Why the west coast? Why would we want to leave the beautiful, peaceful, postcard-perfect Lagos for an entire afternoon?
To see another side of the Algarve.
The Algarve (the southern region of Portugal) has two very distinct coastlines. There’s the southern coastline with gentle waves, warmer waters, seastacks, grottos, and beautiful, sandy beaches.
Then there’s the west coast. Towering cliffs. Rocky paths. Thunderous waves. High winds. Hidden beaches. It’s a rugged and rough land. It feels untouched. Wild. And it will most likely stay that way since the coastline is part of a national park (Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina). Stretching for over a 100km, the west coast is basically untouched.
I needed to see this.
Early on in our planning process, I stumbled onto the West Coast Adventure Co. through Trip Advisor. After perusing the reviews and the site, I was hooked. The West Coast Adventure Co. promises to take visitors on a hike through the park to see the best the west coast has to offer. The pictures of the cliffs called to me. The idea of scrambling and exploring the coast intrigued me. And the repeated mention that the west coast was considered the End of the World for centuries interested the History major in me. Lastly with the assurance that the tour would bring me far beyond the parking lots, I signed up.
T.J., the owner of the West Coast Adventure Co., assured me of my decision right from the start. He quickly responded to my inquiry and we got it all set up.
The day of our tour, T.J. picked us up at 2:30pm right outside of our B&B in Lagos. I was a little skeptical of his white van as it pulled up outside. This thing was going to make it to the west coast? It seemed to be on its last leg.
But damn if that van wasn’t tough. By the end of the day I had a new appreciation for that van. It could do anything. (Sadly though I do not have a picture of the van.)
We circled around Lagos to pick up the other passengers and even met one couple at the last town near the coast. In the end there were 10 of us crammed into the van. We were on our way.
T.J. parked us far and away from the cliffs, along some dirt, partially obscured road, and told us that our first hike was starting. We trudged along the road for several minutes before coming along the side of the cliffs. And it was there I got my first view of what the west coast has to offer.
Far below us we could see a small beach scattered with daring surfers but beyond that was nothing but crashing waves and deserted cliffs. The day was warm and the cool breeze coming off the water was refreshing.
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. This could have been the west coast of Ireland. If you would have told me we were actually hiking around the Dingle Peninsula, I would have believed you. The rough, untamed land was the same here as it was there. And I loved it.
T.J. further increased my love by telling me in the spring, at the end of the rainy season, the bushes at our feet bloom bright, colorful flowers and cover the cliffs. The flowers would spread as far as the eye can see but I couldn’t even imagine this rough landscape blossomed in color. I guess I just have to come back and see it.
But soon we were led away to the trail that was to take us down closer to the water. We stumbled, crawled, scrambled, and climbed down the steep path. At one point, we had to step over a small crevasse with only T.J.’s arm for support.
At our first resting point, T.J. pointed to a rope and then to the adjacent valley far below. There, crawling among the rocks, was a fisherman. He too had come down the path but with a different purpose in mind. T.J. explained that these fisherman come to the west coast and navigate the dangerous tidal waters for one thing – barnacles. I never realized people actually ate barnacles but when T.J. told us they sell for $50/pound, I could start to realize why these fishermen risked their lives for the creatures.
With only a brief respite, we were on our way again. We went down and then back up this weird cliff face that looked like an ancient and twisted staircase before finally getting to the view I had been waiting to the see. My mouth dropped as I stared at the cliff in front of me. It really did look like that.
The cliff in question was the tallest in the park but it wasn’t its height that had me spellbound, it was its face. You could actually see the various layers of rock. I hadn’t believed it when I saw an image of it on the website but yep, there it was. Beautiful.
We breaked and ate the few snacks we had brought with us but after only a couple of minutes, it was time to move on. From there, we climbed back down the staircase until we reached the lowest point of the cliffs.
Or so we thought.
T.J. smiled and asked if any of us wanted to go further. Of course we did. Going further turned out to mean getting to the cliff ledge 10 feet below us using only a pile of rocks as our stepping stool.
Once everyone was down (except for 1 couple who stayed back), we crawled around the side of the cliff where the ledge we were standing on got smaller and the rock above us got lower. Let me clarify – a lot smaller and lower. And we kept going until we were literally crawling into a crevasse in the cliff face. There was definitely some ducking and gripping the walls action going on.
