Camping in the Algarve, Portugal

We had been really looking forward to our visit to the Algarve and we had a fantastic time.  The weather was changeable but we still managed to get out on the water for some boat trips from Lagos.  The stunning coastline is what the Algarve is all about.  We stayed near at the Yelloh Village campsite near Lagos which worked out to be a great destination.  We had thought of splitting our time between Lagos and Albufeira but after a day visit to Albufeira I’m so pleased we didn’t do this.  More on that later…

Praia da Luz

Backpacks and Sunhats at Luz Beach
Praia da Luz

This was one of the closest beaches to our campsite, Yelloh Village, Algarve.  We enjoyed an afternoon here and in Mid- June it wasn’t very busy.  Unfortunately at that time the water was really chilly and we couldn’t stay in long.  Later a local told us that the water warms up a lot in July.  It was a beautiful beach with some restaurants nearby too so good for a day out.

Boat Trips from Lagos

Lagos is a great base for a number of day trips out on the water, there is a huge selection available.  You can look online or just take a walk around the Marina and you’ll be offered everything from kayaking to dolphin watching.  We’d had our eye on a Get Your Guide trip to go sea kayaking in the caves and inlets along the coast.

Unfortunately when we arrived to start our kayaking trip the sea conditions weren’t safe to take the children out.  We were so disappointed as we love kayaking.  The tour operator was fantastic and helped us get booked onto a dolphin watching trip.

Dolphin Watching Lagos

We went dolphin watching with Seafaris from Lagos.  You can also go from Sagres further along the coast.  The boat trip itself is lots of fun and we enjoyed good views of the stunning coastline.

After almost an hour of searching we thought we might not see dolphins, then suddenly, there they were!

Dolphin Watching on the Algarve
Short beaked common dolphin

We saw the short-beaked common dolphin.  These dolphins are found in the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, among other places.  Off the coast of Southern Portugal we saw them in the Atlantic Ocean.  They came close to the boat, playing, jumping and swimming alongside.  It is wonderful to see these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat and this was one of our best days in Europe.

Dolphin Watching on the Algarve 2
Pod of dolphins, Algarve, Portugal

Here is a short clip of the dolphins taken from our boat.  You can see how beautiful the water is and how close the dolphins were to us.

Sea Caves Lagos

We had a another stroke of luck the next day when at first there were no sea cave boat trips from Lagos, due to bad weather, but a couple of hours later they started up again.  There was no kayaking but we could take a small boat out for a look.  These tours are really popular and the boats are small, so the main companies often have a boat leaving every 15 minutes.  Somehow we got a boat to ourselves, we had an amazing hour with with an incredibly friendly guide.  The coastline in this area is so beautiful, dramatic cliffs, crazy rock formations, caves, grottos and blow holes.  I couldn’t believe the colour of the water, this was on a choppy, windy day.

As an added bonus, on the way back the guide let the kids take a turn driving the boat each.  S was a complete natural…

Boat trips from Lagos
Backpacks and Sunhats boat trip, Algarve

L was not so natural and had a tendency to over correct and steer in the direction of the nearest obstacle.  Usually a really expensive looking boat!  But he did get he hang of it.

Lagos Town

While we waited for the sea caves trip we headed into Lagos town for a look around.  The Algarve is a popular holiday destination, particularly for the British and in the interests of research we like to look around the popular resort towns and see what each place has to offer.  We’re always looking for the places we might one day go back to, the places to tell our friends and family about and to feature here on backpacks and sunhats.  Lagos was pretty cute.  We enjoyed a stroll around the fish market, they have a nice waterfront promenade and some pretty buildings in the old town centre. This picture below is our favourite spot.

Boat trips from Lagos
Lagos, Portugal

We were here during the Football World Cup so there was lots of excitement around that, at this time it was still the early stages.

Football fever Portugal
Worldcup football fever Portugal

Sagres and Cape Saint Vincent

An enjoyable drive from Lagos is along the cost to the small town of Sagres and out to the very tip of South Western Portugal to the lighthouse and dramatic cliffs.  Here is the most South Western part of Europe, next stop America. It was around this cape that many explorers sailed and several naval battles have been fought throughout history.

Cape Saint Vincent Portugal
Cape Saint Vincent, Portugal

Visiting these sorts of landmark destinations helps enormously in Worldschool Geography.  It also tied together all the learning we had been doing about Portugal’s history of exploration and fishing expeditions.

Sagres Fortress

Fort at Sagres 2
Sagres Fortress

Just along the road from the lighthouse and the cape, on the way back to Sagres is the 15th Century Fortress.  It is said that this is where Prince Henry the Navigator established his navigation school.  The site has walks along the cliff edge with stunning views along the cliffs and back towards Cape Saint Vincent.  At just 3 Euros for adults and free for kids it is well worth an hour of your time, particularly combined with a trip to the cape.  The kids enjoyed climbing up and down the walls and looking at the cannons.

All of the above activities filled 3 days in Lagos, we also spent one day chilling at our campsite.

Yelloh Village Campsites

During our trip we’ve stayed at a number of the Yelloh Village chain of campsites.  Like outdoor resorts, these places are a complete holiday destination and total heaven for kids.  The Algarve site included a huge swimming pool complex and they were building an indoor heated pool too.  Many of the Yelloh Village sites have waterslides or splash areas.  There was a spa and gym, kids club, football pitch, playground, face painting, bouncy castle and discos.  Our kids would disappear for ages to the playground or sports field and they both went a couple of times to kids club.  All kids activities are free and included in the cost of the site.

Face painting Yelloh Village

Making Friends

The kids made friends with a family from Ireland as well as the Portuguese family camping opposite us.  I ended up having a long and fascinating conversation with a Portuguese mother as our kids played together.  She gave me some interesting insight into life in Portugal. The high cost of living vs wages, cost of childcare for children in the holidays, the low pay she gets as an early childhood teacher, high fuel costs… Hmm does this sound familiar to my friends and family in New Zealand?

It was tricky at times when the kids found friends to play with and wanted to be away with them for hours.  When we stayed in one place a bit longer it was an opportunity to catch up on schoolwork.  As soon as the pencil was picked up someone would pop by the tent with a football.  These children are on their school holidays but ours are not.  Yet socialising with other children and playing football is an important part of ‘school’ too.  I almost always said ‘Yes’ and the books were put away for another day.  It was only a handful of sites that we met a lot of families.  When we did we let them make the most of it.

For anyone looking at a camping trip in Europe I can highly recommend the Yelloh Village sites, they are in Spain, France and Portugal.  Sign up to their loyalty programme too.  If camping is not your thing they all have chalets / cabins / self contained units as well.

Also if you think all of this sounds expensive we found that most of the Yelloh Village sites were the same price as we were paying on other sites but with a higher standard and more facilities.

Albufeira

I said in my last post that I usually don’t dwell on places we didn’t enjoy, so I’ll just say this…  Albufiera is a popular holiday destination for British people.  It appears to have turned into one of those over commercialised, tacky resorts, with cheap shops, cafes selling English breakfast and bars competing to offer the cheapest pint while showing the Premier League football games.   It is a real shame that a lack of planning has allowed so much unattractive building and development in what apparently used to be a charming fishing village.  I was surprised to see so much graffiti and a generally untidy town.  It was a stark contrast to Lagos.

I would recommend the Algarve for a family holiday but stick to the Lagos area!

Next we head back into Spain…  Catch up on all our Portugal posts here.

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