Your 2012 Indie Travel Champion Is…


In a big upset in the finals, Portugal squeaked by New Zealand to win the inaugural Indie Travel Take Down Tournament. In a tournament that saw lots of upsets, I don’t think many had the #8 seed in the Europe region winning the entire thing.  But there are many good reasons why Portugal was crowned the Indie Travel champion.


What you need to know about Portugal

Portugal was the surprise winner in the tournament, not because it is an undesirable destination, but simply because it usually isn’t the first place people think of visiting when planning a trip to western Europe. So if you’re like many other travelers and don’t know a whole lot about Portugal, here’s some information to get you started.

Where to go

  • Lisbon – The capital of Portugal is in a beautiful setting overlooking the Rio Tejo, and offers plenty to do for the city-loving traveler. Sleek, stylish, historical, and with plenty of culture, Lisbon is a great place to get your feet wet in Portugal.
  • Porto – Porto is a city with lots of variety. Plenty of history greets travelers in the historic center (the Ribeira district), while travelers in the know come here (instead of more popular and expensive Spain) for the architecture and culinary delights.
  • Coimbra – This university town is teeming with youthful exuberance, though it’s not just a place to party like many other college towns (though there’s plenty of that if that’s what you want). There plethora of green space is great for some good relaxation time , and Coimbra serves as a good base for exploring nearby mountains and Roman ruins.
  • Sintra – If you’re looking for a fairy-tale destination, this is it.  With its close proximity to Lisbon, Sintra has been a desirable destination for hundreds of years, and it’s easy to see why.  A Moorish Castle overlooks the town and surrounding hills and mountains, and though you won’t be alone here, it’s still well worth a visit.
  • Beaches – With over 500 miles (800 km) of beaches, and there are plenty of options for everyone in Portugal.
    • Algarve – the beaches in Algarve are typically most popular and have plenty of resorts, but if you venture out a bit, you can find less visited beaches and areas to explore.  There are a wide variety of beaches in the Algarve area catering to a large number of people.  No matter what your beach goal is – sunbathing, lounging, or water sports, Algarve has a beach for you.
    •  If you are into surfing, check out the any of the following beaches: Ericeira, Peniche, Nazaré and Praia Ribeira.
    • Praia da Luz is the place to go if you are a diver.
    • Praia Figueiras is one of the more secluded and quiet beaches around if that’s what you’re looking for.
  • Peneda-Geres National Park – Geres is the place to go for the outdoor lover.  Located in northwest Portugal, the park is large and vast, offering travelers mountains, valleys, and forests.  It does rain quite a bit here, but the hiking possibilities are amazing and the old villages are like going back in time.

Portugal has the warmest, mildest climate in western Europe, and the sunny days and mild winters make this a desirable destination year-round. Temperatures have been known to climb into the 90’s F (40’s C) in July and August, and in the northwest (near Peneda-Geres National Park), temperatures can get cold in the winter and have a lot of precipitation.

When to go
High season in Portugal is mid-June to mid-September, with great weather (and larger crowds and higher prices). July and August can get really hot in many areas, particularly the Algarve and the Alentejo.

November to March sees milder temperatures and less crowds, but it’s also the time when you’re most likely to see rain. Spring and early autumn are both great times to visit as you should get the best of both worlds – nice, mild weather and smaller crowds.

Why Portugal is a great indie travel destination

Even though Portugal is in really touristy western Europe, it remains one of the cheaper and least visited destinations in the region, especially when compared to nearby Spain and France. The great thing about Portugal is that it simply isn’t on the tourist radar like many other countries in the region. Because it’s relatively isolated from the rest of the continent, it has a very unique culture that it can call its own. There is a wide variety of landscapes and activities to enjoy, from big, lively cities to quiet countrysides to soaring mountains to beautiful beaches.

The fact that it’s such a small country makes it a great destination for the indie traveler. It’s relatively easy to get around via bus or train, and if you want to rent a car and explore on your own, that’s also a legitimate possibility. If you’re a foodie, then Portugal has plenty to offer as an up-and-coming destination for amazing cuisine. There is plenty of fresh fish and seafood on offer, and if you’re a pastry lover, you’ll be in heaven. Try stopping in a pastelaria to fill your sweet tooth craving.

Even though many of you may not have had Portugal in your Indie Travel Take Down brackets, we think it is a worthy winner of the inaugural tournament.

Have you been to Portugal before? Do you think it’s a good indie travel destination? What would you recommend for first-time visitors? Comment below to share your thoughts.

Read more about Portugal:

Photo credits:  Marcello Casal Jr., F H Mira