As a child growing up in Trinidad, I'd always get excited whenever we went to a beach that had a small cove or that involved a small hike and adventure in getting there.
My sisters, friends, and I were always in desperate search of adventure by the water, and my time in the Algarve region of Portugal reminded me of that never-ending and somewhat unfulfilled quest during my childhood. Filled with coves, caves, hikes, and surprises around every corner, I felt a great sense of accomplishment for my younger self as I explored the South of Portugal.
We booked this trip in advance, which allowed me ample time to get my "research life" in order. So I Googled (of course) from Lisbon to the Algarve, everything that we should do and where we should go, but almost a month before our vacation, I decided to just disregard much of it. I didn't feel like planning anymore, I'd figured out the basics- we'd agreed on where to stay and had rented a car. That was a good enough start- or so I thought.
So we got to Portugal, explored Lisbon, and then headed to the Algarve in our rented mini convertible! I'd had a picture of how we'd spend our summer days in the Algarve, and it was finally happening. So I buckled my seatbelt and got ready for the ride.
*Plays Childish Gambino, Feels Like Summer
Our first stop South of Lisbon was to a small town called Setubal. It's located just two hours from Lisbon and is a small and quiet fishing town. We stayed in this town for one night at an Airbnb and also explored the surrounding beaches like Praia da Arrabida and Praia de Galapos.
The beaches were a bit crowded, but there were also smaller coves which required a bit of effort to get to. Praia De Galapos was easier to get to and was void of people. We just walked along Praias da Arrabida and arrived at Praia de Galapos. The rock formations at this little beach were impressive and looked and felt a bit unreal.
The next day made our way on to a ferry that took us across to Tróia Peninsula. From there, we drove down a very scenic, countryside road to and through Comporta. The views from the drive itself were spectacular and surreal, and we were even lucky enough to catch the sunset on Comporta Beach.
After a 3-hour drive, we finally made it to Ferragudo, a small picturesque fishing village in the Algarve. There, we'd rented a cozy-renovated fisherman's house that served as our base for the eight days that we spent in the Algarve.
Our fisherman's house was located in a very local part of the village and allowed for us to have an authentic village experience. We were even a stone's throw away from the village square that consisted of restaurants, shops, and hosted live open-air music and dancing every night. We were also walking distance from beaches (the closest one even had a castle on the beach) and 15 minutes from Portimao (we could have seen it from our small rooftop).
From Ferragudo, we'd planned to visit other villages and of course, the beaches in those villages!
It took us a day or two to get acquainted with the area, and after which, we felt very comfortable to go with the flow and almost. We even became homies with the shopkeepers on our street, and once also lent me their iron! Shout out to our corner store homies!
As previously mentioned, I initially felt intimidated about planning a trip to the Algarve, but now that I've "been there, done that," I can confidently leave you with some tips that I hope will encourage you to visit sooner than later!
First things first…
TRAVEL PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: THE WATER IN PORTUGAL’S BEACHES IS COLD!!!
We'd visited so many beaches on our trip that I stopped counting at 13- because you know, "Thirteen Beaches" (*Lana Del Ray voice). We ultimately ended up visiting that many because trails connect a plethora of the beaches on the coast.
We spent our first day hiking along the coast from Carvoeiro town, and naturally stopped off at beaches along the way. Trekking along the coast was my favorite and most memorable experience in the Algarve. The views of the ocean were breathtaking and somewhat overwhelming, and the rock formations injected an element of adventure into the hike. I must say, however, that the trails in the Algarve aren't ones filled with shady trees, so I hiked in a swimsuit and took the opportunity to get my tan on.
My memorable beach experiences included my time at:
• Praia do Carvoeiro- a small beach located in Carvoeiro with lots of bars and restaurants. It wasn't in my favorite area of the town, but I liked it as a starting point to hike along the trail that led to other beaches and villages. It was also the first beach we'd visited in the Algarve.
