Dolphin and turtle sand sculpture

Guitar-playing apes and drunken lizards, a baby panda brushing its teeth and a zebra taking holiday snaps – has the animal world gone crazy? No, it’s ok; these were just a sample of the hundreds of exhibits I saw in the Sand City exhibition in the Algarve. 

Update: For a glimpse of the 2023 event watch this video. It’s open from 10 am to 11 pm for the whole of the summer.

Sand City is an annual event which usually opens in April and runs to the end of Ocrtober. The theme changes every year but the standard and skill of the international sand sculptors involved guarantee that it will be impressive.

sand sculptures of musician apes
Musical apes form part of a sand sculpture rock band at Animalandia.

Using 35,000 tons of sand over an area of 15,000 square meters, a team of international sand sculptors, create the largest display of sand sculptures in the world. The two-month process begins in April with transporting and compressing the sand into solid blocks which the artists then carve into shape.

By June, the exhibition is complete and ready for the hoards of summer visitors and remains open until mid October. At this point, the gates will close and the JCBs will move in to demolish the digestive biscuit-coloured sculptures. The whole process starts again the following spring.

Sand sculpture of a panda with a towel and toothpaste
Sand Panda. One of the cuter sand sculptures at Fiesa, Portugal.

That’s the beauty of having such a temporary medium. Every year there’s a different theme so instead of ticking it off your ‘been there, done that’ list, there’s always a reason to go back. Over the nine years that Sand City has been running,  they’ve done ‘Hollywood, ‘Discoveries’, ‘Wonders of the World’ among others.

The man behind ProSandArt, Alper Alagoz, started making sand sculptures back in the 1990s and has worked hard to establish it as an international and professional art form. Sand sculptors are well aware that their works of art have a temporary lifespan and structure. What drives them on is the knowledge that their creations will form unique and lasting memories in their visitors’ minds. That and the fact that there is always a new sculpture waiting to be shaped.

When I visited, his team had created a thought-provoking ‘Animal Kingdom’ with plenty of ironic role-reversals, such as a human straining to pull a smug-looking donkey on a cart and an ostrich casually observing a man with his head buried in the sand.

There were familiar faces like Mickey Mouse and Hello Kitty and characters from well-known tales like Alice in Wonderland and Dracula. Myths, legends and traditions from around the globe were faithfully represented or humorously distorted with explanations in writing to help visitors understand.

As an incentive to drag yourself away from the Algarve’s beaches during the day, there are free sand sculpting workshops on offer. They’re not just for kids so feel free to explore your creative side – just don’t forget your sunscreen and a hat! Or you could just cool off in the café and let the youngsters get on with it while you watch a video of the artists in action.

Sand sculpture of a man pulling a donkey on a cart
Many of the sand sculptures turn reality on its head and are designed to make people think twice about the way they treat animals and each other. In a fun way.

If you don’t want to forgo the sunbathing, visit the exhibition at night when the whole area is transformed with coloured lights that cast bizarre shadows while illuminating intricately carved details.  The music gets cranked up and there are dance performances and concerts.

To get the best of both worlds, why not get there an hour before sunset to see the sculptures in daylight? Poke around the craft stalls or have a drink while it gets dark then marvel at the difference the dark makes.

For more information, including driving directions, entry fees and the sculpture process check the Sand City website or look out for the black and yellow flyers which give you a 10% discount on the entry fee.

Sand City is located on the outskirts of Lagoa, alongside the N125 road, opposite the Nobel International School.


  1. Amazing pictures and forms! We invite you to our blog! Have a nice day!

  2. Those photos look great. There is so much detail! Love this post.

  3. Haven’t been yet this year but last year’s were tremendous. We’re off to the Algarve tomorrow and I might just manage an evening performance. Haven’t done one of those.

    1. Author

      Have fun – let me know how it goes. BTW, I think it closes at 8pm this time of year.

    1. Author

      Hi sartenada, loved your photos, especially the apes – what a fantastic setting for the sculptures too.

  4. This is freaking amazing!! I absolutely love it! Definately ART!

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