Corumbá looks like a city from a Jules Verne novel. -- Tristes Tropiques, Claude Levi-Strauss

351km (218 miles) NW of Campo Grande

I'm not entirely sure what the great French anthropologist had in mind when he set down that thought about Corumbá back in 1933. My guess is that it was a comment on the city's otherworldly setting. Corumbá clings to a low cliff top, at the bottom of which, beyond the docks and riverboats, there begins a vast brown and green prairie of water that swirls and broods its way over the horizon, constrained finally by a distant smudge of low gray hills. Looking up from the river, or out from the city, Corumbá appears as the sole outpost of civilization in an otherworldly landscape of water.

It's a difficult place to reach. For hundreds of years the only route to Corumbá was by water, either across the Pantanal by canoe or up the Paraguay River by boat through Argentina and Paraguay. A railway linking Corumbá to Campo Grande wasn't built until the early 20th century. A road wasn't built until the 1970s.

The isolation has left the Pantanal around Corumbá more pristine than in more settled places farther east. But the difficulty of access has been a challenge to the city's eco-tourism operators. Though Corumbá is more truly a Pantanal city than either Cuiabá in the north or Campo Grande in the east, both of the latter get more Pantanal-bound visitors. Lodges located closer to Corumbá keep their offices in Campo Grande, where they also pick up and drop off most of their paying visitors.

Corumbá's one true forte is sport fishing. The Paraguay River offers larger, more varied sport fish than anywhere else in Brazil, as well as better fishing infrastructure. There are lodges, camps, and even floating lodges that cruise up the river, allowing guests to fish away the day and relax with a cold beer in the evening. Eco-tourism also exists. Many of the lodges have fishing and eco-tourism options, allowing visitors to combine the two.

Is it necessary to visit Corumbá? No. If you're visiting a local lodge, it's possible to land and leave the same morning. What is worth doing, if time allows, is a stroll along the cliff-top Avenida Rondon, where you can look out over the Pantanal and wonder if even Jules Verne would ever have thought of a city in a landscape so strange.