Algarve

The Ultimate Guide to Algarve – Lagos, Salema and Sagres

The Algarve region of Portugal is home to hundreds of miles of gorgeous sandy beaches full of  lush valleys and ancient rock formations. Whether you want to lie on the beach or hike/bike/boat, no trip to Portugal is complete without a visit to Algarve. Here is the information you need to know before you go and some advice on what to do!
I have included some prices (in Euros) to give an idea of cost, but prices are likely to be higher in peak tourism season.

Getting to and around Algarve Beach Towns

A car is useful for navigating the Algarve region because it allows flexibility, but it is entirely possible to travel around with a combination of trains, buses and taxis, as I have. In most cases, I believe that public transport is the cheaper way to travel for two people and a car rental would be cheaper for 3+ people. If taking public transportation, be sure to check train and bus schedules in advance as there can be gaps in service of a couple hours in late morning and early afternoon.
Train
Lagos is a 4 hour train ride from Lisbon’s Oriente Station, costing ~€23 for a second class ticket and ~€30 for a first class ticket.
Train website: Link
Bus
I found the Eva buses to be clean and efficient, although they usually ran 10-15 minutes late. Bus trips between Lagos, Salema and Cape Sagres were 30-40 minutes and cost under €3 per person.
Bus website: Link

Note on Summer, Peak Tourist Season

From May-September, the Algarve region is completely inundated with domestic and international tourism. Unfortunately this means that being spontaneous and making last minute reservations is not a good idea. It is best to book all accommodations far in advance if traveling during this time.

Hiking in the Algarve

There is an amazing guide to hiking trails in the Algarve region, available here: Link.

In addition to the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail (pages 34-35), I recommend looking at the Trail of Tides (pages 16-19), and if you have a car, the Don Quixote Trail (pages 108-111).

Seven Hanging Valleys Trail

I highly recommend doing the Seven Hanging Valleys walk between Praia de Marinha to Praia do Vale Centianes. It is a 5.5 km hike along the ocean cliffs and is very beautiful. I recommend starting at Praia de Marinha and ending  at Praia do Vale Centianes where you can easily catch a taxi. The trail is less than 20 km from Portimao and even closer to Lagoa, Centianes, Carvoeiro, etc.
We took a 7:00am taxi ride to Praia de Marinha with the hopes we would have the beaches and trail to ourselves, which was mostly the case. Given that we spent time climbing up and down to the beaches and wandering around, the trail took around 3 hours to complete. Bring water, sunscreen and snacks if you go early because the little towns along the beach may not have stores that are open in the morning.
Boat Tours
Some of the beaches and caves along the trail can only be accessed by boat. There are boat tours offered all along the beach and at Carvoeiro. However, there can be rough seas for days at a time that prevent boat tours from operating, so take advantage of calm seas when you have them.

Lagos

Lagos is a cute but small oceanside town and can be explored in a few hours. We walked around for a couple hours while waiting for the bus to Salema, which was plenty of time to eat and shop. A few days later while waiting for the train to Lisbon, we took a boat ride here to explore beaches and caverns. There is a market near the waterfront promenade, Mercado Municipal de Lagos, that has fish on the first floor, Portuguese delicacies on the second, and a restaurant on the rooftop. The waterfront promenade has dozens of kiosks offering boat tours and stands selling souvenirs and clothing. A word of caution: the cork items being sold here are very cheap and made in China, not Portugal.

Salema

Salema is an adorable and very small beach town; because of that everything is much more expensive than in the rest of Algarve. We had planned to visit for the afternoon but upon arrival, we changed our plans and stayed for two days! We rented a cabana, wandered up and down the beach and generally relaxed.
As a result of our spontaneity, many of the hotels in Salema were booked. We ended up staying in a quarto (rented room) in a lovely little house directly on the beach (pictured below). Quartos are fairly common in Portugal but amenities vary greatly by house. We stayed with a lovely 87 year old lady who 1) spoke no English 2) did not have internet 3) had limited hot water (cold showers) and 4) provided no toiletries (we should have hoarded in hotels). And although the price was double what we paid for other hotels, we loved opening our door directly onto the beach, watching the sunset with a glass of wine from our balcony, and hearing the ocean waves during the night.

Sagres

Sagres was considered the end of the world before America was discovered. Home of the navigation school founded by Prince Henry the Navigator, Salema also has great beaches for surfing. The most popular attraction is the Fortaleza de Sagres, a fortress at the western tip of Sagres. If using public transport, I recommend renting bicycles to navigate the town and beaches. We biked out to the lighthouse Cabo de São Vicente, which at 14 km roundtrip was strenuous but doable.
If you have any questions, comments, or if your experience differs, feel free to contact me at kathleendumonde@gmail.com!
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