An urge to satisfy the travel cravings and a need for sunshine led Charlotte, my #1 travel bud, and me to spontaneously book a flight to the beaches of the Algarve region in Portugal despite our lack of knowledge on the destination. Our ignorance led us to believe that Faro, Portugal was a random Ryanair drop-off location, but with a few quick Google searches, the Algarve revealed itself to be one of the most overwhelmingly popular tourist destinations known to the EU.
There are two sides to the Algarve. To the right of Faro, one can find the tourist hotspots like Lagos and Albufeira where crystal clear water, sandy beaches, and natural caves are bustling with vacationers. To the left of Faro are the waters less traveled with beautiful beaches, nature reserves, authentic food, and most importantly–culture!
Our adventure began in Albufeira where a 5 pound shuttle conveniently took us direct from the airport to our hotel. We loved the blue view of the Atlantic from our 3-day tanning post on the sandy shores. However, we couldn’t help but feel like we were trapped inside a snow globe spotlighting a perfect holiday town sprinkling tourists from the sky.
It is when we traveled to Olhão, Portugal that the real adventure began and the beauty of the Algarve was discovered. An easy and cheap 40 minute train ride took us to the largest fisherman’s town of the Algarve– Olhão. Just our stay at Pension Bicuar Residential was enough to make everything about Olhão a home away from home. Owned and operated by a lovely Malaysian couple with an inspiring globetrotter couple from New Zealand temporarily working at the B&B for 3 months now, they made us feel very welcomed giving us a tour of the place and filling us in on the life of Olhão.
On the first night in Olhão, I awoke at the early hour of 4am unable to fall back to sleep. Not wanting to waste my time with tossing and turning in bed, I went up to the rooftop of the B&B to watch the sunrise over the Moorish-style homes in this coastal town. I wasn’t the only one awake though. Just a short walk from our B&B, fishermen were hard at work at the port bringing in their fresh catches of the early morning to fill an entire market featuring a variety of fish big and small.
As explained by the lovely New Zealand couple, you can’t go to the fish market with a list because what you see is what they caught that morning! They also explained that the bell heard at 10 am that same morning was to alert the town that a huge fish (like shark status) was caught! I didn’t find the big guy, but here are a few shots from the market…
After exploring the fresh fish and fruit markets, both of which close at 1pm, we hopped on a ferry to the local islands. With 3 islands to choose from–Ilha da Armona which is reachable by one ferry and Ilha da Cultara and Farol reachable by another and connected by their sandy beaches–we ventured to Ilha da Farol. The ferry took us along the Ria Formosa nature reserve to the island well-known for it’s operating lighthouse (aka farol in Portuguese) along the white sands and crystal clear waters. As we made our way from the ferry dock to the beach, we passed through the simple and well-decorated homes of the island taking in the lifestyle of the locals and imagining their day-to-day commute into the city of Olhão for work, shopping, and what not.
We enjoyed a lovely day on the beach tanning our paled UK bodies under the burning sun of Portugal. And best of all, we enjoyed being surrounded by locals and embracing the culture of the Algarve.
Our Portugal Trip in a nutshell:
Overall– An affordable trip with an average total of £300 spent for a 5 night stay.
Airfare– Approx. £110 with the budget airline, Ryanair
- Albufeira: Hotel da Galé– approx. £20/night for a standard room with two twins. Simple 2 star hotel, basic accommodation. Perks: Rooftop pool, sick view, close to beaches. Negatives: Friendly staff but not very helpful or informing, bathroom is not the cleanest, bar never opened, WiFi but in lobby only.
- My rating: 2.5/5 stars
- Olhão: Pension Bicuar– approx. £20/night for a standard room with two twins. Well-decorated and comfortable B&B. Perks: Rooftop tables and chairs with a great view of the town, next to the ferry and markets, amazingly friendly staff. Negatives: None! WiFi could have been better but who needs that anyways when on vacation!
- My rating: 5/5 stars
- Albufeira: Approx. €8-15 per meal. Drinks approx. €4 for beer, €12 for a jug of Sangria
- Food was pretty touristy and not very authentic. Lots of fish and chips haha
- Olhão: Appox. €4-12 per meal depending. Can get seafood for a very good price.
- Amazing seafood everywhere!!! 8€ seafood lunch buffets.
- Best tapas place which is a must try and loved by locals–7 Imeio Wine Bar
Ferry from Olhão to the islands: Approx. €4 roundtrip!!
Shuttle to and from airport: €10 total
My biggest travel tip for you—Explore the waters and roads less traveled and stick to the left side of Faro, Portugal if you want to experience the true Algarve!