When you visit the Algarve, you will most certainly spot a surfboard or two as well. You see them on airport trolleys, stacked on top of cars and, of course, in the water. It is safe to say that Portugal is Europe’s top surf destination. Some will even dare compare it with famous surf countries like Hawaii and Australia. So what makes it so great?
The Algarve wave guarantee
The surf towns that are most famous around the world are located in central and northern Portugal. But the Algarve has something else which makes it as popular as it is: a wave guarantee. Because the Algarve is exposed to the Atlantic Ocean on both the west and south coast, you will be able to find waves here almost 365 days per year. They might not always be those perfect waves you see in the movies, but they are there. So if you book a surf holiday in the Algarve, you will be able to surf every day. And that is something almost no other destination in the world can guarantee.
If you have never surfed before, surf lessons are a must. With the help of an instructor, you will not only learn faster but be safe as well. The instructor will teach you all you need to know about the rules in the water and how to prevent accidents and injuries when you continue to practice by yourself.
Most schools will offer one-day courses for those of you who just want to give it a try. But if you want to really get the hang of it, full courses are what you need. The surf schools have transport available to drive you to different beaches in the area that have the best surf that day.
Always book your lessons with licensed surf schools to guarantee the best quality and safety. Not all schools accept children under 14, so make sure you check their minimum age when booking with the family.
When is the best time to visit for surfing?
The Algarve might have a wave guarantee, it is not easy find out where those waves can be found on any given day. With numerous beaches in the region that all react differently to the wave direction, wind and tide, really getting to know the surf spots takes knowledge and time. We will introduce you to some of the best surf beaches in the text below. For more details a surf guide, surf school or local surfer in a surf shop are your best sources of information.
Most days, the waves arrive on Portugal’s coastline from a north-west direction. Generally speaking, they are smaller in summer and bigger in winter. When these waves get very big and too dangerous to surf on the west coast, they curl around ‘the end of the world’ and arrive on the shores of some of the beaches on the south coast.
Other south coast beaches will start working when waves come from the south-east or south-west direction, but this happens less often.
Are you coming to the Algarve for a sunny getaway and is surfing just one of the activities on your list? If so then May to October, anywhere in the Algarve, are probably the best months for you. You might have to drive to the west coast to find the waves, but you could be lucky and catch some of these waves from the south as well.
The story changes if you are looking to follow a full course of at least 5 days or are an independent beginner/intermediate surfer. In this case it is probably easiest to stick to the south-west corner of the Algarve and find a surf school or surf guide anywhere between Portimão, Sagres and Aljezur. Any month will do although many schools close during January and February and the water will still be super cold in March.
Experienced surfers who are looking for heavier waves should generally avoid the summer months.
Which are the popular Algarve surfing beaches?
When it comes to surfing, the Algarve can basically be split in three coastlines: west, south-west and central/south-east Algarve. The first two are the most popular surf areas but you will definitely find surfers in the latter as well. All the beaches mentioned below are safe for surfers of all levels, easy to access and have restaurant facilities, sunbeds and lifeguards (at least) during the summer.
West coast (Sagres – Sines)
The Algarve west coast reaches all the way up to Sines but for surfing the areas around Sagres, Carrapateira and Aljezur are the most popular and still a doable drive from central or east Algarve if there are no waves there. All four beaches below have surf board rental shops and/or surf schools right on the beach.
Follow the exit just south of Aljezur. You are only allowed to park at the top of the cliffs but can drive down to drop-off and pick-up people and gear. There will be a few rocks scattered in the beach break. It needs waves from the north-west and is protected from the predominant north wind.
Another beach that is protected from the north wind. It can be found just south of Carrapateira and will be busy but it is a big beach with many waves to share. Amado is usually a bit bigger and heavier than Arrifana.
These two neighboring beaches are located just north of Sagres on the west coast. They are more exposed to the north wind but have some of the best surf when the waves get bigger (only for experienced surfers). Many rocks are scattered left and right in the water so go with a school or guide. Make sure you are informed before you go in!
South-west coast (Sagres – Lagos)
Sagres and Lagos are the Algarve’s most popular surf towns which probably has to do with their location (easy access to both south and west coast) as well as the fact that they are lively towns. There are many small beaches between these two towns but most are hard to reach or not suitable for all levels. Better stick to these:
Although officially on the south coast, this beach works like a west coast beach. Located just outside of Sagres center, it offers a spectacular sight when the waves become very big, but avoid that if you are not experienced. There are a few hidden rocks so get yourself informed.
This tucked-away beach is located south of the small town Raposeira. It works when bigger waves coming from the north-west. There are some rocks on the right where only experienced surfers take waves. The left side is better for schools and beginners.
Porto de Mos (Lagos)
Located on the south of Lagos, the waves here are somewhat smaller than at Zavial. The bottom consists of flat rock reef that is often exposed. It is usually not very sharp but home to sea urchins, the arch enemy of many Algarve surfers. It gets trickier the more you go the right hand side. So it’s best to stay on the left and walk as little as possible.
Meia Praia (Lagos)
This is the longest beach on this side of the Algarve and teeming with water sports and activity options in summer. The occasional waves from the south-east make it a friendly and very popular surf spot.
Central and south-east coast (Portimão – Tavira)
The central and south-east coastline of the Algarve are known more for regular beach tourism than surfing. Therefore the surf is usually less crowded. But be extra aware of swimmers, never surf within the indicated swimming areas and always show respect for any other surfers.
Praia da Rocha (Portimão)
The surf at this beach on the right hand of the river, can come from the south or when the north-west waves are big. The best surf is often close to the jetty but it might be busy there. Less experienced surfers are better off surfing the waves a bit further to the right of the beach.
Praia Falesia (Albufeira – Vilamoura)
This beach is located east of Albufeira and you can surf here when the waves come from the south-west. With its sandy bottom it is safe for beginners. The waves here are usually friendly but experienced surfers will enjoy it as well as the ‘main peak’ can be quite heavy.
Ilha de Tavira (Tavira)
This island is located just of the mainland in front of Tavira and can easily be reached by taxi boat (and a good walk). It is worth a visit anyway and when the waves come from the south-east direction, a friendly and surf is created. Bring surfboards from the main land!
A word of advice
Surfing is a very popular sport and with good reason. If you are looking for adventure and holiday activities, we absolutely recommend it. Please do keep in mind that any sport in the open ocean comes with its own dangers and responsibilities. The beaches in this article are usually good for beginner surfers but you should always make sure you are well informed about any risks at that particular spot and day like rocks and rip tides. Do not practice individually if you have not taken (enough) lessons. But most importantly, enjoy your time in the water!