One of the most surprising and enjoyable activities in Brazil, and one open to people of all ages and abilities, is to spend a morning or three floating and snorkelling down the rivers of Bonito, whose crystal clear waters are amongst the three clearest river systems on the planet. The limestone substrate of the Serra da Bodoquena National Park area means that the freshwater springs that bubble up in Bonito, forming the Rio Sucuri, the Rio Formosa and the Rio da Prata, are full of calcium deposits. Any impurities in the water are thus calcified and drop to the sandy riverbeds, leaving stunning visibility.
Bonito is also a town that cares for its environment so no fishing is allowed in these tributaries of the Rio Miranda that passes along the southern part of the Patnanal in the interior state of Mato Grosso do Sul, heading towards the huge Rio Parana that separates Brazil from Bolivia. This has allowed the aquatic life to flourish under the surface, although much of it can also be seen from above. The rivers teem with huge pacu, piraputanga and the shining golden dourado. Snorkelling so close to such huge fish in a river is special enough, but Bonito also offers the chance to snorkel with many other creatures that you wouldn’t encounter elsewhere. Giant otters and caiman alligators can occasionally be spotted, and the abundance of fish means that neither they nor the seasonally resident anaconda (‘sucuri’ means anaconda in the local indigenous tupi-guarani language) ever need to worry about attacking humans, nor do humans need to worry about being attacked by them.
There are also monkeys in the overhanging trees (with groups of piraputanga waiting below for them to drop fruit), while toucans and kingfishers flit from branch to branch. While snorkelling in Bonito it is just as valuable to look out of the water as often as inside. Anteaters, giant and lesser, and tapirs might also be found bathing in the shallow pools that form at the sides of the river, hidden by vegetation, while on very rare occasions a jaguar has been spotted relaxing on the riverbanks.
Bonito then can boast some of the most varied snorkelling on earth! It does need a little luck to see the larger creatures, although not everyone would appreciate such serendipitous meetings, but even without such close encounters with the local wildlife, the experience of snorkelling in the rivers of Bonito is a special one. There are three main options, all of them being easy to manage even for beginners. In order not to disturb the riverbed and ruin the clarity of the waters, everybody must wear life jackets and also must enter the water without sunscreen or other pollutants. The snorkelling is a gentle float with the current around the waters and vegetation accompanied by hundreds of fish. A little practice breathing with your snorkel outside the water is all that it takes for beginners to get the hang of the relaxed rhythms necessary to enjoy the experience to its fullest.
The Natural Aquarium is the most charming of the three principal excursions, a freshwater spring that fills a shallow lagoon separated from the river. The morning sun illuminates the white sand on the riverbed and leaves everything – fish, vegetation and humans – with a spectacular lining of blue and yellow light.
The Rio Sucuri is the most relaxing river, a 2km float downstream which can be accomplished with absolutely no effort at all for long periods, just allowing the current to take you gently downstream, like a natural flotation tank with added wildlife. This could well be the most peaceful experience that you can have in Brazil.
The Rio da Prata is the most adventurous river in Bonito, with a faster flow and some rapids to negotiate on foot as well as in the water. One quick bend in the river is particularly good fun to float around at a decent speed, with a wonderful bubbling spring halfway down too. As you enter the main river, the waters slow and so does the aquatic life, giving you plenty of time to enjoy the company of your favourite fish in the turquoise waters, with tropical rainforest lining the banks for the final half of the 2km extension.
You can float down as many of Bonito’s rivers as you please, and experience isn’t necessary. Our recommendation is that you try all three on different days, as the slight differences make them a fascinating combination. Snorkelling the rivers of Bonito is an ecotourism activity known to few people outside of Brazil at the moment, but being such a special experience, Brazil Adventure Tours are sure it will grow in popularity.
Activity Information: The excursions in Bonito need to be booked in advance, and transport may also have to be arranged on certain days when the regular shuttles do not run, as each starting point is outside the town centre. People of any age and any ability can manage the floating and snorkelling, and a boat is always on hand for those who decide that they can’t manage any more. Physically, the activities are not tiring in themselves although a certain level of fitness is necessary.