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Wild and without a campground: Lisbon to Benagil

Leaving Lisbon for the Algarve seems to be a bit of a problem. We have plans to get to nearby Benagil caves and beach and wild camp somewhere on the beach or cliffs. Before we can even consider that though we need to get south. Train and Bus are out of our budget. We toy around with hitchhiking but considering our previous failings in Portugal we checkout Blabla car.

There is a guy leaving early tomorrow morning, and he is stopping in Albufeira which is on the south coast. We should be there at a decent time. And therefore will have enough time to hitchhike the 30 or so kilometres to Benagil. We’re all packed and ready to leave on our final evening in Lisbon. So we decide to take an evening walk through the bustling old streets and plazas. There are many musicians and street performers, so naturally we grab a beer, enjoy the performances and cosy up together in the mild winter cold.

Lisbon To Algarve

Up bright and early, we run around frantically buying metro tickets at Rossi metro station. Double checking itineraries to make sure we’re not heading the opposite direction. We take the Green line, direction Telheiras and stop Alameda. Then we take the Red line, direction Aeroporto and stop Oriente.

We arrive at Oriente Train Station exactly on time. Or maybe a few minutes late for our scheduled meet on the outskirts of Lisbon. The traffic is absolutely crazy and there is no sign of the driver. There is barely any mobile phone reception and we cannot check our messages to see where our driver is or if he has already left. The day is going well already. We finally get in to the Blabla car app and it has somehow decided to change it’s language to French. We can hardly navigate. The final straw: we are both dying for the toilet. We are outside a train station but what if our driver turns up while we are in the toilet??!! At least it’s not as bad as when our driver crashed

We devise a plan, Caroline goes first. Maybe there is signal in the station or a WiFi network. It works. The guy has contacted us noting he will be late. We’re not sure if because of traffic or he just didn’t get up in time. Pretty annoying considering we got up super early and could have had another hour in bed. He doesn’t turn up for another hour. The prospect of sleeping on Benagil beach tonight is keeping us in high spirits though!

Blabla car, blabla man

When Pedro, our driver finally arrives we greet and lug our rucksacks in to the back. The car is full with other people taking advantage of cheap rides. Two other travellers – it’s like a hostel in the car. The driver is young and has cash, a nice car. He’s eccentric, informed and enthusiastic. He talks the whole way. He tells us about the history of Portugal and current social and political problems, like the eucalyptus issue.

Introduced from Australia in the 1800’s to help with other environmental issues, they spread like an invasive species. Nothing in Portugal can consume eucalyptus trees and they also suck all the water from the country. Foreign investors bought huge swaths of land to plant more eucalyptus to use in paper production. Forests were burnt, homes destroyed, people murdered by mercenaries. The problem is almost apocalyptic and as usual, fueled by money and greed.

Pedro is a lawyer, a former dancer, a singer and a boy scout. He also apparently runs a side business of organising booze boat parties. He proceeds to pass around a promotional video on his mobile for us to all watch. We nod and congratulate his entrepreneurship but are secretly disgusted and not even the slightest bit interested.

After a few hours of boring motorway we arrive in the south. We are the first drop off in Albufeira. Pedro is very interested in our hitchhiking plans but is not confident we will get a ride, he promises when he has to return here later, he will drive us to Benagil. We are not convinced he will return, he’s one of those, a lot of mouth but not much action. Regardless, we are thankful to have made it 30KM’s from our final destination for the day.

Supermarket Sweep

We get dropped off just outside of Albufeira since we have no business in town. However, much to our pleasure, there is a giant Lidl just across the road. We scuttle over like like rats as the huge, clean, church of food gleans down at us. It’s been a while since we’ve been to a big supermarket. We race around the supermarket, picking up things and putting them back because they are too heavy for us to carry.

Afterwards we lie down in the huge empty supermarket car park in the blazing heat with our loot. Using our rucksacks as pillows, resting and eating snacks. We’re mentally preparing ourselves for the next portion of the journey.

