Walking in the Algarve

Walking the Algarve, exploring Portugal’s southernmost region and its superb network of coastal and inland trails, will take you through some pretty sensational scenery.

Think dramatic clifftop paths and sandy beaches between whitewashed fishing villages. Nature reserves such as the Ria Formosa, where flamingos are among many hundreds of bird species on display. And peaceful landscapes of cork trees, lavender fields and groves of olive and almond via the Rota Vicentina.

But spectacular as they undoubtedly are, the views are only a part of the story. Walking in the Algarve is also an exceptional way to learn about this region’s heritage and ways of life.

On small group tours, your guide will explain how artisan salt is produced in coastal wetlands, and cork from the forests. In the evenings you can sample delicious cuisine from the octopus restaurants of Tavira, or dishes such as the cataplana a seafood stew, while enjoying the Algarvian take on mournful Portuguese fado music. And in the markets along the Vicentina coast, you can chat with stallholders, taste their wares, and pick up treats for picnics the following day.

Above all, you can simply take your time. Accommodation is arranged in advance and waiting for you, whether you’re part of a small group tour or walking self-guided. But all routes are designed to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace so you can stop off whenever the mood takes you. You are on holiday, after all.

When to walk in the Algarve

The ideal time for walking in the Algarve is late spring (May) or early autumn (September and October), when the weather is sunny but temperatures are mild, and the foliage is bursting with colour. The autumn months – September to November – are also the best time to admire birdlife in the Algarve nature reserves, with many raptors such as eagles and vultures migrating through, as well as other species including flamingos and storks.

Tailor made trips run at any time of year, but you’re best off following the lead of small group tours which usually go from October to May, avoiding the heat and the crowds of summer. In July and August, when daytime temperatures can easily reach 30°C, you probably won’t want to be on the trail.

From November to February, you do get rain now and again, mornings and evenings are chilly, and coastal walking routes in the Algarve can get windy. But it doesn't necessarily hurt to have a bit of moody weather in your views. And this being the Algarve, you should be warm enough in the daytime with just a light top.

Our top walking trails in the Algarve

Rota Vicentina

The Rota Vicentina is a superb network of walking and cycling trails that follows the Vicentina Coast of the Algarve and Alentejo, encompassing a couple of long-distance Algarve walking routes, the coastal Fisherman’s Trail and the rural Historical Trail, as it does so.

But the Rota Vicentina is more than that. It is also a non-profit association of 200 local businesses that aims to create ‘closed loop tourism’ in this area. Between them, they provide everything that the walking or cycling visitor could need and plough the takings back into maintaining the routes.

“We are among the founders of the Association Rota Vicentina that’s responsible for taking care of the trails,” says Ricardo Estêvão, from our partner Aventuractiva, who organises self guided walking trips in the Algarve. “We promote active, sustainable, low-impact tourism in the area. The famous walks – the Fisherman’s Trail and Historical Way – are part of the Rota Vicentina. But in my opinion, it’s the combination of walking and sustainable tourism that makes it so attractive to visitors.”

Association Rota Vicentina links walkers to accommodation, restaurants, transport, activities such as kayaking, and shops selling everything from walking equipment to souvenirs such as clay bowls and handmade soaps. It also organises a busy cultural calendar so that once you’ve put away your boots for the day, you can catch an art exhibition, a flea market or a musical performance.

Via Algarviana

The Via Algarviana, also known as the GR13, is a long-distance walking route that takes you through parts of the Algarve that most coast-dwelling visitors entirely miss. Until it reaches its final destination at Cabo de São Vicente, in the far southwest, the Via Algarviana follows an entirely inland route from Alcoutim, close to the Spanish border, via Silves and Monchique.

Divided into 14 sections, the 300km route can be walked in a couple of weeks, or you can just walk part of it, as it is easily accessed from the coast. Indeed, there are connective walks from Lagos, Albufeira and Portimão.

Tavira & Ria Formosa Natural Park

The Moorish town of Tavira is a pleasant base for centre-based small group walking holidays around the Algarve’s south coast. There are shady plazas, cobbled streets, and a bustling fishing harbour where you’ll see octopuses drying out in the sun before they make their way (not independently) to the local restaurants. Tavira is also a gateway to the magnificent Ria Formosa Natural Park. Walks in this protected area take you along boardwalks through sand dunes and wetlands home to myriad bird species, deserted beaches, and to peaceful, car-free villages.

Algarve & Alentejo

The Alentejo region sits directly above the Algarve, so walking holidays will often explore them both. Some days will find you on the coast, others amid rolling hillsides dotted with cork trees, vineyards and olive groves – like stepping into a painting. This also allows you to delve into both the seafood cuisine along the coast and traditional inland fare such as black pork.

“The Algarve and Alentejo coasts, inside the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park, are very similar,” says Ricardo. “However, you get a great variety of landscapes when you walk from north to south, with bits of countryside interspersed with lots of cliffs and sandy trails at sea level, and passing through small villages along the way. My favourite route starts in Zambujeira do Mar, with undulating landscape near the coast until you reach the beautiful Odeceixe.”
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Algarve or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

What is walking in the Algarve like?

Small group vs. tailor made holidays

Probably the most important decision you’ll need to take when planning your Algarve walking is whether you want to join a guided small group with fixed departure dates and a fixed itinerary, or opt for a tailor made, self guided holiday where you have greater flexibility on when you go, where you walk and where you stay.

Small group trips are often based in the charming coastal town of Tavira. You can expect between 8 and 22 people in the group, so there’s always someone new to chat to every day, and it’s not unknown for strong friendships to form by the end of the week. Group numbers never feel overwhelming, and it doesn’t feel like your group is taking up too much room on the trails as you all spread out and walk at your own pace.

If you’re new to self guided trips, you can be reassured that comprehensive maps and route notes are provided (trails are well-marked anyway) and there is 24-hour support available should you need it. A tailor made trip can encompass large swathes of the Algarve, taking in sections of the inland Don Quixote Trail, the famous Fisherman’s Trail along the coast, and riverside walking along Guadiana.

Long-distance routes vs centre-based walking

Centre-based trips mean that you’ll return to the same accommodation each afternoon, and day walks are either from your hotel or the trailhead is a short transfer away. You only need to unpack once and it means you’ll have plenty of time to get to know your hosts (wherever possible, our partners use locally run, often family-owned properties).

Long-distance walking trips, such as walking the Rota Vicentina coast, will see you staying in a different place most nights, from small rural hotels to bed-and-breakfasts and comfortable hostels. You’ll carry a daypack with you and your main luggage will be transported in advance so it’s waiting for you on arrival every afternoon.

How fit do I need to be?

Depending on the trip, you will be walking for around six hours each day, covering 12-16km at varying gradients. There may be days when you’re walking for a while on loose sand, which is more tiring than a footpath, so while the pace is always easy-going (and tailor made holidays can adjust routes according to your preferences), a few practise hikes in the days and weeks leading up to your trip will certainly not be amiss.

There may be a rest day in the itinerary (and again, on tailor made walking trips you can always add one) where those with the energy can add an optional short walk. Algarve walking trails are usually in good condition, but foldable walking poles can be useful and footwear that supports your ankles are essential.

Responsible Travel would like to thank VisitAlgarve for their sponsorship of this guide.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Mike Finn] [Intro: Mike Finn] [Rota Vicentina: Antonio Mendes] [Tavira & Ria Formosa Natural Park: Tolbxela] [Small group vs. tailor made holidays: Rui Ornelas]