While Portugal isn’t particularly large, this beautiful country boasts many different regions with varying landscapes and scenes. Travel about three hours south of the capital city of Lisbon, and you’ll reach the Algarve – the beach community in southern Portugal. It’s especially popular with Europeans in the summer and is a gorgeous, relaxing place to enjoy a vacation during the summer months.
Along the Southern coast of Portugal, among the beautiful beaches in the Algarve, are stunning caves and natural golden cliffs. While some of these sea caves can be seen from the coast, the best way to view them is from the water. There are several great different ways to see the natural beauty of the rock formations, including several different boat trips from various companies.
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Guide to Viewing the Algarve Caves in Portugal
While there are loads of beautiful caves located along the coast of the Algarve, Algar de Benagil (Benagil Cave) is the most famous. It’s the image you’ll typically see on the covers of brochures and pamphlets – a beautiful cave with a skylight hole in the center of the top of the cave providing natural light, along with a small beach. Benagil Cave is located near Benagil Beach and is best visited by boat. It’s over 20 million years old.
While swimming there may be technically possible, the many boats entering the caves throughout the day can make it dangerous. It’s safest to visit the cave via boat and swim in other areas (including the Praia de Carvoeiro – Carvoeiro Beach, one of the best beaches in Europe), especially when visiting with children.
Carvoeiro Caves Boats
During our trip to the Carvoeiro Caves on our Adventures by Disney trip, we took a small speedboat trip. There are several options available when you book, including a longer trip, a private trip, and a trip with other parties on the boat. The boats generally accommodate 6-10 passengers, and lifevests are provided.
For our trip, we had to remove our shoes in order to get on the boat. You will likely need to take a few steps into the water to be able to board the boat. The water was not cold, so it wasn’t uncomfortable to have to do this.
The trips go by the Alfanzina Lighthouse and travel into many of the larger caves. Depending on the sea conditions, they may not be able to enter them, however. It also depends on the tides and the winds. Some of the longer journeys include time for guests to swim by the caves, depending on conditions and water temperature.
I really enjoyed the journey on the water, as well as the option to get so close to the caves. They really are beautiful, and it was such an enjoyable trip. If you want to visit the beach, you can also combine a visit with a boat tour. Even if you aren’t going to swim, I’d recommend wearing a swimsuit in case you get a little wet in the boat.
When we were on our cave tour, we saw many kayakers in the water, especially near Praia de Benagil and the Benagil Sea Cave. While we didn’t kayak, I will say that it did seem a little choppy.
While you will be able to get very close to the cave, I’d probably recommend that only somewhat experienced kayakers take this on for safety reasons. There are so many ships going into the cave that you’ll need to be good at steering the kayak. During our boat ride, we did see some kayakers that appeared to be struggling in the rough waters (from the boats’ wake).
While I didn’t go on a kayak tour, I have seen some online that look to be fun. This one, bookable through TripAdvisor, is a boat ride with kayaks loaded on the boat. That way, you can kayak around and then go back to the boat to return to your starting point. Again, I’d recommend wearing a swimsuit for this trip.
Santa Bernarda Pirate Ship
During our time exploring the caves, we also saw guests enjoying time on the Santa Bernarda Pirate Ship. This pirate ship is larger than the smaller ships we took but carries smaller boats. Guests can transfer to a small boat at the caves in order to go in and see things up close.
Boats board at Cais Vasco Da Gama, and a free parking lot is offered. Bookings can be made online through Get Your Guide. Food and drinks are sold onboard.
There’s also a two or two-and-a-half-hour trip that is both a dolphin watching and cave tour. You can book that here.
Regardless of which of these trips you want to take, I’d recommend booking early if you are visiting during the high season of the summer months.
Where to Stay in the Algarve
There are a number of hotels, vacation homes, and resorts in the Algarve. For our trip, we stayed at the Tivoli Carvoeiro Hotel, a gorgeous waterfront resort located by the Vale Covo on the Algarve coastline.
We loved staying here, and would definitely recommend paying extra for a room with a water view. I really think it’s one of the best places to stay in the area. It’s also a short walk into the town of Carvoeiro, where you’ll find a beach, small restaurants, and various shops.
While you are there, consider dining at one of their restaurants, or having a drink at the rooftop Sky Bar. These locations have gorgeous views, especially at sunset. There’s also a beautiful outdoor pool, with views of the cliffs and the stunning coastline.
You can see more hotel options on the map below (includes affiliate links).
Getting to the Algarve Region
There are several ways to get to the Algarve. Guests flying in can utilize the Faro Airport, which does offer connections through Lisbon as well as international flights. The train is also an option and has several stops in the Algarve as well as in Lisbon.
A car is definitely the easiest and probably the most popular way to get around. For our trip, we chose to book a private transfer back to Lisbon from our hotel, because our guided tour had brought us to the Algarve. The Tivoli assisted us in booking that, and it made things so easy. We went directly from our hotel in Carvoeiro to our hotel in Lisbon and had a quick restroom stop halfway in between.
Frequently Asked Questions
The boat we took was a fun, quick ride, but wasn’t scary at all.
The caves are beautiful and are so great to see. But there are other great reasons to visit the Algarve, and I’d definitely include it on your Portugal itinerary.