By Supdude.stu with Ella, my faithful companion
After months of preparation, transforming my vehicle into an off-grid home on wheels was nearly finished – my tiny home, small and compact with a small kitchen, one burner hob, small double bed, solar power, outside shower, micro toilet, running water and mini fridge.
All my documents were up to date, including Ella’s; yes, I took my wonderful pup ‘Sup Ella’ with me ‘and on the 1st of June 2022, we were ready to go and start our adventure – Vamos!
We arrived at Plymouth Harbour and boarded the ferry to Santander with an overnight crossing of 20 hours – thankfully, the bay of Biscay was very calm. We arrived the following morning at a magnificent sunrise and were greeted by a school of dolphins who stayed with us until we approached Santander Harbour.
My partner Deb also came with us for the first three weeks, and we travelled down to Murcia, Southern Spain and then across the south coast of Spain crossing into the Algarve in Portugal. Deb then had a flight back from Faro to the UK, with another trip booked to return for a week in July.
My SUP adventure started in Praia de Faro. Thanks to the Park 4 night app, I found a small beach there with free overnight parking, beach bars, restaurants, toilets and outside showers, so it was perfect. I bedded for the night, and in the morning, I awoke to the most beautiful and fabulous sunrise – with the airport in the distance and aircraft coming into land, it was spectacular.
Praia de Faro
This sunrise paddle is beautiful and very emotional; you will experience paddling past small fishing boats along an inlet from the sea with lots of fish and wildlife around you. If you paddle towards the right of the beach, there is a small remote island about 3k from where you started which is fantastic and a very special paddling experience.
Heading back on the road again, I headed for Lagoa to look for a campsite for a few days where I could relax and catch up on my washing – yes, even in paradise, this has to be done! I also needed local knowledge of the area and the best places to paddle.
I found a campsite again using the park 4 night app and found a site with everything I needed, including a fresh, natural water swimming pool with crays and small fish, which was another experience I hadn’t tried. While there, my friend Marco back home, who lives and works in the UK, saw the photos I posted on my Instagram feed @supdude.stu and contacted me.
Marco was born in Portugal in a place called Burgau and had extensive knowledge of the Algarve and surrounding area – it was his playground whilst growing up as a young boy, and he has been paddling there for many years since.
He said, “Hey, Stu, you’re in Portugal; that’s fantastic; give me a few hours, and I’ll send you some information on the best places to paddle.” This was just what I needed, and I was so happy that Marco had contacted me. I’ve used some of the paddling locations and descriptions in this article Marco had written and sent to me.
After a few days exploring the area with Ella, I headed to Praia da Marinha; you need to get there early as the car park fills up quickly, with the local police closing the road off.
At the side of the car park, a few traders are selling fresh orange juice, fruit and freshly made sandwiches to order, and that was my breakfast sorted with a few treats for Ella before padding to the Benagil Caves.
Praia da Marinha
Very nice views from the top with two impressive arches in the sea (some pics taken; it looks a shape of a heart). Paddle towards the arches until you reach Benagil Cave which takes about 45 minutes to an hour on each side, but you can always stop at the small deserted beaches. There are many small caves on the way; in some of them, you can get inside and rest.
Praia de Benagil
If you want to see the famous cave, you can park nearby at a car park up on the hill, which is then a short walk down to the beach with your board, or you can also hire a board and go on a guided tour of the caves and paddle inside (maybe 10 minutes each side). There are better caves, less famous around the coast, and fewer boats and people, a SUP explorers paradise.
A beach cafe at Praia de Benagil serves a fabulous lunch; you can relax there with a coffee ice-cream or cold beer and water for your ‘fur baby’ (Ella).
My next stop was Carvoeiro which was a short drive, so we parked for the night and experienced the most spectacular views from the cliffs; there is a fabulous boardwalk with breathtaking views – the sunset from there is spectacular.
Praia de Carvoeiro was a short walk from where I had parked, with lots of restaurants, bars and shops where I could buy fresh fruit, food and water; there were also toilets and showers near the beach, which I used before returning to my van, – saving water was a must for me on the whole tour. On the way back to the van, I had the pleasure of experiencing the most fantastic sunset overlooking Carvoeiro before a relaxing beer with a lovely German couple parked next to me. When they arrived, the first thing they said to me was would you like an ouzo, and I, of course, said yes, please. I later asked them why ouzo, and they said there was an offer in Lidl that they couldn’t refuse with two complimentary glasses!
