Bonito – Water fun extraordinaire
Saying goodbye to the Pantanal was hard, but the next fun part of Brazil lies on the horizon not so far away. Bonito is known for its beauty, which mostly lies in its waterways. With the vast majority of land having turned into a literal ocean of corn, thankfully some time ago farmers realized they have a very unique ecosystem right on their properties. In the forests are water springs where little rivers come to exist, which then pour into the larger rivers that make their way out to the sea. As these springs are not hindered by any dirt or debris coming from upstream (as upstream simply does not exist :-)), their streams are crystal-clear water teeming with fish.
This has pushed many farmers to turn (part of) their land into eco-tourism hotspots, one of which is the Recanto Ecologico Rio da Prata. With a full program involving a tour around the farm, then a ride in our wetsuits into the forest, a hike towards the start of the stream and a 2km (!!) snorkel down it with a full buffet lunch to top it off, this farm has really nailed the concept. Groups are no larger than 10 people and spaced 30 minutes apart which means you never feel like the place is crowded.
The water is spectacular with fish everywhere and our boys getting some good snorkeling exercise in these calm water. First there is a round along the edge of the ‘pond’ where the water spring starts, then off we go down the river. Some bits are slow, some are actually quite fast, but in general floating down a jungle river is really quite magical. Unfortunately we are getting cold quite fast (the neoprene is ok, but 25 degree water still turns out to be quite a challenge), so the boys get a bit grumpy, but after a short break we head out again and the excitement wins it from the cold.
Last part we actually join the Rio da Prata which is even colder – YIKES – and thus when given the option to do the last part by boat, the boys jump out of the water. Mom continues to snorkel, actually running into a caiman on this final stretch (which sinks into the not so clear water of the river… quite scary), while monkeys hop across the trees overhead. The cold and hard work really made us super hungry, so we are happy to jump on the buffet that is filled with home-grown dishes including their signature Dulce de Leche. Bo goes for triples on this, as was to be expected, while Luc piles on the pasta and potatoes again and again. It truly is a great experience and one not to be missed in this area!
Iguazu – From above and below
As we drive down to the border region of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina, we roll through hilly farmland. Mostly corn and cows, which makes for a pleasant drive – although roughly disrupted by a chosen detour over a hill with medieval style cobblestones – some 235km south. We land in Foz do Iguazu, the town on the Brazilian side of the world famous falls, and head straight to our Airbnb to settle in. It is a fantastic house and incredibly spacious for all of us, so we really enjoy some time to relax and do some laundry/homework.
When contemplating how to tackle the Iguazu falls however we have considered all sides of the falls and how best to see them. For the Brazilian side we decided to splurge for an aerial view of the monstrous drop; by helicopter! Deeming it a ‘once in a lifetime’ and a fantastic (and slightly more affordable than elsewhere) way to get a birds eye view, we take a 10 minute flight over the falls, as the afternoon sun lights up the place. And truth be told: It is one spectacular experience! From the ride itself to the majestic view of thundering water down the ‘Garganta del Diablo’ (Devil’s throat) and the range of other waterfalls all topped off with a beautiful rainbow in the mist. Exhilarating and truly worth every penny we set foot on the ground again excited as a 6-year-old… Our comfy Airbnb gives us a great place to have dinner and go to bed, as we will have a long day ahead of us.
The day is a border crossing day into Argentina to see the other side of the waterfalls. With most Covid requirements behind us, we are confident we can do the crossing there and back in a day so we leave with a plan of breakfast on the go and take the 5 minute drive to the border. The Brazilian border is very easy, signing us out at immigration and leaving our TIP (Temporary Import Permit) for the car intact. We drive on to the drive-thru border crossing of Argentina where we are unpleasantly surprised by the fact that we still have to fill in a DDJJ (declaration of health) online for all four of us to cross the border. This is not difficult but sets our crossing back with half an hour of time wasted…
Once done, we drive through easily, head into town for some fresh bread and fresh Argentinian pesos at the post office (another slow process taking time away from the falls) to cut the actual cost in half, and then finally make our way to the falls, which is thankfully not very far away. We get ourselves a ticket to the train and as the first available ride is one hour away we take the ‘green trail’ first to do the ‘inferior trail’, a loop at the lower end of the waterfalls with some very great views upwards. Part of the loop is closed off so we end up doing everything double, but the trails are fun climbing stairs and walkways, and running into coatis along the way.
