Our short trip along the Algarve coast, Portugal

As I day dream my way through writing this blog, it takes me back to that time at school in 5th form english class. Mr Nola, trying to describe to 32 unwilling students what an adjective is and how they should be used in an essay about Shawshank Redemption. Somehow, his wise words made its way through my thick skull and I managed to pass that year. I used to say to myself, why the hell do I need to know what an adjective is. Well, if there’s any reason at all its to help me paint a picture of the Algarve Coast, Portugal.

After spending a decent chunk of our time surfing from France, through Spain and Portugal, we had made our way as far down as Sagres. As the swell dropped off on the south coast, I could almost feel tears filling my eyes, I had to tell myself it would be ok and sure enough, it was. Sagres itself was an awesome place, being one of the southern most points in Portugal, we could really feel how close we were to Africa. The sun making its presence felt every second of the day, we enjoyed it while we had it. You learn to take nothing for granted as a traveller. In Sagres, The Fortaleza, which is a fort used in the 15th century to protect the area from raiders from North Africa is interesting stuff, as you can see panoramic views of the atlantic ocean. Worth checking out if you have time. Theres heaps of things to do here but we had some bucket list spots to tick off so we ventured east to Salema.

We headed from here to a town called Salema on the south Algarve coast. We had been free camping for sometime, food stained clothes, dirty dishes and in need of a shower, we stopped at Salema eco camp, surf and nature. Woohoo, we found ourselves a camp which runs off solar power etc. We pull into the camp and like most at this time of year, its pretty much empty. We find ourselves a spot, hang up the washing and relax into the afternoon. Nothing much to do, I began to read the map. “Leah, did you know there’s a nature zone at this camp?” I’m thinking to myself there must be some cool bush you can walk through, maybe a snake or two. YES, I quietly say, I could be the next crocodile hunter. Excited as a pig in shit, I convince Leah that it’ll be a fun activity to go for a bush walk. We follow the map of the campsite towards the nature zone, toilets on our right, nature zone on our left…where is it? we think to ourselves, all we can see is campsites. Suddenly a man and a women appear, both of about 65 years old BUTT NAKED. “CRICKEY!!” I say to Leah, “that’s the smallest snake I’ve ever seen”, she quickly replies “yeah and thats the biggest bush I’ve ever seen”…soon enough we realise the little naked stick figurine is representing a naked human. Nature zone or naked zone? Jeeeeez we got that wrong big time. No snake hunting for me!!! Scarred for life, we headed back to camp, trying the forget the previous half hour of our lives. The next morning we b-lined it for the exit, missing the nature zone, thank god.

vanlife-salema-ecocamp

Headed for Lagos, once again we set up camp in the most central campsite in Lagos. After double checking there was no surprise “nature zone” we started the 5 minute walk into town. Lagos is one hell of a place. Theres so much to do here, from walking around the seaside town, to exploring the hundreds of caves along the coast line or getting yourself so drunk you can’t find your way home. Its worth the trip. We decided to head out to the town and see what it’s all about. A few drinks deep around 10:30pm and we started to wonder what all the hipe is about. After getting harassed by the local piss heads in this particular bar, we decided to move on. We managed to find somewhere a bit more lively, which to our suprise, was mainly for the football match that was on. Whats going on here?? We get talking to an Aussie bloke working at the bar who tells us we’ve missed the boat. Too late in the season and only a few nights ago this place was pumping. My advice, end of May to the start of September and you’ll have a killer time. So many places to lose your wallet, your money or your mind, you’ll soon find yourself ‘lost in Lagos’.

We took this ‘free from a hangover’ morning as a blessing, we woke up early, morning coffee down the hatch and set off at 9am. Headed for Praia da Batata, where we hired a double kayak to see some of the amazing caves that the Algarve coast is known for. 15Euros each for 3 hours or 25 each for a paddle board. 3 hours was plenty.. Our new rig, a yellow kayak as bright as a banana. At least the coast guard will see us if we capsize… Lucky for us it was as flat as a mill pond, we paddled away, heading west towards Ponta Da Piedade.

