Camping, Hiking and Off Road

One of the very enjoyable ways of spending your time in Portugal is exploring by motorcaravan visiting some of the unspoilt areas which the country has to offer.

For those who enjoy outdoor activities there is plenty of choice from hiking to 4 x 4 off roading! This page gives some helpful advice on how to undertake these activities in safety.

Motor caravans parks and campsites

Wild camping remains prohibited on land belonging to the Natura 2000 reserve network, protected areas and areas covered by Coastal Development Plans.

Violations of these locations may incur fines between 120 and 600 euros, usually actions involving the Maritime Police, GNR and ICNF.

By amendment to articles 48 and 50-A of the Portuguese Highway Code, approved in July 2021, “overnights are allowed in motorhomes approved by the IMT (Institute of Mobility and Transport) for a maximum period of 48 hours” except in aforementioned zones.

In the remaining territory and in the absence of municipal regulation for the activity, the overnight stay of motorhomes approved by the Institute of Mobility and Transport, IP is allowed, for a maximum period of 48 hours in the same municipality, except in places expressly authorized for the purpose, for which no overnight limit is established.

Official camp sites are divided into a number of categories providing different types of facilities and services, but all are required to be registered with government.

Campsites can, if not properly regulated, give rise to a higher fire risk due to: insufficient distance between combustible accessories like tents, random car parking, use of fire wood, gas to light and to cook, poor maintenance of accessories, fire suppressant equipment not properly located, and lack of training of campers and sometimes of the site staff in fire safety and prevention procedures are among the main issues to be addressed in campsites in order to reduce the fire risk.

Depending upon the category, registered campsites in Portugal can accommodate tents, caravans and motor homes, either together or in separate areas. These invariably cover all the necessary fire prevention and protection measures, so it is important to follow the requirements laid down. 

Prior to booking, if in doubt users should clarify this with the campsite concerned, particular concerning the use of BBQs. Again remember to check if they are properly registered and covered by liability insurance.


Fire Prevention at campsites

Advice is for caravans and motor homes to “carry a first aid kit, fire extinguisher, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and check gas pipes and seals regularly. Setup camp only in designates places.” It is particularly important that owners of these vehicles do not simply pull over in a wooded lay-by and light a BBQ.

To avoid fires starting in a campsite take special care when cooking – don’t leave pans unattended; turn off all appliances before you go out or to bed; and never smoke in bed. Remove any litter and rubbish near the caravan to reduce the risk of fire spreading. Importantly when parking ensure there is at least a 4m gap (unless stipulated otherwise) between your vehicle and the next one in order to avoid the spread of fires between vehicles.

Off-Road Activities

One of the pleasures of visiting the Algarve is participating in off-road activities such as: cycling; hiking, camping, Buggy, 4 x 4 and Safari tours as well as touring in motor caravans. Although these are great ways to explore, the combination of low humidity, high temperatures and high winds greatly increases the fire risk, which both tour operators and visitors should be aware of.

Some off-road operators do not mention or promote fire protection and prevention when advertising and selling their tours. In addition many tourists coming from northern Europe may not be aware of fire risks in Portugal, and the special precautions particularly during the Critical Fire Period.

Whereas most off-road operators commence tours with a safety briefing, Safe Communities believes that as an added safety measure, all operators, conducting such activities in rural areas should have, and publish in their terms and conditions, their own rural fire prevention and protection guidelines relevant to their particular type of activity, and this should be available to all their clients and potential clients.

Such guidelines should include the following preventive steps in addition to the standard government list mentioned above, for example: prohibiting smoking in vehicles; avoid parking on land where there is tall grass or inflammable vegetation underneath and prohibited areas. Remember your exhaust pipe can get very hot, especially after a long drive. This should also include avoiding discarding glass bottles and indeed any rubbish, which could cause a rural fire.

If you are booking an off road tour check that the operator, is properly registered for this activity, that indemnity insurance is in place and satisfy yourself concerning safety matters.


