By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – For a week in the rainforest or a few days sunning on one of Bahia’s blissful beaches, pousadas are a alternative to large hotels or hostels for a fast-growing number of travelers in Brazil. For many, the first stop is Hidden Pousadas Brazil, a service launched by British expatriate and travel writer Alison McGowan, which currently has over 200 of the finest pousadas Brazil has to offer, including eco-lodges, guesthouses and boutique hotels.
McGowan’s love affair with Brazil goes back to 1970s’ Paris and an encounter with a group of Brazilian musicians exiled there, but it was in 2007 – after years of traveling the length and breadth of Brazil – that the idea for Hidden Pousadas Brazil was finally born over a caipirinha in the Pousada Santa Clara on Boipeba Island, Bahia.
“I remember thinking: ‘This is paradise and I know a lot of people who would want to stay in a place like this,’” she explained to The Rio Times.
By January 2009, the company was up and running online, and the number of pousadas signing up to be showcased on the site has been gathering pace ever since.
Coming from the Portuguese word “pousar,” meaning “to land” or “stay,” pousadas are synonymous with small, independent accommodation full of character – something like Brazil’s answer to B&Bs or local guesthouses, with the property’s owners often running them personally.
The vast majority of Brazil’s pousadas have seven or eight rooms (and usually fewer than forty) and are to be found outside the bigger cities, making them ideal for those wanting to explore places further from over-trodden tourist trails.
After applying, McGowan personally visits and reviews each pousada that wants to be listed on the site – a job she takes seriously.
“I’m very honest with my reviews. It’s a case of thinking ‘Would I recommend this to a friend?’ Of course, I describe the features people are looking for, but also the things that people might not enjoy – this is why reviews are accompanied by a ‘Try a different place if … ’ comment,” Alison says.
“There are some beautiful places with a spike in rainfall at the end of the rainy season which people simply don’t know about. Others have a four-hour canoe ride to get there. I’ve been there, got wet, so others don’t have to.”
In terms of target audience, Hidden Pousadas Brazil was originally geared towards the over-55s market, but it soon started proving equally popular with those in their late twenties and early thirties, particularly honeymooners in search of somewhere with a little more personality.
Families with children are now making up a growing proportion of travel-hungry expatriates, which, according McGowan, is increasing at the same rate as Brazil’s native population, who are starting to travel further within their own country.
With numbers booming, the future is looking bright for Hidden Pousadas Brazil, and in a move to serve more of the native population in Brazil, a Portuguese version of the site is launching in 2012.