I returned many times to the same place to stay overnight. I always felt at home there, meeting many different nationalities, which included Portuguese, Germans, Spanish, Italians, French, Swiss, Americans, Canadians, Maltese and a few Brits, all doing the same as me and enjoying their van life experience.
Marco’s guidance and information were invaluable to me, and he shared a few other things with me.
Praia da Rocha
It is the most famous beach in Portimão, with a lovely landscape if you are at the beach. There is a cave that accesses the other beach and an arch that appears on a Windows screensaver, so there are usually long queues for a photo.
Praia do Alemão
For me, one of the best beaches in the Algarve. It is huge but very relaxing; you have sun beds, sun umbrellas, and a bar with nice fresh beer. The paddle around the rocks (on your right side facing the sea) is a paradise and a playground for Sup. It is very nice to paddle around little caves and arches that lead you to another small beach of top quality.
Ponta da Piedade
Amazing views from the top of the cliffs. The shape of the rocks in the sea is something that I would recommend seeing.
Praia do Camilo
It also has impressive views from the top of the cliff. The beach itself is fantastic but small for the number of people there. If you want to paddle around, which is also amazing, you must arrive early at the beach to get a space.
Praia Dona Ana
This is a paddle boarders paradise, and you need to park the car around the beach and then go towards Ponta da Piedade. The experience is impressive; you can play around the rocks and get inside little passages to the other side of the rocks, basically another playground. Unfortunately, many boats and kayak tours can be busy sometimes during the day.
If you want to experience it, the kayaks for two are very nice, and they tell you remarkable stories about the caves and the rocks around. I recommend you go in the morning; it’s cooler then and was better for Ella as from 12 midday it can be busy.
Check out nowhere2farsup, which is fantastic. It’s run by an Australian guy called David, who will look after you well and take you on a SUP experience you’ll never forget. Tell him Supdude.stu recommended you.
I spent weeks exploring and paddling this area, and Praia Don Ana has the most fantastic sunrise. I have seen it many times, and if you go up the road on the other side of the peninsula, you will see the sunset on the same day. It was magical.
In the evenings, I would head into Lagos town with Ella, its was very busy, with restaurants, shops, bars, café and many buskers – such a great vibe.
My next journey was to Burgau, which I believe was the Jewel of the Algarve. I was greeted by Marco’s mum Maria, who runs a fabulous little beach bar on the left-hand side of the beach looking out to sea called Prateleira – look out for the red umbrellas overlooking the beach – the table at the front is called the ‘Titanic table’. I sat there many times with a cold beer. I was well looked after and spent several beautiful days in Burgau, with a Sunday evening hosting live music from a local band.
Burgau is a small fishing village but a very beautiful one; some say it looks like Santorini. Exploring it will take around 20 minutes and is a little small. The beach is also very nice; you have a few bars and cafés for refreshments and food. If you have a chance, paddle to the next beach; it is inaccessible to walk, but it is nice to walk around the different colours and shapes on the rocks; however, go on a low tide; otherwise, it will be only pebbles and no sand. Don’t forget to check out Pingas bar in Burgau on a Friday night, serving delicious fresh oysters.
Historically, it was from here that most of the Portuguese navigators left to explore the world. Have a walk around the village and go to Sagres Fortress for the landscape view. If you can go to the Lighthouse of Cabo de São Vicente to enjoy the views, this is also a lovely place to watch the sunset with a beer.
Praia do Zavial
Is a surfer’s beach; there are always waves, even if they are small ones. Nice to visit if you are passing by or want a place to surf or get some waves on your paddle.
Praia da Ingrina
Another very relaxing beach with a bar on the side for refreshments. Paddle towards Praia do Barranco (the right side facing the sea) and view the best caves you could ever see when the tide drops. There are passages from one rock to another, Blue Lagoons inside the caves; you name it. The best is that there are no boats around, and only one SUP school knows the place, so it is just for you.
Praia do Beliche
Sometimes it could be windy, but if it is not, it’s a perfect place if you stay in Sagres.
Praia da Cordoama
The walks from the top of the beach have amazing views, and if there are no waves, it is also an excellent place to paddle. You can go either left or right, and you will find amazing landscapes and rocks with different shapes and colours.
Sagres was excellent, and I had a wonderful time there; the scenery was spectacular. From there, I headed back to Lagos for a few days and then on to Lisbon and the famous Nazare before my long journey home to the UK.
Thank you, Portugal, for a wonderful experience and Marco @sup_cadete on Instagram for your invaluable information – I will return soon.