Ecotourism in Portugal: Things to Do, Resorts & Tours

Discover ecotourism in Portugal and learn what the charming country offers in terms of sustainable destinations and activities.

By Sander Tamm

Key takeaways:

  • From walks in nature reserves to river paddling, these are the best ways to experience Portugal as an ecotourist.
  • You can spend as much or as little as you want, depending on the level of luxury you seek.
  • Thoroughly research the sustainability efforts and certifications of eco-resorts and eco-tour operators before booking.
Wild Cows in Peneda-Gerês National Park
Wild Cows in Peneda-Gerês National Park / ALusitana via CC-SA 3.0

Portugal, a country of just over 10 million people, receives 17.5 million tourists annually. A good chunk of these tourists go straight to Lisbon or Porto, but metropolitan cities are not the only places worth exploring in Portugal.

Portugal has plenty to offer regarding ecotourism activities and sustainable resorts, and this guide will cover all you need to know. From National Park camping to staying at a five-star eco-resort with the latest & greatest ecolabels, ecotourism comes in all shapes and sizes in Portugal.

Sustainable things to do in Portugal

1. Walk in the Peneda-Gerês National Park

Walking path to the Seven Lakes in Parque Nacional Peneda Gerês
Walking path to the Seven Lakes in Parque Nacional Peneda Gerês / Beatriz Freire via CC-SA 4.0

The only national park and the most visited nature-protected area of Portugal, Peneda-Gerês sees an influx of around 90,000 visitors annually, many of which are local Portuguese rather than foreign. Full of pristine lakes and winding rivers, the park is a must-see for any park-loving ecotourist in Portugal. For tours in the area, consider kayaking or supping tours from Centro Aventura.

2. Visit the Faia Brava Nature Reserve

Côa Valley
Côa Valley / Jaimegxy via CC-SA 4.0

Located in the wildlife-rich lands of the Côa Valley lies the Faia Brava Nature Reserve. Spanning over 850 hectares of land, this reserve is home to many unique species, such as the wild and endangered Garrano horses. Whether birdwatching or hiking, Wildlife Portugal offers eco-tours in the valley for those looking to explore it.

3. Explore the Azores on the National Geographic Endurance

Poço Ribeira do Ferreiro (Alagoinha)
Poço Ribeira do Ferreiro on Flores Island / Vdugrain via CC-SA 4.0

Lindblad Expeditions and their National Geographic Endurance expedition ship regularly offer luxury boat cruises in the form of carbon-neutral and plastic-free boat trips across the Azores chain of islands in Portugal. The trip is called the “Islands of the Azores: Fado Music to Fin Whales” and stretches 9 days.

4. Walk in the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Nature Park (PNSACV)

Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Nature Park (PNSACV)
Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Nature Park (PNSACV) / Paulo Tato Marinho via CC-SA 4.0

A monument to wild European coasts of old, PNSACV is a protected coastal area in southern Portugal, occupying an area of 895.7 sq km (or 345,8 sq mi). While stunning in its natural beauty, the park is sadly being taken over by plastic greenhouses, sparking debate over its future.

5. Hike the Paiva Walkways

Paiva Walkways
Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Nature Park (PNSACV) / Paulo Tato Marinho via CC-SA 4.0

Located in Arouca, the Paiva Walkways are 8km of wooden walkways spanning the length of Paiva River, one of Portugal’s most ecologically diverse rivers. The wooden paths are designed to protect the surrounding environment while providing visitors with a unique experience in nature. While there, you’ll also get the chance to see the world’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge.

6. Explore Douro Valley

Terraced Vineyards in Douro Valley
Terraced Vineyards in Douro Valley / mat's eye via CC 2.0

Defined by its terraced vineyards, Douro Valley is one of Portugal’s and Spain’s ecotourism jewels. Experience the spirit of the valley by taking a boat tour, visiting a local vineyard, or hiking one of its many trails. Natural Habitat Adventures’ Doura River paddling trip, although pricey, is a WWF-approved way to experience the magical Douro Valley.

7. Watch dolphins at Setúbal Bay

Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) in Portugal / Ravi Sarma via CC 2.0

Located a 45-minute drive south of Lisbon, the bay of Setúbal is home to Dolphin Bay: an EU-funded project aimed at promoting responsible, ethical dolphin-watching in Portugal. Led by marine biologists, the dolphin-watching boat tours leave twice per day from the city of Setúbal.

8. Walk in the Arrábida Natural Park

Arrábida Natural Park
Arrábida Natural Park / Figas1975 via CC-SA 4.0

Right next to Setúbal, you’ll find the Arrábida Natural Park: another picturesque nature-protected area of Portugal. Characterized by its blue bays and steep cliffs, the park is often visited by ecotourists for its unique scenery.

Sustainable resorts in Portugal

Portugal is also home to many certified sustainable eco-resorts, five of which have been awarded the coveted EU Ecolabel. I have already done a rundown of the top Portuguese eco-resorts, so check it out if you’re interested in staying at a sustainable resort in Portugal.

Here’s a quick glimpse at the top five options:

  1. Cerdeira Home for Creativity
  2. Pena Park Hotel
  3. Hotel Monverde
  4. Hotel FeelViana
  5. Real Abadia, Congress & Spa Hotel

And, here’s a map showing the location of these plus 10 more eco-resorts in Portugal:

Consider paying beautiful Portugal a visit. If you do, prioritize reducing your carbon emissions and if you plan on venturing out into the wild nature, do so with educated guides like the ones highlighted in this article.