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After a year abroad in South America, my mind is brimming with memories of stunning locations and awesome experiences. One of the most unexpectedly incredible places that I visited was the town of Bonito, in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. Although it now has a reputation amongst conscientious travellers as ‘the heart of Brazil’s ecotourism industry’, Bonito still feels like an undiscovered paradise. Here are seven more reasons why you should visit:
1) Snorkelling in an underwater world: Perhaps Bonito’s most famous attractions are its clear, crystalline waters and plentiful, fresh-water coral reefs, which are full to the brim with assorted species of fish. In other words, every river is a pristine natural aquarium. No one that visits Bonito misses the chance to snorkel in these mesmerizing underwater worlds.
2) Other water sports: As well as snorkelling, Bonito is host to many locations where visitors can enjoy a range of other water sports, such as paddle boarding, scuba diving, and rafting. My personal favourite is boia-cross; or ‘bouncing along the river rapids on a giant inflatable rubber-ring.’ (Which is as fun as it sounds!)
3) An abundance of wildlife: Bonito is situated nearby to the Pantanal; a tropical wetlands that covers an area larger than the size of France! A UNESCO World Heritage Site, and home to 124 wild mammal species, 177 species of reptiles and over 400 bird species; it is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. Regular tours run from Bonito, the journey is quite lengthy (in Brazil, even places that are ‘close’ are really far apart) but it is totally worth it!
4) Caves, rich in history: Another fascinating place to visit is the Gruta do Lago Azul (or Blue Lake Cave) which is a prehistoric cavern, undiscovered until 1924. Not only does it have an impressive array of stalactites and stalagmites, it also has a gorgeous blue lake inside which is so deep that expeditions have yet to reach the bottom. The deepest depth recorded so far is 90 meters, where fossils from around 10,000 years ago were discovered by divers, including creatures such as the Sabre-toothed tiger and giant ground sloth!
5) The most charming of tourist towns: Bonito is a somewhat touristy little town, but because the majority of the tourists that it attracts are mainly concerned with observing but preserving natural beauty, the town has managed to avoid that tacky element that most tourist attractions develop. Sure, there are souvenir shops and travel/tour agencies, but there is still a distinctly authentic, relaxed Brazilian feeling to it. Plus there are some strange and interesting quirks, like the town’s fabulous range of novelty telephone ‘boxes.’
6) Delicious food: If I had to describe Bonito’s foodie scene in one word, it would be ‘exotic.’ The local dish, pintado ao urucum, which can be found in almost any restaurant there, is catfish cooked in tomato, onion, coconut milk, and mozzarella – amongst other things – and it is curiously delicious! For anyone that visits the town’s Pantanal Grill there is an opportunity to try all sorts of unusual meat- capybara or caiman steak anyone? (Don’t worry, there’s more normal food too; for the best pizza of your life I recommend the wonderful ‘Pache’ pizzeria.)
7) Versatility: Adventurers are happy exploring Bonito’s rivers and caves, fun-seekers can enjoy the activities on offer, and nature-lovers are sure to be ecstatic in this little haven. Even those that just want to chill out can relax in one of Bonito’s balnearios, or its inland beach. (Yes, there’s an inland beach!) There really is something for everyone.
Read more about my year abroad adventures at www.aspiretoamble.com
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham