The Algarve is world renowned for its beaches (Priais – preye-a). What many people don’t know is just how many beaches it has and the astounding variety there are. Now these aren’t tropical beaches with white, icing sugar sand. These are hearty places with golden sands that range from crunchy to fine as dust. The variety is amazing.
From Faro east to the Spanish border the golden strips of sand and surf are backed by sand dunes. As you head west you are more likely to find interesting sandstone rock outcroppings as well as cliffs that back the beaches. The cliffs are carved into grottos and caves by the surf. These are fun to explore and generally are quite safe. It all adds to the uniqueness each beach has to offer.
What is common amongst almost all of them is how clean they are and how individual they are in character. Exploring beaches can become a preoccupation when you travel in the Algarve. Here are some of my favourites from the hundreds that are accessible. I encourage you to discover what your beach preferences are …and to get out and find ones that I haven’t yet discovered. For certain, those that lie east of Faro are still waiting for me to explore them. So stay tuned, this list may change dramatically in the coming months!
In reverse order of preference, Gwen’s 10 Favourite Algarve Beaches are …
West of Lagos on the EN125 towards Sagres you’ll see the signs inviting you to many small villages and beaches. The drive into Salema is worth it. This village seems to be favoured by independent travel folks. It is quite pretty and the beach is a broad swath of sand with a working fishing fleet that is hauled in and out of the water via tractor. They fish octupus here, so be certain to look for the clay pots piled amongst the boats and nets.
There are a number of beaches in and around Sagres. One of my favourites is Praia de Mareta, lying between the headlands upon which sits the Pousada do Infante at the eastern cliff and the Forteleza on the western cliff. This is a bathers beach that is about 600 m long. You won’t find fishing boats or much other local life (those you’ll find in the Baleeria), but it is fun to dine at one of the restaurants that overlook this beach and to take a constitutional either before or after your meal.
Mid-way between Albufeira and Armaçao de Pera you’ll find delightful Galé Beach. You won’t find a lot of rock outcroppings except at the eastern edge but you will discover a long arc of sand that extends all the way to join the Armaçao beach. You can walk or run for miles along this stretch of sand, watch the fishing boats land each day between 9 and 11 at the Armaçao end and just generally enjoy a fine day at the beach, building castles, picnicking or taking a dip in the bracing Atlantic waves.
7.0 Maria Louisa
To the East of Albufeira lies the resort village of Santa Eulalia. Nestled amongst the resorts is a small road that will take you down to lovely Maria Louisa beach which is backed by cliffs. There’s a restaurant on the beach and at low tide you can walk around the cliffs at its Eastern edge and head towards Olhos D’Agua.
Maria Louisa Beach is a crescent of golden sand about 3 km long, great for a good walk or a short run. There are stairs towards the eastern end that will take you up through the village. Right where the stairs join the street there’s a great little sculpture studio that sells all kinds of carved beach rocks.
Maria Louisa is a gentle beach, great for sunbathing, rambling around or taking the kids for a splash in the water and building sand castles. It is close to all the major amenities, yet is less developed and congested than the beaches of Albufeira can get. So if you are staying in this part of the Algarve, Maria Louisa might make an attractive get-a-way for you and the kids.
6.0 Olhos D’Agua
Drive downhill at the lights on the eastern edge of the village of Olhos D’Agua and you’ll come to a delightful small beach with some nice rock outcroppings that are great for climbing. Parking can be a challenge so be forewarned. There are lots of flat rocks that jut out into the small bay and at low tide they are fun to scramble over, looking for nice shells, rocks and bits of sea life.
Right at the centre of the beach is a large rock with a cave worn right through it. Kids love to climb this rock formation or play hide and seek under it. To the eastern edge are some flowerpot type formations that are partially submerged at high tide.
There is still an active fishing fleet of small boats that you can see on the beach. Fishermen also still tend to nets and fishing gear out of the bright blue sheds that line the shore.
Olhos D’Agua also has a number of small bars and coffee shops that line the waterfront so its easy to get a beer, glass of wine or coffee and while away a few hours taking in the sun, the breeze and the sight of people getting on with life.
Further east still is the long stretch of sand called Falésia. You can access it from the hotels at Açoteais. I’ve found a small dirt road that rattles through farmers fields. Or you can go to Vilamoura and follow the signs. Whatever way you get there, Falesia Beach is quite something.
For much of its 8+km length it is backed by rusty red cliffs. If you turn and face the cliffs, you’d swear that you were in Sante Fe or Sedona. Turn around and the glorious Atlantic waves are cresting along miles of sand.
