When I learned that Bonito is the ecotourism capital of Brazil, I knew that it was a destination that I didn’t want to miss. I stayed at the Bonito HI hostel, which has a faded mural depicting the activities I came for: freshwater snorkeling in crystal clear rivers; birdwatching at the world’s largest sinkhole; and spelunking underground lakes.
I started my ecoadventures at Recanto Ecológico Rio da Prata, located 56 km south of Bonito in the Fazenda Cabeceira do Prata. The tour began with a trek through the rainforest to the main spring of Rio Olho d’Água. We then donned our snorkeling gear and floated in the remarkably clear river. As I peered at the fish and plant life, the clarity was far superior to any of my prior snorkeling experiences. My trusty Lonely Planet guide explained why:
The river waters spring from subterranean sources in a limestone base, almost entirely free of clay, which releases calcium carbonate into the water. The calcium carbonate calcifies all impurities in the water, which then sink to the riverbed. The result is an area filled with natural aquariums surrounded by lush forest–a beautiful environment in which to study the abundant and fascinating fish of the rivers and streams.
We slowly floated down the Rio Olho d’Água for 3 km, observing red-tailed piraputanga, smoky-colored pacu, and schools of tiny fish. We finished snorkeling when the river emptied into Rio da Prata. Afterward, we showered and overate at an included lunch buffet.
After lunch, we visited Buraco das Araras, the world’s biggest sinkhole. The sinkhole is an ecological refuge for over 40 exotic bird species. From a couple of observation decks at the edge of the iron red cliffs, I watched scarlet macaws soar above the sinkhole, their cries piercing the air. I also saw a toucan perched in a tree growing out of the side of the cliff, and caimans in the water at the bottom of the sinkhole.
While returning to Bonito, the truck broke down on a deserted road. I walked with the guide in the dark to Fazenda Cabeceira do Prata to call for help. The rescue taxis dropped us off at the hostel at almost midnight, the end to an eventful day.
We visited Gruta do Lago Azul the next morning. Gruta do Lago Azul is a deep cave with a clear blue lake that is illuminated by the morning sun’s rays from December to January. The staff at the cave were excessively safety conscious, requiring us to wear shoes (no flip flops) and a hard hat to descend the steps into the cave. The cave is beautiful, with stalactites and the luminous underground lake.
In the afternoon, I explored Bonito by running through the one-street town. Dogs dozing on the sidewalk joined me as I ran by. As I ran shirtless through plazas and sidewalk patios with a pack of dogs trailing me, I started feeling self-conscious. I continued running until I reached the central square, where I stopped momentarily to take a photo of a large fountain with piraputangas as its centerpiece. I mentally noted the happening bars and restaurants while running back to the hostel and returned to Bonito in the evening. I played drinking games with other travelers at a bar past 1:00 am. After losing the last drinking game of the evening, I honored the rules of the game and piggybacked the others on the two-kilometer walk back to the hostel.