This past winter was the soggiest, wettest and greyest winter that the Pacific Northwest has seen in over a century. Between the months of October and June, somber skies hung overhead on all but a handful of days and, as a result, I would often find myself daydreaming of turquoise water, soft sand beaches and cloudless skies.
Brief escapes to Australia and Myanmar did little to quell my wanderlust. So by the time May rolled around and Seattle’s thick grey clouds still refused to subside, I was readier than ever to plop down on a beach–book in hand–and feel the sun’s rays on my skin along the spectacular shores of Portugal’s Algarve Coast.
Known for its idyllic beaches and vibrant sea, the Algarve is a wonderland for hikers, swimmers, photographers and sunbathers. The area’s natural beauty, coupled with its affordability relative to the rest of Western Europe, means that the coastline has become an increasingly popular tourist destination in recent years.
Attracting rowdy college students and package vacationers, the Algarve’s crowded shores are not the type of place I often rave about. Yet, as with my visit to Cabo San Lucas a few months prior, I found the area to be more than just a hotspot for sunbathers and party-goers.
The Algarve is blessed with stunning rock formations, miles of hiking trails, incredible sea caves and some of nature’s most vibrant colors. In many ways, it reminded me of a marriage between the Great Ocean Road in Australia and Comino Island in Malta.
Throughout my two days in the Algarve, I chose to stay in the whitewashed city of Lagos. The charming seaside town boasts 16th-century fortified walls, quaint cobbled streets and a convenient location near some of the area’s best beaches.
With a map in hand and camera in tow, I spent my first day in Lagos hiking the scenic trail that leads from town to the Ponta de Piedade Lighthouse. Along the way, I marveled at the rugged rock formations, sat down to eat my picnic lunch and took a dip in the blue-green waters of Praia do Camilo.
I relaxed on the beach and reveled in the balmy weather.
And, after a full day of hiking, swimming and soaking up the sun, I strolled the streets of town and ate a delectable meal of peri peri chicken at Mullens Restaurant.
On my second day in southern Portugal, I left Lagos and headed to the world-class Benagil Sea Cave near the outskirts of Portimao. The sea cave is a pantheon-like cavern with its own private beach, two arched entryways and a circular skylight crowning its dome. It is one of coastal Portugal’s most iconic attractions and is frequently featured in blogs, videos and glossy magazines.
The Benegil Sea Cave can either be visited independently or as part of a group. Backpackers often choose to swim to the cave so that they can spend a few hours enjoying its sheltered beach. Yet since I was traveling solo and had no way of ensuring my valuables would stay dry, I joined Taruga Tours for a group visit instead.
Tours of the cave last approximately forty-five minutes and leave from Praia da Marinha, about 15 kilometers east of Portimao. They cost €20 and take visitors past a number of jaw-dropping rock formations, coves and secluded beaches.
Since I didn’t bring a wide-angle camera lens, I had difficulty photographing my surroundings at the Benegil Sea Cave.
These two pictures were the best I could get.
Despite what I’d read about the Algarve’s party atmosphere and packed beaches, I thoroughly enjoyed my two days in the area.
Sure, had I visited during peak season, the prices would have likely been higher and the beaches more crowded.
But in mid-May, the pleasant 75 degree weather, the quiet beaches and the lower prices of accommodation, made the Algarve a perfect place for hiking, swimming, eating and repeating.