Check the weather

Temperatures in Portugal in the summer can reach over 40c in the shade, and over 30C is the norm. Get in the habit of checking the weather forecast, regardless of where you are and for how long you plan to hike. Remember to check the weather forecast the day you head out to see if any changes need to be made.

Plan your hike

Choose a suitable hiking route depending on what the weather forecast is. This also includes an appropriate distance. Leave the longer days of hiking to the cooler weather if possible. Choose sites that have plenty of shade on offer. This shade can be provided by the surrounding vegetation or by geographic formations such as cliffs or valleys. If possible avoid hiking over open exposed terrain for long periods.

Hike early / hike late/ high very late

If you are hiking during hot weather avoid the hottest period of the day. Hike early: one of the advantages of summertime hiking is that it gets light early. Look at starting your hike just after sunrise. Alternatively hike late after most of the heat has gone. Remember the hottest part of the day is usually between 1500 to 1700 hrs.

Cover Up

Choose appropriate clothing and accessories for the forecast weather conditions. Things to consider are:

  • Cover your head to protect yourself from UV which can reach as high as 121 in the summer. Wear a decent broad brim hat, particularly if you have no hair.
  • Wear light coloured clothing: Avoid dark colours, in particular black, which tend to absorb heat and make you hotter.
  • Cover up: Wear long sleeve tops and long trousers. In addition to providing protection from sunburn which can occur very quickly sun exposure on bare skin will also dehydrate you, sapping you energy.
  • Wear Sunglasses: This will help to protect your eyes from intense sunlight. They don’t have to be expensive but they should be good quality. This is one item you shouldn’t skimp on.


Preventing dehydration

The best way to prevent dehydration is to consciously drink water slowly over several hours before intense exercise. During periods of heavy exercise you should drink about one quart per hour. If your urine is clear and copious, then you know you are well-hydrated.

When hiking with children check their water bottles periodically to ensure that they are taking the time to consume enough water. While having fun outdoors, children will frequently not want to stop to drink or eat even though they are thirsty and hungry.

Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages – they act as diuretics, causing you to urinate more often

One of the earliest symptoms of dehydration is one that is the most often overlooked: a headache. If ignored, the victim is subject to temperature related illnesses such as heat stroke and hypothermia. Dehydration can cause hikers to become confused and disoriented, which if hiking alone, can quickly lead an otherwise capable hiker to become lost.

Dehydration victims often exhibit a lack of appetite from nausea and dizziness.

Depending on the severity of the dehydration, it can usually be cured with some water and relaxation. A dehydration victim should not exert themselves for several hours at the very least and should be consistently sipping on water mixed with a dash of salt and sugar. Lying in a cool, shady spot, with their feet elevated is also helpful.

Of course, prevention is the best treatment for dehydration. Dehydration is a gateway illness to heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and hypothermia, and can provoke shock from physical injury.

If suffering from severe dehydration seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Learn to recognise negative impacts of heat

Hiking and undertaking other activities in the heat has the potential to be dangerous if you don’t pay attention to what your body is telling you. Learn to recognise how your body is reacting to the additional heat and make sure you know what to do about it. Common issues that can occur are:

  • Sunburn: Wear long clothing and if need be use sunscreen on exposed skin. The backs of your hands is often an area that people tend to neglect.
  • Dehydration: By the time you realise you are dehydrated the symptoms are already there. The obvious symptoms include headaches but one of the big problems is that when people become dehydrated they lose focus and their mental ability is impaired leading them to make poor judgements.
  • Heat Exhaustion: Heat exhaustion happens when someone becomes dehydrated due to loss of water from exercising or working in poorly ventilated conditions.
  • Heat Stroke: Heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency and can cause a person to collapse or fall unconscious. Heat stroke is more serious and means the body is no longer able to regulate its temperature by cooling the skin’s surface by sweating. The internal body temperature rises, and organ damage can occur.

If you are a regular hiker you should ideally have an up to date first aid qualification.