Algarve and the soutHwestern coast

Last Updated on October 29, 2023

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Inside the famous Algar do Benagil

Algarve is the area in southern Portugal, between the border with Spain and the Atlantic Ocean.  Most people associate the Algarve with multi-colored sandstone cliffs and rock formations that are common in the coastal areas.  There are also many beaches in this area that have the sandstone cliffs as the backdrop making it enticing to spend a lazy day at the beach.  The coastal area of the Algarve is well developed and can be crowded depending on where and when you go.

The southwestern coast, meaning the coast between the Algarve and Lisbon, has the same nice beaches, minus the dramatic limestone cliffs and caves.  There are tourists that visit the southwestern coast but not in the hordes common in the Algarve.  The southwestern coast is the place to be if you want space, peace and quiet at a beach.

We visited both areas in May 2023.  The weather was perfect.  It was sunny but not too warm.  Depending on the area, the beaches may have calm water or may have crashing waves.  At Monte Gordo, the water was calm but as we headed west, the waves were crashing making swimming not enjoyable.  All the beaches we visited in the southwestern coast had waves such that people preferred to just lounge at the beach. 


We based ourselves at Armacao and did day trips from there.  We visited the Cabo de São Vicente Lighthouse, Sagres Fortress, Ponta da Piedade and Praia dos Três Irmãos, did a boat and kayak tour, completed the Seven Hanging Valleys and Trail of the Headlands Trails between Praia da Marinha and Praia dos Caneiros.  We capped our stay in the Algarve by spending a lazy afternoon at Praia dos Caneiros.

Cabo de Sao Vicente Lighthouse and Sagres Fortress

The drive between Armacao and Cabo de Sao Vicente Lighthouse took about 1.5 hours on Highway N125.  There are a ton of roundabouts along the way.  The travel time can be shortened through toll roads.  

We pulled over on the side of the road about 5 kms from the lighthouse to check out the cliffs.  There are dramatic cliff views starting from that point all the way to the lighthouse.  There is not much to see at the lighthouse except the souvenir shop.  Most of the Instagram worthy shots are along the cliffs leading to the lighthouse.

Dramatic sea cliffs on the way to Cabo de Sao Vicente Lighthouse

There is a 3 Euro per person admission at the Sagres Fortress.  Here, you can step on the second southernmost point of mainland Portugal (the southernmost point is near Faro).  There are many viewpoints to take pictures from.  Allow at least an hour to roam within the fortress.

More sea cliff views from Sagres Fortress

Boat Cave Tour 

The tourist information officer at Armacao suggested we take a boat tour if we wanted to see different caves, rock formations and the limestone cliffs from the water.  The boat tour is approximately an hour long and started from Armacao and headed west along the coast.  There were about 10 points of interest, including goings inside a couple of sea caves and getting close to natural rock formations.  The tour finished at Algar de Benagil before returning back to Armacao. 

Boat tour getting up close to one of the sea arches. The same arch can be viewed from the Seven Hanging Valleys hike.

The best place is in front of the boat.  Not only do you not have to look over someone else’s head, you can take better pictures inside the Algar de Benagil.  It was low tide when the boat entered the Algar de Benagil.  Because the water was low, it could not get far inside the cave. Being in front of the boat allowed us to take pictures of inside the cave as the boat entered the cave bow first.

Ponta da Piedade and Praia dos Tres Irmaos

Ponta da Piedade has some awe inspiring rock formations. There are several sea arches and hoodoos.  There is a boat tour operating at Ponta da Piedade as well.  There is also a small beach with calm waters that people can hang out at.  However, you have to tackle a couple of hundred steps to get down to the beach.  We explored Ponta da Piedade between 3PM and 5 PM and there were still a lot of people doing the same thing as we were doing.

