Seabirds wing past as you stand on a lofty promontory watching Atlantic breakers pound the cliffs up and down the shoreline. The trails of the Algarve can take you to dozens of such vantage points overlooking the ceaseless drama of the seaside. Along the way, you can spot wildlife, explore ruins from the distant past or simply relax on a hidden beach accessible only on foot.
Just inland, you’ll find quite different landscapes, from the woodlands and wildflowers of the barrocal region (a transition zone between mountains and sea) to the abundant birdlife of the Ria Formosa wetlands. Apart from these five not-to-be-missed hikes, the Algarve also has several long-distance treks, including the 300km (186 miles) Via Algarviana and the twin routes of the Rota Vicentina, which follows the west coast into the Alentejo region.
Percurso dos Sete Vales Suspensos
Best clifftop hike
5.7km (3.5 miles) one-way, 2-3 hours, medium
You’ll take in mesmerizing views over turquoise seas on the so-called Seven Hanging Valleys Trail, a clifftop walk on the Algarve’s central coast. From the first steps onto the boardwalk near Vale de Centeanes beach, you’ll leave the din of modern life and enter a realm of salt-tinged air and geological wonders. Sprouting high above the crashing waves are multi-hued rock formations that seem to glow under the early morning light.
The rocky path has a few ups and downs, sometimes dropping into scenic coves right along the water’s edge. Key photo ops include views of the Alfanzina lighthouse and the twin arches over the water near Praia da Mesquita. The walk passes right above the Benagil Caves, but if you want to see the hidden beach inside, head down to Praia de Benagil where you can arrange an excursion (by boat, paddleboard or kayak). Be sure to bring along your swimsuit for a dip off Carvalho beach along the way. You can also go for a swim at Praia da Marinha, the stunning beach at the journey’s end.
Caminho dos Promontórios
Best historic hike on the coastline
6.3km (3.9 miles) one-way, 2-3 hours, medium
Inaugurated in 2018, the Trail of the Headlands is one of the Algarve’s newest walks. Like the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail nearby, this one takes you along the cliff tops with jaw-dropping views for the duration of your hike. Unlike its better-known sibling, however, the Caminho dos Promontórios passes some historic monuments, including the Torre da Lapa, a restored 17th-century watchtower used to alert villagers of impending dangers – pirate attacks mostly – lurking off the coast. Just east of there, you can see a few fragments from the Presa da Moura, a reservoir built by the Romans for salting and preserving fish.
You’ll also pass numerous viewpoints overlooking craggy rock formations and the striated limestone cliffs formed some 150 million years ago. Beautiful beaches, accessible only by sea, make key habitats for seabirds. Near the Ponta do Altar lighthouse, the off-shore pillar of Leixão da Gaivota is an important breeding ground for herons. The final leg of the hike (between Praia de Salgadeira and Praia do Paraíso) is largely inaccessible owing to erosion, so it’s best to turn around at Praia de Salgadeira.
Quinta do Lago and the Ludo Trail
Best wetlands walk
4.5km (2.8 miles) one way, 2 hours, easy
The eastern Algarve has one of the most important wetland reserves in Portugal. Stretching across 18,000 hectares (44,479 acres), the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa encompasses a biologically rich landscape of lagoons, salt marshes and barrier islands. This walk takes you through some of the park’s diverse ecosystems and is a must for birdwatchers.
Starting near the Passadiço do Anção just southwest of the Quinta do Lago, you might spy pied avocets or black-winged stilts wading along the shallows in search of prey. Further along, you’ll note the entrance to the pedestrian-only Ponte Quinta do Lago, the longest wooden bridge in Iberia. You can take a detour here to a sandy dune-backed beach.
East of the bridge is a freshwater lake dotted with cattails and reeds where glossy ibis, black-crowned night herons and purple gallinules are among the commonly spotted species. The São Lourenço trail follows around a golf course, but for a different scene, backtrack a few hundred meters to the Ludo Trail. Along a flat level path (a favorite with cyclists), you’ll pass lagoons and saltpans that draw vibrantly hued flocks of flamingos in search of invertebrates.
Rocha da Pena
Best inland walk
6.6km (4.1 miles) round-trip, 2-3 hours, medium
Less than an hour’s drive northwest of Faro, the coast transitions into a region of mixed woodlands and rocky outcroppings. The 2km (1.2 miles) escarpment of Rocha da Pena dominates the landscape, and as you follow a well-marked trail, you’ll have the chance to spy bee orchids, peonies and other wildflowers amid the scent of thyme, lavender and rosemary in this botanically rich region. While the reserve is not particularly abundant in birdlife, keep an eye out for griffon vultures or Bonelli’s eagles wheeling overhead.
The views over the countryside are impressive, particularly if you make the short but steep detour up to Talefe, the highest point in the Rocha da Pena at 479m (1571ft). The distant views were greatly valued by early peoples in the area. The remains of defensive walls on the trail probably date back to the Celtiberians who pre-date the Romans, while the caves in the area were the presumed last refuge for the Almohad peoples who fled the bloody Christian reconquest in the 13th century.
Pontal da Carrapateira
Best for wild coastline
10.5km (6.5 miles) roundtrip; 3-4 hours, medium
Hiking along the Costa Vicentina in the western Algarve immerses you in a stunning landscape of wild beaches backed by windswept headlands and steep cliffs. Near the trail’s start, you’ll follow along the sinewy edge of the Ribeira da Carrapateira as it passes the vast dune-backed Praia da Bordeira en route to the sea. Further along, you can take in the pure drama of waves crashing into the coastline at the Pontal da Carrapateira, an overlook with sweeping views up and down the coast.
The trail hugs the coast past the 13th-century ruins of a former fishing village during Portugal’s Islamic period. South of there, it’s hard to resist detouring down to the golden sands of Praia do Amado. There you can watch surfers lining up to ride the often impressive waves breaking just offshore. Turning inland, you’ll pass through scrubland, rolling pastures and into peaceful Carrapateira, where you can cap the day’s adventures with a seafood meal or bunk for the night in one of the town’s pleasant but unfussy guesthouses.