Portugal is quickly becoming one of the most popular European destinations for travelers. Once you’ve visited this gorgeous country it’s easy to see why. One of the best things about Portugal is the stunning nature including rustic beaches, majestic mountains, and biodiverse islands.
The amount of things to do outdoors and the country’s focus on sustainability makes Portugal a dream destination for ecotourism. Below, I’ll cover what ecotourism in Portugal looks like, including ten sustainable things to do.
You can use this guide to make your next trip to Portugal more eco-friendly!
What Is Ecotourism?
Before we dive in, it’s important to understand what ecotourism is. Ecotourism is responsible travel that focuses on engaging in intentional, educational activities that conserve the natural environment and/or support the local people.
This could look like hiking throughout a protected area and learning about the natural habitat from a local guide, or taking a tour of a sustainable farm. As long as the activity involves conserving or supporting the natural environment, and is locally led, it could be considered ecotourism.
What Does Ecotourism in Portugal Look Like?
Due to Portugal’s popularity, it has experienced negative consequences of tourism over the years. Pollution, overcrowding, rising prices, and locals being pushed out are issues that most of the cities in Portugal have dealt with.
When this happens, both the Portuguese culture and the natural environment are impacted. This is why it’s so important to practice ecotourism when visiting Portugal.
Thankfully, it’s not hard, thanks to the diverse range of eco-friendly activities available throughout the country.
One easy way to experience Portugal’s ecotourism is by exploring the natural environment. Portugal is home to several protected areas, both coastal and mountainous, that are readily accessible by public and private transit. Because these regions are protected, there are numerous tour guides that offer eco-tours and great opportunities to learn about the natural habitat.
You don’t need to be outdoorsy to explore ecotourism in Portugal, though. This country has a rich culture and history. You can choose activities that help support and conserve historic sights, traditional culture, and the local people during your trip to Portugal.
This could look like staying at a family-run sustainable winery, learning about traditional Portuguese cuisine from a locally-run restaurant, or enjoying a sustainable retreat on the coast.
While the sustainable options are virtually endless, below you’ll find the top ten things to do to experience ecotourism in Portugal:
10 Ecotourism Activities in Portugal
1. Join a Beach Clean Up With Brigada Do Mar
An awesome organization in Lisbon to support is Brigada Do Mar. They are a local NGO that has worked to remove 901 tonnes of trash from the beaches in Portugal over the last few years. They lead beach clean-ups, lectures, and workshops.
If you’re in Lisbon, definitely reach out to them to join a beach clean-up or attend a workshop. You’ll learn a lot about the trash pollution in the area, primarily from commercial fishing boats, and how to combat it.
2. Hike Peneda-Geres National Park
Peneda-Geres is the only national park in Portugal. This protected area is located in Northwestern Portugal and offers fantastic opportunities to explore the natural environment. You can bike, hike, and rock climb through the park.
Since it is somewhat remote, I’d recommend booking a hike or tour with a local ecotourism operator like Go 2 Nature. They can help you explore the different mountain ranges sustainably and learn about the natural habitat.
3. Enjoy a Sustainable Water Adventure in the Algarve
The Algarve is a beautiful coastal region in the South of Portugal. There are several cute towns, and gorgeous beaches to explore throughout. The Algarve is more laid back and home to the best seafood in the country.
A wonderful ecotourism activity in the Algarve is to explore the ocean sustainably. You can go whale watching, enjoy water sports, or take a solar boat ride. If you’re looking for fun eco tours, check out Coastline Algarve.
4. Island Hop Through The Azores
The Azores is a string of volcanic islands in Portugal known for its sustainability initiatives. The island is part of the EarthCheck Sustainable Destination Program, so it’s not hard to find ecotourism activities here. The Azores is largely protected from development and is home to four UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. You’ll find incredible natural wonders throughout the islands like hot springs, biodiverse reefs, volcanoes, and waterfalls.
Exploring the Azores is simply beautiful! Go hiking or whale watching with a local tour company or take cultural tours to experience traditional food and learn about the villages on the islands.
