Alentejo - Giving something back

Wine Alentejo Portugal Europe by Alex RobinsonConsider supporting local producers of the excellent wine in the region © Alex Robinson

Giving something back

Increasing numbers of travellers are choosing to become more deeply involved in the destinations they visit. Rather than merely using them for beach, sun and a spot of adventure, they wish to learn more about them, interact more with local people and give something back to local communities. Much positive travelling is common sense, but here are a few tips, some of which are specific to the Alentejo or Portugal.

Before you go

– Learn some Portuguese. Most Portuguese speak good English but will appreciate your interest in their language, and once you get beyond the basics, conversing in Portuguese, even simply, will ensure you get so much more from your visit.
– Read up on Portuguese history, culture and sport and listen to some local music. This will immediately earn you local friends.
– Learn something about the wildlife and visit areas where it is threatened, especially the raptors and lynxes.
– Consider supporting local NGOs that preserve the environment and protect wildlife like the critically endangered Iberian lynx and the region’s rare raptors.These include the Liga para a Proteção da Natureza, who do sterling work throughout Portugal. Many international NGOs like WWF support the LPN’s work protecting the lynx.
– Plan ahead to visit local conservation or wildlife projects with local rather than international tour operator guides.

When in Alentejo

– The Alentejo is one of Europe’s poorest regions. Help the local economy by buying the wonderful wines, cheeses, olive oil and arts and crafts, as well as local everyday produce (rather than imported goods): insect repellent, soap, shampoo, flip-flops, bathing costumes and so on are available at the same or better quality in Portugal as they are back home.
– Stay in a small local hotel rather than a big international chain. The Alentejo is replete with charming rural guesthouses and homestays, many of which are family-run and offer a far more intimate experience of Portugal and its people than a corporate-owned city hotel.
– Bring your rubbish in and out of national parks.
– Book tours through local operators rather than one central office in Lisbon. This distributes income more evenly.
– Always ask about the local wildlife, addressing specific questions to local guides and requesting a species list from hotels and operators that package themselves as practising ecotourism. This greatly increases awareness and the sense of economic importance of the wildlife itself. Hunting is widespread in the Alentejo and farmers often indiscriminately kill raptors. Showing an interest will help encourage locals to see animals as key to tourist interests, ensuring their preservation.
– Don’t pick wild flowers.

Ecotourism: some pointers

Here are a few things to consider when choosing a tour operator or place to stay. The more these questions are asked, the more awareness is increased in Portugal.

– Does the establishment or operator have a written policy regarding responsible activity towards the environment and local communities?
– What exactly do they do to support the local community? How do they measure it?
– How many of their employees are locals?
– Do they train locals to enable them to work as guides or management?
– If the hotel is based in natural surroundings, do they have a species list for birds or mammals? What endangered or threatened species live in their area? How aware of these are they?
– What exactly do they do to support the environment? How do they measure it?
– Do they recycle? How do operators deal with rubbish, and do they make an effort to work with hotels that recycle? Do hotels recycle water and/or rubbish, and how do they treat their sewage?
– Do they use solar power or make an effort to work with those that do? Ask them what percentage of produce and services are sourced from within 25km of the lodge.
– What percentage of their food and chattels are locally sourced?
– How do they help tourists to become more involved in local conservation or community projects?

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