The Algarve with award winning beaches, world famous caves and grottoes, stunning cliffs, and over 300 days of sunshine is a great place to enjoy a boat trip or cruise.
With the growing popularity and investment within the Algarve the number of choices for boat trips has increased significantly in recent years. Fortunately this means visitors can afford to be a little ‘picky’ and with the help of this guide we are sure you can find the boat trip which is just perfect for you and your family and friends.
Which marina or location should I depart from?
The Algarve has boats departing from a large range of marinas, harbours, quays and beaches. The largest marinas include Vilamoura, Albufeira, Lagos, and Faro. Its easy of course to just to pick the nearest location to your hotel, however venturing further afield might enable you to get a boat trip that better fits your requirements, is more cost effective, or that will give you a new area to explore before and after your trip.
Vilamoura is the largest marina in the Algarve with a large number of commercial and privately owned boats of all types and sizes. The largest multi-million pound boats are found in front of hotel Tivoli and would befit any aspiring Bond villain! The Vilamoura boat trip operators are spread around the marina however there are also quite a few together near to Parky’s Bar.
Walking around the full length of the marina can take approx. 30-40minutes at a spritely pace, or many hours if your distracted by the huge number of bars, restaurants, shops and ice-cream parlours which line the route. As with most marinas the prices for food and drinks are higher than other local eateries in the Algarve, however they standard is high and the views are worth it!
In addition to the marina itself the many nearby side roads offer another large selection of restaurants and bars, and also facilities such the Family Golf Park which offers 2 18-hole mini golf (crazy golf) courses which are a lot of fun for groups of adults or families alike.
Vilamoura marina also hosts 1 of only 3 casinos in the Algarve (the other 2 are in Portimão and Monte Gordo) and in addition to all the gaming tables and machines you would expect, also has regular shows (2 or 3 times per week in peak season) featuring music and dance accompanied by excellent value food (currently 3 courses with wine and the show itself for only €35). The show can be popular so its recommended to book in advance.
Car parking can be take a little time and patience in peak season however there is free parking available next to McDonalds and also several smaller car parks at various points around the marina. However do give yourself enough time to find a parking spot as you don’t want to ‘miss the boat’!
Albufeira marina, famed for its ‘unusual’ colour scheme, while not as large as Vilamoura is steadily increasing in popularity in recent years as each season has brought new restaurants, bars, and family friendly facilities including a bowling alley. For children pedal go-karts, mini quad bikes and Segways can be rented at one end of the marina, and trampolines at the other end. There’s also 2 ever popular amusement arcades.
The marina also features an indoor karting track which is high speed and a lot of fun for older kids and adults alike. Several times a year the marina also hosts various events and previous years have featured a pirate weekend and music events with top DJs such as Armin Van Buuren.
There’s a large underground car park which is free making it an easy place to visit for those thinking of renting a car.
As you would expect there is a large choice of boat trips from Albufeira marina and most depart from the Eastern end of the marina (the end with the large square).
Lagos marina is in turn smaller than Albufeira however does have some very nice bars and restaurants, and also offers a large range of boat trips to this beautiful part of the Algarve coast including the famous Ponta da Piedade caves. The western Algarve is a great destination for sailers so you be assured of some fantastic sailing boat alongside the normal range of motor boats offering boat trips from Lagos.
This is a smaller marina offering predominantly private berths. There are only a smaller number of operators for boat trips and cruises from Portimão marina, however this is not the only place to take a boat trip from locally with a large range available at the nearby Zona Ribeirinha, and also at the harbours and fish docks of Alvor and Ferragudo.
The position of the marina nestled alongside the famous Praia da Rocha beach means you’re sure of some great views, especially if you take the walk out along the huge harbour wall which juts far out to sea and the lighthouse.
Next to the marina there are a few nice restaurants and also the well know NoSoloAgua beach bar which includes a pool and hosts a range of music events during the summer months.
Kids (and big kids!) will also enjoy the inflatable water park made up of an obstacle course and bouncy slides offering a fun and challenging way to burn off some energy.
Zona Ribeirinha (Riverside Zone) in Portimão is located about 5mins by car (approx. 2km) from Portimão marina and as the name suggests is located on the banks of the River Arade opposite Ferragudo.
It’s a lovely place to enjoy a stroll and have an ice-cream, and there are also numerous restaurants many of which are tucked underneath the arches of the ‘old bridge’ (as oppose the ‘new bridge’ which is the large suspension bridge).
At various times of the year this areas hosts several events including the ever popular Sardine Festival and also the Rota do Petisco.
