This post on Portugal campervan hire was sponsored by Portugal by Van, but all opinions are my own!
Vasco da Gama in Lisbon is the longest bridge in Europe, running some 17.2km. The first time I ever saw the thing, I was white knuckling the steering wheel of our just-rented, Class II campervan. My mom had come all the way to Portugal for a visit. We decided to break up our usual routine of bed & breakfasts, but we had been in our campervan for less than seven minutes and had already taken the wrong exit (… twice). I had imagined almost every detail of this Portugal campervan hire from sipping coffee in a pile of blankets to driving through the rain with the windshield wipers flipping furiously, but it seems I’d failed to actually imagine the very first step of our journey: two nervous drivers getting the hell out of Lisbon.
Of course, it didn’t take long for the city to fall behind us so the feeling of fear could dissipate into freedom. We had no route in mind, but 1,794 km of coastline, a diesel engine, and everything we needed. These certainly seemed to be the ingredients for a good time.
Are you thinking about taking on Portugal by campervan? Here’s a complete guide to campervan hire with tips for picking a van, itinerary suggestions, insight for finding campsites, and everything else you need to know to make the trip happen.
How to Pick a Campervan
There are plenty of companies that offer campervan hire in Portugal, but Indie Campers, Portugal by Van, and Pura Vida Campers are the most popular ones. Before we get into the finer details, read some of the considerations for finding a campervan that suits your trip.
Specifications: Can you drive manual or do you need a van with an automatic transmission? Do you prefer a certain make and model? Most campervans you can hire in Portugal are VWs, Fiats, or Mercedes with a manual transmission. If you need automatic, be sure to ask ahead of time!
Size: How many people are you traveling with? How much luggage and equipment do you have? Do you plan to spend a lot of time in the van? Are you comfortable driving a bigger vehicle? Most campervans sleep between two and four people and have plenty of room to stash luggage or gear. That being said, if you’re traveling with large items (like a surfboard) or expect to be spending a lot of time inside the van, give yourself more room than you think you’ll need.
Budget: What’s your budget? How much is gas going to cost for the vehicle you choose? Depending on the season and van type, Portugal campervan hire will cost anywhere from 55€ – 180€ per day. Most rental companies will also offer insurance and ask for a deposit to ensure the safe return of the vehicle.
Other considerations: Is there a kitchen? What about a toilet or shower? Do you need a bike or surfboard rack? You can rent almost anything you need as an add-on to your rental.
Important: For campervan hire, you’ll also need a passport, a valid driver’s license, a signed rental agreement, and a security deposit. While I’ve never been asked to show it, it’s also helpful to have an International Driver’s License (super easy and only $20 through AAA) that translates your license and permits you to drive out of your home country.
Inside our Van
We ended up arranging our Portugal campervan hire with Portugal by Van not only because of their cool fleet of vehicles, but because they were quick to respond to emails, they had good reviews, and (perhaps most importantly) they were really personable from the first email to the day we returned the van.
Portugal by Van hires out three-person and four-person Fiat campervans. Our campervan for a five-day, four-night adventure along the coast was a 2014 Fiat Ducato with a manual transmission. While it was just the two of us traveling, it had seats and beds for three people. The campervan was also outfitted with a kitchenette that included a sink and a countertop where we could cook with a portable gas stove and stash our food in the cooler.
Water: The van has a 30L tank to store water and a secondary tank that collects wastewater. While it’s not recommendable to drink water from the tap, you can easily use it for cooking, brushing your teeth, washing your hands, etc. Most campsites will offer stations where you can refill the tank or drain your wastewater.
Electricity: The van is also equipped with a battery that powers an overhead light and USB charging when the van is stopped, and a 12V / 220V outlet that you can use to charge larger devices when the battery is plugged into a power source. Most campsites also offer a place where you can hook up your campervan to recharge your battery.
Cost of Campervan Hire in Portugal
The cost of campervan hire with Portugal by Van varies depending on the season. They also offer optional extras like insurance upgrades, alternate pickup points, WiFi, an electronic toll reader, bedding, and other rentable equipment for an extra charge. You should also consider the cost of campsites and gas in your daily budget. Here’s a quick overview of what things cost.
- Campervan Rental for 3-4 people incl. unlimited kilometers, a gas stove, a cooler, folding chairs, and kitchen appliances (55€-165€ per day)
- Gas (107€ per tank)
- Tolls (varies)
- Insurance (0€-15€ per day)
- Bed Linens (25€ per trip)
- Sleeping Bag (15€ per trip)
- Towels (20€ per trip)
- Surfboard or Bodyboard Rental (10€ per day)
- WiFi (30€ per trip)
- GPS (30€ per trip)
- Chemical Toilet (25€ per trip)
- BBQ Grill (17.50€ per trip)
- Alternate Pickup/Dropoff in Porto or Faro (150€)
Our rental would have averaged 107€ per day ($132 per day) which is not bad when you consider this included accommodation for two**, transport, activities, and cooking gear.
**Some of the private campsites charge a fee (~20€).
Campsites in Portugal
Portugal is one of the more campervan friendly countries in Europe with loads of designated campsites throughout the country and lax enforcement for wild camping.
Campsites in Portugal run the gamut (basic, free, beautiful, close to the beach, all the amenities, etc.). You don’t usually need to book campsites in advance, but it’s helpful to have a campsite in mind rather than just rocking up. There are campervans everywhere, but the sites can be a bit hard to find when you’re looking for them! The best resource for this is Roteiro Campista.
Wild camping, on the other hand, involves parking in an undesignated area and relying on what you have with you. This means no bathroom, no battery, and no guarantees, but oftentimes, these are the most beautiful spots and you’ll have them all to yourself.
When to Travel
The weather in Portugal is never particularly horrible (they brag about 300 days of sunshine a year), but some months are nicer than others if you’re hoping to surf or spend time outside. Low season is October to May when temperatures are a bit colder, but campsites are less crowded and rates are way lower. High season, on the other hand, is June to September. You’ll get the perfect weather, but you’ll also have to compete for privacy and pay a bit more.
Highway Tolls: You’ll have to pay tolls on most of the roads in Portugal, and the tolls are increased for a Class II vehicle. If you want to travel by highway, be sure to factor this into your budget. If you have a bit more time to spare and want to travel the backroads, just turn on the “avoid tolls” filter in Google Maps to find roads where you can cruise for free.
Getting Gas: The van runs on diesel fuel (the black nozzle) and has a 70L tank. We traveled over 700km and only had to fill up the tank on our last day when we arrived back to Lisbon.
Where to Go
With a craggy Western coastline kissing the Atlantic, plenty of natural parks, a handful of lush valleys, and more historical towns than you can really count, it’s hard to go wrong with any itinerary your land on for a Portuguese road trip. I’m working on an article with some of my favorites, so check back soon for that!