Colourful Benagil caves, Lagos, Portugal

A highlight of many people’s trip to the Algarve region of Portugal is visiting the famous Benagil cave and the surrounding coastline. Benagil caves tours operate from coastal locations between Lagos and Albufeira so you don’t have to make a separate journey to Benagil to start your tour. I did mine from Lagos.

There are many different ways of seeing the caves depending on how adventurous you are: you can go by various types of boat, kayak, paddle board and stand up paddle (SUP).

In general, it’s best to do these tours in the morning, partly because the sea can get choppier by the afternoon, and partly because it tends to get busier as the day wears on.

Boats and kayaks in the glittering sea near Benagil cave

Boat trip to Benagil cave from Lagos

After careful consideration, I chose to take an 18-seater speedboat trip from Lagos to Benagil, departing at 11 am. I was mildly apprehensive that it might be a bit too fast or bumpy but that wasn’t the case at all.

In terms of practicalities, the boat company was very professional – the meeting point at Lagos Marina was clear, the crew were friendly and the boat and life jackets in good condition.

We were fully briefed before we set off and I didn’t even get splashed! (I’d been concerned about my bag getting wet but it was perfectly fine on the floor of the boat.)

Passengers boarding the rib boat for our Benagil caves trip from Lagos
Boarding the boat for our Benagil caves trip from Lagos

The weather was perfect with calm sea and blue sky, although I was glad of my jacket once we got moving – it gets chilly when they pick up speed.

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the coastline from the ocean and identifying the towns, cities and beaches that I’d already visited, especially after having done the Seven Hanging Valleys hiking trail a few days previously.

Although the crew made it clear before we set off that they would stop the boat at any point if needed, we didn’t dawdle on the way to Benagil caves.

Once we got closer, we joined the throng of boats and kayaks waiting their turn to enter Benagil cave. This was the end of October so we didn’t have to wait long – in July and August, it’s heaving, apparently.

If you’re on a boat, you can’t disembark inside the cave – only kayakers and paddle boarders can do so and stand on the tiny patch of sand inside. For this reason, try to get a seat at the front of the boat for the best views of the holes.

Book your Lagos to Benagil boat trip in advance, especially at peak times.

Inside Benagil cave, Algarve, Portugal
My view of the inside of Benagil cave on a boat trip from Lagos

As you’ll understand when you see the golden cliff stacks along this strech of the Algarve coast, Benagil is far from the only cave in these parts and we spent a good chunk of time going in and out of other caves and admiring the colours and rock formations.

Colourful cliffs and cave near Benagil, Algarve
Colourful cliffs and cave near Benagil, Algarve

Some of the most impressive are in the caves at Alfanzina lighthouse.

Inside the caves at Alfanzina
Inside the caves at Alfanzina

The Ladrão cliff stack and surrounding formations looked even more impressive from the water than they had from above on the Seven Hanging Valley Walk.

Seeing the Seven Hanging Valleys hike from the water
Seeing the Seven Hanging Valleys hike from the water

After the caves, we were about to pick up speed for the return journey to Lagos when someone spotted a dolphin. And then another, and some more, leaping out of the water in a mini acrobatic display. What a treat!

Although these creatures are a common enough feature in this area to warrant special dolphin-spotting boat trips, our guides said that they don’t see them every day on a typical boat trip from Lagos to Benagil.

Dedicated dolphin watching tours

If the caves aren’t your main focus and you’d rather spend your time on the water looking for dolphins in their natural habitat, you can take boat trips by speedboat, or by catamaran for a smoother ride. Take a look at these options:

Cave tours from Benagil beach

Benagil beach is small and can get quite chaotic with the number and type of caves tours that depart from here so it can be less stressful to start elsewhere.

However, if it’s a convenient location for you, there are plenty of options:

Other Benagil kayak tours

Tip: If you’re driving to Benagil beach, allow plenty of time to find a parking spot and walk down to the beach before your tour is due to start.

Kayak and SUP on the ocean
Kayak and SUP on the ocean

If you want to spend more time inside Benagil cave, you’ll need to take a kayak or SUP tour.

(I did see a small group of brave souls with body boards jostling amid the boats and kayaks to gain entrance to the cavern but, with the chaos and the scum on the water, it didn’t look like much fun to me.)

Most of the kayak and SUP tours depart from Benagil beach, although it’s also possible to take a catamaran from Portimão then start kayaking once you’re closer to the cave.

If you’re willing to get up very early, or go at sunset, you can have the rare experience of having the cave almost to yourself on this small group kayaking tour.

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