To have a whole day in Portimao (during winter with less hours of sun) we were up very early to catch the first morning train. I think we were up at 6am to be at the station by 6:30am and on the train at 6:45am. We decided to book an overnight stay in an apartment in Portimao since we planned to visit Lagos for our last day and so it saved us from going back to Faro only to board an even longer train journey to Lagos. Getting on a train in Portugal is very easy, much like the UK, you just turn up and buy a ticket.
We arrived in Portimao at about 9am which is perfect timing since all the businesses were getting ready for the day. We opted to find our hotel first in order to leave some of our things in our room. We were a little bit disappointed with the weather because rain was to be expected and I forgot to bring my rain coat. From sunrise until 11am I was cold and felt a bit damp but I didn’t let it bother me too much since how many people have opportunities like this, to travel and enjoy another culture? The weather was expected to clear up later in the day and Jon bought me a breakfast burger to cheer me up!
Walking around the main city centre and the promenade, Portimao felt like a ghost town, not only because of the weather so the locals weren’t out but also because there were no tourists. The shops were geared up for the tourists with souvenirs galore but it was just too blustery and wet to want to sight see. We did venture into a beautiful church, largely to have some warmth but also because in this part of Portimao there isn’t much to do or see.
The main reason why we were in Portimao is for the boat tour to see the caves, so we ventured back to the promenade by 10am and a thought struck me: “Jon, the weather is bad, it’s December, it’s the off season and it’s deserted, do you think maybe tour companies won’t be operating this time of year?” Jon replied “Fuck….We’ve come all this way for nothing, there is literally nothing else to do in Portimao, the caves are the main attraction.”
For some weird reason though, Jon decided this wasn’t it, it can’t be the end! He made me walk along a dirt track route just off the main road to get to another part of Portimao. By this point the rain cleared and it was getting hot so I took my woolly jumper off. After about 45 minutes of walking we came to another dock which looked more glamorous, which included stunning boats and cute cuboid holiday apartments which then opened up to a huge white sand beach, hotel complexes and resorts! Whoa! I was so happy I skipped like a lamb onto the sand. This, is what we wanted to see in Portimao! The typical postcard photo of sun, sand and sea. I was just so happy to feel the warmth on my skin and to play in the sand.
Nearly all the tour huts were closed up and our hearts sank, however walking closer to them, by some miracle we saw one was open! The owner was nowhere to be seen yet he’d left a leaflet stating his next tour would be in an hour up a river to visit a local village, our hearts sank again because we wanted to see the caves! Jon plucked up the courage to ring the owner to inquire about a cave tour and because we were the only tourists around that day, the captain cancelled the village tour and was willing to take us to the caves! It was our own private tour!
This is probably not the best time to go see the caves, with it being winter over here (although much more pleasant weather than the UK), the sea was very chaotic and we went as the tide was getting higher. It was our only option since rain was expected later in the afternoon. Even though it was a bit choppy, captain Miguel told us it was still safe to visit the caves, however later in the day would have been dangerous. So we took a chance because we might never come back here again. Life jackets on and a safety talk from Miguel and we were off!
Our entire tour took about 3 hours and because we were the only tourists that day he did take us to other caves not usually on the itinerary partially because with only two people on board (and no kids) he could take us where he pleased and partially he probably felt bad for us because of the weather and wanted us to have a special experience regardless. During the summer months the seas are a lot calmer and tour companies offer full day trips with lunch included or afternoon trips that last about 4 hours long so do research what you’d prefer on your tour.
Due to the weather being choppy and high tide approaching, we were unable to go right inside some of the caves as we didnt want our boat to crash into the craggy rocks and there were moments where I wondered if our captain should have taken us out or not since our boat was being thrown from one wave to another, it wasn’t sailing it was bouncing on the rolling water! I thought “Any minute now this boat is going to capsize and I don’t fancy being pulled out to sea!” However the caves we did get to visit were awe inspiring and our captain mentioned how he used to spend evenings in them with his friends when he was a kid, I was envious that he had such a free childhood, all I had was a local park and sofas I’d turn into forts but to live in a place where nature provides havens for children to explore sounds like a dream.
The caves are made of sandstone and are easily corroded by the sea, you can see pockmarks from the salt erosion making the surfaces look like sponge. The rocks also change colour depending on the light. At times they look golden, then brown, grey, orange or slightly red, it really is beautiful to see up close.
There are some caves with small sandy coves on them, tourists are not allowed to leave their boats to venture on the sands for environmental and safety reasons, you have to remain on your boat at all times which is a shame for Jon as he wanted to snap some beautiful photography.
Benagil sea cave exploration is a little hidden gem in the Algarve and also includes a lovely fish restaurant during the high season once your tour has finished which has been highly recommended by other tourists for a spot of lunch.
We’ve never been on a sea cave tour so this was a highlight of our little holiday and we were so glad we were able to do it even though it seemed fate was against us, by some magic we found the main beach and Miguel happened to be working that day. I highly recommend his tours, visit his facebook page here: Allarade
Jon read somewhere that visiting these caves was a top attraction to see before you die so it feels great to actually see and tick it off our bucket list. It really is a magical thing to see, even on a day with changeable weather, the caves were still glorious!
For us, Portimao is not a favourite place in the Algarve because the huge hotel complexes ruin it however it’s stunning beach and cave tours make up for the overt tourism and I do highly recommend you include a cave tour whilst on your holiday in this part of Portugal. I’d say perhaps stay in Faro or Lagos as your main base but head out to Portimao for a day trip if you prefer quieter holidays. We were lucky that we went in the off season because we had the beach (and boat) all to ourselves, but I don’t want to imagine how horrible Portimao looks during peak season with huge herds of sun burnt tourists and their bratty children clogging up the beach but then that might be someone else’s idea of a great holiday? If you like package, all inclusive holidays where you spend your days lounging on the beach every day then Portimao is for you but if you are a culture vulture like me and you happen to be based in Portimao there are hidden gems in neighbouring areas like quaint fishing villages and walking tours available too but we didn’t have time to explore further afield. Portimao can be lovely if you go during the shoulder seasons (late spring or early autumn).
If you wish to read about other travel destinations, click on the links below.
Morocco for 16 days
Croatia/Montenegro for 10 days
Hungary/Vienna for 5 days
Nepal for 21 days
The UK wherever whenever day trips.