The Best Beaches in Algarve, Portugal 

Come for the sea caves; stay for the jaw-dropping beaches.

It’s a sad truth that so many of us have started to plan our vacations around what we see on Instagram. From a sun-drenched swing over open ocean water to a dogsled adventure under the Northern Lights, these picture-perfect settings inspire us to visit far-off locales in search of a particular experience. It has its pluses and minuses for sure. In a way, it’s a very narrow focus, lusting after a particular spot on the globe just because you saw someone else’s version of it on social media. But also, it opens up new possibilities. Perhaps you never considered visiting Morocco before, but a gorgeous picture of a night spent under the stars at a desert camp in the Sahara inspires you to book a ticket.

That’s what happened with me and Portugal. When I studied abroad in Europe, there was a long list of places I wanted to see, and I actually visited almost all of them. Portugal was the only one I didn’t get to, and it was on my list because I wanted to go to Spain and it felt weird not to go to Portugal, too. A great reason to visit, right? As the years went by, a zillion more European destinations sprang to the top of my list, pushing Portugal further down. But as luck would have it, my social feeds started filling with pictures of Benagil Cave in the Algarve region and the unbelievable Miradouro da Boca do Inferno on São Miguel in the Azores. Now I had reasons to visit, albeit just a few. It was time to go. And I discovered one of my very favorite places on earth!

Benagil Cave

Admittedly, I had done a little more research and I knew the Algarve region was famous for its jaw-dropping beaches, complete with the limestone rocks jutting out of the sea. I booked an Airbnb next to a beach in the town of Lagos. I knew it was going to be beautiful, but nothing I’d seen online fully prepared me for what was in store as we walked down to the beach on our first night in town.

First glimpse of Praia Da Dona Ana.

We spent the next three glorious days hopping from beach to beach. Here are my picks for must-see beaches in the Algarve region.

Praia Da Dona Ana

This was my first glimpse at an Algarve beach, and that day as I was posting my pictures on Facebook, I said that I had found my new favorite beach on the planet. And nearly a year later, I haven’t discovered another that’s better. This beach is the stuff postcards are made of, dramatic coastlines and crystal-clear waters. It’s a relatively small beach located just outside of Lagos and is a favorite for a leisurely day spent snorkeling or sunbathing. I found it to be quite excellent for shelling as well! All the beaches in the Algarve region have a number of stairs to access them, and this one has nearly 100.

My handsome “husby” in the waves.

Praia do Camilo 

Hands down, this one wins the most drop-dead gorgeous beach award! Despite having to trek down about 200 stairs to access it, the secluded beach is a favorite among locals and tourists alike. Once you make it down the stairs, you’ll quickly discover that there are actually two beaches connected by a cave hole tunnel. The rock formations protect the beach from a lot of wind, so the sea is very calm. We visited two different days, and although we didn’t want to tackle the stairs on the second day, the view from the top is quite spectacular.

Praia do Camilo 

Ponta da Piedade

Not far from Lagos, this unbelievable spot juts out of the sea, ready and waiting to provide a spectacular Insta-backdrop for your beach selfie. The views are stunning from all angles, and you can reach this spot by foot from Lagos, by car, or by boat. We chose to walk the coastal path from our Airbnb, stopping at each beach along the way. You can enjoy this spot from the bottom once you’ve walked down 182 steps, or from the top especially at sunset. Make sure to walk around the nearby lighthouse.

Feeling Insta-glamorous at Ponta da Piedade.

Praia do Pinhao

This is a quiet beach, and relatively difficult to access. It wasn’t our favorite, but we felt accomplished hiking up a hill and down a long staircase to access this deserted stretch of sand. The stairs weren’t as well-maintained as the other beaches, and the sand wasn’t as well kept, but it had a certain gritty charm to it.

Praia do Pinhao

Praia do Carvoeiro

This is an incredibly popular beach in the heart of the town. In a way, it reminded me of a beach in the Cinque Terre, boats coming and going, tourists sunbathing, and colorful hotels and cafés dotting the shoreline. This is a popular spot for sea cave tours to Benagil—we booked through Carvoeiro Caves. After our tour, we had a great time strolling along the Carvoeiro Boardwalk, a wooden boardwalk about 570 m in length. It leads to a spot called Algar Seco, a unique rock that reminds me a bit of formations on the interior of a cave or perhaps melting candle wax—and it’s a popular spot for the daring adventurers who want to veer from the path and get their climb on. Kyle had a great time!

Carvoeiro, Portugal
Carvoeiro, Portugal

Praia da Marinha

This was an unexpected stop for us, as we were nearby to visit Benagil. We decided to drive a little further down the road to see what other beaches we could find. I later found out that this is recognized as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and has been highlighted in numerous media outlets. This beach is pure magic, surrounded by steep cliffs and panoramic views.

