The Pantanal & Bonito

The Pantanal

19th – 22nd of July 2013

When I originally planned my trip, Brazil was not going to be part of it. For one because it is very expensive and also I thought I wouldn’t have the time. But since I was a bit quicker in Argentina than I thought I was going to be, I had the choice of either visiting Rio de Janeiro or the Pantanal and Bonito. I chose the last option simply because I thought that chances of me going to Rio on another trip were going to be higher than going to the Pantanal and Bonito.

The tour operator Santa Clara came highly recommended so I booked the 4 days / 3 nights tour (630 BRL / 211,63€) which included the transfer from Campo Grande to the lodge but not back (on the last day you will just be dropped off at Buraco de Piranhas and the transport from there to either Campo Grande or Bonito will cost you another 60 BRL / 20,16 €). If I had chosen to camp on the farm, the trip would have been about 350-400 BRL / 117,58-134,37 €. But the guy selling me the tour in Foz do Iguacu made it sound like the camping option was absolutely horrible. In retrospective camping would have been absolutely fine. The food was just as good as in the lodge and the accommodation in hammocks compared to a 6-bed dorm was good, too. If I did it again, I would definitely choose the camping option over the lodge and save some money.

The activities which were supposed to be included were:

  • Boat tour
  • Horse-back riding
  • Jeep Safari
  • Nocturnal Safari
  • Walking Tour
  • Piranha fishing
  • Medicinal plants explanation

Day 1: 19th of July 2013

On the first day we were brought from Campo Grande to the Santa Clara Lodge which took about 5-6 hours. Since we arrived late in the afternoon, there were not going to be any more activities for the day which was a bit disappointing. Other people I had met on the bus from Campo Grande had activities straight after they got to the lodge which meant they got to enjoy the Pantanal a bit more.

Day 2: 20th of July 2013

On the second day we had a boat tour in the morning which was great. We saw quite a few animals which included Caiman crocodiles, a small anteater, otters, capybaras (sort of a monster guinea pig) and loads of different kinds of birds. This was the most interesting and fun activity during the entire Pantanal trip. Unfortunately our guide was not very communicative which meant, that we only got basic information on the things that we were seeing. Apart from that, the wildlife was great. Seeing various animals on a trip like that always involves a bit of luck since this is wild animals and not a zoo.

In the afternoon we were supposed to go on the “Jeep Safari”, the walking tour and on the “Nocturnal Safari”. We were already wondering how they had planned on fitting all of those activities in one afternoon. The answer is quite simple: false advertisement! The Jeep-Safari consisted of us being but in the back of a 4WD and then being driven about 8-10 km on the main road, which leads into the Pantanal and connects the various farms/lodges. We were then just dropped off on the same road from where we started our 2,5 hour walking tour into the bush. Despite not seeing very much wildlife, the walking tour was good fun and quite interesting. After finishing the walking tour, we were then picked up at the same spot we had been dropped off at before. The drive back to the lodge in darkness (the guide was pointing a strong torch towards the right and left side of the road whilst we drove back) was what the tour operators would consider the “Nocturnal Safari”.

In the evening we had a fantastic BBQ with loads of meat and different vegetables and after a few Caipirinhas it was time for bed.

Day 3: 21st of July 2013

On the third day we had the horseback ride in the morning. Although I would have preferred a motorbike since horses are a bit too “alive” for my liking, this was good fun. At first my horse was as stubborn as I am which meant it did not move an inch when I wanted it to. In the middle of the ride the opposite was the case. I wanted the horse to walk at the same speed as the rest of the group but it developed a mind of its own and started to slowly gallop randomly. Trying to tame it, we found a compromise: I accepted the horse wanting to gallop as long as it was doing it on the spot. Problem solved. When I booked the tour, the horseback riding definitely wasn’t the activity that convinced me. After actually having done it, this was quite a bit of fun, even though there was, again, no wildlife.

The afternoon activity of day three was piranha fishing. Sadly that day the little suckers were quite clever just biting off the bait but not actually going for the hook. If we would have caught any, we would have gotten to cook and try it. But since we were obviously lacking the skill of fishing, we had to settle for the buffet that night.

Day 4: 22nd of July 2013

In the morning of the last day we had another walking tour which was more or less a stroll over the fields of the farm (all fenced). The highlight of this activity were a group of blue aras, massive parrots which are really beautiful. You will generally see a lot of birds in the Pantanal, all of them quite exotic and pretty.

After getting back to the lodge, we had some lunch and were then taken to Bonito.

Personally, I was a bit disappointed by the Pantanal. Not because of the wildlife – it was extremely cold during the last two days which meant all the wildlife was hiding – that is something you just have to accept. But the things we were promised when booking the tour were only partially true. Especially the Jeep- and Nocturnal Safari were an absolute joke. It would have been much better to replace these activities with another boat tour since we actually got to see quite a bit of wildlife on that tour. Nevertheless, I had a great time in the Pantanal, or as we called it: “Fun on a Farm”®. Mostly due to an amazing group of people which turned this trip into a fantastic experience.

Bonito

22nd – 25th of July 2013

Since I had still a few days left before my flight to Ecuador, I decided to go to Bonito. A place which is famous for its clear water rivers with amazing snorkeling and large amounts of various kinds of fish. Although this is normally quite a hot place, cold winds from Argentina turned it into a freezer. On the first day it was cloudy and temperatures were around 10°C, a little too cold for snorkeling for my liking. But since we (Robyn, Ross, Amy, Kelly and I) didn’t just want to sit around and do nothing, we decided to rent bikes (15 BRL / 5€) and go to the Balneário Municipal Rio Formoso which is a public pool just 6,4 km outside of Bonito. This place offers amazing swimming and snorkeling in crystal clear waters. Compared to the other tours in Bonito (there is loads of options but they are all quite pricey and do not include transport to and from the tour. A half day of snorkeling in the Rio de Prato will cost you about 180 BRL / 60€ and the transport another 25-40 BRL / 8,40-13,43€) the admission is quite affordable at only 20 BRL / 6,72€. Other travelers I have met who did the snorkeling tours said, that the Balneário Municipal Rio Formoso was just as good and definitely the better option if you are travelling on a budget.

Although it was freezing we decided to jump into the water. But after just 20 minutes my skin started to hurt and turned purple which is why I had to get out. I can only imagine how fantastic this place is if you come here on a hot summer day – incredible.

The following day Robyn and I rented bikes and went to the Balneário Monte Christo, a farm which is located about 9,4 km outside of Bonito. This place is quite similar to the Balneário Municipal Rio Formoso but privately owned. Coming here is probably the better option during high season when Bonito is packed with tourists since not too many people seem to go there. The owner Zazinho is extremely friendly and helpful. After a short lunch, Robyn and I went for a guided nature walk (about 10 min; included in the admission to the farm which is 30 BRL / 10,08 € for the day) on which we saw some of the springs of the river as well as an anaconda nest and panther footprints.

I really liked Bonito. Even though it was freezing cold (we had about 10 °C, the owner of our hostel said, that this only happens on about two days per year), some of the rivers in Bonito are amazingly clear and offer great views of the underwater world. I was staying at Catarino’s guest house (30 BRL / 10,07€ for a dorm bed; definitely stay here, the place is nice and clean and the breakfast is AMAZING) where I ran into quite a few people I had met in the Pantanal. We ended up having massive BBQs every single night with some of the best steak I have had in a long time (and I had just arrived from Argentina). Even with the cold weather this was an incredible few days. I can only imagine how fantastic it would have been with nice and warm weather.

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