Some people moved further into the crevasse until things really got tight but I was fine with just taking a seat and enjoying the view.
Once we hiked back to the car and the sun was clearly on a downward path towards the horizon, T.J. drove us to the next spot. As we neared the Cape of São Vicente’s lighthouse, he turned sharply right onto a bumpy dirt trail. From there we piled out of the van and began our next descent to a deserted beach.
Since the temperature had already begun to drop (and I knew it would drop further), I was able to snag a spare scarf from T.J. And so, for the rest of the night, I was decked out in Christmas colors.
We reached the beach below and T.J. quickly told us to follow him before running off for the other side of the beach. And I do mean running. I dropped my bag and sprinted after him. Then he stopped, turned, and our jaws dropped. The perfect sea arch.
But T.J. wouldn’t let us linger for long. After only a moment he quickly explained that we needed to get up and over that arch before the sunset.
I have never climbed so fast.
But one we got there, it was perfect. No other words can describe that moment. We climbed up on the cliff and the most beautiful sunset was before us. Now I’m no sunset expert or anything but I have seen my fair share of them. And that one takes the cake. We simply watched in silence as the sun slowly dropped below the horizon.
Once the sun was gone, T.J. prepped our dinner and we circled around the small table like rock to feast on meats, local cheeses, carrots, guacamole, olives, and bread. Oh yea and wine. And though it wasn’t the most food (Ryan and I could have eaten it all ourselves) it was enough. Especially since T.J. had been carrying it all on his back.
By the time we finished eating, night had fallen and we were sitting in darkness. It was then T.J. explained we needed to hike out of this valley and handed each pair of people one little glow light. I was nervous at first about the lack of light but it didn’t turn out to be a problem. In fact it made the climb easier since you couldn’t see how far away the top of the valley was.
Reaching the van, T.J. asked us to turn off our lights and take in our surroundings. In the distance, perched on the cape where the southern and western coast meet, the lighthouse spun silently. In the other direction Sagres, the closest town to the so called End of the World, was the only other point of light. But as I turned my head back, my breath caught. The sky was covered in stars!
With hardly any light pollution here, the night sky sparkled back at us clearly. We took turns pointing out the constellations we knew (though the Brits in attendance had no idea what the big and little dipper were). And I was amazed that even the milky way was clearly distinguishable.
I have rarely seen that many stars in the states.
Looking back, that day was one of the best for the whole trip and it’s not till this moment that I start to realize why. The west coast was beautiful and deserted and it just felt ancient. Untouched. But it was also the feeling I had while I was exploring it. I felt like a kid again. Scrambling, jumping, crawling. Being slightly anxious that I might slip and fall but not enough to not go. To not see. To not experience it. Definitely an adventure. And a smile was plastered on my face the whole time.
And in terms of the West Coast Adventure Co., I would definitely recommend the hike to anyone who wants to see the west coast. Even if you have a car and are planning to drive along the west coast, this hike will take you farther. Much farther than you would be able to go on your own. And T.J. himself was awesome. He was always quick to respond via email, was knowledgeable about the cliffs during the hike, and followed through on every promise he made. I couldn’t have asked for more.
If you go to the Algarve, then you may be tempted to spend all of your time in and around the southern beaches. The sun. The sand. The people and food. You may just want to stay there.
But that would be a shame.
For the west coast of the Algarve is wild and rugged. Its cliffs are steep and rocky. The beaches are deserted except for a few brave surfers. And the towns are few and far between. It’s a different side of the Algarve. And it’s one you have to see.
What’s your most memorable hiking experience?
The Nitty Gritty
What to Bring: Lots of water. You will be hiking for several hours up and down hillsides and cliffs. And you will get dirty and sweaty doing so. By the time sunset rolled around, I was exhausted. On that note, you may also want to bring some snacks. A couple of times T.J. stopped the group for 10-15 minutes and I was so glad I had a bag of chips to hold me over until the post-sunset meal. If you don’t have time to grab something before T.J. picks you up, he does make a stop at a small town near the cliffs to grab any last minute supplies. Like more water.
Cost: I booked the trip 3 months early for a hike in September (the high season) and paid €49/person. The site currently says the high season price is €59/person – so the price is definitely going up. When you schedule your hike you’ll need to pay €10 via PayPal to reserve your spot. Then once the hike is over and T.J. drops back off at your hotel, you’ll need to pay the rest up in cash.