Salema Eco Camp delivers one of the most diverse and eco-friendly camping experiences in the region
Nine years ago, when three caravanners – Joaquim Lourenço, his wife Filipa, and their Swiss friend and partner Tobias Rihs – were visiting Salema, they realised the area’s potential for camping.
As nature lovers with children they want to raise side by side with nature, on August 2019, following a total renovation that took around eight months, they began a project based on out-of-the-box ideas – the Salema Eco Camp. A year later, the Covid-19 pandemic forced the park to close but allowed the trio to develop reforestation tasks, experimental sewage water treatment systems and solar panel installations.
As soon as they were allowed to reopen, there was a swarm of people from all over Europe looking for open spaces and contact with nature, valuing the tranquillity they offered over the stress and hubbub of more crowded areas.
There are many accommodation options and prices for all budgets.
For those who enjoy contact with nature, there are the ‘Tipi tents’ – ideal for two people but can accommodate up to four, being one of the favourites of the little ones.
The ‘Woodys’, only for two, are the most suitable for a first camping experience, as they have a bedroom feel to them.
Both options enjoy outdoor furniture, electricity and a mini-bar, and guests have toilets and a communal kitchen just a few metres away.
For up to five people, there are the ‘Domos’ tents, made of 100% cotton with two large windows, which are perfect for families or groups as they have a wooden terrace with views over the park and a fully equipped kitchen, also with toilets close by. Note that the three options listed above close between November and March.
For those who prefer to feel at home but still wake up in the middle of nature, there are studios, flats or even the ‘Glamping Eco Lodges’. There is also another special option called ‘Willow Tree Dome’, which can accommodate up to three people (two adults and one child) and, as the name suggests, is built under a tree that grows and forms a dome around it.
Personal tents, motorhomes, caravans and trailers are welcome in the camping area and everyone can enjoy the ‘Alma Mater’, the spiritual root of eco-camping which provides a range of activities for well-being, growth and personal development such as massages, yoga and meditation sessions with affordable prices, guaranteeing these services are “accessible by all and not a luxury”, Joaquim explains. Anyone can participate in these activities as well as enjoy the live music events that make the park their stage and liven up sunsets in Salema.
The Salema Eco Camp owners believe that to make the world a better place, we need to change our behaviour. Their plan was never based on immediate profit but, instead, on creating a concept with focus on sustainability and caring for the planet, making the most of the park and its advantages, with long-term goals.
When carbon neutrality was introduced to the camp, they sought out a German company as no one else is doing it in Portugal and, in November 2021, they received a certificate of Verified Carbon Unit (VCU) retirement. According to the Verra organisation (which manages “the world’s leading voluntary carbon markets programme, the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) Program”), VCU credits are “ultimately purchased and retired by an end user as a means of offsetting their emissions”.
Essentially, this means the Salema Eco Camp is buying carbon credits to compensate for emissions to fund environmental projects. Every year, the camping site donates funds to a different project focused on the development of people and communities, having already supported one in Namibia and another in Kenya.
Even though the carbon calculation has a high financial cost, Joaquim Lourenço revealed that it “teaches how to save in many areas”. For instance, the Nazari Restaurant is the first in the country where customers are informed about the carbon footprint of each dish.
Since the idea started to be developed, it hasn’t stopped evolving and involving everyone around it. The park’s commitment is not only to support the region’s economy but also to foster the exclusive consumption of organic products, mainly made in the Algarve or the Baixo Alentejo region, providing free water and fruit trees that all in the community can take advantage of.
From guests to staff members, everyone shares the same ideology. The camping site, located in the Costa Vicentina Natural Park, welcomes nature lovers “who have this vision that if we don’t do anything now, global warming is going to get worse much faster and we have to play our part,” Joaquim highlighted.
In the beginning, there were only four employees, a number that has grown to 40 working all year round, which is one of the concerns that managers have: ending seasonality and the need to reinforce the team during summer, ensuring “dignified working conditions and support” to all from psychological support, access to self-awareness practices and reduced shifts, as the owner pointed out.
Germans, Swiss, Austrians and Dutch tend to spend longer periods in the park, with the Portuguese preferring the summer months. In common, they share a love for the countryside and watersports. In Joaquim’s words, they are all “very healthy people who fit this concept and relate to it”.
By Beatriz Maio