Exploring Geres National Park in Portugal
Exploring Peneda-Geres National Park with Oporto Adventure Tours
Note: The opinions expressed in my blog are my own. I paid full price for my tour with Oporto Adventure Tours and they did not ask me to blog about them. I simply want to share what a wonderful trip I had.
During my recent trip to Portugal, I wanted to go somewhere that I’d never been before. A few years ago I’d stumbled across a blog post talking about Peneda-Geres National Park, but there was scanty information out there. The Portuguese websites for Geres extolled its beauty, remoteness, wild ponies and tumultuous waterfalls. But there really isn’t that much additional information out there, and at the time, I could only find a tour company that left from Braga, not Porto where I was staying. My sister and I considered driving there ourselves, but that day it was rainy and we decided to stay in Porto instead (we took the train through the Douro River Valley instead which you can read about here).
Now I laugh at the thought that we were going to take our automatic transmission, tiny sedan up to Geres National Park by ourselves. What were we thinking? Sure, if you search online you will find some adventurous people who explore the park on their own… but I cannot stress enough that having a guide will a) keep you safe – there aren’t a lot of signs or tourist information when you get there and b) help you experience the park to its fullest, as many of the destinations required off-roading – and GPS doesn’t even work once you’re this remote. Additionally, if you do not speak Portuguese, you will be putting yourself in quite a risky situation as you will not be able to ask for help from anyone. This park is stunning and beautiful, but it is not yet designed for English speaking tourists who aren’t familiar with its roads.
Enter the tour company called Oporto Adventure Tours. They offer hotel pickup in Porto and a full day of touring and/or adventure activities. They do also offer activities like canyoning and white water rafting, but those who know me know that I am not into adrenaline activities and so I just wanted a “regular” tour. I would also like to mention that Oporto Adventure Tours donates part of your tour fee to local conservation efforts in the park.
I went on December 30 so the Winter Tour was available. The Winter Tour and the Summer Tours do go to different locations, so that’s a nice motivation to go twice! The Summer Tour will offer opportunities for swimming by the waterfalls. Although we did go in winter, it was still beautiful and quite unlike anything I’d ever seen before! I would recommend this unequivocally for those who want to get out of the city and who want to see the “remote” parts of Portugal.
About Peneda-Geres National Park:
Peneda-Gerês National Park is in northern Portugal, near the Spanish border. Its rugged hills are home to deer, wolves and golden eagles. Trails include a Roman road studded with milestones. The spa town Gerês is nearby. Lindoso is a traditional village with a medieval castle and stone granaries. To the north, the 19th-century Shrine of Santuario de Nossa Senhora da Peneda sits above a stairway in Peneda village.
- If you go in the winter, definitely wear layers – the rain drizzled all day, but didn’t interfere with our enjoyment, and all of us decided to put on our hat and scarves at one point when the wind picked up. (Then we would get warm from hiking up a hill and take them off.)
- Waterproof boots are very useful. It’s true that hiking boots feel heavier, but those who wore sneakers definitely slipped more than the boot-wearers. Of course, sneakers may be all you have, but just something to bear in mind.
- ALSO, wear long pants. (This is obvious in the winter but not in the summer.) There were several sections while walking in the woods that had sharp thorns, and wearing shorts would have resulted in stinging legs!
- Bring your camera, and a snack or two – you get a hearty lunch in the middle of the day (Mr TravelObservations says it was the best meal he had on the entire trip), but you WILL be tired on the drive back and it can be nice to have a piece of fruit or some nuts to tide you over at the end of the day.
Oporto Adventure Tours picked us up from our hotel in central Porto promptly at 8:30am. Joao was our guide for the day and was friendly, funny, enthusiastic, and so knowledgeable. You can tell the love for Geres that everyone at Oporto Adventure Tours has.
Communication ahead of the trip was through email and was completely smooth, they send you an email reminder of your pickup time and answer all your questions.
The 4×4 Land Rover they used has space for 6 people, but there were only 4 of us on this day. It’s nice to know that even if normally you are “anti-tour”, you are not in a crowded tour bus with 30 people!
It’s about 90 minutes drive north of Porto before you start getting into the park. Please note that there are some dirt roads that can make for a bumpy ride – if you have any inclinations towards car sickness, I suggest bringing the proper medications.
We stopped in Fafião, which I affectionately refer to as “The wolf village.” There is a beautiful viewpoint here with a statue of a wolf. Geres still is home to about 200 Iberian wolves, and we had the unscheduled opportunity to talk to an employee of a small ecotourism museum there who recently returned from a trip with National Geographic Magazine to help them track the wolves. He was very knowledgeable, and we walked to an eerie “wolf trap,” where in the olden days they would drive the wolves into a hidden pit to kill them. Nowadays, the wolves are protected, and conservation efforts are helping them make a comeback.
Then we hiked to the stunning “Tahiti” waterfalls, in summer you can swim here too, but we just took in the natural beauty. The water is pure enough to drink and some of us tasted the clear mountain water.
We ate lunch at a traditional Portuguese restaurant with a panoramic view of the park (we ate inside, but I imagine in the summer you do eat outside).
We also went to Pedra Bela’s viewpoint, which is one of the most photographed locations, but the fog completely descended at this point, so we just imagined the view. The fog definitely led to some mysterious-looking photos!
Along the way we passed local shepherds with their dogs, herding sheep and goats – at one point we had to pull over and just wait 5 minutes for all the goats to pass!
We were also supposed to go the sunken city of “Vilarinho das Furnas” but the road conditions were not good so we skipped that. When you’re in a wild, remote zone, you do have to be flexible and you should respect the judgment of Oporto Adventure Tours – they won’t take you anywhere it’s not safe.
We passed the Arado waterfalls and Arado river, hiking a little bit along the rocks (you don’t have to jump from rock to rock if you don’t want to – I said no, because I am the klutziest person alive and just sat on one side of the river and took photos).
We got back to the hotel close to 7:30pm, exhausted and exhilarated. The opportunity to view such a beautiful and remote part of Portugal was a privilege, and I can’t wait to go back again soon!