bonito is an extremely organized ecotourism destination. For ALL tours you’ll need a reservation or voucher from a local agency, that is: it is NOT possible to get to the attraction and buy directly there (not even in the Balneários, which are akin to spas or bath-houses). Also, the prices of the tours are all fixed, so no matter which agency you choose, the prices will be the same. The biggest difference between agencies will be more noticeable if you need to cancel or exchange a tour, or if you use their transportation to get to the attractions. In the end, all of them issue a voucher with date and time for your tour, you take it and that’s it.
Also, get ready for rules during the rides – and stick to them. Other than in the Balneários, it’s virtually impossible to explore Bonito on your own (unless you have a private farm there). It’s not allowed to separate yourself from the guides or to escape protocol. All guides are great, give you a lot of freedom and know how to adapt well to the situations and characteristics of the group, but some rules need to be followed, such as wearing neoprene clothes on snorkeling tours, not using repellent or sunscreen before entering the river springs, etc. Remember that all of this is being done to preserve these wonders so that other tourists in the future can also get to know them the way you did.
Going in the high season? Book in advance!
A very important detail is that during the high season the busiest tours need to be booked well in advance. If you are traveling during the second half of December, during the Brazilian school holidays of January, February, and July, or visiting Bonito during the Carnival or national holidays, prepare your trip very well and schedule the tours at least 3 months before the trip (especially if you want to do the Anhumas Abyss, the Mysterious Lagoon or the Rio da Prata snorkeling tour, as those sell out pretty fast). Even for those who are going in the low season, it’s a good idea to book early so you don’t run the risk of running out of places on the tours.
What we loved most about Bonito?
Despite having amazing walks and close contact with nature, what I liked most was the friendliness of the Bonitoenses (how locals are called). We were extremely well treated in the two inns we stayed in and in all the restaurants we went to. Everyone always had a smile on their face, had time and interest in talking, and all our curiosities, such as, “Were you born here? If you weren’t, what made you come to live in Bonito?” LOL. There were no unpretentious chit chats that didn’t become long conversations. Life in this city slowed me down and calmed my heart, all in a very warm and welcoming way. ♥
Oh, and hammock rooms. How not to love a space with tons of hammocks for you to lie down?
What more do you want to know about our trip to Bonito?
Leave your question below in the comments that we’ll answer them over there and update this post with the answers! =)
This post is also available in: Portuguese (Brazil)