Although a relatively young state, Mato Grosso do Sul is nevertheless considered to be one of Brazil’s better-established economic regions. It has a distinct cowboy flavour: here, close to the border with Paraguay and just a bit further from Argentinian gaucho territory, it’s not uncommon to end up drinking maté sitting on a horse under the shade of a tree by day or dancing Spanish polkas through the night in some of the region’s bars. Until the eighteenth century the whole region was Indian territory and was considered an inhospitable corner of the New World. A hundred and fifty years and numerous bloody battles later, Mato Grosso do Sul might now be developed and “civilized” but – thankfully – it’s still a place where you can forget about industrial ravages and wonder at nature’s riches. The downside is that the Brazilian Ministry of Health recommends yellow fever inoculations for this area.
The state capital, Campo Grande, is a useful base from which to start delving deeper into Mato Grosso do Sul or to explore one of the largest and most beautiful wetlands in the world. The road connection to Corumbá, a frontier settlement on the edge of both the swamp and Bolivia, is well served by daily buses, and one or two good tour companies operate from Campo Grande itself, so reaching the depths of the Pantanal is fairly easy. The swamp, however, is vast, so whilst you can also get a feel for what it’s like from a variety of road-linked places closer to Campo Grande – like Coxim, north of the city, or Aquidauana, to the west – exposure to the flora and fauna is best off-road.
The south of the state is favoured by the beautiful hills of the Serra da Bodoquena and Serra de Maracaju and, deep in the Bodoquena hills, you can visit the spectacular cave systems, forests and rivers of the Bonito area, another major destination in itself. Further south, 319km from Campo Grande, Ponta Porã sits square on the Paraguayan border, from where there’s a two-day overland route to Asunción. There are also several daily bus services from Campo Grande via Dourados and Mundo Novo to Guaira and the amazing falls of Foz do Iguaçu in the neighbouring state of Paraná.Read More
- Campo Grande
North from Campo Grande: Coxim
North from Campo Grande: Coxim
Today, COXIM is a quiet town of some 33,000 people, situated on the eastern edges of the Pantanal, and easily reached by bus from Campo Grande in around three to four hours (six or seven hours from Cuiabá). The scrub forest area to the east, north of Campo Grande, was formerly the territory of the Caiapó Indian nation, who ambushed miners along the routes to Goiás and Cuiabá from São Paulo, posing a serious threat to Portuguese expansion and development in the mid-eighteenth century. Coxim is a fantastic fishing centre: the fisherman Pirambero runs excellent trips into the swamp, down the Rio Taquari, to catch piranhas (ask for him at the port). If you’re really serious about angling, contact IBAMA, at Rua Floriano Peoxoto 304 (t 67/3291-2310), or the Banco do Brasil for a temporary fishing permit (R$25) and, for more detailed local information, try the local fishing club, the Iate Clube Rio Verde, at Rua Ferreira, Bairro Piracema (t 67/3291-1246). Besides fishing, swimming in the Rio Taquari around Campo Falls is another popular pastime, in spite of the razor-toothed fish, and, nearby on the Rio Coxim, the Palmeiras Falls are a good place for a picnic or to set up camp. From November through to January, the two falls are the best places to see the incredible piracema spectacle – thousands of fish, leaping clear of the river, on their way upstream to the river’s source to lay their eggs.
- West towards Corumbá
- Bonito and around
Corumbá and around
Corumbá and around
Far removed from mainstream Brazil, hard by the Bolivian border and 400km west of Campo Grande, the city of CORUMBÁ provides a welcome stop after the long ride from either Santa Cruz (in Bolivia) or Campo Grande. As an entrance to the Pantanal, Corumbá has the edge over Cuiabá in that it is already there, stuck in the middle of a gigantic swamp, only 119m above sea level. Its name, in Tupi, means the “place of stones” and, not surprisingly, Corumbá and the Pantanal didn’t start out as a great source of attraction to travellers. As early as 1543, the swamp proved an inhospitable place to an expedition of 120 large canoes on a punitive campaign against the Guaicuru tribe. Sent by the Spanish governor of Paraguay, it encountered vampire bats, stingrays, biting ants and plagues of mosquitoes. And while it doesn’t seem quite so bad today, it’s easy to understand why air conditioning is such big business here. It was Corumbá’s unique location on the old rail link between the Andes and the Atlantic that originally brought most travellers to the town, but, ironically, the same swamp that deterred European invaders for so long has rapidly become an attraction, at the same time that the Brazilian part of the rail link has been closed down.