With winter fast approaching, who isn’t already dreaming of a holiday in the Brazilian sunshine? We speak with Alison McGowan, owner of HiddenPousadasBrazil.com, to discover which secluded gems need to be on the top of your travel list for the new year.
Barra Grande, Piauí
“Barra Grande is just like Jericoacoara was 20 years ago,” says Alison. This simple fishing village is just starting to make a name for itself, due to its beautiful pousadas, spectacular beaches and ideal conditions for kite-surfing.
“This is not the place to come if you’re looking for nightlife,” she says, “but what you will find is paradise – blue skies, hot sand and ice cold beer.”
Barra Grande is an hour and a half from Parnaiba, and while it’s not the easiest place to get to, Alison describes her time there as ‘bliss’, waking up to the sound of rolling waves and spending her afternoons in beach bars enjoying fish soup, beer and fabulous views of the kite surfers and their incredible manoeuvres.
While in Piauí, Alison also recommends a side trip to Parque Nacional Serra da Capivara. “There you’ll find tens of thousands of rock paintings, some of which date back to 29,000 years before Christ. It’s absolutely incredible.”
Where to stay: Terra Patris Atellier Pousada
“This pousada is simply beautiful,” says Alison. “It’s only three thatched bungalows with a circular reception and lounge area and a large, inviting swimming pool. There’s wi-fi throughout, excellent music and a wonderful feel to the place. It’s owned by Nathalia and her husband Marco, two wonderfully warm Paulistas who managed to escape the rat race of corporate life.”
Barreirinhas and Lençóis Maranhenses, Maranhão
“Barreirinhas is a fairly non-descript and sprawly town on the banks of the River Preguiças,” says Alison. “However, it is also the ideal place to begin your trip to Lençóis Maranhenses. And if you decide to stay on the other side of the river like I did, the only noises are the rustling of leaves and the birds singing – you really can relax in peace.”
Alison recommends arriving from São Luis – from there you can take the 7am van which picks you up from your pousada or hotel and will get you to where you’re staying in Barreirinhas by midday, just in time for lunch before a sunset trip to the dunes, which departs at 2pm.
The ideal time to visit is between July to November. When the lagoons are at their fullest the views are breathtaking – soft rippling sand dunes and inviting blue pools stretch out to the horizon.
“Just don’t forget your hat, sunscreen and insect repellent!”
Where to stay: Pousada Sossego do Cantinho
“This is definitely the best place to stay in the area. Set on the riverbank, this place offers peace and quiet, but the bars, restaurants and shops are only 15 minutes walk and a pedestrian ferry away.”
The intimate pousada only has four bungalows, but they’re all spacious and light with rustic tiled floors, large beds, big bathrooms, air-conditioning, mosquito nets, fridges and cable TV.
Icaraizinho de Amontada, Ceará
“With vistas made up of beaches, dunes, kite-surfers and lagoons, this is an idyllic place where all you can hear is the sound of the wind and the waves,” says Alison. “You still won’t find Icaraizinho de Amontada on most maps but it lies on the coast of Ceará, 198 kms north of Fortaleza.” In fact, Alison only discovered the place by accident about four years ago, while driving along the deserted beaches of Maranhão, Piauí and Ceará by 4×4.
Alison describes this small fishing village as a place “where everyone knows each other, with a church, a village square and a bar which is perfect for relaxing with a beer while gazing out to sea”.
When you’re done relaxing, there’s plenty to do, like kite-surfing, taking a buggy trip across the dunes at sunset, enjoying fresh seafood at Ze’s local restaurant or sipping caipirinhas on the river Aracatiassu.
If you don’t have a car, your pousada can organise an airport transfer from Fortaleza to Icaraizinho for R$350, or you can hire a beach buggy with a driver for the day for R$600. There’s also the FretCar bus which leaves Fortaleza daily at 2pm.
Where to stay: Casa Zulu
“South African / French run Pousada Casa Zulu has six suites in total, all set amongst leafy tropical gardens,” says Alison.
Guests can expect comfort, with air-conditioning, flat-screen TVs, large box spring beds and excellent power showers in every chalet.
“What I love best about this pousada is that the beach is on your doorstep, there’s a lovely swimming pool and they are located right in the centre of the village. There’s a friendly international atmosphere and it’s superb value for money which makes it perfect for solos, kite surfers and families alike.”
Chapada Diamantina, Bahia
Of course, there are some wonderful destinations inland too. Chapada Diamantina in Bahia, five hours drive west of Salvador, offers nature in abundance, including hikes, waterfalls and caves to explore. There are two towns that are excellent starting points from which to explore the national park – Lençóis and Palmeiras.
“This is an extraordinary place – the curious flat topped mountains and ridges date back billions of years and were once at the bottom of the ocean,” says Alison. “The Capão Valley itself is 1000 metres high and the temperature is lower than the coast of Bahia, averaging 19°C year round.”
Where to stay: Pousada Lagoa das Cores
“This is a magical place! Owners Marcos and Vania manage to combine eco-friendly principles with warmth, comfort and style – all in one of the most beautiful places on earth, surrounded by mountains, peace and quiet. Some rooms even have a fireplace for those cold evenings after a dip in the hot tub.”
There are 12 suites with some overlooking the mountains. All are well-appointed with beds, hot showers, locally produced soaps and aromatic pillows.
Santana dos Montes, Minas Gerais
“This is a great stopping off point for historic towns like Tiradentes and Ouro Preto – but you will need a car,” Alison says.
“Visitors can go swimming in the waterfalls, natural pools and lakes, enjoy the horseback or bicycle tours, or go walking in the mountains.”
Where to stay: Fazenda Santa Marina
“This is a 19th century rural estate, lovingly restored to its former glory by the Bernardi and Capistrano families,” says Alison. “Surrounded by rolling green hills, this fazenda offers guests plenty of space, beauty and luxury, along with king sized beds, solar heated showers and designer toiletries. There’s also fabulous home cooked food, a pool, a sauna, and wonderful Indian spa treatments. There’s also no internet or mobile phone access here, although you’ll probably consider this an advantage in a place as magical as this.”
Get off the beaten track and discover all of the hidden treasures that Brazil has to offer. Find the perfect retreat at HiddenPousadasBrazil.com. Visiting Rio? Stay at Alison’s pop-up pousada in Leblon, Casa Florence.