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.

My Top 18 Moments of 2018

This is the first time I’ve done a year-end round-up at the start of the next year, but with the bulk of our travel coming in December, I needed to hold out to tell you about the absolute best experiences of 2018. From road tripping Portugal and New Zealand to hiking through a river in a national park and flying over the Great Barrier Reef, 2018 was filled with some magical, memorable moments!

Waking up in Prague on New Year’s Day. Even though we were flying home that day, there’s nothing like ringing in a new year in a foreign country. We were lucky enough to start and end 2018 in far-flung destinations.

Charles Bridge in Prague.

Walking down to the breathtakingly beautiful beaches of the Algarve. Confession? I wanted to visit the Algarve Region of Portugal for one very specific reason: to take a boat ride inside Benagil Cave—a dreamy place that has adorned my desktop wallpaper and Instagram feed for years. Being the planner that I am, I researched nearby towns and things to do. I knew it was all about beaches, beaches, beaches. But gazing down at the beach outside our Airbnb—Praia da Dona Ana—I realized that no amount of time spent on Google Images could have prepared me for the jawdropping views this part of Portugal serves up.  

Climbing up to the storybook castles of Sintra, Portugal. And climb, you must—seemingly into the clouds. But being out of breath seems fitting for a place of such beauty. We visited the famed Pena Palace and the neighboring Castelo dos Mouros. Sintra is located an easily-accessible 30 minutes outside of Lisbon, but feels a world away.

Pena Palace

Discovering a hidden gem: São Miguel, the Azores. If there’s one word I’d use to describe Portugal, it’s “underrated.” And nowhere is that truer than in the Azores, a collection of nine islands some two hours west of Portugal, often called the Hawaii of the Atlantic. We visited SãoMiguel, the largest of the islands, again for one explicit reason: to glimpse the view from Miradouro da Boca do Inferno, an absolutely otherworldly spot you have to see to believe. But there was SO much more to this magical place.

Indiana Jonesing at a hidden waterfall. The moments of pure awe on this island were numerous, but one of our favorites was a trek through a lush, jungle-like setting, toward what, we weren’t exactly sure. Just when we were about to turn around, Kyle convinced me to walk a little further, and this beauty came into view.   

Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeiroes.

Airbnb for the win in the Azores! I love Airbnb, and I’ve stayed in some pretty awesome ones around the world, but the place we stayed in Vila Franca do Campo was over-the-top in every way. The accommodations were lovely, but the hospitality was unbelievable. Our incredible host stocked our kitchen with all kinds of treats from homemade dessert bread and rolls for sandwiches to sweet pineapple that grows on the island. And check out this view! Their chapel is modeled after the blue-domed churches of Santorini, a nod to their Greek heritage, and they hold weddings and events on site.

Seeing the Chihuly ceiling at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Vegas. I’ll admit it: I’ve always had a morbid curiosity when it comes to Sin City. When Kyle had to go to a conference there for the third year in a row, I cashed in some of my miles to go with him. While he was busy learning about computers—or something like that—I enjoyed a delightful spa day at the Bellagio. I have given many tours at The Corning Museum of Glass where I work, often noting the installations of Dale Chihuly’s art in crazy places around the globe—including the ceiling of the Bellagio. It was fun to finally see it in person. And yes—it was about the only thing I enjoyed in Vegas!

Getting wet on what has to be one of the most unique hiking trails in the U.S.: The Narrows. Walking through knee-deep water in a river only 20 to 30 feet wide in spots with thousand-foot cliff faces towering overhead is a surreal experience –but it’s the reason that countless people visit Zion National Park each year. It’s harder than it looks: dodging underwater rocks, trying not to faceplant, all the while remembering to look up and take in the enormity of it all.

Returning to Red Rock Country. It’s no secret we love Sedona, Arizona. We named our first puppy after this place, after all! And it was an absolute joy to visit a second time, spending a few days taking in the colors of the awe-inspiring red rocks. Here’s our complete guide from our first trip.

Seeing the Hollywood sign. I’m a big movie buff, and while I’ve never had a particular yearning to visit L.A., I didn’t turn down the opportunity to spend 24 hours there on the way to New Zealand. It was fun to see the Hollywood sign, Walk of Fame, and catch glimpses of some of the studios where movie magic is made during a whirlwind city tour.

Crossing the International Date Line and landing in the Southern Hemisphere for the first time. It was beyond exciting to see the International Date Line getting closer and closer on the in-flight map—and I purposely stayed awake to watch us cross it. I was beyond thrilled to bid adieu to snowy New York and say hello to warm late-spring temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere!

Nerding out in New Zealand. One of our first stops in New Zealand was Hobbiton, the fantastical village built for the filming of Lord of the Rings. Kyle loves the books and movies, and while I don’t see the appeal, I adored this colorful land built into a lush New Zealand hillside. Further explorations into Nerdom sent us to Gollum’s Pool, a gorgeous waterfall in Tongariro National Park, and WETA Workshop, the movie studio behind LOTR, Avatar, and many other movies.

Loving the Lupins in Lake Tekapo. Come for the stargazing, stay for the weeds. Yes, these gorgeous flowers that beckon tourists from their cars and into the fields are considered weeds in New Zealand! They only bloom in December and January, so I was thrilled that we chose the right time of year to venture to the shores of Lake Tekapo on the South Island. Many people flock here to gaze at the sky instead of the ground, as it’s one of the only International Dark Sky Reserves in the Southern Hemisphere. Although clouds prevented me from trying out my newly acquired star trail photography skills, we still did a few photoshoots in the lupins.

Flightseeing over Milford Sound and the Great Barrier Reef. I firmly believe one of the best ways to experience a new place is from the sky. Milford sound is quite a long drive from Queenstown, NZ, but a mere 35 minutes by plane—flying over lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and snow-capped mountains. With Air Milford’s “Fly/Cruise/Fly” package, we enjoyed two incredible flights and a nature cruise in between! A week later, we took a seaplane ride over Whitehaven Beach and the Great Barrier Reef on Christmas Day! Magic.

Christmas in the Whitsunday Islands. After a 14-day road trip through New Zealand, we knew we were going to want a low-key Christmas. Well, as low-key as being 10,000 miles away from home can get! The silica sands of Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsunday Islands had long been calling to me, so we booked a lovely stay at Coral Sea Resort in Airlie Beach—complete with sweeping sea views from a balcony boasting a hammock and hot tub. It was absolute perfection, and I can’t wait to go back.

Saying “g’day” to our exotic friends of Australia. Kangaroos, koalas, and cassowaries—oh, my! We spent an entire day at Taronga Zoo in Sydney and had the best time! It’s absolutely massive and so well done. I wanted to take home a koala friend.

Soaking in Sydney. This amazing city quickly jumped to the top of my “I have to live here someday” list. We were only in Sydney for three days—along with literally millions of other tourists for New Year’s—but I noticed the vibe immediately. There may be a ton of people around, but everyone is content to leisurely sip a drink or sit to take in the Opera House. Life is slower-paced, but you can tell that this place is happening. And the surrounding areas are gorgeous! We spent a day at Manly Beach with our globetrotter friends and could see why they choose to return here each year after months of travel.

Seeing fireworks explode over Sydney Harbor on New Year’s Eve. Need I say more? OMG, serious bucket-list material.

Bonus: Flying to Hawaii on January 1! If New Year’s Eve in Sydney isn’t good enough, New Year’s Day on O‘ahu (plus five more) is the icing on a very delicious cake.

Waikiki vibes.
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