5. Explore the Nature of Madeira
If you’re interested in seeing more islands in Portugal, then a trip to Madeira is a must. This volcanic island region offers numerous ecotourism activities for nature lovers. You can go on guided hikes or tours or learn about conservation projects
Explore Nature is a fantastic local tour company that will lead you on incredible treks throughout Madeira.
6. Stay at an Eco Retreat
While there are numerous sustainable accommodation options in Portugal, staying at one wouldn’t necessarily be considered an ecotourism activity. Staying at an eco-retreat, however, is.
One fantastic option is Monte Velho Eco Retreat in the Algarve. This beautiful coastal area makes a great backdrop for a sustainable retreat.
Monte Velho started as a reforestation project on 30 hectares of land. Now, it’s a self-sustaining retreat center that offers yoga and women’s retreats throughout the year.
Monte Velho grows its own food and uses solar and wind to power the retreat center. It’s the perfect place to learn about the facility and environment as well as recharge.
7. Visit a Sustainable Winery
Yes, ecotourism in Portugal most definitely involves wine!
Portugal produces a lot of wine and is famous for its vinho verde and port. One wine region that’s a must-visit is the Douro Valley, located outside of Porto. It’s even a UNESCO World Heritage site.
You can book tastings at sustainable wineries in the region such as Symington Family Estates. Alternatively, you can take a locally led wine tour if you’d like to visit a few wineries.
If you’re staying in Lisbon, consider a trip to the nearby Alentejo wine region. They created the Wines of Alentejo Sustainability Program to promote sustainable wine practices in the area. It’s also a great resource to find sustainable wineries to support.
8. Take a Local Cooking Class
Eating is one of the best parts of traveling, especially when you can do it sustainably. One of my favorite ecotourism activities in Portugal is to take a locally led cooking class. Choose one that involves shopping at local markets beforehand so you can support the farmers and learn about the industry.
Afterward, you’ll be able to cook and eat traditional Portuguese dishes with the help of a local chef. It’s a tasty and easy way to learn about Portuguese culture while having a unique dining experience.
9. Take a Tuk Tuk Tour
You’ll quickly notice the little yellow Tuk Tuks in Lisbon zooming past you in traffic. While taking a ride in a Tuk Tuk is touristy, it can also be an ecotourism activity. Many companies now offer electric Tuk Tuks. This is the perfect way to navigate the super steep Lisbon hills, cut down on traffic and pollution, and learn about the city.
I’d recommend booking a tour with Eco Tuk Tours. They offer several great options to see different parts of the city and have fantastic local guides.
10. Take a Locally Led Street Art & Tile Tour
You’ll notice two things throughout Lisbon: street art and tiles. Portugal is famous for its Azulejo tiled buildings. Most of the buildings were covered in tiles when Lisbon was reconstructed after a devastating fire in the 16th century. Unfortunately, these tiles have become so iconic that they started getting stolen and resold to tourists.
Instead of buying a tile souvenir, try taking a locally-led tile tour. This is a fun way to learn about the historic significance of the tiles, support the local culture and leave your trip with beautiful photos.
Alternatively, the street art you’ll see throughout Lisbon and Porto also has historical and political significance. Graffiti used to be illegal, so it was done as an act of political resistance. Now, it’s somewhat of an attraction. You can take an artist-led street tour and learn about the political commentary they often represent.
Final Notes on Ecotourism in Portugal
Whatever you choose to do during your trip to Portugal, if you’re trying to practice ecotourism, look for activities that are locally led and conserve or support the natural environment.
If your activities take into account these two things, you can trust that it’s most likely a sustainable thing to do.
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About The Author:
Alicia Briggs is a writer & editor specializing in slow travel & sustainable living. She’s worked in journalism since 2016 and currently writes for a variety of publications such as Sustainably Chic and Hidden Lemur. She has been a full-time traveler since 2018 and runs her own blog, Learning the Local Way, where she covers responsible travel & living tips.