As we made our way west looking like nerds with our life jackets on, we sneakily took them off and soaked up some vitamin D. This is where english class comes in. From down below, water clearer than a crystal, the sky above, warmer than Granny’s slippers on a frozen winters night. And there’s us in between, in our banana split, go pro in hand, snapping up pics left right and center. So many different colours, full up to our eye balls with amazing scenes, could this place get any better? Huge cliffs everywhere we look, we even manged to find some secluded caves with two entrances and had it all to ourselves.

It’s really amazing that we can kayak along this coastline, sneaking our way into these caves while the earth holds itself together for us to enjoy its crazy natural architecture. Every time we found a new cave… Leah would say “what would happen if it just collapsed?!” Not sure of the real answer I played it off with a “Batman will save us”. You never know, there were plenty of bats in these caves.

kyack-algarve-ocean

We made it to Ponta Da Peidade, safe and sound. Imagine a seal, slipping its way in and out of a kayak…well, that was us. Here we chilled out, took turns swimming from the kayak and enjoying what this crazy planet has to offer. If you can, take a mask and snorkel with you, there’s so much sea life here, you wouldn’t want to miss out. Or just do what we did and open your eyes underwater, although this isn’t the best when the water is saltier than a sardine. We paced ourselves on the way back, speeding up every now and then ensuring we made the most of this work out… don’t tell Leah, but sitting at the back was perfect, she couldn’t see when I was slacking off.

kyack-algarve-caves

We dropped the kayak off, made a baguette for lunch then headed back to Ponta Da Pieddade. Yep back to the place we just went to. Why? you ask. Well the view from the top of the cliff is even better from down below. I’m talking good enough that its been on Leahs Pinterest board all year. Better yet, there’s pathways out to the little rock point high above sea level, or steep steps which take you down to the water’s edge. Looking down you see every colour on a pastel pallet, amazing views, if you can’t do the kayak, definitely get this one in ya. Theres even private boat trips along the coastal caves from here. We didnt enquire about how much but I’m sure the little tinnies would be well within the travelers price range. Take boat trip or swim from the platform below, such a mint spot I’ll go back for sure.

 

All this done and dusted by 2pm. Wow, we were nailing the tourist life. Night life a bit of a let down at this time of year, we decided to head for Bengal beach to see the Bengal sea cave. Another must see on the Algarve coast, but be assured its full of tourists. We had researched this spot on Instagram, and being on a budget, decided we would hire a paddle board and paddle the 300m to the sea cave by board. We had also heard that crowds bombard this area, so getting there early is essential to get that lone Instagram shot. Let’s be honest here, no one wants ol mate Frenchy in his speedos photo bombing your unbelievable shot. We took this advice and even got there the day before. Plenty of free camping spots in the area, we parked up and walked down to Bengal beach. Curious to know whether the cave is actually 300m round the left hand corner of the beach or not, we asked one of the tour ladies. Sure enough she said a firm NO… only by boat. Not believing her one bit, we raced up the hill to try to get a view from above. Sure enough we find the massive hole in the cliff. This is seriously something out of the Men in black. All im thinking is an alien UFO has crashed in Portugal, creating this hole in the ground…and a big one at that. We jumped the fence…smart idea or not we still did it, getting as close as we could. The drop, close to 100m down we could see into the cave. Standing on the edge felt like my insides had dropped out of my body. We could see no one in the cave, only a lonesome boat… What the? we thought to ourselves, this it too good to be true.

