Bonito is the most popular destination for domestic ecotourism in Brazil and is supported by a strong tourism infrastructure. Its high season follows the school year and holidays. High-end lodgings such as The Zagaia Eco Resort are great bases to explore Bonito's rivers, lakes, waterfalls, caves and grottos while witnessing the diversity of fish and wildlife. Our guide in Bonito, Daniel De Granville, runs a number of special-interest tours ranging from birding to photography through his company, Photo in Natura. De Granville said that the intermediate seasons -- April-May and August-September -- typically have mild weather. Animal-spotting is at its best in August through October, when many species are breeding.
Animal-spotting in the Pantanal has a slightly different schedule and with the dry season, July and August, animals forage further from their secluded homes in the wetland and tropical savanna areas.
July and August are also popular months for jaguar-spotting safaris around Porto Jofre along the Transpantaneira road in the Pantanal, with a program being developed farther south by the Caiman Lodge in the city of Miranda.
We started our first day in Bonito with a hike to the spring of the Sucuri (Anaconda) River, then snorkeled its limestone-filtered, crystal-clear waters. In the afternoon I joined a thrilling scuba diving excursion with local supplier Ygarape Tour to and under a waterfall on the Formoso River.
Bonito's most spectacular attractions are its caverns.
The Anhumas Abyss is accessed by rappelling 236 feet down to an underground lake with limestone formations as high as 65 feet, while the nearby Gruta do Lago Azul (Blue Lake Cave) can be accessed by foot.
Back in our city clothes, our group explored downtown Bonito, including a tasting session at Fabrica de Encantos Taboa, where the town's famous cachaca is made with sugarcane rum infused with a variety of flavors.
A number of great dining opportunities are available in Bonito, with Casa do Joao being on top of the "must eat here" list.
Dawn comes early in Bonito for those who want to witness dozens of pairs of red and green macaws taking to the sky from a large sinkhole, the Buraco das Araras (Macaws' Hole). The hike to the viewing platforms reveals other beautifully colored birds including toco toucans, Amazonian motmots and parakeets.
Nearby, the Recanto Ecologico Rio da Prata offers another opportunity to snorkel in crystal-clear waters. After a 45-minute hike to the springs of the Rio Olho d'Agua we drifted downstream, sharing the water with 60 species of fish, including pacu and shovelnose catfish. In order to protect the environment, snorkelers are not allowed to wear suntan lotion or insect repellent. At other times, though, wearing lightweight earth- or light-colored, long-sleeved shirts and applying insect repellent after putting on sunscreen will reduce the odds of contracting Zika or other mosquito-transmitted viruses.
A final day exploring this opportunity-rich region of Brazil brought us to the Estancia Mimosa Private Reserve. A hiking trail through the forest led us to a series of waterfalls, where we spotted blue-crowned trogons and motmots, helmeted manakins, capuchin monkeys, agoutis (similar to guinea pigs) and even a tarantula along the way.
For many of us, lunch on the veranda of Estancia Mimosa's ranch house was followed by a much-needed siesta in the property's hammocks. During the past week, we had explored the incredible beauty and diversity of the Pantanal and Bonito from morning until night.
According to the World Economic Forum, Brazil ranks No. 1 in natural resources. The 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, officially known as The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, was a major turning point in Brazil's use of this inherent gift.
Ecotourism is one of the five priority sectors that Embratur is promoting in international markets (the other four being sun and beach, sports, culture and business and events).
North America travelers should bring their own 3-pin Type N or 2-pin Type C electrical plug adapters to make sure their camera and smartphone batteries are charged in order to take advantage of the seemingly endless photo ops in this flora and fauna-filled, off-the-beaten-path region of Brazil.