The problem with wild camping in Portugal

Admittedly, designated camping areas are not as beautiful as the beaches, they certainly don’t have the same view or feel of being in the wild, however, spending the night in nature “wild camping” is illegal across Portugal.

Residents in the Algarve are becoming increasingly upset with the situation regarding wild camping, as they are watching their favourite spots, beaches and views not only ruined by big boxy caravans, but also littered, burnt and destroyed in some cases.

The Portugal News spoke to residents near Praia da Ingrina, a beach that is part of the Costa Vicentina Natural Park in the southwest of the Algarve, where the issue of wild camping is very apparent.

The residents, who prefer to remain anonymous, pointed out the repercussions that nature and the locals suffer caused by the illegal camping. According to them, during the height of the pandemic, when tourism experienced a massive slow down, no campers showed up at the beaches which resulted in wildlife returning to the area.

Apart from the loss of wildlife, these wild campers create a number of other issues, including the litter they leave behind, which varies from plastic that ends up in the ocean, to used toilet paper that can be found all over the natural park.

Cleaning out the waste tank, which most of these campervans have, is not a pleasant procedure and there is evidence of campers defecating in the wild and leaving behind all the used toilet paper and a noticeable odour.

Anyone visiting these areas is now not only met with the smell of faeces, but also has to watch their step and fight off the flies that come as a result of this behaviour.

The problem with wild camping in Portugal

Walking around these areas, it becomes apparent that, though unpleasant, this is not even the biggest problem. Wild camping is a romantic idea in theory, and what is camping in nature without a little campfire? All too often you can see self-built fire pits in the middle of the dry shrubs and bushes of the natural park.

The residents, increasingly worried for their safety and the safety of their homes, told The Portugal News that they have contacted the police and responsible authorities several times, but were mostly dismissed. They decided to take matters into their own hands and designed and printed flyers for the campers in Praia da Ingrina with information and guidelines about wild camping in Portugal as well as directions to the nearest legal campsite, which is less that a kilometre from the beach.

When distributing these flyers and asking the campers politely to leave the natural park, the residents told The Portugal News that the travellers often reacted aggressively and even went as far as physically attacking them and spitting on them in the middle of the pandemic.

Wild caravanning or camping in the Algarve is a punishable offence and can lead to the payment of fines ranging between €200 and €2,000 in the case of minor offences, or between €400 and €4,000 in the case of negligence or fraud.

In the eyes of the residents the police are being too lenient when it comes to the enforcement of these laws. They feel that all too often the authorities only tell the campers to leave the area and send fines to their addresses in foreign countries, which end up never being paid.

“From an economic point of view, these kinds of tourists spend very little money in the country and are therefore not as helpful or essential to Portuguese business owners as the regular tourist,” said the local resident. Owners of establishments on the beach or in areas where wild camping is a problem report that the campers come into their restaurant only to use the toilet during the day, but then go back to their caravan to cook the tinned food they brought from their country of origin in order to save money.

The Portugal News contacted the authorities to ask if they are aware of the situation and how they have been dealing with it.Firstly, the GNR station in Vila do Bispo referred us to the GNR in Portimão in order to get a statement on this topic. When contacted, the Portimão authorities said that they “do not know anything concerning the reports” and transferred the call to the environmental department, who also were unable to provide further information.

Finally the Communication and Public Relations Officer for the Territorial Command of Faro told The Portugal News that the “GNR supervises the area but nothing more is being done by the authorities.” According to the same source, the authorities are aware of the reports that have been made by the residents and when the GNR goes out to the areas in question, the “people just leave and move to another place and camp in another area.”

The Civil Protection of Vila do Bispo is aware of the wild camping situation and added that, “it is a constant effort to fight against this” with the authorities attempting to control the situation since March. According to the same source, Praia da Ingrina is not the only area where this problem exists. Praia das Furnas is also a problematic area and Civil Protection has been jointly working with GNR and Maritime Authorities from Lagos. The source added that these people are not tourists that spend a week or two in the area but stay there for months, creating environmental problems such as the risk of forest fires caused by the use of gas devices to cook, for example.

When asked what the authorities are doing besides supervising the area and telling campers that they should not be there, Civil Protection told The Portugal News, that the authorities are putting signs in the area which inform that it is forbidden to park motorhomes in that area. Praia da Barriga and Praia do Zavial already have these signs. The source also admitted that even though both situations can be dangerous to the environment, the authorities prefer that the wild campers stay in the beach areas instead of forest areas due to the risk of a forest fire being lower next to beach areas when compared to forest areas.