Algarve is one of the best known European summer destinations. The sandy golden beaches, long sunny season and crystal waters of the Atlantic Ocean attract millions of tourists every year. Yet, this Portuguese region is worth visiting, not just for sunbathing and swimming, but also for its scenic and spectacular landscapes. If you want to have an active holiday, but spend also a couple of days lying in the sun, this is the place for you.
As you know by now, we don’t like to sunbath, so we don’t often choose to go to beach destinations. But Algarve is another story. The beaches here are simply splendid and we didn’t regret spending two days exploring them.
Praia da Senhora da Rocha and Praia Nova
Praia da Senhora da Rocha is a small beach, flanked by high sandstone cliffs. These huge rocks protect it from strong winds and make it the perfect place for swimming, as the ocean here is pretty calm. Praia da Senhora da Rocha is connected to Praia Nova, a larger, but lesser known beach, by an artificial tunnel.
If you get there, I recommend you to climb these cliffs as the views from above are amazing. And on the headland separating these two beaches you will find the little charming chapel of Nossa Senhora da Rocha.
Praia da Marinha
I don’t even know how to begin telling you how impressive this beach is. For me, this is the most charming beach of Algarve. Before getting down on the beach, we decided to take in the panoramic view first. And what a view it was! The crystal turquoise water of the ocean contrasting with the orange limestone of the cliffs, the scattered rocks and the arches rising from the ocean are the ideal ingredients of a picture-perfect landscape.
If you feel like taking a hike, keep in mind that there is a walking trial on top of the cliffs, that stretch for kilometres. You can get to Praia de Benagil and even Praia Carvoeiro on this trial. As we didn’t have much time (as always!!!) and it was getting pretty hot, we only did a small part of it, but I have to admit that now I regret not walking from Benagil to Marinha on this trial, instead of driving. ☹
After you admire the landscape from above, go down to the beach. Getting down is a little bit demanding, as you will have to descend some steep stairs, but your effort will be rewarded once you step on the golden sand and find yourself surrounded by those gigantic limestone formations. If you go when the tides are low, you can explore the hidden alcoves and neighbouring coves, places that are flooded during high tide.
Although Praia da Marinha is featured in almost every book about the Algarve and was nominated by Michelin Guide as one of the 10 best beaches in Europe, as it is only accessible by car, the beach is not very crowdy, so I really recommend it, if you want to spend a day on a spectacular beach.
Praia da Benagil
We visited this beach first thing in the morning and I have to admit that I could barely sleep at the anticipation of next day. And my impatience had nothing to do with the beach itself, but with the boat tour you can take from there.
As we arrived very early to the beach, before we boarded a boat to take the caves tour, we headed up on the walking trails near the beach with the intention of seeing the famous Benagil Cave from above. The hole is surrounded by a fence and honestly, I was afraid to get to close to it, so I didn’t see much of it. But luckily Bogdan has very long hands and got to take some amazing pictures of the cave.
But let’s return to the boat trips. Taruga is the company operating from this beach and their tours to the caves are exceptional. We took a one hour tour and saw more than 20 caves. We even entered some of them. And every time we did so, the motor of the boat went silent and so did we, as we were all in awe of the scenery. It really is a wonderful experience!
Although the highlight of the tour is Benagil Cave, the iconic cove cathedral, I was more amazed by other caves. And my favourite one was a very small cave, where I didn’t even think we could fit. One moment we stopped near a tiny hole and I thought the guide is giving us time to take a look at it, but instead he was waiting for a wave and when the perfect one came, he suddenly speeded and we entered through that hole. That was absolutely astonishing, as we didn’t see that coming.
If you want to take this tour, be aware that the best time is early in the morning, when the tides are low, because if you go in the afternoon, the guide won’t be able to take you in all these caves (especially in the tiny one), as the level of the ocean will be too high and the entrance will be covered.
The only think I regret is not being able to stay a bit in Benagil Cave. If you want to do that, you have three options: you could ask the guide to drop you off in the cave and a later boat will pick you up (there are cave tours with stop to swim), you could swim to the cave from the beach, as it is not far away (for that you have to be a very good swimmer and the ocean has to be extremely calm, because if the ocean is rough, you could hit the cliffs), or you could hire a kayak.
Praia do Paraiso and Praia do Carvoeiro
If you dream of having a quiet and peaceful day, somewhere on an almost private beach, where there are very few people and you can hear the murmur of the ocean and the birds singing, Praia do Paraiso is the place you are looking for.
This is a small hidden cove, not far away from Carvoeiro, but as it is not very accessible (you can go by car or walk from Carvoeiro town and the descend to the beach is very steep), the majority of tourists prefer the town’s main beach, Carvoeiro.
Praia Dona Anna and Praia do Camilo
Praia Dona Anna and Praia do Camilo compete with Praia da Marinha for the most beautiful beach of Algarve. Although I find the latter one more spectacular, the first two have the advantage of being very close to Lagos and accessible by car, bus or even a 30-minute walk from the city. Therefore, these beaches are more visited and crowded than Praia da Marinha.
As you arrive at Praia Dona Anna from the parking lot, you will be welcomed by yet another splendid panoramic view of the beach, cliffs and ocean. From there you can either descend to the beach or continue walking on the trail that will take you to Praia do Camilo and Ponta da Piedade.
Praia do Camilo is smaller than Praia Dona Anna, but is equally charming, although you have to descend hundreds of stairs to get there. Praia do Camilo consists of two beaches connected by a tunnel cut through one of the cliffs.
Ponta da Piedade
Ponta da Piedade is another marvellous place of Algarve (I am running out of adjectives with so many beauties gathered in the same region), but to truly enjoy the stunning limestone formations, hidden caves and arches you should get on a boat trip, as this place is more beautiful from the sea level than from above.
And this is exactly what we’ve done. From the parking lot, we descended the narrow staircase to a small cove from where you have the best view of Ponta da Piedade (Pity Bridge) and there was a fisherman with his boat, ready to take tourists to explore the region. And although the sea was a bit rough, especially at the beginning, we forgot about it after a couple of minutes, as we were charmed by the landscape.
Praia do Beliche
Do you think that only in America or Australia are there perfect waves for surf? Well, you are wrong. Beliche beach is the perfect place for both experienced surfers and those who want to learn. Being very close to “the end of the world”, as the south-westernmost point of Portugal is known, the wind is very strong and therefore there are big waves.
Cabo de Sao Vicente
If you like sunsets, a wonderful place to watch it is Cabo de Sao Vicente. This place, the south-westernmost point of continental Europe, is known as “the end of the world“, because hundreds of years ago, before Magellan or Vasco da Gama explored the oceans, the Europeans thought that beyond this point there is nothing, but the ocean. And when you’ll see the landscape there, you will totally understand why people thought there is nothing beyond this point. The cliffs end very abruptly, the soil is extremely rocky and the wind is very strong, so be careful when you walk near the edges.
Beside these charming places, Algarve has many other beaches and natural wonders that are worth visiting and after spending 2 amazing exploring this region, I am decided to return on a not too distant day to explore the rest of Algarve. Well, I have to admit that this trip changed a little my idea that, if you do not like to spend your days lying on a sunbed, you cannot spend more than a couple of hours in a beach destination. There are plenty of other things to do, you just have to choose the right destination.