Viewpoint from the Nest – Travel parenting insights
Bonito is a hidden secret and well worth the journey there. It’s best paired with the Pantanal, which is one of the best experiences overall we’ve had on our travels. There’s much more to do than what we did during our limited 3 days, and probably worth doing at a more relaxed pace. Most things are in Portuguese so a personal guide for the hikes will be a lot more informative, but you don’t really need one. Bonito is an ecotourism organizational wonder. There are over 30 attractions, but it’s how they’ve managed the ticketing system, allowing only small groups at any time at each attraction that makes it so friendly to use. Another marvel is how they’ve managed to get the many different landowners (on which the attractions are sited), to donate their lands and to work with a central organization to create an amazingly green experience.
Many of the activities are physical and suitable for young kids; our float down the river was great fun for both adults and children, and much better than a seated amusement park ride. The small group size also makes the experiences feel personal, and you’re not overwhelmed with the noise and herding associated with larger crowds. The Abismo though wasn’t suitable for children as it requires a bit of upper body strength and to be able to quickly pick up some abseiling skills. It’s a great side trip for families visiting Brazil, and a way to work off some of those holiday meals.
We were in Bonito in July 2015, a warmish winter featuring cool evenings and warm days. Bonito is an eco-tourist site, is a favourite of local Brazilians, and augmented by a disproportionate number of Dutch travellers, who’ve discovered a good thing. It’s very family friendly, whilst still catering to those seeking more physical adventures. Bonito itself is a reasonably sized town, with many tour agencies and several large restaurants downtown, supporting a tourist infrastructure. The attractions are on lands that are mostly privately held, with landowners either running the tourist sites themselves or contributing them in perpetuity to a joint cooperative, a wonderful example of cooperation and leadership.
The Rio da Prata – Drifting down one of the Clearest Waters in the World
This was a great experience. The Rio Da Prata or Silver River stems from a series of underground limestone caverns, with stray calcium particles attaching to and weighing down any debris and sediment, leaving the water incredibly fresh and clear. We embarked on a 2 km journey in wetsuits and lifejackets, floating down with the current with incredible visibility and amidst many fish, some of them looking like a meter long. Although the water was a comfortable 24 degrees Celsius, it would become cold over the 90 minutes we were in the water. The groups are small at around 8-10 people, and the guides will give you a few minutes to get re-accustomed to the snorkel. With the jackets on, you don’t even have to be a strong swimmer, but smaller kids may need some help to navigate past some branches and turns.
It was quite something, to be swimming in what tasted like mineral water (probably not recommended for drinking). It was incredibly clear, fresh and cold, and very tempting after a hike. Popping your head up, you find yourself deep in a jungle, with traces of sunlight peering through the branches. Colette enjoyed it, but did find it quite cold at the end of the ride, strangely dreaming of salmon sushi.
The Abismo Anhumas – A long descent into the Inhuman Abyss; well actually, a breathtaking cave and underground lake
It’s a 72m abseil down into a truly a magnificent cave with a crystal clear lake filled with underwater stalagmites. The number of places are cleverly limited, with only 18 people a day, but this is sadly not for younger kids. It’s like some place out of Middle Earth, or Alien; without Gollum or alien eggs waiting below. There’s a test run the night before where you pick up your abseiling skills, and where it all feels easy enough. The descent is simple, and it’s truly a geographical wonder. Once down, there is a dinghy tour around the cave where we appreciate the rock formations and notice that the bat inhabitants leave no odorous traces. It’s almost Japanese in its cleanliness.
The best part of the experience was snorkelling in the lake. Crystal clear waters, immense underwater stalagmites, near blind fish… it would be magical if it didn’t feel so cold. Despite a full body wetsuit, and being reassured the water is 19 degrees Celsius, the absence of the sun is telling. Enough light comes in to illuminate the surface, but you need lights to uncover the underwater structures, including an 18M stalagmite. Abseiling up was not exactly effortless, taking 20-30 minutes and leaving an appreciation for weight loss programs.
Buraco das Araras and Cachoeira Boca da Onca: Giant Sinkholes and Waterfall Hikes
These are two half day hikes. The Buraco das Araras is a collapsed cave and is now the second largest sinkhole in South America, populated by red and green winged macaws, and two caimans who managed to fall to the bottom of the lake. There’s not much food there, so apparently they reproduce and have to consume their offspring before they start competing with them. A perfect Greek myth if they were still being written. This is a short hike, great for young kids and bird watchers. The macaws mate for life, and bring their single offspring to meet other one child macaw families for their kids to get together. Happy families matchmaking. Wonder what they think about the Caimans?
There are several waterfall sites here; the one we went to was the Cachoeira Boca da Onca. It’s a 4 hour leisurely hike around a series of waterfalls, and once again, with small groups at a leisurely pace. Great for kids, and our guide, Michael was lots of fun and great with Colette. Crystal clear cold waters (again!), lessons on how local plants are used – including a natural eye drop, and surprisingly good food. There are several places to swim, but the best is the Monkey hole, which is almost a small cave that also provides a great head massage.