Mato Grosso & Mato Grosso do Sul
Mato Grosso was once Brazil’s wild west, a land known only to indigenous hunters, poachers, gold seekers and naturalists. Today, some of Brazil’s most photogenic wildlife and incredible scenery make it a prime destination for ecotourists and anglers.
The Pantanal, one of the most important and fragile ecosystems on the planet, truly shines as Brazil’s top destination for animal-spotting and bird-watching. The attractions don't stop there: the crystal-clear rivers and cave lakes around Bonito and Bom Jardim allow you to explore a remarkable underwater world by donning a scuba tank or snorkeling mask.
In the far-north town of Alta Floresta, the cerrado (savanna) morphs into the Amazon; in the south near Bonito, the Serra da Bodoquena is a breathtakingly beautiful, watery wonderland. In between the two, the Parque Nacional da Chapada dos Guimarães has some of the most commanding plateau views in Brazil.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Mato Grosso & Mato Grosso do Sul.
Built on the site of a Bororo burial ground, this superb museum is divided into two parts. One is a collection of over 10,000 insects and stuffed flora and fauna, while the other is a visually striking, unmissable introduction to the indigenous people of the Mato Grosso region, with subtly lit underfloor and suspended-glass displays showcasing shaman paraphernalia, weaponry, everyday tools, splendid adornments made of feathers and funerary objects. The enlarged black-and-white photos are almost equally striking.
The impressive Véu de Noiva, an 86m free-falling waterfall, provides the park’s characteristic postcard moment. A small trail leads to the lookout, perched on top of rocks with the canyon below. This is one of Chapada’s most dazzling spots; no guide necessary.
On the waterfront, this partially interactive museum tells the story of the formation of the Pantanal and 10,000 years of human habitation in the region. Exhibits range from presentations on the flora and fauna in different parts of the great wetlands to the history of European exploration of this hard land and the founding of Corumbá. Look out for a splendid Bororo headdress of macaw feathers, and some wonderful vintage photos of indigenous people and Pantaneiro gauchos herding cattle.
Corumbá's riverside is a charming locale with colorful historic facades opposite bobbing boats, some of which are waiting to take you out on a boisterous pleasure cruise on the Paraguai or a fishing trip. You'll find several agencies that book Pantanal excursions, Bolivian traders selling colorful handicrafts and people gathering to watch the spectacular sunsets silhouetting the distinctive cargo pier.
The small Museu Rondon has exhibits on indigenous culture and is well worth a visit to check out the ornate headdresses and weaponry. The museum is located on the grounds of the Federal University of Mato Grosso (UFMT), behind the swimming pool. To get here, catch a C01 Universitária bus (R$3.85) from Praça Alencastro. Ring ahead to check it's open.
Located some 80km downriver from Corumbá along Rio Paraguai, this large fort was built in 1775 to repel invaders from Paraguay, which it failed to do quite spectacularly in 1864, when it was overrun by the Paraguayan army. As the fort is on Brazilian army territory, tour agencies have to obtain permission to visit. Tours are done either by boat – a spectacular journey that passes by two impressive caves – or by driving to Porto Morrinho and then continuing by boat.
Originally slated for completion in 2014, this ambitious aquarium and research center was still in development in 2018. You will either find a hugely impressive freshwater aquarium, a mediocre finish-at-all-costs half-measure or a weed-choked building site.
The mirante (lookout), marked with a modest concrete square, is the geographic center of South America. While the monument is underwhelming, the views are magnificent! Off to your right you can see the Cuiabá skyline, and, beyond that, the flatlands that eventually become the Pantanal. To get here, follow Route 251 through Chapada and head east for 7km; a cycle path connects the viewpoint to the town. The rim of the canyon is a couple of hundred meters away.
Art Izu is home to one of Corumbá’s premier artists, Izulina Xavier. You can’t miss it – the giant bird sculptures and bronze statue of São Francisco in the front are stunning and the crazy paving is, well, crazy. You can purchase some handicrafts inside. Ring the well-disguised bell if the doors aren't open.