Some of the many rock formations at Ponta da Piedades

We stopped by Praia dos Três Irmãos on our way back to Armacao from Ponta da Piedade. It was already 6PM.   At first, the place was underwhelming as there were not many unique rock formations to look at.  Then we heard some music playing and some people going further back into the rock formations.  So we followed them and it led to another beach with a restaurant playing the music.  There were people dancing and having a good time at the beach.  The arches and colorful yellow, orange and red rock formations are located here.  It was perfect timing as the sun was getting low and the rocks were colorful.  

Praia dos Tres Irmaos

Seven Hanging Valleys and Trail of the Headlands Hike

The Seven Hanging Valleys is about 5.7 kms and is between Praia da Marinha and Praia do Vale de Centeanes.   The Trail of the Headlands is about 6 kms and is between Praia do Carvoeiro and Praia dos Caneiros .  There is about a 2 kms distance between Praia do Vale de Centeanes and Praia do Carvoeiro.  Altogether, the entire stretch is close to 14 kms.

We began the hike at Praia da Marinha parking lot around 7:30 AM.  There were only a handful of cars parked at the parking lot.  It was a little chilly but it warmed up quickly under the sun’s rays. We walked westward and immediately was greeted with wonderful rock formations and a few arches.  The trail has a lot of ups and downs all the way to Praia do Vale Centeanes.  The trail also passes by Algar do Benagil but the hole is fenced off with a good setback such that you cannot see the beach down below.

One of the many wonderful views along the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail

We reached Praia do Vale de Centeanes around 10 AM.  Then we mostly walked alongside M530 until we reached the Algar do Seco where we picked up the boardwalk.  The boardwalk ended at the Forte de Nossa Senhora da Encarnação so we walked on the street until we reached Praia do Carvoeiro.  We ate our sandwiches at Praia do Carvoeiro before continuing on Rua do Paraíso.  Not long after, we reached Mar d’Fora restaurant.  We walked between the cliff and the restaurant to access the trail just behind the wooden fence.  Not long after, we saw the Trail of the Headlands marker.

Looking at Praia do Carvoeiro. The trail continues on the road above the cliff in the background.

We encountered several Algars along the way but we could not see the bottom of it due to the fencing.  There were several wonderful viewpoints in both directions.  There was a section of the trail that looked dicey because there was only about 6 or 7 feet of real estate between the fence and the cliff. Also at that tight spot, the cliff was more like the beginning of an arch where the sandstone underneath has been eroded away.  We were actually following a couple of girls that turned back because they were scared to cross it.  We did anyway and continued on.

One of the many wonderful views along the Trail of the Headlands

We reached Praia dos Caneiros around 3:30 PM.  We took an Uber back to Praia da Marinha which took about 15 minutes and less than 13 Euros.  Our original plan was to lay on the beach at Praia da Marinha but the parking lot was full and the beach was crowded.  So we returned to Praia dos Caneiros where it was less crowded.  We pitched the apartment’s beach umbrella and lay on the sand for about an hour and half until the wind started feeling cooler.

The two trails are different despite being on the south coast of Algarve.  The Seven Hanging Valleys trail draw are rock formations, sea caves and arches while the Trail of the Headland draw are the wonderful views.  We actually liked the Trail of the Headlands better because of the views and there are less hikers. 

Kayaking the Algar do Benagil

We wanted to set foot inside the Algar do Benagil so we booked a 2  hour kayak tour with Secret Algarve for €35 per person.  We actually ran into Secret Algarve while we were hiking the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail.  We booked the 7 AM tour.  There were 18 guests, 9 tandem kayaks and two guides on solo kayaks.

Our guide gave his safety briefing and a crash course in kayaking before we hit the water.  Our first stop was the Algar do Benagil.  The waves inside the cave were larger than by the beach.  Our guides entered the cave first then motioned to us one by one to paddle in.  We were the first group inside the cave as there were no footprints yet on the sand.

Our kayak group getting ready to enter the Algar do Benagil

We spent about 30 minutes inside the cave and had our fill of taking photos.  The lighting was not the best inside the cave as it was still early but still it was fantastic.  Our next stop was another cave (without a top opening) to the west.  We all paddled inside the cave and stayed there for a while.