Now prices have risen in the last few years, especially for foreigners, but we also have to conclude that this is one of the few national parks we have seen in South America rivalling some of its northern hemisphere counterparts it is absolutely worth it, especially if the money goes to the conservation of the park. Ow, and the entry fee includes the train taking you all the way to the Garganta del Diablo.
Perfectly on time for the train we ride up towards the highest point of the falls; el Garganta del Diablo. The walkway there is a fun exercise with animals that are popping up at some of the small islands in the middle of the river, then ending at the actual mouth of the falls. The amounts of water rolling over the edge are enormous, even in the ‘lesser’ season, and the sprays help us get a good ‘feel’ of the place… a very wet one at times! It is nothing less than impressive and thrilling, and leaves us all quite giddy.
Next up – after the train ride back to the central station – is the ‘superior loop’, which is higher up and gives again a closer look to the other falls further away from the Garganta. In this order it was actually great to see the falls from different angles, with the star of the show being the rainbows that form in the spray of the falls. To get some more kms in the legs we decide to do the Macuco trail at the end, which is much less traveled and thus a nice and quiet stretch through the woods towards another waterfall. This means we have completed almost all there is to do in the Iguazu National Park and a full day of waterfalls is ticked off.
On the way back we take time out to fill up on cheap Argentinian gas (like dozens of others leading to long lines and even empty gas stations!), wine and chocolate at the Duty free between borders. With no requirements on the Brazilian side this crossing is much faster, thankfully getting us back home at a decent time for dinner and bed. Our final night in Brazil is a fact, we will still come back to Argentina elsewhere in this trip, so we hang on to those pesos.
On to Paraguay – some more water
There really does seem to be a theme here this week, being WATER, as the first thing we visit after crossing the border of Paraguay is the Itaipu Dam, the 2nd largest dam in the world providing 19% of Brazils and a whopping 90% of Paraguays energy! Before we do however, the border crossing is a real drag, which after the last crossings we have done really is a disappointment. Driving out of Brazil (remember we did this the day before already on the Argentinian side 5km away!) is incredibly slow, moving 2km in almost one hour. Then the Brazilian customs do not really know what to do with our TIP, which should simply be canceled.
Our experience so far has been that they either get stamped or we simply hand them in for the official to process them later on. 20 minutes of debate between 4 aduana colleagues leaves us with another form and a stamp which looks very official, but we doubt it really makes a difference as nobody will stop us anymore? On the Paraguayan side they DO know what to do, but as the form is fully handwritten, it is a slow process. With 5 men sitting around and the aduana starting to rummage through my passport asking about all the stamps in them (and there are many by now!), it goes even slower, BUT I walk out with the necessary document and 2 complimentary bananas courtesy of the Paraguayan customs :-).
The Itaipu dam is an impressive engineering feat, with a big visitor center including a theatre that shows a promotional video about the building of the dam. Then you are ushered on to the bus that takes you out to a viewing platform and all around the premises. Unfortunately the overflow slides are not in use as the water level of the lake is low, nevertheless the whole thing is still impressive and honestly a bit unexpected in this corner of South America. We drive off towards the south to the border town of Encarnacion where we arrive in the late afternoon after a short detour to the Jesuit missions of Trinidad.
Encarnacion – Car stuff
Encarnacion is mostly a town that is boasting a beautiful river beach, and has some border town advantages. Unfortunately the weather is very cold (colder than normal this time of year), so the beach is a no go, and we quickly need to change in our cold weather clothes! Most important here though is for us to get some car stuff taken care of, as we have been told that the Paraguayan prices are best especially when it comes to changing your tires.
Our host is so incredibly kind that he actually comes along to help us find a provider and get a good price to replace 4 tires at once. We expect to drive some 5000km more before selling it, and quite a bit of that will be off road, so this is the right time to change them. It will also help us sell the car at a better price in the end, together with all the extras we have put on along the trip. Another annoyance was our airconditioner, apparently caused by a lack of pressure which is quickly fixed by a mechanic. Last but not least we finally had the car washed, which was very necessary after months of dirt piling on!
Next week: From Paraguay to Bolivia