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Benagil to Faro: All along the Algarve

It was absolute ordeal getting to the Algarve & Benagil, much more complicated than many other trips we’ve recently made. Like when we hitchhiked all the way across Switzerland on a sightseeing tour. The Portuguese are kind of adverse to the idea of Hitchhiking. Still, we do manage to catch one ride, so all is not lost! If you haven’t read our post about travelling from Lisbon to the Algarve including wild camping near Benagil: check that out first to get the backstory of how we came to be, wild camping near Benagil.

Sunrise on the Algarve at Carvalho Beach

Being so close to the perfect landscape it would be a crime to not wake and watch the sunrise. It would be a shame to not frolic on the magnificent beach on our doorstep, whilst completely alone. I can’t resist the temptation even though it’s cold outside and the tent is warm and cosy. As I rise, I notice the tent is wet from the morning dew. Tiny spheres of glistening water splash on to my forehead as I rustle the tent fabric clumsily trying to get out without disturbing Caroline. I unzip the tent and water splashes on my forehead as I struggle to fold out the sides. A cold breeze hits my face as I stand up and grab my camera gear.

The beach is accessed by steps in an almost secret tunnel, a pretty fun way to start the day, especially in the dark. It feels like a secret smugglers cove. As I reach the bottom, the tunnel opens up in to the beach and the pristine sands present themselves. I’m not ready for this level of tranquility.

The thick clouds prevail for the majority of the morning but for a short window of time the sun pushes through. A yellow, orange strip of light brightens the horizon adding some lovely colour to the magical scene. A wonderful start to our time in the Algarve. To make things even more interesting there are some steps on the right side of the beach cliffs which take you through a tunnel to a natural window in the cliffs looking over the beach. This is a well-known cliff jumping spot, it’s about three meters down to the ocean. It is far too cold for any of that business so I carefully make my way back down the slippery steps to the beach. In awe, I admire the picture-perfect scene one last time before scrambling back up through the tunnel to our campsite.

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Good morning coffee on the Algarve

It’s time to pack down the tent now. We are pretty much camping on a hiking trail and we don’t want to annoy any locals or tourists. They might alert the authorities to our presence. I carefully nudge a sleepy Caroline awake with the prospect of a warm coffee. It’s never fun packing down the tent, sleeping bags and roll mats. Especially when they are wet and you have to stuff them in your rucksack which bulges at the edges. The tent is twice its weight when wet. It’s much nicer when you can just stuff them in a car in the morning!

We leave the tent out unfolded to dry a little, and it really does not take long as soon as the sun rises. Who would have thought it would be this hot in winter. Before leaving, we sit back in our chairs and enjoy the magical view with a coffee, pure bliss.

Hiking to Praia da Marinha

Today we have big plans, we want to visit Praia da Marinha. A spectacular beach surrounded by huge cliffs, arches, mesmerising rock structures with pure golden sands. It turns out we can actually hike there, right along the cliffs of the Atlantic ocean. We will pass a myriad of secret coves and beaches. It’s around 3KM, so it’s not very far, but there is a lot of up, down and scrambling. Not to mention the heat and of course our 70KG+ rucksacks to carry. Despite all that, I’m super excited. Once we make it to the beach we will spend the day there sunning and swimming. From Marinha we will need to hitchhike back to Lagoa. From Lagoa we will catch a bus to Faro, our final destination in Portugal.

First stop is Benagil cave again, Caroline is yet to witness this incredible site – I checked it out the previous evening. We stand dangerously close to the edge, already sweating from the first 500M of the hike. We’ve only come down to Benagil beach from our campsite and back up the other side to the caves. We pose for photos as an excuse to take off our rucksacks – we’re not knackered already, honest!

Freshen up pit stop

After we’re done admiring the cave we realise we’re low on water and both really need the toilet – probably the biggest problem with wild camping. There are no shops around here, but just earlier we walked past a restaurant where we can probably get a drink. We head back downhill but it seems the restaurant is not open yet. We’re desperate so we walk up and down the road, searching for any sign of life. Nothing at all. It’s settled: waiting until 12 in the afternoon for the restaurant to open is the only option.

