Brazil, for most people, still conjures up sun, sea, carnival and football. But, these clichéd associations can sometimes detract from the sheer splendor and diversity on offer in Brazil. Venture outside the recognized tourist areas of Rio, Iguaçu Falls and the Amazon, and there are even more breath-taking landscapes, inspiring attractions and wonderful places to stay.
One person who is carving a name both as Brazil’s go-to travel insider and eminent ‘pousada queen’, for her special collection of independent and uniquely beautiful places to stay, is Alison McGowan. Originally from the UK, Alison has combined a 35-year love affair living and working in Rio de Janeiro, and travelling around Brazil off the beaten track. This has given birth to Hidden Pousadas Brazil, a hugely successful online resource providing insider access to the best places to go to experience the real Brazil.
When Hidden Pousadas Brazil was established, the country was on the cusp of its boom in tourism, and pousada accommodation was having a renaissance. Alison spotted that there was a need for foreign travellers to get easily searchable, accurate and up-to-date recommendations on where to stay in English, but from a local perspective, and similarly for pousadas to reach international travellers to stimulate off-season bookings.
Intent on sharing the paradise locations she had discovered on her travels, she developed two websites: Hidden Pousadas Brazil and Pousada Hotel Brasil where travellers can read reviews, get maps, see photos, search by region, location, and attraction, and book directly with the pousada.
What are the key ingredients for a “special” pousada?
“Firstly, incredible location. Then unique style, which is about the way the pousada has been decorated and its special touches. I love it when I visit places where furniture and artwork have been created by local artisans, using materials indigenous to the region. Another ingredient is atmosphere, which you feel the minute you walk through the door. And lastly, the personal attention you get from hosts. Having the owners/managers there to talk to you and ensure that you have a great experience is key.”
Are there any early signs that people can look out for as to whether a pousada is going to be good or bad?
“A good start is just finding out whether it is on our recommended list. Reading reviews from other travellers that may have stayed there on TripAdvisor or other trusted resources. If you don’t find any reviews it might be a sign that it is not that good. However, it could also mean they are yet to be discovered. If booking is a really complicated process and the information you are getting for your enquiry is not sufficient, this can sometimes be an indicator that the place might not be the greatest. But overall it’s good to use your instinct in deciding. Don’t be put off by being asked for a deposit in advance, as this is common in Brazil.”
Other than Hidden Pousadas Brazil are there any other invaluable books or resource for travelling in Brazil?
I believe in recommendations from close friends and trusted sources like TripAdvisor. Also in individuals like Patricia Ribeiro, who writes for About.com (a New York Times company), Alexandra Forbes who has a great Blog (Brazil for Insiders) and Tony Galvez who is an extraordinary photographer of off-beat places.
Where would you advise people to visit before it becomes too crowded and spoilt by mass tourism?
I would say Paraty (pronounced Paratee), which is a beautiful historic town on the coast around 5 hours drive south of Rio. Over the last 20 years this has become a favourite venue for festivals such as FLIP – the Paraty International Literary Festival. As a result, what was once a quiet and sleepy town has now become busy and buzzy with loads of boutique shops, restaurants and, of course!
Alison’s Top Six destinations in Brazil
Rio de Janeiro
Image: Rio de Janeiro city by Hidden Pousadas Brazil
Image: Pousada Bromelias, Paraty, Rio de Janeiro
Image: Boipeba, Bahia by Hidden Pousadas Brazil
Pousada Praia das Ondas, Itacimirim, Bahia, Image by Hidden Pousadas Brazil
Alagoas Ecological route
Alagoas, Image by Hidden Pousadas Brazil
Image: Pousada Patacho, Porto de Pedras, Alagoas by Hidden Pousadas Brazil
Image: Chapada Diamantina, Bahia by Hidden Pousadas Brazil
Image: Pousada Lagoa das Cores, Vale do Capao, Bahia by Hidden Pousadas Brazil
Image: South Pantanal, Mato Grosso do Sul
Image: Fazenda Baia Grande, South Pantanal (Miranda), Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil by
Hidden Pousadas Brazil
Image: Pink dolphins, Novo Airao, Amazonas by Hidden Pousadas Brazil
Image: Pousada Bela Vista, Novo Airao, Amazonas by Pousada Bela Vista