Bonito and the South Pantanal

Although I may not have been blogging frequently (if at all!) over the last year,  that does not mean to say that I have not been travelling. In fact, C and I have managed to do a number of incredible trips squeezed in-between being pregnant, having the baby and C’s very hectic travel schedule.

The most memorable of these trips was our family Christmas vacation to Bonito and South Pantanal –  a trip so incredible, that I thought it was best to share this story first!

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Although not well known outside of Brazil, Bonito and the Pantanal are located in the South West of Brazil and are both famous for their abundant natural wild life and incredible beauty. Bonito is a tiny nondescript  town located in Matto Grosso do Sul, but has amazing natural attractions such as impressive caves, waterfalls and has some of the best fresh water snorkeling in the world.

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The Pantanal (pronounced PAN-TA-NOW) on the other hand is the world’s largest wetlands, covering over 210,000 square KM and teaming with wildlife. Many tourists mistakenly believe that the Amazon is where to go if you want to see nature, but due to the dense foliage and vegetation, spotting animals can be difficult. The Pantanal on the other hand with its vast open marshes – is where you want to be! Wild birds and animals as far as the eye can see – it is truly quite amazing.

When my parents, brother and sister-in-law came to celebrate Christmas and New Years with us in 2015, I knew that this would be a trip we would all enjoy. Plus, I was 5.5 months pregnant at the time, and was determined to see this part of the country before the baby arrived – as I knew I would not get the opportunity again.

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We stayed at a lovely pousada called Hotel Cabana  slightly outside of the town’s center. The pousada is made up of small chalets on a large wooded property with a river running through it, a small pool and an on sight restaurant that served descent meals. The property itself was home to cheeky monkeys, parrots and small deer all just wondering around the grounds.  The staff were incredibly friendly and helpful and had good command of English. This is an excellent option for families and those travelling with young children.

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The highlight of our stay in Bonito was the fresh-water snorkeling in the Rio do Prata. An afternoon so magical and delightful, I would have stayed an extra night just so that we could do it again! Our tour guide took us to a little ranch about an hour’s drive outside of Bonito where we were served a hearty Brazilian lunch and then given strict instructions on the afternoon ahead.

Unlike many other places in Brazil – the organisation and care taken towards the Eco -tourism here is world class.  Everything is meticulously planned from the number of people allowed per group (9 max) to the amount of time between each group – all designed to ensure the least disturbance to nature as possible.

We were given thick wet suits to ensure buoyancy and then made to hike a short distance down to the river, before jumping in. Admittedly I was rather skeptical before entering the water, as my family are avid snorkelers and have had the privilege of snorkeling in some of the best waters in the world -I was worried we would all be slightly underwhelmed by this experience. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

It was one of the most beautiful and serene experiences of my life. This feeling of gently bobbing down 2 km of crystal-clear river in the middle of Brazil, with schools of fish swimming nonchalantly underneath you, and parrots and monkeys chattering away in the foliage above you, is an experience I can’t put into words.  I can only encourage you wholeheartedly to go if you ever get the opportunity.

As mentioned previously – I was 5.5 months pregnant at the time. And although the guides were slightly worried about me I had absolutely no problems with this activity. In fact, it was probably the easiest afternoon of our entire trip.

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Looking good in a man’s large wet suit!

South Pantanal

The second part of our trip was in the South Pantanal. We stayed at a very remote pousada which was about a 5.5 hours drive from Bonito. Something to keep in mind when travelling in Brazil – especially in this region, is that distances are long, and you will spend many hours on the road. However, if you keep your eyes peeled you will see some stunning scenery and wildlife to keep you entertained throughout your journey.

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We stayed at Pousada Xaraes – which is a rather famous pousada in the region as they were once heavily involved in the conservation of the hyacinth macaws. Although pleasant enough, the pousada was rather disappointing as it seemed run down and unloved. Even though it still has great ratings on Trip Adviser I cannot recommend this place, and feel that there must be much better options out there.

However, the grounds were beautiful and just like Bonito, exotic wildlife can be found right at your front door.   The saving grace of this pousada was their nature guide. A lovely man with incredible knowledge of the region that took us out on jeep safaris, piranha fishing expeditions, hikes and horseback riding – the latter my pregnant self was unfortunately unable to do!

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Despite being slightly disappointed with the pousada – the immense nature and beauty of the surrounding areas more then made up in what the pousada lacked and we all had an enjoyable time.

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This friendly chap had a nest right outside our room.

Tour Company

Being in charge of 6 adults and a baby on the way, was a daunting task. I knew that I didn’t want to have to personally deal with all the logistics and difficulties that are inevitable while travelling in Brazil. The idea of researching hotels, renting cars, finding English speaking tour guides, booking tours – all with my shoddy Portuguese – seemed like a nightmare,  so I booked this trip through an excellent travel agency called Brazil Nature Tours. This was THE BEST decision I made and I highly encourage anyone who is thinking of travelling in Brazil to do the same.

Brazil Nature Tours were fantastic. Compared to the other agencies I was in touch with, they were incredibly easy to work with, answered my emails and queries promptly, flexible with their suggested itinerary, accepted credit cards and overall a pleasure to work with. Once we had paid, all we had to do was show up at the airport and there we were fully taken care of for our entire trip.  I would without hesitation work with them  again.

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A good looking bunch of travellers!

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