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Santa Cruz is the festival and surf destination pioneering sustainable tourism


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The Centro de Portugal coast owes a lot of its appeal to its environment. Wild surf, fascinating rock formations, and long, sandy beaches are just some of the features that make the 279-kilometre coastline so appealing as a holiday and surf destination.

A quaint seaside town with sweeping stretches of white sand and a dependable swell from the Atlantic Ocean, Santa Cruz is a remote surf destination turned popular summertime resort where visitors can browse small souvenir shops and cafes before heading to its postcard-perfect beaches to ride waves with the local Noah Surf School.

Every year, Santa Cruz is captivated by the Santa Cruz Ocean Spirit Festival which sees the otherwise peaceful town energised by crowds of people united together to enjoy live music, aquatic sports, and picturesque beaches. This year between July 20th and July 29th, the Ocean Spirit Festival has taken over Santa Cruz for the twelfth time with an outdoor pool, performances by bands and DJS, and live viewing of the National Bodysurfing Championships for the third consecutive year. 

In 2017, an estimated 100,000 people flocked to Santa Cruz’s beaches to let their hair down and enjoy the festival's unqie combination of carefree partying and popular maritime sports such as surfing, bodyboarding, and surf kayaking.

A couple takes a stroll on the Centro de Portugal coast; Santa Cruz is in the distance.

Credit: Katie Treharne

While there is no environmental impact associated with harnessing the ocean’s waves or soaking in the sun’s the rays, the excess waste and high energy usage regrettably synonymous with festivals has been the paramount concern of not only festival-goers but the festival itself, which has recently introduced the “Be it Green” initiative.

The progressive “Be it Green” program, now in its second year, is the product of a contract signed by the Municipality of Torres Vedras and the Ministry of the Environment which finances environmental awareness measures with the principal goal of reducing lasting environmental disruption. This is achieved through the implementation of preventative measures and recovery measures for the promotion of the environment on the festival’s stage, Santa Cruz’s beaches.

The “Be it Green” initiative funds waste collection, sand monitoring, and ocean preservation. The “cigarette butt on the beach no” procedure, which is 60% financed, distributes individual portable ashtrays to festival-goers to prevent littering of cigarette butts in the sand. The butts can later be deposited at designated stations on-site. 

Furthermore, before, during, and after the festival, sand quality is monitored to assess the impact of mycological and bacteriological factors. This process is dedicated to preserving the quality of the beach and sand, ensuring that it maintains its Blue Flag and Gold Quality awards.

Views of the beach from Hotel Areias do Seixo.

Credit: Katie Treharne

Eco-friendly bathrooms with biodegradable liquid soap, recycled paper, and LED lighting are also designed to reduce environmental disruption and reduce energy usage.

Santa Cruz Ocean Spirit festival, more than encouraging people to practice outdoor sports and a healthy lifestyle, is pioneering change in festival culture towards sustainability and not only the recovery but the prevention of potential environmental disruption. The revolutionary “Be it Green” program protects Santa Cruz’s picturesque beaches from disruption and damage, ensuring that the festival and surf destination can be savoured by many generations to come.

However, Santa Cruz Ocean Spirit Festival is not the only aspect of Santa Cruz taking strides for responsible tourism. Brand new beachside luxury hotel Noah Surf House, which first opened its doors on the 20th July 2018, has been designed with similar green principles in mind. With cutting-edge architecture designed out of recycled fish traps and even a discarded fishing-boat, the surf-chic luxury hotel reduces its environmental impact with an outdoor solar-heated swimming pool, organic vegetable garden, and canopies made from recycled fishing nets.

Nearby, its sister hotel, five-star luxury hotel Hotel Areias do Seixo is described as a stylish eco-conscious beach retreat set on standards of sustainability. Guests return to Areias do Seixo for its tranquil and informal atmosphere and remote location surrounded by sand dunes and pine forests.

Inside one of the rooms at Hotel Areias do Seixo.

Credit: Katie Treharne

At Areias do Sexio, you can expect to be served homemade herbal tea sourced from its organic vegetable garden, organised by principles of permaculture. The grand hotel and grey-stone villas, with rooves supporting solar panels and planted with native species, have been constructed using materials selected for their low environmental impact such as stone, cork, and thermally-treated wood, which complements the hotel’s eco-chic aesthetic.

With luxury hotels designed to reduce environmental impact and support eco-tourism, Santa Cruz is a festival and surf destination dedicated to sustaining the beauty of its sweeping beaches and towering cliffs. While other popular holiday destinations are only beginning to latch onto principles of sustainability and conservation, Santa Cruz is one of many destinations on the Centro de Portugal coast which is pioneering positive change.

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