Over the past 23 million years, the forces of nature have sculpted a cave that looks designed by man. It resembles a domed temple with an oculus or open skylight, as if the winds and waves were inspired by the Pantheon in Rome. The light-filled natural wonder encloses a beach and has become the most famous sight in Algarve. Often considered one of the world’s most extraordinary sea caves, it has two arched openings, accessed by boat or by swimming from the neighboring beach. The nearest major town is Carvoeiro, but it’s in a tiny village. Here is everything you need to know for a visit:
Boats to the Benagil Cave
Most boats depart from Benagil Beach, but there are also departures from the beach of Vale de Centeanes and from the harbor in the city of Portimão. In July and August there might also be tours departing from Albufeira, Armação de Pêra, Carvoeiro, Lagos, and Vilamoura. Some tours continue along the Algarve coast, past other caves and spectacular cliffs, and may even combine some dolphin-watching. Many stop at secluded beaches that are only accessible by boat. They vary in price, depending on the itinerary or distance covered, the season, duration, and type of boat, but on average they can be as little as €25 per person to as much as hundreds of euros. A very popular boat is a replica of a 15th-century Portuguese caravel which departs from the harbor in Portimão. It’s known as the Santa Bernarda Ship and offers morning and afternoon tours.
The most recommended tour is: Express Tour - Benagil Cave
All available tours: Benagil Cave Tours
Each tour is different, so read the entire itinerary before booking, to know if it actually goes inside the cave and not just past it, if that’s something you really want to experience. Many stop at the entrance for a minute or two so that you can take pictures, then leave. The tidal variations mean that the smaller the boat, the better the chances of you entering the cave. The tour operators monitor the tides and the weather, so they know when it’s safe to go. Tours are rarely cancelled due to poor conditions in the summer, but cancellations are rather frequent at other times of the year. Keep that in mind, so that you won’t be disappointed -- but safety first! The boats range from simple fishermen boats departing from Benagil Beach to luxury yachts. Most people go for the more inexpensive options, but if you’re celebrating a special event, on a honeymoon or want to impress a special someone, you can always splurge on something more private and luxurious. The boats from Benagil Beach just take you to the cave and back, so they’re the cheapest option. They reach the cave in just a few minutes, so the entire trip takes about a half hour to close to an hour. These are not booked, you just show up and buy a ticket at the beach. However, you usually have to wait a long time for the next available boat between June and September – sometimes as much as three hours and often you find everything already sold out for the day early in the morning – so booking a larger tour online is the smartest option.
Kayaks and Stand-up Paddleboards (SUP) to Benagil Cave
An alternative to the boats are the kayaks and stand-up paddleboards available at Benagil Beach, usually from the same operators as the boats. A 2-person kayak can cost as much as the small fisherman boats that are shared with other tourists. They are usually rented for a period of one hour, to go independently to the cave and return, and, if you manage your time well, stop at the neighboring beach of Corredoura, to the east, which is only accessible from the sea. These rentals require a government ID (the national ID if you’re a European citizen or a passport for everyone else). Lifejackets are mandatory and provided by the operator. The stand-up paddleboards are only available when the sea is calm (it usually is, in the summer). Some tours combine boats and kayaks. You go by boat and then access the cave on a kayak. Other tours use just kayaks for group visits to the cave. These can last two or three hours, depending on where they depart from, and give you about 20 minutes to enjoy the interior of the cave, which is plenty of time for most people.
Swimming to the Benagil Cave
It’s possible to swim to Benagil Cave, so that’s a tempting option for the more adventurous types. However, that’s not really recommended. Although it takes less than 10 minutes to swim the 200 meters (about 650 feet) from the left side of Benagil Beach, it’s very risky, because if you get into trouble there will be no one to help you. There can be unexpected currents, and the boats going in and out of the cave sometimes generate big waves. There are just too many boats during the peak season, and often rough seas at other times of the year. Only strong and experienced swimmers should attempt to do it and it’s a good idea to take proper equipment -- a bright wetsuit (to be visible from the passing boats) or fins and goggles. It’s also important to keep some distance from the cliffs and rocks, as waves may smash you against them, but don’t stray too far either. Accidents do happen, so you can never be too careful. Definitely don’t swim when the sea is rough.
Inside the Benagil Cave
Try to visit the cave early in the day, before lunch time. Not only will you avoid the crowds, you will have the best light for photos, as the morning sun beams inside. Be prepared to be very patient, as everyone fights for their turn to stand in the right spot for the perfect photo. You can also see the interior from the top. Although the hole is fenced for security reasons, you can get close enough to look down. You’ll find it close to the parking area above the beach of Benagil.
When to Visit the Benagil Cave
The best times to visit the Benagil Cave are late spring (June) and late summer (September), because that’s when there’s good weather and sea conditions without the overwhelming crowds. Tours sell out quickly in July and August, and for those that can’t be booked you have to endure long waits. Many tours are only available from April to October, so it’s not easy visiting in autumn and winter.
Quick Tips for the Benagil Cave
-Go early in the day to avoid the crowds
-Take a waterproof backpack to protect your belongings, especially your camera or phone.