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So, after exploring Lagos for most of the day and arriving at Bengal sea cave late in the afternoon, we decided to get shit done. No time to get a paddle board, we raced to the van, picked up my surfboard (keep in mind its pretty small) and legged it down the hill to the beach. As we passed one beach goer he made a comment “good luck catching waves,” smart ass comment as there were none. I said to myself, enjoy paying for the boat ride. We got in the water as quickly as possible and took turns sharing the board. We swam the 300m round to the left hugging big cliffs beside us. As we approached the cave we swam past another couple of people with the same idea. No one in sight, we washed up onto the white sandy beach inside the cave. This cave is seriously something else. Three different holes, two on the water’s edge and one high above us. The cave itself is about 75m from one end to another and we had this whole place to ourselves, we couldn’t believe our luck. Every 4 or 5 minutes a boat filled with 15 or so people would come in one entrance, stop for 2 minutes take some photos of the cave, take some photo of us and leave out the other. We almost felt like native cave people, standing in our togs, running around on the sand with all these people watching. Looking up we could see others doing what we had done 30 mins earlier. We managed to get some good snaps of us in the cave so we grabbed the board and paddled back to Bengal beach. Tick, another one bites the dust.

bengal-seacave-portugal.jpg

bengal-portugal-seacave.jpg

Note, if you’re a confident swimmer and the conditions are calm, then swimming is easy. But only if you’re confident. If not, I suggest hiring a kyack or paddle board as its much cheaper and more of a unique experience compared to boat ride.

After managing to knock a few nails on the head all in the same day and feeling like machines, we cruised a bit further up the coast to find a more chilled spot for the night. Praia dos Arrifes was our next stop. In between Lagos and Faro on the Algarve coast, this little beach spot is very similar to the rest of this coast line. Beautiful rock formations and white sandy beaches. Elevated from the beach is a car park, perfect for Cassie, Leah and I to stop for the night and enjoy yet another amazing Portuguese sunset from the back of our van. Theres even a small restaurant here on the beach front, but vanlife food beats any restuarant feed so we stuck to the cheaper option, van cooked chicken and veggies.

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Looking out to the ocean as we say goodnight, the smell of the salty sea breeze and the soft lapping waves on the beach was no doubt the perfect way to end such an eventful few days on the Algarve coast. Deciding its time to head back up, towards Madrid on route to the Quicksilver Pro in Hossegor. The sun has set for us in Portugal but it’s never goodbye, a new day will come and we will be back.

Shaka
Bryn | free & addicted

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  • Hey guys, we love your post. Just what we’ve been looking for! We are heading to the coast of Portugal to spend the winter in our van (we live in spain)…We saw you mentioned about free camping, do you have any recommendations for where we should check out!? Thanks so much guys! 🙂
    Dilly&Jess

    • Hey! Yay good to hear thank you :] Oh Exciting! Yes we have plenty of spots and honestly when you’re driving that coast theres SO MANY places to park up literally right on the beach, its epic! This is in order if you’re heading down the west coast… In Penichi, you have Supertubos and Baleal beach – theres a free camping spot at Baleal beach just follow the road to the end you’ll see a big car park with restaurants/bars. Just park up there and enjoy. Then in Ericeira you have Ribeira de Ihas – drive down to the beach and theres a big grass patch off the carpark for campers. From Sines, follow the coast road and theres so many parking bays right on the water to choose from, we stayed at a beach called Porto Covo just down from Sines. Praia de Odeceixe is another one, theres a big river and you can go along the right side of the river (opposite the little town centre, not on the same side) and theres a free camping area right on the river. Then our fav Praia de Amado, the carpark at the end was full of campers free camping and surfing it was amazing. From here we stayed in campgrounds until we reached Praia dos Arrifes. Here you can camp right on the beach with beautiful rocky caves as your backyard! So cool! If you need any names of campgrounds Im happy to help :] Also if you follow me on instagram (lelahbell) then go to my pics and click the locations thats on the photo you’ll be able to find your way on the maps on your phone! Good luck :]

      • amazing!! You guys rock, this has been so helpful and we will definitely use all this info on our way through Portugal! Thanks again for taking the time to write back such a detailed response 🙂 Happy travels and thanks again
        Dilly & Jess