The Sardine Festival takes place in August each year and has (of course!) lots of sardines available from both restaurants and stalls, but also a wide range of other food stalls, a market and live music. With a great family atmosphere its nice way to spend an evening.
The Rota do Petisco is held each year at various towns across the Algarve and in Portimão lasts for about 4 weeks starting in mid-September (dates differ each year). During the Rota participating restaurants offer a petisco (tapas) such as seafood rice or other tasty local dishes for just €3 including a glass of wine! Each restaurant offers only 1 dish and its normal to visit several restaurants so it’s a great way to get to know the area and Portuguese food in a single night.
The harbour is a small fishing dock and this pretty village has a wide range of great restaurants and cafes to enjoy before or after a boat trip from Ferragudo.
If you’re staying in Portimão then Ferragudo is easily accessible by car via the ‘old bridge’ at Zona Ribeirinha, or for a more fun journey you can take a water taxi! The water taxis depart regularly from Portimão marina and also at various points along Zona Ribeirinha. The crossing takes about 5 minutes and costs only a few euros per person.
The village of Benagil has 1 company which operates to visit the caves throughout the year, however bear in mind this can be very busy due to the recent popularity of Benagil. However the good news its easy to visit the famous Benagil cave on boat trips departing from many other marinas and locations.
You might also enjoy reading our article Top Tips for Visiting Benagil.
Faro, Olhão & Tavira
If you’re looking to visit the Ria Formosa Natural Park then boat trips Faro, Olhão or Tavira offer easy access and a range of trips departing regularly throughout the year.
The Ria Formosa is a huge wetland area which forms one of the largest natural parks in Europe and is haven for a large range of flora and fauna especially birdlife so is a must-see for wildlife lovers. The islands also offer some of the most beautiful beaches in the Algarve so a great place to relax or to take in the sunset on an evening.
Vila Real de Santo António
The Guadiana River forms the border between Portugal and Spain, and with Vila Real de Santo António right on the banks of the river, boat trips departing from Vila Real de Santo António are a great way to see both countries in one cruise!
The town of Vila Real de Santo António, and the neighbouring resort of Monte Gordo, have a large range of restaurants and bars to explore as you stroll through the pretty streets.
What’s the best way to get to the marina?
Many boat operators offer their own shuttle bus service or have arrangements with local private transfer and taxi companies. In some areas the shuttle buses are subsidised or even free meaning they are a great value way to reach your departure point. Obviously with the set pickup points and times these are less flexible than taxis so be sure check the details carefully before booking.
If you’re driving most of the marinas have parking either at the marina itself or nearby, however if you’re visiting in peak season make sure you allow a little extra time to find a parking spot as you don’t want to miss the boat!
Local transport, including buses and trains, is fairly reliable and is also cheap so it definitely worth considering. For example the train from Portimão to Lagos marina takes approx. 10mins and costs about €4 so is very good value if you’re staying near the station.
However you choose to travel make sure you give yourself a little extra time and make sure you know exactly where you need to go to board your boat. Also for the fastest check-in and boarding don’t forget to take your printed ticket or e-ticket with you.
What boat types are available?
There are many different types of boats in the Algarve, however the most common are:
Catamarans are comfortable, spacious and typically have a good facilities such as toilets and a bar. They range in capacity size from 10 people to over 100.
Sailing boats are relaxing and have a natural charm, but note that clearly they are slower than most other boat types so you typically won’t venture as far. But then that’s part of the fun – why rush, when you can cruise!
Traditional cave boats are small boats with 6-10 seats and their size means they are great for manoeuvring inside the caves and close to the impressive rock formations of the Algarve coastline. Obviously they don’t have facilities like toilets, but trips are normally 1hr-1hr30 so it’s less of an issue.
RIBs (Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boats) are high speed and are an exciting way to travel. Their smaller size means they can go right inside many of the caves which larger catamarans can’t, and can also get up close and personal with the friendly Algarve dolphins.
Luxury yachts offer the height of comfort and relaxation and are typically available only as private charters. They can be booked for any sized group however most have a maximum capacity of 8-12 people.
Which type of trip should I choose?
Beach BBQs are generally offered as a full day trip and offer a great day out. Typically food is included in the price and most also include some drinks to complete the package. Note though some trips include 1 drink, some offer an ‘open-bar’ during lunch, and some offer the same but for the whole trip. The difference is normally reflected in the price but its worth checking what is included. Make sure you take you swim wear as there is normally time available to swim or snorkel (or sunbathe!) while lunch is prepared. Boats vary however most commonly larger boats are used such as motor catamarans and sailing boats which also means there’s plenty of space to relax during the cruise.
