Benagil Sea Cave in the Algarve is a true natural wonder. It’s a sea cave with a natural occurring oculus that towers over its own secluded beach. At the right time of day the Sun casts light through this dome, illuminating a stunning scene that anyone visiting Portugal should try to see. You may not come across a lot of articles on the tours offered to this site so here’s a look at what you can expect if you end up visiting the Benagil Sea Cave in the Algarve.
(If you want to get more details on visiting the Algarve then check out Lonely Planet’s pocket book for the Algarve.)
Finding the beach
The first step is just getting to the beach. After loading “Benagil Beach” into your GPS try to select the route that appears to follow along the main roads as much as possible. We ended up venturing through some really tight back roadways and actually had to reverse out a few times because there wasn’t enough room for two cars to get through. So just be prepared for some very narrow roads as you approach the beach.
Once you arrive in the beach area there’s not really much room to park. It seems that everyone just parks along the street on an incline and we did just that.
There are a couple of restaurants at the beach (we didn’t try) and there’s a snack bar right on the beach. We had a couple of sweets from there and the sangria that comes on tap just to hold us over for our tour (what’s a grotto tour without a little sangria?). There are also public restrooms at the beach so if you’re in need of a light snack and a bathroom break, you’ll be covered when you arrive.
Booking a tour
To book your tour you have two options.
First, you can simply walk up to the little stand right in the middle of the beach area (you won’t be able to miss it). We showed up about 15 minutes before 1pm, which was perfect. The next tour was heading out at 1pm and there were still a couple of open slots for us to jump on board. However, that was in the off-season.
The boat is a little small and only carries about 8 passengers at a time but you won’t be squished which is great. The tours usually last 30 minutes to one hour and cost about €17.50 per person. (This might be different in peak season when they may offer more tours and have more boats on hand so keep that in mind.)
As soon as you strap your life jacket on and step into the boat you’re off! We went on a perfect day. The tide was pretty low, the sea was calm, and the sky was about as clear as could be. It was probably about 70°F/20°C and after living in the cold UK for the past few months, it was such a relief to be back in the sun and this warm nostalgia took me back to my days living in California.
The boat ride
We sped in and out of countless caves and alcoves all along the coast. Many of these caves were much larger than I thought they’d be. Watching the ocean’s green waters glimmer along the ceilings of these caves was stunning and not really easily captured with photographs. Other things not captured are the sounds and smells of the sea caves. As you enter into these dim chambers, the scent of salt water intensifies and the sounds of waves crashing into the rocks echo. The boat’s motor goes silent as do all of its passengers as they admire the scenery. It’s really an enchanting experience, especially the first few times you enter into the caves.
With the ocean as calm as it was on the day we visited it was hard to imagine how these placid waters had carved out these alcoves so deeply, but our guide assured us that during winter storms the waves often hit the ceilings in these caves! In one of the grottos a massive chunk of rock had obviously fell from the ceiling and was sitting right in the middle of the cave like its own little island. I certainly wouldn’t want to be around these caves in those kind of conditions.
We sat in each cave for only about 20 seconds before zipping out of the grotto at full speed and riding out into the sunny ocean in search of the next cave (often located right next door). The most thrilling part of the tour was when our boat headed directly for a little opening at the base of the cliff that looked no bigger than a few feet high from the water’s surface. Not only did we go straight for it but our guide gunned it so we shot through this tight opening and into the darkness without a clue of what was in front of us. Luckily, a large cave opened up and we were all safe but not before experiencing a good thrill. Check out the video of that here.
Beautiful sea stacks and golden cliffs
Apart from going in and out of the caves, it’s a really cool experience to get up close to these massive sea stacks and to get such great views of the beautiful golden cliffs of the Algarve. Sea birds swoop down from the high cliffs and fisherman stand perched on the edge of these sheer cliffs overlooking the clear green waters as you make turn after turn of beautiful coastline. I didn’t see any fish but the water was very clear and you could often see the bottom a few feet down if you looked.
Once you enter through these dark portals the dim interior of the cave feels almost like a cathedral and they’re beautiful as well. The walls and ceilings are washed with different tones of green, gold, grey, and purple and some of them even have holes poking through their ceilings where the sun shoots through like laser beams. A lot of them had their own little sandy beaches inside that resembled little hidden coves that made me just want to get out, lie down on the beach, and forget that we were going to be heading back to the cloudy UK in 24 hours.
Color changing water
Another amazing sight inside was watching the water change color. As you approach the mouth of the caves from the inside the sun hits the water just right and illuminates it in a deep emerald green like a light glowing under a bubbling a hot-tub. It only lasts for a few seconds and once you pull out of the cave it’s back to its bright bluish-green color. This was one of the coolest effects to me and I kept trying to photograph that look as much as possible.
The famous Benagil Sea Cave
After exploring numerous sea caves on the western side of the beach we then made our way back over to towards Benagil Beach to check out the most famous of all the sea caves of the Algarve. I’m not sure if the cave has its own name and I’ve only seen it referred to as “Benagil Sea Cave” so if you’re looking for it that’s probably the best name to use to search for it.
The most intriguing shot of this cave is actually taken from inside the sea cave on the sand. However, we we didn’t dock or anything inside the cave and I had to settle for the outside perspective, which was still quite stunning. I’d tried to contact a few people known for dropping off photographers in this cave for about an hour at a time and letting them photograph away but I didn’t have any luck. If I wasn’t lugging around my expensive DSLR and would’ve been content with just getting GoPro footage I definitely would’ve considered just swimming to this cave because it’s just next door to the beach. If you’re a strong swimmer and conditions are calm, you can definitely think about making the swim (though it’d probably be best to have some kind of floating device with you just in case).
Anyway, we stopped here for about a minute and the guide let us shoot away. I was on the outside of the boat and towards the back when we arrived at the cave, which gave me a pretty obstructed view of the cave. This made me worried because this was the cave I was most excited about photographing and it seemed like I wasn’t going to be able to get any decent shots. So I just starting shooting like crazy and hoping that one of my shots would come out. Thankfully, a few of them did!
Photographing the sea caves
Photographing the sea caves on these tours is not easy. If you’re like me and shoot manual with a DSLR you’re going to have to be on your “A” game. The first concern is the lighting that changes abruptly and dramatically, forcing you to change your settings within seconds before your boat departs. In addition to the lighting challenges, you have the boat rocking away to the rhythm of the waves. This makes any kind of slow shutter attempt basically impossible to handle without significant motion blur to your images. My strategy was to take every photo with multiple exposures and to just keep firing away! It worked some of the time and failed most of the time, but I took so many photos that at least a few of them came out okay.
Oh yeah — be sure to protect your camera. Our guide liked to spice things up by making some sharp turns and sending sea spray showering over us. Luckily, I’d remembered to bring my hat and was able to shield my camera from the salt water by placing it like a baby in my lap.
A sea cave tour in the Algarve is a must-see attraction! While I’d probably prefer a kayak tour over something like this, it was still a fantastic way to spend an hour exploring the Algarve coast!
If you’re still looking for a great place to stay in the Algarve, check out my review of the Grande Real Santa Eulalia Resort!