This article locates Portuguese tropical geography within wider academic debates on ‘tropicality’, contributing to discussion on not only the ‘tropicality of geography’ but also the ‘geography of tropicality’. It traces the role of Portuguese tropical geography in the colonial project and in the production of geographical knowledge, discourses and imaginaries, in particular the emergence of lusotropicality. While noting the underestimated connections with developments in German and British geography, we argue that the genealogy of Portuguese tropical geography lies mostly within contemporaneous French developments. By focusing on the central role of the Lisbon school (i.e. the Centre for Geographical Studies established in 1943), and in particular the tropical research initiated by Orlando Ribeiro (1911–1997), the paper seeks to engage with the ways in which geographical knowledge was produced within the academic discipline in Portugal under military dictatorship associated with the Estado Novo (1926–1974). By decentring the exploration of some of the ways in which the ‘tropics’ have been constructed and revising forms of producing geographical knowledge, the paper hopes to further understandings of the geographical imaginary of the tropics, unravelling the history and the role of geography in colonialism.