‘All bows lead to Benagil’ I joke each summer, as an army of tourists descends daily on the most famous sea cave of the Algarve. Boats from all directions, often captained by local fishermen who have traded Sardines in for more lucrative selfie sailings, jostle for prime position to enter the Pinterest-poster child of the coastline.
Truly, it’s a magnificent rock formation. Gaping windows open to the ocean, and golden beams send a tunnel of light through the sinkhole high above. Long gone, however, are the moments of silence and solitude you once found here. Luckily, listening to the tone of lapping waves buffeting off limestone is still very much possible; you just need to know where to look.
Inês Nunes, a local marine biologist, is someone that holds all those answers. As more and more boats shuttle back and forth, changes to the coastline have become noticeable. Seeking a more eco-conscious way to share the splendour of these rugged rock formations, Inês teamed up with local guide Pedro Oliveira and created Zip&Trip.
It’s certainly no secret to the locals that there are hundreds of isolated beaches, blowholes, and indeed caves to explore in the Algarve, and you don’t need a boat to venture to them – simply a sense of adventure.
Wet suits were zipped and snorkels tightened as our group clambered along the arid cliffs of Alvor, a municipality slightly further west than Benagil.
‘There’s only the noise of the ocean and us‘ Pedro grinned up ahead, as we snaked our way down to a deserted beach. We were a small group, unsurprisingly all locals. Out in the deep blue, the tourist boats herded in the opposite direction.
Diving into the crystal-clear waters of the shallows, the wet suit hugged my body in a warm embrace. Spring sun glistened off the water and bounced onto the rust and apricot-hued limestone. The grin on my face was already perfectly shaped for the snorkel.
Seconds later, we were emerging into our first cave.
Pedro hadn’t been exaggerating. It was just us, silently taking in the staggering height of the cave ceiling. Moments before it had looked simply like a cliff-face, but a deep breath and dunk later, her secrets had been revealed.
We clambered out of the water, all making a bee-line for the perfectly circular spot-light illuminating the sand. Bathing in the warm rays, our suits dried quickly as we took a moment to appreciate the grandeur of nature’s work. For the next two hours, we swam and slithered, climbed and crawled our way into countless coves and caves.
From more towering vertical tunnels to archways and over-hanging rocks framing sand that hadn’t seen a footprint in days, the coastline delivered on all its promises. It’s a rare thing to see somewhere you’ve walked passed hundreds of times in a new light, but from an almost underwater vantage point, I was reminded just how special our coastline is.
Inês would occasionally stop us, pointing out local fish or a fleeting sea horse, and by the time we emerged to the final beach, it was a surprise to see rows of towels and tanning bodies awaiting. Though, to be fair, many faces seemed as surprised to see seven suit clad bodies rising from the waters.
We peeled off our wetsuits as Pedro peeled the rind of local cheese, and we settled into the soft sand to feast on watermelon and cherries. Gazing out at the seemingly never-ending ocean I was already wondering how many more of these ‘secret spots’ I’d have the joy of exploring in times to come.
Make it happen:
Zip&Trip run various tours around Ferragudo and Alvor, which can be booked via their website.