Dolphin Safaris are great fun for adults and children alike. The boats are normally RIBs or custom catamarans which are high speed which makes for an exciting ride as they search for the dolphins. Most of the dolphin boats are open-top so make sure to wear some sun lotion, and it’s also worth bringing a jacket or something a little warmer as when they boats reach full speed it can be quite windy! The boats use a mix of local knowledge, marine biologists, and information passed from fisherman and other ‘spotters’ to help find the dolphins and they normally have a good success rate with some boats even offering a guarantee at certain times of the year.
‘Combo’ trips offering a boat cruise and another activity are great for those who like to keep busy and can also be very good value. Examples of ‘add-on’ activities currently available in the Algarve include kayaking, SUP (Stand-UP Paddle) or snorkeling, however some trips also include jeep safaris or surfing.
Day trips include a cruise and free time onshore to explore and visit locations such as the islands of the Ria Formosa, the pretty town of Lagos or the historic Silves with its castle. Especially if you don’t have a car these can be a great way to see a little more of the Algarve.
Boat parties are a great way to spend an evening especially if you have something to celebrate, or just want to have fun with friends. Often drinks are included however on some boats its an open-bar, and on others it’s the first 1 or 2 drinks. Typically these only take place only once or twice a week and they can be very popular so its important to book early (although this also applies to all types of boat trips during peak season!).
Private charters are a perfect way to cruise if you want to be able to set your own agenda and itinerary. So if you want to simply relax, visit the caves, do some fishing, or stop at your favourite beach or restaurant this a great choice. There are wide range of boats available on a private charter basis across the Algarve however often your choice can controlled by the size of your group and of course your budget. Boats are available for groups of 2-120, and from just €200 for a few hours to €10,000 if you want complete luxury! The best boats can be fully booked several months in advance so we’d recommend you book as early as possible.
Caves trips are available as dedicated caves trips using traditional boats and normally last 1hr-1hr30. These boats typically depart from beaches (as oppose to marinas) and are great if you want a shorter trip or have a tighter budget. Alternatively from the marinas you can book longer trips on a larger boat and incorporating more of a cruise or another trip type such as a dolphin safari or beach BBQ.
Coastal cruises are available on a large range of boats and can from as little as 2 hours to a full day. If you simply want to relax and see some of the Algarve’s famous coastline this is a great choice.
Pirate cruises are a lot of fun for families and are a great way to keep kids entertained! The Santa Bernarda pirate ship in Portimão offers several trips each day and also a full day trip with BBQ once or twice per week (depending on the season), while the Leazinho sailing boat in Albufeira offers a ‘Captain Hook’ cruise most afternoons.
Sunset cruises offer amazing views and really make the most of the great visibility and warm evenings the Algarve weather provides. Some trips include a glass of champagne for a perfect way to toast the end of the day.
How can I book a boat trip?
In the Algarve a payment is normally required before a booking can be made as the boat operators can’t afford empty seats. Depending on the boat chosen, the payment needed will either be the full amount, or in some cases just a deposit to hold the space until you arrive.
Hotel receptions sometimes offer activities and boat trips however this is normally limited to a few locally available boats.
Ticket shops are available in most of the busier resorts in the Algarve and can offer a wide range of options.
Websites such as www.algarvefun.com offer a great way to peruse the many options in an unpressured way, and you can even book from your smartphone while you relax on the beach, or before you even arrive to guarantee your place on the best boat trip that you really wanted.
Direct bookings can be made with boat operators at the local marina.
However you make your booking it is strongly recommended that you book as early in advance as is possible to avoid disappointment. In the low season the number of boats operating is reduced and the schedule less frequent which means that even though it is quieter the best boats are often fully booked. Of course during peak season it’s not unusual for the majority of boats to be fully booked several days before departure.
How do cancellations work?
Typically the sun is always shining in the Algarve, however it can sometimes be windy leading to occasional cancellations. Most companies operating in the Algarve are excellent at ensuring that if the wind means it won’t be safe or enjoyable then they cancel rather than risk unhappy customers.
Most operators and booking points will ensure you get a full refund if your trip is cancelled for any reason including mechanical failure and poor weather.
Bear in mind though that most won’t provide a refund if you’re late or try to cancel at the last minute. But if you have any doubts its best to book through a reputable company and ask about the cancellation policy beforehand.
Algarve Fun are one of the leading ticket companies for activities and attraction in Portugal. Tickets and bookings can be made via their website and during peak season also at their ticket shops at various locations across the Algarve. Their friendly staff are available to answer questions and help you find your perfect boat trip so don’t hesitate to contact them.
You can see all of Algarve Fun’s great boat trips here.