Exploring the Rio Taquari

South American Handbook author Ben Box reflects on his visit to Mato Grosso do Sul in November 2015.

The roads of Mato Grosso do Sul cut through seemingly endless agricultural land: red earth, fields of cattle, fields of soya, sorghum, cotton and sugar, silos and big machinery. Occasionally the flatness is broken by plantations of eucalyptus which will be cut down to fuel the stoves which dry the soya when it is harvested. Despite the many controversies that surround this industrial production of beef and soya, it is hard not to be impressed, but also saddened by the scale of it.

Victor is driving a group of us to the town of Costa Rica. At a certain point, we turn off the paved road onto a track that leads into the fields of the Fazenda Planalto. A sign had indicated that here was the Parque Estadual das Nascentes do Rio Taquari, but it didn’t look very encouraging, unless the state park was in fact just another piece of farmland with a few springs bubbling out of it. We passed a group of large tractors and other machines and stopped for a spot of Turismo Agro-Negocio. The team were happy to chat about the equipment, the planting and the harvesting, which crops were easy and which were awkward. It was no trouble to take a break with us as the planter they were using had a mechanical problem so they could not get on with things.

“Is it OK to take photos?”

“Yes, sure, but please don’t take any shots of that big bit of kit that’s just pulling up over there. It’s new and we don’t want our competitors to copy it”.

In contrast to the latest technology, over to one side is the R&R wagon, with benches and tables and a portaloo strapped to the back.

We continued across the fields to the distant margin which was unkempt and wooded. At a gate was another sign for the Parque Estadual das Nascentes do Rio Taquari, which looked more promising than the first. A short path led through the trees and suddenly we were at an exposed vantage point, an outcrop of rock which overlooked the meeting of six canyons. The land fell sharply away to thick forest, out of which rose pinnacles and buttresses and tabletops. Away in the distance stretched the westernmost rim of the central Brazilian plateau and, at its feet, the uppermost levels of land that eventually step down to the wetlands of the Pantanal.

The Rio Taquari, whose various sources are amid the canyons, was one of the important waterways for the explorers of the Brazilian interior. They paddled along it during the six-month journey from the gold fields of Cuiabá to São Paulo. As the gold trade declined the river knowledge passed to fishermen and in the late 20th century, Coxim, at the confluence of the Taquari and Coxim rivers, became a mecca for sport fishing in the eastern Pantanal. By 2015, fishing tourism is giving way to ecotourism.

November is one of the months of the piracema, when fish are spawning and fishing is forbidden. It’s a good time to find a boatman. Célio pilots Ariel of the Coxim tourist office and me through the shallows and eddies of the river. Baias, tranquil bays, line the Taquari and are known as the berçário do Pantanal, the nursery of the Pantanal. We burst through a barrier of water hyacinth into a small lake surrounded by gallery forest. Everywhere there are birds: herons, cormorants, biguatinga (anhinga/snake birds), long-toed jacana that walk on the floating vegetation; bem-te-vi (great kiskadee), cardeal (red-crested cardinal), freirinha (white-headed marsh tyrant) and tesourinha (fork-tailed flycatcher) clinging to the reeds; toucans, kites and fish eagles. The water is alive with molluscs and small fish, including the silvery-red Mato Grosso, shorter than the width of a finger.

After a morning on the river, we reached a landing point. Ariel and I left Célio and at a fazenda there was a pick-up conveniently waiting for us for the afternoon’s exploration of the Pantanal on land – many more birds, herds of capybara and ponds heaving with caiman. But first we stopped for lunch at the Barranqueira Bar, the pantaneira restaurant of Sr Joaquim Touro and his wife Iracema. As we sat at the table, a convoy of six cattle trucks lumbered past taking 390 of the Pantanal’s six million head to slaughter.


How to get there:

There are three daily buses between Campo Grande and Costa Rica, 6½ hours, US$24.

Coxim is 4½ hours by bus from Campo Grande, US$15.50-17, and 7½ hours from Cuiabá, US$18.50-23.

Ben Box visited Costa Rica and Coxim with the assistance of the Fundação de Turismo de Mato Grosso do Sul (Fundtur). He would like to thank Karla Cavalcanti, Nelson Cintra Ribeiro, Lívia Davi and Geancarlo Merighi of Fundtur in Campo Grande; Victor Renato of Associação de Monitores Ambientais Sucuriú (AMAS) in Costa Rica; and Ariel Albrecht, Gerente Municipal de Turismo, Coxim. 

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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