The Algarve region is something out of storybook fantasies, filled with scenery that seems too good to be true. We visited in April just before the crowds arrived for their summer holidays. Although it was too cold to swim, it was absolutely ideal for strolling the seaside walkways and exploring these picture-perfect beaches that dot Portugal’s southern coast.

Places

Ponta da Piedade

Ponta da Piedade, Lagos, Portugal

Praia do Camilo

Praia do Camilo, Lagos, Portugal

Praia Dona Ana

Praia Dona Ana, Dona Ana, Lagos, Portugal

Praia do Pinhão

Praia do Pinhão, Rua José Formosinho, Lagos, Portugal

Praia de Carvoeiro

Praia de Carvoeiro, Portugal

Praia da Marinha

Praia da Marinha, Portugal

Ponta da Piedade

Ponta da Piedade, Lagos, Portugal

Praia do Camilo

Praia do Camilo, Lagos, Portugal

Praia Dona Ana

Praia Dona Ana, Dona Ana, Lagos, Portugal

Praia do Pinhão

Praia do Pinhão, Rua José Formosinho, Lagos, Portugal

Praia de Carvoeiro

Praia de Carvoeiro, Portugal

Praia da Marinha

Praia da Marinha, Portugal

The Panna Cotta Effect

Carvoeiro, Portugal
Carvoeiro, Portugal

Have you ever experienced something exquisite and you couldn’t stop thinking about it for hours or even days after? It could be obvious—like a romantic weekend in Paris or golden-hour light over the Grand Canyon. We as travelers often set out with big expectations. We’ve done the research, we’ve seen the pictures, and we generally know what lies ahead. But has something ever totally caught you off guard in the best possible way and you just couldn’t shake it?

Maybe you didn’t even fully realize it in the moment. Maybe it was a minute detail in an otherwise jam-packed day. But later on, you find yourself drawn back to the moment, reliving it—hopefully with a travel companion who shares your enthusiasm. The longer the memory stays with you, the more you strive to recreate some version of it—but nothing quite lives up, does it? Does any of this sound familiar? We have dubbed it the “Panna Cotta Effect.”

I know—it sounds silly, but hear me out.

When we were in Portugal last April, we took a day trip to Carvoeiro to see Benagil Cave. It was the primary reason we were in the Algarve region of Portugal. I had been longing to enter the cave and gaze up at the sky through the hole in the top. Photo after dreamy photo showed sunlight streaming onto the sandy shore of the famed sea cave. I’d seen it listed again and again as a “place you have to see,” and I couldn’t wait.

Benagil Cave.

Benagil was gorgeous, as expected, and I’ll share more about logistics of getting there in an upcoming post about the best beaches in Algarve. But the thing we remember most and still talk about to this day was the most delicious dessert we ordered on a whim at a seaside restaurant after our boat tour to the cave.

I had never been much of a fan of panna cotta before. When it comes to Italian desserts, I’m a total tiramisu girl. But the warm sunshine and the salty sea air called for something lighter. Despite what some people think when they see our blog name, we are not foodies. We enjoy wonderful food, but I’m often paralyzed by choice when it comes to picking a place for dinner. It was by happy accident that we ended up savoring spoonfuls of creamy, aromatic gelatin, dotted with remnants of the crushed vanilla bean that made it melt-in-your-mouth scrumptious. A raspberry sauce coated the top, drizzling down each bite.

Ahhhhhh!!!

We remarked in the moment about how it was so much better than expected, and we even considered ordering another. But the effect it had on us didn’t sink in until hours later when we were still talking about it. I mean, here I am writing about it nearly a year later!

In the months since, we’ve elevated that moment in our minds to a ridiculous level. We now order panna cotta when we see it on the menu, on the off chance we’ll ever find something nearly as good again. We even did what we called the “Panna Cotta Tour” when we found ourselves on Eat Street in Rotorua, New Zealand—a happening hot spot with 14 restaurants, cafes, and bars within the confines of a city block. While we had some great food, the panna cottas paled in comparison to the one in our memories.

Eat Street panna cotta.

We began to realize what we were experiencing could be applied to so many things in travel—a stand-out moment that on some level makes you wistful because you realize that nothing will ever be as good as the original, but at the same time, makes you grateful to have experienced it in the first place.

Hindsight is always 20/20. You often don’t realize you’re in the midst of a significant moment until you’re reflecting back on it. For us, the Panna Cotta Effect makes us strive to be more present in the moment, realizing that sometimes the little things end up being the big things.

How lucky are we to have a moment like that—a tiny, insignificant detail that when thought of, transports us back to a seaside café in Portugal, sun shining, waves lapping, and sweet perfection on our spoons.

I hope you never stop appreciating the little flavors that make up your travels, and that you look back on your panna cotta moments with a smile. Never stop searching for more.

Love on a beach in Portugal.
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