Overland Traveller



River swimming in Bonito, Brazil

Bonito Municipal Park © Craig FastTucked away in the south of the Pantanal, not far from Brazil’s border with Paraguay, is a small town called Bonito. The main draw to this little-known area is the unique opportunity to drift along the slow-moving, crystal-clear Rio de Prata, accompanied by hundreds of fearless fish.

The swim starts with a 10-minute ride in an open-sided truck to a walking trail that winds for 40 minutes through jungle populated by coati, monkeys and iguanas. The swim begins in a clear, shallow pool with a gentle introduction to snorkelling. (Swimmers are encouraged not to put their feet down as this can stir up mud.)

Gruta do Lago Azul © Craig FastWhat follows is a blissful 1-hour-20-minute drift through clear-as-glass waters. This alone would be pleasant enough, but the waters teem with 30 varieties of colourful fish, from tiny flickering shoals that flit away as you near them to yellow-bottomed, razor-toothed dorado measuring up to two feet. The bottom of the river is white sand, scattered with vegetation from the jungle above. Near the end of the swim, spring water gushes up through the river bed, forcing the sand to rise in hypnotic, turbulent geysers.

It’s easy to forget about the world beyond the river, but lift your head for a few seconds and the sounds of the jungle fill your ears and sun light dapples the river’s surface. On top of being one of the most relaxing experiences the natural world has to offer, river swimming is a quirky way to see a side of the jungle that most people don’t even know about.

The best way to experience river swimming is with Recanta Ecólogico (60km/1 hour from Bonito), a lodge that uses natural resources responsibly and tries to minimise the negative environmental and social impact of the activity. They provide an excellent buffet lunch, hammocks to laze in, hot showers and a bar, all included in the price (R$106). They also kit swimmers out with snorkels, masks and compulsory neoprene suits and boots; life jackets are optional. Sunscreen and insect repellent are banned as they can interfere with the river’s delicate ecosystem.

Other things to do in Bonito
Visit the Gruta do Lago Azul.
Chill out by the Municipal Pool, a clear stretch of river full of fish and lined with grass and a few restaurants.
Rappel 72km into the Abismo de Anhumas to snorkel in the underground lake and admire the stalactites.

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Overland Traveller copyright © Emma Field 2010