-Don’t forget your sunscreen!
-Wear a hat
-Tours may be cancelled due to sea conditions, so plan to be in the area for a few days to increase your chances of seeing the cave.
How to Get to the Benagil Cave
If you’re staying in Carvoeiro, you can walk up the main road from the center of town for about 20 minutes to Praia de Vale de Centeanes, which is the second most popular beach for boat tours of the cave. This beach can also be reached by Vamus bus 107, which departs from Portimão and passes by Carvoeiro, stopping on the road above the beach. However, this isn’t a very convenient service, as it’s very infrequent, especially on weekends. For the beach of Benagil, you can drive for 15 minutes from Carvoeiro, 20 minutes from Armação de Pêra, 25 minutes from Alvor or Portimão, 30 minutes from Albufeira, 40 minutes from Lagos, and about 1 hour from Faro. There’s parking at the top of the cliff, about a 5-minute walk from the beach. If you don’t have a car, you can always rely on Uber. That’s a very inexpensive option if you’re staying in Carvoeiro. There’s also Vamus bus 77, which departs from Lagoa. However, there are just two departures per day, on weekdays, so that’s not really a viable option. Bus 52, which runs between Alvor and Armação de Pêra, is a little more frequent, stopping in Benagil six times a day, including weekends, but only between May 1st and October 31st. This bus also stops in Praia da Rocha (Portimão), Ferragudo and Carvoeiro.
Activities and Attractions Near Benagil Cave
Most people stay at the beach after a visit to the cave, but if you’re based in the area, you’ll want to know what else is there to do in the surroundings. The top experience is the Seven Hanging Valleys trail, which passes by the beach of Benagil. Considered one of the most beautiful hikes in Europe, it goes over the cliffs for 5.7 kilometers (3.5 miles), between Praia de Vale de Centeanes to the west and Praia da Marinha to the east. Have your phone or camera fully charged, because you’ll be taking countless photos! In Carvoeiro, you’ll also enjoy the Algar Seco rock formations and the very picturesque beach of Carvoeiro. A 15-minute drive to the north is the Slide & Splash water park. As you can guess from the name, it’s all about water slides and pools. In 20 minutes you can also get to Aqualand, one of the largest water parks in Europe, with an artificial “surf beach” in addition to the swimming pools and water slides of different shapes.
Beaches by the Benagil Cave
In addition to the beaches of Benagil and Vale de Centeanes, from where most boat tours depart, you have others nearby that are worth exploring. The one that you won’t want to miss is Praia da Marinha, with its stunning rock formations, and there’s also the magical Praia do Carvalho. These beaches are part of the Seven Hanging Valleys trail, so although they can be reached by car in about 10 minutes or less from Benagil Beach, you can also walk there over the cliffs.
Where to Stay by the Benagil Cave
This wonderful hotel stands on a cliff overlooking the sea, about 10 minutes by car from Benagil Beach or just a 15-minute walk from Vale de Centeanes Beach, where you can take the boats to the cave. There are magnificent views from most of the rooms, as well as from the rooftop bar and the swimming pool. It has two restaurants and a spa offering a variety of treatments.
SEE PRICES, AVAILABILITY AND MORE DETAILS HERE: Tivoli Carvoeiro
Pestana Palm Gardens
It’s the closest hotel to Vale de Centeanes Beach (a 10-minute walk away), so a great place to stay if you want to visit the cave early in the day. It has townhouses and apartments accommodating between 3 and 6 people, so it’s also a good choice for those traveling in a group of friends. There’s a large swimming pool, a spa, a gym, a tennis court, and a restaurant.
SEE PRICES, AVAILABILITY AND MORE DETAILS HERE: Pestana Palm Gardens
Vale de Milho Village
This highly-rated resort is 10 minutes by car from Benagil Beach. It consists of townhouses with their own private swimming pool and is perfect for couples, families or groups. There’s no restaurant, but you may prepare meals in the house, which may have two or three bedrooms.
SEE PRICES, AVAILABILITY AND MORE DETAILS HERE: Vale de Milho Village
Montinho Boutique Suites
For a relaxing and romantic escape close to the cave, stay at this bed-and-breakfast which is just a 15-minute walk or 5-minute drive from Benagil Beach. It has a swimming pool and is a good value.
SEE PRICES, AVAILABILITY AND MORE DETAILS HERE: Montinho Boutique Suites
Rocha Brava Village Resort
If you’re traveling with children, stay at this family-friendly clifftop resort. It’s just 7 minutes by car from Benagil Beach, and offers villas and apartments surrounded by gardens, three swimming pools, a gym and four tennis courts. It has a restaurant but there’s also a supermarket for guests to buy everything they need to prepare their own meals.
SEE PRICES, AVAILABILITY AND MORE DETAILS HERE: Rocha Brava Village Resort
Terraços de Benagil
These holiday homes stand right above Benagil Beach. They’re fully equipped and accommodate as many as 4 or 6 adults. Most feature terraces with ocean views.
SEE PRICES, AVAILABILITY AND MORE DETAILS HERE: Terraços de Benagil