The next problem: The restaurant is quite posh and we’re not sure whether we will be welcome, especially just for a drink. We did just sleep on the cliffs and haven’t showered in a few days…yuck. As usual there was no need to worry: all is fine, staff welcomes us with warm smiles and we decide to share a plate of barbecued veggies whilst we both use the toilet and freshen up a little.

Finally we’re back on the Algarve trail, fed, washed and watered. This time I avoid the spot where a weird hippy van dude was trying to sell me a broken tripod the previous evening. In fact, the only other people we see are fishermen standing on impossible cliffs, with the longest fishing lines in existence.

Fisherman fishing from high cliffs on the Algarve

Along the cliffs of the Algarve

Rocky outcrops lead pathways over treacherous archways to impressive viewpoints of dizzying heights. Crashing waves at the bottom of the cliffs pound the arches with so much power it’s a wonder the structure still stand. I try to take a picture but lose my balance, horrified as I almost fall off. I scuttle back across the arch to safe ground with a wobbly legs and my confidence knocked.

The rest of the hike is tough, with various climbs and we even end up scrambling, looking for the best views, deviating off the main paths. It’s totally worth it. Just look at the views! The Algarve is popular for a reason.

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At last we glimpse the famed Praia da Marinha beach. The weather now is a little overcast but its still warm. The beach is protected from all sides by cliffs so there should be little wind. Even if we can’t swim nothing will stop us from paddling. In the summer the beach is packed elbow to elbow with holiday makers but right now we count four or five people.

We wander around the edge of the cliffs heading for the car park where a long wooden staircase traverses the steep sides leading directly to the golden sands. We are momentarily distracted by an ice cream vendor. Who are we to turn down such delectable treats, at the beach of all places. We hurry excitedly like two little children down to the beach and find a quiet spot at the end of the beach where we can’t even see any of the other beach-goers.

There is not a whole lot of exciting happenings to report for the next few hours, we paddle, get soaked by waves, read our books and even make some British friends who cheer us on from the cliffs as we tempt the waves and cold water.

Hitchhiking back to Lagoa

The dreaded time comes and we must prepare to leave the beach. We are a little more enthusiastic about hitchhiking now since our luck has improved in the Algarve. However, there are not many people at this beach and this is the last stop on the road. We leave ourselves enough time to walk the six kilometres back to Lagoa, but we really don’t want to do that. As a last resort, we consider the possibility of wild camping again and heading to Faro tomorrow. That will screw up our future plans though. Instead of waiting in the car park we walk in the direction of Lagoa and stick our thumbs out at any and all passing cars.

Incredibly, the third car stops. Two young and curious guys. They are Erasmus students from India, studying in Europe. The guys have made it their mission to travel around Europe on their spare weekends and see something of the world. The passenger tells us about their favourite places and quizzes us about our travel methods. I read directions to the driver from Google Maps since they both have not much of a clue where they are or where they are going. They drop us off directly as the bus stop and zoom off in their immaculate rental car. We are slightly jealous as we wait for the local bus which takes about three hours to travel sixty kilometres.

Lagoa to Faro: Hostel bliss

The bus departs from the Lagoa Bus Terminal, which you can find here. There is not much apart from a ticket office and a vending machine, we buckle in since we’ve got a bit of a wait. You can find the timetable here, if you are heading the same direction as us you will want the Lago to Faro section.

When we arrive in Faro we head straight for our hostel: Hostellicious (yes, we know) so we can shower. We are dirty, smelly and full of sand. It turns out the hostel is brand spanking new, it’s huge, modern and full of equipment including very clean, powerful and huge showers.

It’s absolute bliss, exactly what we needed. Even the kitchen is huge and well equipped. We head straight out, get some fresh vegetables and get grilling, while we plan our excursion to Ilha Deserta (The deserted island) for tomorrow. Fresh roasted vegetable sandwiches are the height of luxury for us.

Roasting veg for sandwiches in Faro

The deserted island beach: Ilha Deserta

We plan to get up early. We don’t. We’re weary and travelling too fast. In the future we want to slow it down but there’s not much we can do right now. Our plans are set and our flights home are booked for next month. In that time we have a few places in southern Spain to visit and then we need to cross over to Africa!

We’re heading straight out of Faro to Ilha Deserta, which translates to Deserted Island. Ilha Deserta is part of the Ria Formosa Natural Park and is one of five barrier islands. The beach runs for over seven kilometres and is not so frequently visited. You can find solace here when all the other beaches in the Algarve are chock full of holiday makers.

