In 1719 a Paulista, Pascoal Moreira Cabral, was hunting indigenous groups along the Rio Cuiabá when he found gold. A gold rush followed, but many of the fortune hunters never reached the new settlement at Cuiabá. Traveling more than 3000km from São Paulo by river took five months; along the way, gold seekers found little food, many mosquitoes, dangerous rapids, lengthy portages, disease and incredible heat.

With the end of the gold boom and the decay of the mines, Cuiabá would have disappeared, except that the soil along the Rio Cuiabá allowed for subsistence agriculture, while the river provided fish.

By 1835 the town was the capital of Mato Grosso but, apart from a brief resurgence as a staging point for the war against Paraguay in the 1860s, it remained a backwater. Today, thanks mostly to a massive agri-economy and Pantanal tourism, Cuiabá has finally been propelled into the modern world.