This is a popular place for walking, sunbathing, flying kites, fishing or even hiking along the cliffs. There is a small restaurant open during high season, plus access to hotels at the western edge of this massive beach.
I just love to sit and watch the waves relentlessly crash against the shore and the sun make lovely patterns across the broad expanse of ocean.
Along Algarve’s West Coast there are numerous beaches that are much more rugged and wild than those that face the sheltered southern stretch of Atlantic. Near the town of Carrapaterra you’ll see signs for Amado Beach, a favourite hangout for surfers and other free spirits.
You’ll find surf schools and a number of cafes and beach restaurants as well as a broad, flat beach with great waves for surfing.
I especially love this spot when the weather is wild. The surf thunders in, unbroken from its trip across from North America. The place is usually deserted on days like that and there is a wild vitality to it.
South of the village of Raposeira which lies on the EN125, just east of Vila de Bispo, you need to drive several kilometers along a narrow though paved road to get to this delightful little crescent beach. You’ll pass a very nice megalith along the way, so keep your eyes peeled.
When you finally make your way to Ingrina you’ll find a small seasonal restaurant with a line of small palm trees overlooking the small beach. Most of the time the waves are gentle here, making it one of those places that are great for kids and people who aren’t too brave in the ocean but want to give it a whirl. There are lots of rocks on either side of the arc of sand on which you can climb and search for treasure.
But mostly this is a beach where I love to get a glass of wine and settle into the shade of a palm tree for some great people watching. Mind you, one autumn afternoon I looked up and the sky was filled with hundreds of vultures, all staging up and heading towards Sagres, their jumping off point for migration to winter in North Africa. What a sight to behold.
I’ve also been there on the rare day when the wind and current is right for a pretty thundering surf to happen and for surfers to be riding the waves. Usually they head to Zavial, a few kilometers away, but every now and then, conditions are perfect.
Just at the northern edge of the West Coast town of Aljezur you’ll find a small, picturesque road that heads west for a few kilometers until it reaches the Atlantic. Here you’ll find lovely Amoreira Beach with its brooding black upthrust of volcanic rock at its northern boundary and a large, fortress-like cliff at the southern end. In reality, the southern portion of this beach is called Monte Clerigo, but I always approach from the Amoreira side and consider it all the same place.
This is another surfer beach although their use of it is intermittent. There’s a small river that joins the Atlantic here so you can find fresh water beaches as well as a broad swath of golden sand and rock outcroppings.
Amoreira beach is inside the national park. Along part of its length are wonderful sand dunes that are fun to explore and extremely challenging to walk through because of the soft, shifting sand. There are trails over the headlands and a great variety of bird life and flowers because of the unique geography.
There’s a pretty decent restaurant right on the bluff over the beach. But mostly there are waves, sand and rock that invite exploration and solitude. I’ve been to this beach on many occasions when I was the only one there to enjoy its delights. And even on the busiest days, the ‘crowd’ never numbers more than a couple of dozen folks.
A trip to Amoreira has become one of the ‘absolute musts’ of each trip I make to the Algarve. It both soothes my soul and invigorates my imagination on each visit. The occasional fisherman who wets his line from a small rock outcropping out into the surf both terrifies and intrigues me. But most of all … I especially love to visit when the seas are up, the wind is wild and the sand stings as it blasts against your skin.
1.0 Joao Vaz
Finally comes my absolute favourite beach which I ‘discovered’ while walking the broad, wild headlands near Sagres one hot, sunny day. From the brow of the cliffs that surround this small, perfect little beach, it looked delightful. On my next trip I spent hours trying to find a way to get into it; I knew there was a trail in because I’d seen it from on high.
Eventually I found road access from the village of Raposeira. It is one of the few unpaved roads left in the Algarve. You have to be prepared to drive slowly, bumping over potholes, rocks and wet patches. The drive in takes you through a wild canyon with rock outcroppings where eagles and large hawks sometimes hide out. But eventually you arrive at the beach. Of late there are lots of independent camper vans littering the small valley behind the beach. There are absolutely no services – no snack bars, restaurants, washrooms; nothing but sand and sea.
This small crescent beach is almost always deserted so you can easily imagine yourself being the first to discover it. It is a wonderful place to just sit and absorb the sound of waves, gulls and wind; to contemplate life; to dreams of what’s possible. If you’re lucky, the local shepherd will have brought his flock nearby and you can listen to the tinkle of bells in the background.
In a countryside with hundreds of great beaches, most with few people on them, this is my favourite for its isolation, self contained beauty and absence of people.