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.
Crossing the Bolivian border
Crossing the Bolivian border
Crossing into or out of Bolivia from Corumbá is a slightly disjointed procedure. Leaving Brazil, you should get an exit stamp from the Polícia Federal at Praça da República 51 in Corumbá (easiest before 11am or between 7pm and 9pm), before picking up a Bolivian visa (if you need one) from the consulate at Rua Antônio Maria Coelho 881 (t 67/3231-5605). After that, it’s a matter of taking the bus (from the Praça Independência on Rua Dom Aquino Corréa) for the 10km to the border, checking through Bolivian immigration and receiving your passport entry stamp. Money can be changed at decent rates at the border.
Train tickets for Santa Cruz should be bought at La Brasilena train station in Quijarro, a few minutes by colectivo (a type of shuttle bus; R$5) or bus from the Bolivian immigration office. First class to Santa Cruz costs R$70, second class R$40. The first-class carriages are comfortable, with videos, but everything sways and the toilets are dirty. Limited food is available on board, and also from the trackside villages during the train’s frequent stops. Insect repellent and clothes that cover your flesh are essential, as the lights of the carriages attract all manner of biting insects at night. Drinking water and a torch are also useful. As timetables vary considerably, check at the station in Corumbá or Quijarro at least a couple of days in advance. It’s worth going to Quijarro the day before departure to actually make your booking.
Entering Brazil from Bolivia is essentially the same procedure in reverse, although US citizens should remember to pick up visas in the Brazilian consulate in Santa Cruz before leaving.