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Discover the Algarve Coast
The Algarve is Portugal’s southernmost region, characterized by long stretches of coastline and consistent year-round sunshine. Camping is the perfect way to explore the Algarve Coast. In this post, we will give you tips and info to plan your Algarve camping trip.
Popular with holidaying families in summer, the area remains busy right through the winter thanks in part to the waves of mostly retired Northern Europeans who arrive each year looking to escape to milder climates. Many of these drive down and stay in their own motorhomes. This ensures that whenever you visit, you can always expect to find other visitors around
The Algarve Coast offers plenty of things to do, from long sandy beaches, sea caves, and waterparks, to traditional hilltop towns, castles and local festivals. Add to that a lively culinary and wine scene, and you’ll see that the Algarve has it all, just waiting to be explored.
Campervans and Motorhomes in the Algarve
The Algarve is perfectly suited to visiting in a motorhome/campervan (or autocaravan as they are locally known). It is a great way of being able to see all the variety that the area has on offer, while having the freedom to move around at your own pace. Of course you don’t have to visit in a van. I hope that you’ll find my suggestions useful however you plan to travel.
Campsites and Campgrounds in the Algarve
There are some great campsites, some with top-class facilities. Be aware though, that a lot of the more popular sites specifically catering to autocaravans can get very busy (or even fully booked) over the winter.
Many people seem to come and stay in the same place for months on end. Each to their own but that’s not for me. I like to keep moving and I’m pleased to say that we usually managed to squeeze in just about everywhere we went without any prior reservations.
Wild Camping in the Algarve
There are also a lot of accessible ‘wild’ camping spots spread all along the coast. I have included both campsites and some of these ‘wild’ spots in this itinerary.
Respectful campers are usually tolerated in these ‘wild’ places (outside of peak summer in any case), but obviously always obey any local rules and never leave any waste whatsoever behind when you leave. Unfortunately a small minority don’t seem to think these basic courtesies apply to them, thereby jeopardising the beauty of having these freedoms for everybody else.
Camping in Sagres
Although the Algarve also boasts a stunning and naturally preserved, west-facing coastline, as we only have a week, I will just be looking at the south. My week starts in Sagres, right at the western end of this southern coast. A long-time favourite with surfers from around the world, Sagres is a hip place with a great vibe.
Things to do in Sagres
Its position in the far southwest corner of Europe means it has easy access to many surrounding beaches, all facing in different directions. These beaches are for the most part backed by impressive cliffs, resulting in a choice of either sheltered or windy conditions, depending on the orientation of your chosen beach. Likewise, surfers can chase the best swells, depending on the particular conditions of that day.
The town, as you’d expect, is full of surf shops and has some trendy places to eat. At the very end of the headland sits the Fortaleza de Sagres (or Sagres Fortress), an imposing stone coastal defence that has played an important role through the ages. A walk to the end of this headland, or to the end of the nearby Cabo de São Vicente (considered to be Europe’s most southwestern point), both make great walks with unbeatable views out to the seemingly endless ocean.
Where to Camp in Sagres
It is possible to stay in a van (along with the hundreds of others!) in the large car park that services the Sagres Fortress. There are no facilities but for those who are self-sufficient, it is otherwise a decent enough place to stay. There are always lots of surfers so the atmosphere is lively and friendly, while never overly noisy. Several beaches, as well as a dramatic clifftop for sunset views, can all be easily reached on foot from the parking.
Camping in Lagos
Heading east, next along the coast is Lagos. This coastal town has both an attractive central old town to explore, as well as a long sandy beach that stretches away to the east, making it a good base for spending a day or two.
Things to do in Lagos
What makes Lagos really stand out though are the extensive network of ever-changing sandstone cliffs, sea stacks, arches and caves that extend south from the town down to the Ponta da Piedade. These rocky features are interspersed with small, secluded, sandy coves that are magical to discover (such as descending the many stairs down to the cute beach at Praia do Camilo), although some can get extremely busy during the peak of summer.
A walk around the clifftop and lighthouse at Ponta da Piedade gives good views from above of all these various rock features laid out below. To experience them close up, with the chance to enter inside some of the caves, it is well worth taking a boat trip. There are many companies that arrange these, both locally but also from the main marina in Lagos. Like the beaches, a visit outside of peak season will feel more special. When it’s busy, the boats tend to all swarm on top of each other somewhat.
Where to camp in Lagos
Just outside Lagos is the excellent Yelloh! Camping. Its best feature is a beautiful (and warm) indoor swimming pool, complete with jacuzzi pool and very shallow infant pool. If you’re visiting out of season with kids and the weather is bad, I’d go as far as to say that you won’t find anywhere better in the whole of Portugal for a place to stay.
Alternatively, behind the marina in Lagos town, there are several informal car parks by the beach. These make a decent place to stay for free, with direct beach access. Some of this area has signs prohibiting campers so use your common sense when picking a place to stay. There is also an official camper parking area that can be used for services if required, but it is badly placed and not very nice so I personally wouldn’t recommend staying there.
Camping at Benagil Cave
For the most famous sea cave in the Algarve, head to the truly awe-inspiring Benagil Cave. You can arrange regular boat trips to take you the short distance from the pleasant Benagil Beach round to the cave. The boats can go inside the cave but are not permitted to let passengers out of the boats (so as to help preserve the integrity of the cave).
There is also the option of renting a kayak, or even swimming, to reach the cave independently (it is actually a much shorter distance than I was expecting). This allows you to sit on the sand inside and savor the extra-special experience of having the cave all to yourself (at quiet times of year anyway).
Campers and vans are prohibited from entering any of the entrances to the whole area of winding roads that approach the beach and cave. Nobody seemed to mind too much in the off-season when we drove down anyway (although most car parks have height barriers), but in summer you’d have to park elsewhere and look for alternative transport options to get there.
