Dressed in knee-length wet suits and neoprene boots provided at the main lodge, visitors toss their street clothes into their cars and drive the dusty road that winds its way through pastures and over wooden bridges until it meets the river. Leaving the cars under shady trees, they walk the few steps down to the stone platform that descends into the waterway.
Here is their first glimpse of the transparent Rio da Prata. Fish sway gently against the current and butterflies hover over puddles on the stones. When all eight members of the group have gathered, they’re led along a trail that follows the river upstream through dense rainforest. The muggy, tropical temperature is overwhelming, forcing many to pull their wet suits down to hang from the waist.
Chance encounters with some wild pigs at a small clearing can catch the group by surprise. Not the guide, though. He is ready with kernels of corn to scatter in the grass, distracting the beasts while the group hastens past. After a two-kilometer walk in the heavy heat, everyone suits back up and finally enters the cold, refreshing waters.
Snorkels and masks are adjusted and enable surprising face-to-face encounters with colorful fish under a brilliant sky-blue backdrop. Swimmers stare at fish. Fish stare at swimmers. Then, like surfacing whales, gusts of wet air blasts through the snorkels as the group begins to investigate the underwater terrain.
A subterranean spring silently bursts into Rio da Prata from below. In an effort to examine the curious hole, the heartiest divers rage against the out-thrusting current to plunge an arm into the abyss. For the rest of the morning, the snorkelers quietly drift downstream in single file observing the aquatic plant and animal life that appears in pristine condition.
Arriving at the platform from where the hike began, the group is exhilarated from the experience but weary from the exertion of keeping warm. Each changes back into dry clothing and slogs back to the main lodge. There, a hearty buffet of south Mato Grosso food is steaming ready, and hammocks under shady trees await.
Traditionally, these 1,431 hectares of Fazenda Cabeceira do Prata (River’s Head Ranch) were used mainly for cattle grazing with a small portion set aside for crops, much like the other ranches of the area. Unlike the others though, this one had a nature reserve and the Olho d’Água River springs running through it.
With the desire to share the beauty of the place and to supplement their income, the owners created Recanto Ecolôgico Rio da Prata (Rio da Prata’s Ecological Nook) and welcomed ecotourism through its gates over seventeen years ago. Since then, several projects have evolved into a mostly self-sustaining farmstead where tourism contributes about 80 percent of the total income. Few pass through Bonito without seizing the opportunity to swim through Rio da Prata’s natural aquarium, chow down on local cuisine, laze on a hammock and wander around the functioning fazenda by horseback.