• Praia do Carvalho- I was excited to visit this beach mainly because we had to enter through the tunnel to get to the beach. This beach is small but popular and in an isolated area. We had read that we should take food and drink to the beach and we were so glad that we did!
• Praia da Marinha- my favorite beach visited in the Algarve and that of many others. It is located in Lagoa and is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The most impressive thing to me was the golden rock formations that beach-goers were able to climb. They led to little sandy coves, and one could even wade through the water to get to rocks further out in the sea. I was naturally tempted to go further, but the water was ice cold, so I opted out of that adventure. It was torture to see others venture out, but also torture to be in such freezing water.
• Praia de Benagil - Benagil beach was memorable as it is right next to Benagil cave. The beach itself is tiny, obtaining parking is a bit difficult and as you may imagine, very crowded as most visitors were trying to get to Benagil caves. We were also at this beach with the sole intention of getting to the caves, and we did! Keep reading till the end to find out not only how we got there, but also how you shouldn't try to get to the cave.
Of all the villages visited in the Algarve, my favorite was Ferragudo (our base for our trip). It was a cozy fishing village that was not littered with tourists. Yes, of course, there were tourists, but not in an overwhelming way. The town still had a quietness that I'm sure we all appreciated.
Ferragudo is located in Lagoa and has many beaches, hiking trails, and great views. It's located on the other side of the river from Portimao, which made it easy for us to access to boat tours if needed. The most surprising thing about Ferragudo was the medieval castle called Castle of Arade. This castle was once used as a fort that guarded the mouth of the river against pirates and is perched in-between two beaches (that we were walking distance from our Airbnb)- Praia da Angrinha and Praia Grande.
Here are some other villages/towns that we visited.
Portimao- We stayed 10 minutes' drive away from Portimao and passed by the town many times, but it took us a missed appointment to end up in the village and explore the streets. Our Portuguese friends told us to avoid it, but I'm glad we didn't take their advice! After our missed appointment, we decided to take a quick walk through the streets, and I was pleasantly surprised. There was something a bit different about Portimao compared to the other towns we'd visited. Maybe it was because the buildings and houses seemed to be a bit more maintained, or it was right next to the water, or perhaps it was the random street art that seemed rare for the Algarve. Either way, we were glad that we had stopped by and even got a few souvenirs there.
Silves- is a small medieval town in the Algarve that is now partly in ruins, but once held great historical significance to the region. When we visited, the degradation was evident in almost every cobbled street that we explored. Still, there was something about the rubble that was unbelievably beautiful (*thinks about a quote about life and shit).
The castle of Silves is a main attraction in the town, and from its walls, one can view the vast hills of the countryside. I also enjoyed the views from Café Ingles, which is a fun restaurant with great food and service that is located next to the castle.
Lagos- Lagos could also be visited in a day, and we just stayed for a few hours. In our opinion, there wasn't much to see. Lagos was once the capital of the Algarve and also a crucial point in which African slaves were traded. There was even a Slave Market museum, but it was closed, and the reviews I'd read online about the museum weren't impressive. Luckily we were able to get to the cliffs of Ponta da Piedade in time to catch the sunset. If I had to do it all over, I would go to Lagos, but just for the evening along Ponta da Piedade. #worthit
Loulé- I loved this little town. It was crowded, but still had a local vibe that we are always in search of. Our experience at the Saturday market was one of our favorite memories of the Algarve, and we spent a lot of time and money there, browsing, chatting, shopping and bargaining with locals and eating local pastries, marmalades, cheese, and fruit!
Carvoeiro- I must admit that at first, this town gave us stereotypical Jersey Shore vibes, but after doing some exploring further up, we found a bit of both charm and adventure in Carvoeiro. This town is great for restaurants and is home to the Algar Seco rock formation. Walking through these cave-like formations along the sea was one for the books and definitely for my childhood self. And to add to the pleasure was Boneca Bar, a trendy outdoor bar that stood amid the formations. There is also a boardwalk and lighthouse close by, and we even caught the magical reflection of the moon on the vast ocean at one point. We'd searched for the charm, and we found it!