Visiting Portugal without visiting the Algarve and its spectacular coast is like going to Italy and not trying the pasta. But where do you go if you only have a few days to spend there? For a small sampling of the Algarve’s beauty, here is how to make the most of 3 days in the Lagoa area, including visiting one of the most beautiful sea caves in the Mediterranean!
Three Days in the Algarve
Day 1. Tour the coastal grottos and Benagil Cave
If I had you at ‘most beautiful sea cave’, wait until you actually see Benagil Cave for yourself.
For starters, the cave is massive enough to have its own beach, which you only reach by sea, entering through either of two large rock arches. Inside, far from being gloomy or dark, the cave is bathed in sunlight through a naturally-formed circular ‘skylight’ in the rock ceiling almost 100 feet above the beach. The sunlight streaming in through this opening creates an Oscar-worthy spotlight in the middle of the cave, while illuminating the turquoise waters that cast green reflections onto the rock walls. It is nothing short of spectacular.
TIP: Bengail Cave is the kind of place that exotic dreams are made of, and if your ‘Blue Lagoon’ fantasy includes spending time inside this grotto, here is some good news: Taruga Tours runs boat tours up and down the coast from their Benagil beach location and they will actually drop you off inside Benagil cave for as long as you like, picking you up on one of their return trips.
Day 2. Hike any or all of the cliff-top trail between Carvoeiro and Praia da Marinha
Benagil is mid-point between the resort town of Carvoeiro, and Praia da Marinha beach (one of the Algarve’s most beautiful), between which there is a 12km clifftop hiking trail that offers panoramic views of this stunning piece of the Algarve coastline. Whichever piece you decide to explore, or whichever direction you choose to hike, there are incredible vantage points all along the trail, where every undulation in the coast reveals yet another beautiful bay or secluded beach.
Praia da Marinha
At the eastern end of the trail is Praia da Marinha, one of the larger coves in the area, with carved-rock formations and sea stacks that punctuate the jewel-coloured ocean, as well as a popular sandy beach for swimming.
Luckily, this part of the Algarve is nowhere near as crowded or developed as some of the larger beaches, making Praia da Marinha feel more like a local beach than a resort playground. Of course it also means there are few facilities here, and access is via stone steps down the side of the cliff.
Hiking west and just before you reach the town of Carvoeiro, you’ll discover Algar Seco, a piece of the coastline known for its rock formations that have been hollowed out and sculpted by both water and wind. Here you can walk around the rocky ledges, exploring the eroded and hollowed-out landscape with its organic ‘windows’ that look out onto the Mediterranean.
There’s even a restaurant and bar nestled in between the rocks if you want to break up your hike with a very civilized rest stop (read ‘cocktail’!)
Just past Algar Seco at the western end of the hiking trail is Carvoeiro, a resort town that is small enough for it to feel local, but large enough to offer the amenities tourists want. And if you time your hike so that you arrive in Carvoeiro in time for sunset, the top of the town offers a pixel-perfect vantage point for capturing one of the Algarve’s famous sunsets.
Day 3. Road trip to Praia da Rocha beach
For a change of pace from the small, hidden coves near Benagil, drive west for an hour or so to Portimao, to see one of the larger resort and tourist areas in this part of the Algarve.
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Portimao signals the start of a string of beaches including Praia da Rocha, where you’ll find a very different type of Algarve beach with huge expanses of sand that attract both locals and tourists by the thousands in peak season.
Beaches line the coast here for kilometers, giving this area a busy resort feel, and the main strip above Praia da Rocha is filled with bars, shops, restaurants and hotels.
TIP: Be prepared for a bit of a hike down the stairs to the Praia da Rocha beach, but once there you’ll find plenty of amenities on the beach.
Whether your vision of the Algarve is discovering secluded coves and hidden beaches while hiking along a spectacularly beautiful coastline, or being part of a hopping beach scene in a resort town, this small piece of Portugal’s famous coastline near Lagoa can offer it all – and still leave you time to enjoy it.
Getting around: To make the most of your time and to have the most flexibility, rent a car to get around in the Algarve, especially if you want to visit places like Benagil which are tiny and don’t have direct access by bus or rail. Fortunately, driving in Portugal isn’t as crazy as some people may think, and the main highways are easy to navigate and well maintained.
About the Author
BIO: Jane and Henk are the husband and wife team behind GrownupTravels.com, a website offering inspiration and information for travellers 45+. They believe that “the best souvenirs are stories”, and while Jane obsesses over uncovering the unique and the boutique around the world, Henk focuses on capturing the photos of their travels. Follow them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.