There are a number of options for getting to the island, we opt for the Ferry. It costs €5 per person each way and takes around 45 minutes. There are other faster and more expensive options available on the above link. The ferry departs from near the marina. You should be able to find the timetable here, where you can also book tickets (although at the time of writing the website is down, hopefully it will be fixed soon).

Cruising through the Algarve Lagoons

Once we’re all aboard, the ferry motors roar and we jet off through the channels that separate the barrier islands of Faro. There’s only a few people on the ferry, we take a prime spot and enjoy the views, looking out for wildlife, alas, it is not the season. The ferry docks at the only port on the island, it’s tiny and no-one else is around. The port is next to the only building on the whole island, a restaurant.

The restaurant is named O Estaminé and is run by Animaris, the people who operate the ferry. It’s quite an interesting place: It’s open all year around. It runs on Solar power. It’s the most southerly restaurant of Portugal. And apparently it’s one of the best seafood restaurants on the Algarve, as well as being decently priced. Since we didn’t have a coffee today yet we decide it would be rude not to have a quick drink and enjoy the view through the huge glass wall out to the Atlantic Ocean.

Full of energy, we run out to the beach, past the cute lighthouse and instantly sink into the thick golden sand dunes. We plough our way through and make it to the soft endless beach. It’s an incredible sight. There are no roads, no cars, no houses, no air pollution. There are two other people on the beach and it stretches on for 7 kilometres. One of the most remote places in the Algarve.

Endless empty beach of Ilha Deserta

The weather is not so great, too cold to swim but it doesn’t matter, the views of endless sand and the sounds of the crashing waves bring out the children within us and we frolic along the beach, with our shoes in hand and the sea up to our ankles. We never thought we were beach people but now we have come to realise there is nothing more romantic than running along an empty beach, beaming from ear to ear.

There is not much to do on the beach in terms of activities but what kind of person are you if you can’t keep yourself entertained in a place as beautiful as this. None the less: there is board walk which skirts around the scrubland and dunes of the island for 2 kilometres, leading from and back to the restaurant and port. Along the way you might find wildlife, in particular birds. The path also leads to Cabo de Santa Maria (Santa Maria Cape). It’s a wooden structure marking the most southerly point of Portugal.

For us though, the most fun to be had is collecting shells. The whole island is full of magnificent works of art from the deep depths of the oceans. Some are huge, the biggest shells I’ve ever seen on a beach. I’m mesmerised, hunting for treasures from an incomprehensible world right under my feet.

Huge shell from Ilha Deserta (Deserted Island)

With our rucksacks full of sand and shells it’s time to leave. We head back to the port, explore the lighthouse and then hang about waiting for the ferry to return. Already my rucksack is starting to smell from an apparently mouldy Sea Urchin shell; I toss it sadly back in to the water, it’s a truly a work of art.

Faro-well, Portugal! Onwards to Granada

Today is our last day in Portugal, we will be leaving for the south of Spain at a ridiculous time in the morning. Our hostel is kind enough to allow us to stay in the common areas until we need to leave at 1AM. This is very helpful since we did only book a one night stay. We’ve got plenty of time before we need to leave so we have a little explore of Faro. It’s very small and quiet but there are lots of nice buildings, whitewash houses, pretty churches and cobble streets. Absolutely worth a stroll around.

It’s now time to head back to the hostel and prepare ourselves for the journey ahead. We need to plan itineraries, organise car rides and make sandwiches for the road. We’re going to be travelling from 1AM to around 8-9AM tomorrow morning.

The journey, as usual is not without disaster, so be sure to check back soon to giggle at our misfortunes!

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. Its 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.

Lagoa to Praia da Marinha

There is a bus going twice a day, on weekdays only. It also connects Praia da Marinha with Benagil. The timetable is here.

Hitchhiking

You should absolutely try hitchhiking, we got a ride direct to the beach from Lagoa. Hitchhiking in Portugal is quite tricky but we found that it worked well for short distances on the Algarve as it was mostly tourists who were offering us rides.

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. Eat delicious food and drink. Relax and enjoy yourself.

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. Stay longer than we did, you could kill an entire month in this beautiful area, easily.

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