Camping in Central Algarve
Continuing east from here brings you to the central and busiest section of the Algarve. Albufeira is the main coastal tourist resort. If you’re looking for parties and nightlife, along with the predictable souvenir shops and mass package tourism, this is undoubtedly the place to head for.
Things to do in Albufeira
All around Albufeira are a wealth of other tourist attractions that will keep families and kids entertained while on holiday. One of the best is the Slide & Splash waterpark, which has plenty of shaded areas, an amazing selection of slides, as well as falconry and animal shows.
Zoomarine is another. It has dolphin and seal shows, as well as fun kids shows and a small water park. While I am sometimes uncomfortable with the idea of keeping energetic sea mammals such as these in captivity, their insistence on repeatedly promoting marine conservation, as well as seemingly well cared for animals did provide me with some reassurance in this regard.
Away from the coast, there are some charming traditional towns to visit. Silves has a hilltop castle which is fun to explore, in addition to bustling little cafes and restaurants dotted around the winding streets below. I particularly liked how all of the pavement utilities cupboards, rather than being the usual boring green or grey, have all been creatively painted in different beautiful designs.
Further east, Loulé has an interesting town center, that is set around an impressive (though rebuilt) 2nd-century castle. They have signed walking routes to best guide you around the town’s highlights.
Where to camp in Albufeira
For a great free place to stay that is literally right on the beach, head to the Praia da Lagoa, to the east of Quarteira. Here there is usually a whole assortment of vans parked along the small access road to the beach. If you’re lucky you can get a spot that directly overlooks the sand and the unforgettable sunsets.
Alternatively, for an excellent camper site, look inland at the quirky Mikki’s Place to Stay. Part campsite, part animal park, part art studio, kids will love it. While a bit out of the way, a lively bar and social scene all year round, along with some beautifully landscaped grounds, combine to make it still one of the best options for a place to stay (we heard tales of people who arrive for a day or two and end up staying for months!).
Camping in Tavira
As you move towards the eastern end of the Algarve, gone are the rocky coastlines that characterize the western end and instead, you’ll find long, idyllic stretches of some of the whitest sand anywhere in Europe. Admittedly, it may not be quite tropical island white, but it is pretty good nonetheless. A series of sandbank islands stretch along the coast, protecting the calm lagoons that sit behind.
Things to do in Tavira
The best beaches face out to sea from on these islands, such as at Praia de Cabana, and are only accessible by boat. Taxi boats are available all year-round to shuttle visitors over onto the islands and back. Once there, the endless expanse of sun and sand is all yours, warm enough to enjoy even in the middle of winter on a good day.
Something to bear in mind for summer though, is that the barren nature of the islands does mean that there is almost no shade whatsoever. In summer months, Praia de Cabana has a small beach restaurant with toilets, but there are otherwise no facilities on the island.
As well as shuttle boats to the islands, it is also possible to take longer boat trips to see the surrounding lagoons and coastal habitats. There are countless different bird species that live here. If you’re lucky, you’ll even see flamingos.
Tavira boasts a castle and other visitor attractions for a day trip. To the east, Cabanas oozes the charm of a sleepy former fishing town. Facing out onto the lagoon are a series of pleasant and reasonably priced cafes and restaurants, with outdoor seating. It seems nobody is in much of a rush here, which is perfect.
Although it seems that new developments are continuing to bring tourists to the area in ever-increasing numbers, these towns of the eastern Algarve still retain a quieter charm than their brasher, noisier neighbors to the west.
Where to camp in Tavira
Cabanas also has a very nice campsite set up on the hill, Camping Ria Formosa. It has a beautiful outdoor pool, children’s playground, and an onsite restaurant. The only downside is it’s a bit further than you’d ideally like from the seafront. That said, it is still a manageable walk, even with children.
Algarve Camping – Discover the Beauty of the Algarve Coast
The Algarve coast really is a very beautiful and special part of the world. While I have tried to give some highlights for places to visit and stay in a campervan, I am aware at the same time that I have only scratched the surface.
There are so many more picturesque beaches, historic towns and attractions for you to discover and explore. It is also a popular spot to do yoga and you can join several high-class yoga retreats in Portugal.
Add to that a wealth of inland mountain countryside, perfect for hiking and dotted with small, traditional villages that showcase all that remains of a traditional Algarvian way of life, and you’ll appreciate that the region has something to offer everyone. There is enough to do to fill several Algarve Camping trips.
Explore the rest of Portugal
Why stop there? If no restriction on time, the rest of Portugal also makes for an interesting and surprisingly varied country to tour, full of castles, festivals, quaint villages with living traditions. Get some ideas for your Portugal itinerary here. And don’t forget two of the best short-break city destinations that you’ll find anywhere, in Lisbon and Porto. You’ll be sure to enjoy all there is to offer during a day trip to Porto.
In the end, allow yourself to see past the Algarve clichès of sunburned package tourists in summer and endless retired couples in their motorhomes in winter, and you’ll find that there’s actually so much more. While both of those things are of course in evidence, they certainly don’t represent or define the overall character of the region. It’s a place perfect for exploring. Not essential but even better in a campervan.
So, what are you waiting for? Jump behind the wheel of yours and come see for yourself, or if you’re new to all this, why not consider a different type of holiday and rent yourself a van for a week. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
These Algarve camping tips were shared by Rachel and John from Children of Wanderlust, a couple from the UK with a passion for travel and exploration. Nowadays, that means bringing their 3 children, Savannah (5), Aurora (3) and Easton (1) along with them. They hope that you enjoy reading all about their family adventures around the World. Also, make sure to follow their Social Media channels to follow along on their next adventures: Facebook – Instagram – Twitter