In order to get to Benagil, first we need to backtrack a little inland. Then we need to head to the west and then south again. Running east-west is a toll road, which in our experience are not easy to hitchhike on. Luckily, there is an older, smaller road running parallel to it. We head for that, planning to walk the north road, doubting any traffic will be heading exactly north and then west on our smaller road.

First hitch in Portugal to Benagil

The heat is burning down, and the road heads north on a slight incline. There is no shade, no trees, no shelter whatsoever. We can’t even imagine what it must be like here in the height of Summer. We walk for twenty minutes or so, trying our hand whenever a car drives past. Soon enough, a Brazilian/American stops to pick us up. He’s got a tiny car and isn’t going very far, and not to Benagil, but he ushers his kid to help us get the bags in to the boot and drops us off on the side of the road going west-east after ten minutes.

Our next destination is Lagoa, a small town on this road, from where we will head south on a country road to our final destination, Benagil. The opportunities are looking pretty bleak to begin with, as it seems most drivers are taking the toll highway parallel to ours. We’re anxious about getting a ride since our hitchhiking experiences so far in Portugal have not been so great.

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Stuck in the boot near Benagil

We wait by the side of the road, and after a short while a young Pakistani dude picks us up, a graduate from Manchester University. He moved to Portugal to work and earn money for his family back home but before all of that, he is insistent on finding a beautiful Portuguese wife. He appears to be struggling with this key part of the operation. He tells us about his country and the mountains, which I have always wanted to visit.

The ride lasts around 15 minutes and when we get to Lagoa, he drops us off just outside of town, at a roundabout where our road goes south to Benagil. Disaster strikes when we try to open the boot to retrieve our rucksacks. It seems it is jammed. Our attempts are futile, it will not budge. So we spend the next fifteen minutes trying to squeeze our huge rucksacks through the back seat, which we unclip and squeeze down to try and make enough room. Covered in sweat we wave goodbye.

Hitchhiking direct to Benagil Beach

From here it’s around 6KM to Benagil beach. We decide to walk down the road. We might potentially have to walk it all, with our huge rucksacks and the sweltering heat. We’re not sure how many cars will come down this little road. Well, it turns out we don’t need many, because the first car stops and drags us in. A old hippy Portuguese couple, they are really great, friendly, full of life and excited for our journey. We chat in rudimentary English and lots of gestures, so happy we finally got a ride from a local! They’re not quite going exactly where we want, but after consulting the map, they decide to drive us directly to Benagil beach. And here we are. On the Algarve, with all of our belongings! A great success. It reminds us of our epic hitchhiking journey across Switzerland.

Caroline standing proud on Benagil beach with hitchhiking sign and rucksacks

The next few hours we spend climbing rocks, swimming in the water and sunbathing on the almost empty but beautiful beach of Benagil. One of the main reason we came to this beach was for the beautiful secret cove. It can only be accessed by boat or swimming, but there are warning signs and a traffic light, alerting to the danger. Apparently it’s too dangerous, the sea is choppy and harsh.

Aydin in the sea at the Algarve

Instead I climb up the hiking paths and wander over to the top of the secret cove which is completely exposed. You can peer directly in to the cave from above. A pristine beach awaits from another planet. It’s an absolutely incomprehensible paradise. I’ve been excited for so long to visit this wonder and it does not disappoint.

The beauty of Benagil

A pathetic wooden fence surrounds the exterior of the hole with various warnings. It is dangerous and you could fall in and it would most certainly hurt. Nonetheless I hop over the fence and get right up close and comfortable to the very edge. I begin to wobble and loose my balance as I look across to the other side and see how thin the dome roof is. There is not much holding me up here; I wonder how long it will be before the whole roof collapses. I also wonder how incredible and terrifying it would be to spend the night down there in our tent. It would make for some incredible pictures for sure.

As I peer back up out of hole the rest of the incredible Algarve landscape presents itself. Golden light paints the tall sandstone cliffs and the Atlantic ocean crashes at the feet of the giants. Inaccessible beaches occupy every tiny inlet along the coast. They are perfection, swept of any footprints except for the odd seagull. The mind wanders off and scouts for any sort of entrance, a tunnel, a staircase, a rope, anything to get to this heaven on earth. Alas, there is none. The only way to access the beach is via boat, and in the summer months these beaches are supposedly busy. Hard to imagine on this beautiful day.

