Bonito is one of those magical places in Brazil that often escapes notice. Tucked into a corner of southwestern Brazil near Paraguay, Bonito lies more than 1000km from the sea and the nearest big city is a long, bumpy bus ride away. Yet despite its isolation, Bonito's natural wonders have long made it a favorite destination for Brazilians and for a handful of foreign visitors.
The town itself is just a wandering grid of dusty lanes (and two paved roads). Scattered about, you'll find a handful of laid-back pousadas (guesthouses), quaint restaurants serving tasty regional fish (like dourado, pintado, pacu) and a lively small-town entertainment scene (local bands playing Brazilian favorites at outdoor cafes under the stars).
Outside of town are Bonito's star attractions, its crystal-clear rivers surrounded by lush forest. Owing to high concentrations of calcium carbonate, the river over time has become a natural acquarium, with visibility of over 30 meters. People now come for the guided snorkeling tours of the rivers, donning a wet suit and floating for 2 to 3km downstream, taking in the subaquatic gardens filled with giant fish (including the golden dourado and large black pacu as round as tires) swimming past. In addition to the rivers, there are caverns, canyons, waterfalls and wild underground lakes (including one called 'the abyss', that you visit by rapelling some 72 meters into the earth, followed by an underwater exploration of the cave beneath some impressive stalactites).
On my recent visit to Bonito, I managed to squeeze in a trip along the Rio da Prata, snorkeling downstream with a group of German biology students and our guide Uesely. On the ride back to town, I chatted a bit with Uesley as the sun was descending over the farms all around the region.
Regis: So, where do you live, Uesley?
Uesley: Bonito - born and raised.
R: What do you do?
U: I'm an ecotourism guide, leading tours all over the region.
R: What are some of your favorite tours?
U: Rio da Prata, the trip we did today, is one of my favorites. I never get tired of this -- snorkeling down the river seeing all the life below is amazing. There's nothing like this anywhere else.
R: Where would you most like to visit in Brazil?
U: Rio de Janeiro.
R: Why Rio?
U: Rio has the sea and beautiful beaches, which we don't have here -- we're some 1500km from the coast, you know. Rio has different people -- really beautiful people -- a totally different lifestyle.
R: Will Brazil win the 2006 world cup?
U: Without a doubt! Do you know how important this event is to Brazilians? There are people who do drop everything, and sit like this (eyes raised, open mouth), glued to the TV. Work, everything, comes to a halt!
R: What's your favorite type of music?
U: I like Pagode and samba.
R: Hence the desire to visit Rio. (Samba originated in Rio, in the early 20th century.)