I was here for the first time during a beautiful Autumn day. I remember strolling amongst all this Nature, in its rawest, in complete silence. I recall being stunned by the luscious-green landscape, with a lot of water, some slopes and observation points full of potential. I had never had a connection with earth but, at that moment, I bonded with it, and it’s been a strong bond until today.
The idea to build the Badoca Safari Park came to me on that trip. It was a very ambitious project, and many of my friends and family members thought it wasn’t a good decision. It took a lot of courage to come to Santiago do Cacém, without having any experience in the area, and start a breakthrough project like this one.
Fortunately, I fell in love with the region and this place. All of that helped me get to know my surroundings better, and I realised creating something that connected to Africa and wild, exotic animals made sense.
The dream came true and today, two million visitors later, our project is recognised for its work in preservation and conservation of species. We provide a unique experience daily, where people can be closer to exotic species, completely integrated and free in the middle of Alentejo. Animals like giraffes, zebras, gnus, lemurs, and many others.
The different species don’t mix, but they coexist peacefully, and that comes through in a high quality of life for the animals which impacts reproduction, that’s been very successful so far.
Two giraffes were born at the park, and we now have a tower of five giraffes. Breeding has gone well with zebras, gnus, and chimpanzees as well. That has only been possible because animals are comfortable here.
Our story and mission
I’m the youngest of 11 siblings. I studied hospitality in Switzerland, did some internships abroad, and ended up working at the Lapa hotel that belonged to my family. I worked there for 15 years until the day it was sold. That event changed my life. At the time I was in my early 30s, married, had three daughters, and realised I needed a change.
It all started by chance as I was reading the newspaper and spotted an article about Santiago do Cacém. I kept that article and went there a few months later. I met with the person I had read about, we exchanged contact details and, for a while, we discussed how we could make this project happen.
I got the space on May 14, 1999, without having a clear idea of what I was going to do with these 222 acres of land in Santiago do Cacém. There was no electricity, sewage, running water, or any other facility. Everything I thought I would find on the property wasn’t there. We started from scratch.
It was just this wild land in its rawest state.
I sought the help of local authorities, like the Instituto de Conservação da Natureza (the Portuguese government office in charge of Nature conservation), and they had no idea what was needed to take the project further. That’s how much of a breakthrough it was in Portugal. Little by little I joined a few animal institutions, some of them European, we prepared the property for visitors, and after we got all the needed licenses, we opened Badoca Safari Park.
Every television channel, magazine, and newspaper were suddenly covering us. The media gave us a lot of attention perhaps because the project was so innovative. That coverage helped us grow the entertainment part of the park, restaurants, and every other support facility for visitors.
In the beginning, everything was a learning process. I remember thinking everything was a massive success during the first safari, on opening day. Then someone came running to tell me the jeep had broken down and the visitors were stuck in the middle of the park. I panicked and immediately went to meet the customers who were, actually, in a great mood, and loving the adrenaline rush of the adventure.
On the right track
Badoca Safari Park is located in the Alentejo coast, in Vila Nova de Santo André, south of Grândola, a few kilometres north of Santiago do Cacém, about a one-hour-and-a-half drive from Lisbon.
Alentejo has many attractions and nearby in Santiago do Cacém, besides the Badoca Safari Park, you can visit the Ruínas de Miróbriga (ancient Roman ruins) that, together with the Castle, are a significant landmark in the city. I really like the historic area of Santiago, strolling through the old streets, flanked by handicraft and local products shops, and great restaurants. There has been a growth in accommodation units that are very rich and diverse, which allows visitors to rest in Alentejo comfortably and experience unique activities.
Alentejo is eager for us to get carried away while unveiling all of its secrets.
We are also very close to heavenly beaches, many of them practically undiscovered, with incredible natural scenery. And, of course, we can’t speak of beaches without talking about surf, one of the calling-card sports of this coast.
We’re close to Sines, as well, a city which is, well-deservedly, famous for great fish and great restaurants. Going south along the coast, you’ll see many of our local treasures in the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano and Costa Vicentina (the natural park area that covers the southwest of Alentejo and the coast).
It’s an escape from the city to a place where landscape and Nature are well preserved. The Lagoa de Santo André is a natural monument I never get tired of recommending. It’s the biggest lagoon on the Alentejo coast and, although the number of visitors has increased, it’s still practically wild with a high density of waterfowl, an invitation for observing these species in their natural habitat.