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Secret beaches and cliffs of Benagil

Then I notice a van parked on the edge of the cliff, with a hippy dude sitting in the back. I’m using my GorillaPod Tripod and when the dude notices, he comes over and tries to sell me his taller tripod. He is annoyed when I don’t want it, even when I explain I am hitchhiking with a full rucksack already. Not that I even need an excuse to not buy his crap. It’s very awkward so I leave and return back along the sea cliffs to Caroline.

Fisherman fishing on the cliffs of the Algarve

I take a different route back, along the edge of the cliffs which look back over Benagil beach, where we have spent the afternoon. The sun is setting and the light is magnificent. The Algarve is everything we had hoped for and more. I wave and whistle to Caroline who is now the last person on the beach. Look, just there to the right beneath the cliffs! I am hungry and I suppose Caroline is also so I head back down to her. It will be dark soon, but it should be easy for us to find a camping spot.

Benagil wild camping

We consult the internet and apparently on the west side of Benagil there are some spots for wild camping. It is not allowed at all, wild camping is illegal in Portugal. Although apparently the authorities are not really checking in the low season. A note on the legality of it all as well: in our opinion it is totally unjustified, the land belongs to all of us, not corporations or governments whether or not a piece of paper says so. Inevitably people do damage to beautiful places like this but they also don’t need a tent to do that. And just because we have a tent and want to camp does not mean we will damage the environment.

Enough with the anti-establishment bore, and onward in the story for an ironic twist. It is very apparent why wild camping is forbidden and that is because a (rather large) minority of people are assholes. There is human faeces and toilet paper dotted around everywhere this flat section of the cliffs. Disgusting.

We search around for a spot and it seems we’re not the only ones. I navigate around a large bush and spot another human, my eyes lock directly on to hers. The vulnerability in her eyes is piercing. A moment passes and my focus relaxes, I realise she is squatting, taking a massive poo. I turn and grab Caroline before she can see and direct her in the opposite way ever so slightly disturbed.

Wild camping spot above Carvalho Beach

Grand view, not so grand plot

We eventually decide on a spot right near the edge of the cliffs, looking down into a spectacular beach, Carvalho. The ground isn’t nice at all and we can’t put tent pegs in. We’re also not sure if there is more poo on the floor so we spread the tarp on the floor and place the tent on top of that, and use rocks to to keep the tent steady.

It begins to get dark and we are very hungry by the time we’ve finished setting up camp. We unpack our camp chairs and marvel at the incredible views just before it’s too dark to see at all. Using our trusty Luminaid light we prepare dinner using our freshly procured ingredients from the mega Aldi. We roast some peppers on our tiny cooker and make big juicy pesto mozzarella sandwiches which prove very difficult to eat – but oh, so delicious – and swear to ourselves to never wild camp at a spot that’s shared on the internet, ever again.

FACTS FACTS FACTS

How to get to Benagil

Air

If you are flying to the Algarve, there is only one airport and that is in Faro. It’s a popular and busy airport so you should have no trouble finding flights, check Skyscanner.

Train & Bus

If you are coming from Lisbon we recommend public transport. Check the trains and busses, they will head to Faro. There are also many other private bus companies so look around. There is a good list here.

Faro to Benagil

Once in Faro you can use the local bus service to get to the smaller locations. In particular you want this bus from Faro to Lagoa. Then from Lagoa, you take bus number 38 to Benagil. Bare in mind that the 38 bus doesn’t run on weekends or holidays though.

Hitchhiking

You should absolutely try hitchhiking, we got a ride direct to the beach from Lagoa.

Things to do

Basically beach, cliffs & caves. Just explore the magnificent landscape. Take a boat ride if you like that sort of thing. Explore some of the old whitewashed villages. Relax and enjoy yourself.

Accommodation

Booking.com

Pro Tips

Explore the coast by foot. Don’t just stick to one beach, there are magnificent locations all along the Algarve and witnessing them from above, from the cliffs adds another dimension to beauty.

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