Bonito – it’s not just about the water.
There is at least one attraction that involves none of the wet stuff.
Ecotourism entrepreneur, Senor Modesto Sampaio used to be a farmer. In 1986 he acquired an unusual piece of land. Part of the land included a giant sink hole, a natural sandstone crater with it’s own unique ecosystem. The largest sink hole in South America, and second largest in the world. Of course, engineers advised him to cover or fill it somehow, so that he could use all the land for farming, but Modesto, now in his 70s, realised its unique potential.
Bonito is the centre of responsible travel and ecotourism in Brazil.
It’s a small, fast growing town in the central region of Brazil, and it was my home for 3 days.
Thanks to the recommendation of Fabio Pellegrini, I was able to connect with one of the leading tour operators of Responsible Tourism in Bonito – Ygarape.
Ygarape’s founder, Juca Ygarape, really seems to be the father of eco-tourism in Bonito. He discovered many of the attractions of Bonito over the last 20 years. Juca is the man that the Discovery Channel or National Geographic call when they need a local expert. (Juca showed me his videos, where he tracked a huge wild anaconda in the water, and introduced it to scientists and professional photo-journalists).
Over the years Juca and his friends have also been responsible for designing many of the guiding principles to keep the tourist trade here sustainable.
San Francisco. The home of Agro EcoTourism?
Not the San Francisco with the Goldengate Bridge or all those tech start-ups. This is the San Fransico Lodge in the Pantanal region.
What does Agro EcoTourism mean? I asked owner Robert Coelho the same question.
“Agro because we teach people about farming, and Eco because we introduce people to our unique wildlife and nature.
Sunset in San Francisco
Arriving in the Wet Lands
We arrive at Santa Clara Guest House, and are checked in by a friendly Macaw. All around us are giant Hyacinth Macaws. This part of the Pantanal is one of the only regions in Brazil where you can see the this large Macaw species in the wild.
It’s not just the Hyacinth Macaw around here. Hundreds of birds and dozens of species fly all around the farm grounds. Another macaw welcomes us at the check-in desk. Hawks patrol the garden. Parakeets fly by in pairs. A toucan in the distance. But it wasn’t the birds that really surprised me.
Checking in at Santa Clara
Macaws and a hawk
Sitting on the bus, I watch my fellow travellers eat sandwiches they made from the leftovers of breakfast. I conclude that I am not a good budget traveller.
I’ve just handed over about £10 to scoff down a tasty buffet, at the scheduled tourist food stop on my bus ride to the pantanal. I certainly paid for that convenience.
It’s the older German couple, Udo and Gisela, that are laughing now. They appear to have spent their entire lunch savings on cold beer for the rest of the journey (about 8 cans).
I console myself and hope my expensive plate of fruit and vegetables for lunch will do more for my travel health than the beer.
As the air conditioned coach stops, and we change to an open air pick up truck, we attacked by hordes of hungry mosquitoes – it’s like nothing I have ever experienced! That’s what I get for coming to the wetlands, in the wet season, after a rainy day.
Quick, let’s go! Fast! They can’t keep up when we’re moving!
I grab my natural neem repellent, courtesy of Preserva Mundi, and share it with the Germans. The mosquitoes back off a bit, and I am rewarded with a beer from Udo. Now I’m on the beer bus too.
I was welcomed into the 4th region of my journey (Central) by local expert, photographer, journalist, and author Fabio Pellegrini.
I’d taken an overnight flight, and Fabio met me at the airport. We spent the day planning my next 7 days in the region, discussing must see sights and Eco-Tourism activities. He was able to connect me with the right people at the right time. Fabio knows everyone, and is certainly the go-to person in the Pantanal area. If you are planning a trip, get in touch with him.
After a morning of phone calls and making plans in the Pantanal with Fabio’s connections, we had received one strange request, which turned out to be the best of the day. Continue reading