When people think of Brazil, places like Rio de Janeiro, the Amazon or Sao Paolo may be the first things that come to mind. And while each of these are impressive in their own right, none of these compare to the little known town of Bonito in the Central-West area of Brazil in Mato Grosso do Sul.
Bonito is a small town of about 20,000 people – so small in fact that there is really just one main street that you can walk up and down within a matter of 30 – 40 minutes. It is also home to Brazil’s eco-adventure tourism as many Brazilians and a few foreign tourists come here primarily for river snorkeling or rappelling and scuba diving within the Abismo de Anhumas. We only had two days here in Bonito, so while it would have been cool to have gone snorkeling in Abismo de Anhumas, it was a bit out of our price range ($250 CDN/person), we opted for river snorkeling along the Rio da Prata instead.
Here then is a summary of our Bonito highlights during those two days:
Pousada Muito Bonito
Located about three blocks from the bus station, Muito Bonito is the best budget hotel in Bonito – if not Brazil – and for good reason! We stayed here during out two days in Bonito, and definitely see why this was highly recommended by Lonely Planet.
The owners speak several languages, which makes arranging snorkeling trips or getting your laundry done very easy. The courtyard is both meticulously cared for and one of the most beautiful places in town. After our overnight bus drive from Iguazu Falls, our group made great use of their hammocks while sipping on some home-made Caipirinhas at about $2 CDN per glass.
The rooms were both cozy and comfortable with air conditioning available. The only part about our room we weren’t certain about was our shower as it was literally just an open concept shower with a pipe leading up the wall and a pull chain that usually gave you either cold or cool water depending on what time of the day you take a shower. Rooms here go for about $60 Reais ($30 CDN), and you can make reservations here.
Master Grill Restaurante & Churrascio
We arrived in Bonito around late morning on June 20, which gave our group plenty of time to either take a nap, go shopping, walk around town, do laundry or eat before we were to all meet up later in the afternoon to catch the France vs. Switzerland match as one of our group members was from France.
Kooks and I were kind of hungry, and walked around looking for a place to each lunch. We ended up choosing Master Grill, an all you can eat self-serve buffet restaurant. You won’t find this place in the Lonely Planet guide, so all you need to know is that it is on the main strip (Rua Coronel Pilad Rebuá) about 2 blocks past Taboa Bar heading East if I remember correctly.
Restaurants are like a dime-a-dozen to me when I travel, but what really impressed me about Master Grill were its friendly staff, buffet style lunch, and the rustic café interior where I could sip on some Skol while watching the England vs. Croatia match. Lunch itself was about $15 CDN per person, so it is definitely one of the cheapest options available in town. In fact, it is only open during lunchtime hours operating from Monday – Saturday from 11am – 2pm.
Super Mario Bros. Wall Mural
Bonito is small, yet easy enough to get around town on foot, so simply strolling around the main street can be an experience in itself as you never know what quirky things you will see. Imagine my shock and surprise when I accidentally walked past a small driveway that had a wall mural in tribute to the Super Mario Brothers! The man-eating plant from the original Super Mario Brothers game was perfectly detailed, as well as Mario’s sidekick, Yoshi from the Super Mario World series, as was Mario’s arch Nemesis, Bowser. And if you wanted to know where the bathroom is, Mario had no problem showing you. ;)
Unfortunately, I have no idea who painted this mural, how long it has been up here for or who actually owns this particular place. I think it may have been a private residence, but it is also on Rua Coronel Pilad Rebuá. So, keep an eye out for it and have your camera ready if you are ever in Bonito!
For once in my life, I would have to agree and say that shopping is one of the best activities you can do in Bonito. As we were in Bonito during the middle of World Cup 2014, the town was Cup crazy with festive decorations all around and souvenirs a plenty! Kooks and I used our time to do some souvenir shopping, and got some pretty cool t-shirts for some relatives back home. I also managed to snag a cool Brazil t-shirt/soccer jersey for myself for about $30 CDN.
I am sure I could have bargained it down a bit more given we bought all these souvenirs at the same store, but the quality of the material is so good that I know this shirt will last me a lot longer than some other travel shirts I have bought in the past. I will get my money’s worth out of it for sure.
Our local bar of choice happened to be Taboa Bar, which is located at Rua Coronel Pilad Rebuá 1837. We first went there to catch the France vs. Switzerland match, which France easily won 5 – 2 to clinch first place in their Group and advance to the Round of 16.
Locals and tourists come here primarily to try Cachaça, which is the most popular distilled spirit in Brazil and the main ingredient for Caipirinhas. It is a quirky little joint that has an bamboo-styled interior almost completely covered in graffiti by the past patrons who have been within its walls. You book reservations at Taboa Bar here.
Honourable mention also goes to the train trolley that we saw a bunch of times both day and night during our two days in Bonito. It is almost impossible to miss this attraction as the conductor will blow its horn for you to hear it from only a couple of blocks away.
The primary route is along Rua Coronel Pilad Rebuá and the main town square of Bonito. At night, the train trolley is decorated in festive lights and is reminiscent of the toy trains you might play with at home around Christmas time. While Kooks and I never went on this quirky little ride, it is perfect for families as the majority of passengers we saw were local children with their parents. Definitely worth taking a look if you get the chance!
Without a doubt, the number one highlight and our main reason for coming to Bonito was river snorkeling. Since I will go into a bit more detail about the trip itself, I won’t go into too much detail here. But, what you need to know for now is that what makes Bonito one of the most unusual places in the world to go snorkeling is that you are literally swimming in a real-life aquarium where you can get up close and personal with tropical fish in some of the clearest, freshest water in the world that is only a few feet deep.
Bonito might be small and may not have much to offer in terms of tourism in the town itself, but it certainly was the hidden gem of our trip! Aside from the river snorkeling, Bonito does give you a true sense of what Brazil really is like outside of the big cities of Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro. Definitely make it a part of your Brazil experience if you know you are going to be in Mato Grosso do Sul.