Then our guide took us about 400 feet from shore.  Our guide enticed us to take a dip in the 60 deg water.  It was very refreshing.  However, getting back on the kayak was a little challenging as it required upper body strength while making sure not to tip the kayak over.  Then it was time to return back  to shore.

Southwestern Coast

Just like Algarve, the southwestern coast has several beaches and villages or towns by the sea. The towns and villages are more spread out unlike the Algarve.   It will take months to visit all these places.  We only went to a few beaches, which were Praia da Amoreira, Odeceixe Mar Beach and Praia do Malhão.  We stayed at Vila do Milafontes and did day trips to Porto Covo and Praia de Odeceixe.  To us, the southwestern coast is the perfect place to chill.

Praia da Amoreira 

Praia da Amoreira is within the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentia.  We had to drive about 14 kilometers of patchy and bumpy road to reach it.  There were few visitors to the beach when we were there.  The beach is long and wide (meaning there is plenty of real estate).  Judging from the size of the parking lot, which was not huge, you would not have to worry about being crowded at this beach.

The empty beach of Praia da Amoreira

There is also the restaurant Paraíso do Mar at the beach.

Praia de Odeceixe (Village) and Odeceixe Mar Beach 

Praia de Odeceixe Village is a small community by the ocean.  It is perched on the side of the mountain and has a nice view of the beach and Ribeira de Seixe (river) below.  We were pleasantly surprised when we set eyes on this unique place.  This village must see a lot of visitors during the summer based on the amount of parking spaces on the side of the road.  

The sign says it all

There are large waves at Odeceixe Mar Beach.  There were a few people surfing but most people were just chilling at the beach or by the river bank.  There are several tiki looking huts that were free to use (since it was not in season yet).   

Vila de Milfontes and Porto Covo

Vila do MIlfontes is probably the largest town on the southwestern coast south of Lisbon.  It is located at the mouth of the Mira River.   It is a quiet town with some shops that line the main street and a sprinkling of restaurants.  The town is very walkable.

There are plenty of beach areas in Vila do Milfontes, both by the sea and by the river.  You may have to take a little walk but it is worth it to spend a relaxing day listening to the waves crash and the wind in your face.

Colorful sunset at Vila de Milfontes

We did a day trip to Porto Covo at the recommendation of our host in Armacao.  Porto Covo is a small town, more like a village with only a few blocks.  It has some shops and restaurants plus a couple of small beaches.  Just another place to go to if you want a change in scenery.

Praia do Malhão

Praia do Malhão is between Porto Covo and Vila do Milfontes.  It can be reached via a two kilometer dirt road from the main highway.  The praia is made up of three sections separated by large boulders.  It has ample parking spaces and plenty of beach real estate.  It is one of the many beaches along the southwest coast where you can just chillax.


The Algarve is located at the south coast of Portugal.  It is well developed and can be crowded depending on the time of the year. We went in May 2023.  The weather was perfect.  It did not feel humid at all.  It was warm under the sun at midday but got cool in the evenings.

Algarve’s claim to fame are the dramatic colorful sandstone cliffs, sea caves, arches and other rock formations.  The most famous is the Algar do Benagil which is a large cave with an opening on top.  To us, the best way to experience the Algar do Benagil is to book a kayak tour so you can set foot within the cave. Some strong swimmers actually swim from Benagil Beach to the cave wearing neoprene suits as the water is cold no matter what time of the year.

Portugal’s southwestern coast is perfect for relaxing and getting away from the crowds.  It is spared from the hordes of people that flock to the Algarve.  This is the place to get away from everybody.  Just pick a beach, town or village on the map and start exploring.  Odeceixe Village is in a beautiful setting with dramatic views and a beach and river to spend hours doing nothing.  If you want to stay in a larger town while still having the small town vibe, Vila do Milfontes is another destination.