In a country known for its beaches, ethnic diversity, the Amazon and Carnaval, it may seem odd that my favorite place could be this little backwater in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. Nevertheless, Bonito is, hands down, the place in Brazil I would most like to see again (and again and again...). The attraction is not so much the town itself, which does support some nice resorts, but otherwise is pretty average, leaning towards bland. The draw is the nearby system of mind-blowing freshwater springs, caverns and gin-clear riverine headwaters. Tucked between the Bodoquena Hills and the Pantanal is a limestone cave and spring system similar to the ones found in the Yucatan and Central Florida. However, unlike those localities, the springs here feed into the world's largest and one of its most biodiverse tropical freshwater wetlands. The fantastic assemblage of tropical fishes known from the Amazon and the Pantanal regions – everything from pacu to piraña, sucker catfish, dorado, freshwater stingray and dazzling tetras can be found here in Bonito, in waters as crystal clear as a home aquarium, but in which you can swim and drift downstream alongside them. As far as I'm aware there is nothing else in South America quite like this. Most Pantanal and Amazonian waters are turbid with mud and tannins, preventing such unparalled visibility of the creatures that live within. Only in Bonito can you see aquatic wildlife as easily as it can 'see' you. I could quite literally spend all day exploring these waters. However, it's a great bonus that when you do emerge, you find yourself in the heart of guacho country. South American cowboy culture reigns supreme in the region surrounding Bonito, dishing out some of the best offerings in churrasco, cachaca, yerba mate and leather goods on this side of, well, anywhere.
This is where Brazilians go to see Brazil. It's been voted the top eco tourism destination in Brazil for 11 years in a row -- and it's running again this year. Unique, well developed but NOT intrusive, Bonito promotes eco tourism with preservation in mind. Best for older children and teenagers. Tons of activities and abundant wildlife.
Just loved it