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.