NOTE – you can find the full sat nav details, see where they are on the map, and look up details of our notes for each of these and all of our other camping spots on the maps page.
We had always heard that the Algarve in Portugal was a beautiful area of the world to visit and what we saw confirmed that and exceeded our expectations. A popular destination for holidaymakers, we had expected it to be crowded and commercialised, but it was neither. In fact, the opposite was mostly true.
Being in a motorhome gives you the chance to go off the beaten track and be right in there with nature. We wild camped in wooded areas or on top of cliffs overlooking stunning beaches. Portugal was very motorhome friendly, with lots of gorgeous free camping opportunities.
We stayed in quite a few places over a 2 week beach touring period and here are some of our highlights and recommendations for wild/free camping along the Algarve coastline.
Praia do Cabeco, just West of Monte Gordo
This was our first wild camping area after visiting the ancient Templar castle in Castro Marim.
Just off a small residential road, there was a large parking area of compacted sand for visitors to park and spend the day at the beach. There were lots of these along the coast, easy to find by using the satellite feature on Google Maps. Some had a restaurant at the end, while others were just a track leading through the dunes to the beach.
We spent four wonderful nights, and days, here and of course we were not the only motorhome there, which it looks like in the photo above. A few others came and went, and there were usually about 5 or 6 of us in this very large area. We were sheltered from the onshore Atlantic winds by a high sand dune.
On the first day, we took a long walk along the beach to the next holiday resort of Monte Gordo. It was early May and they were just starting getting ready for the holiday season. There were a few holidaymakers there but not many. Apparently, over 7 million people went to the Algarve in 2017.
On the second and subsequent days, we did our daily walk into town through the forest as it was tough going on the beach and it really was a bit too windy for comfort. Daily walks have been a great way to get out and see nature and an easy way to burn off a few calories. However, it hasn’t quite gone to plan so far as since we have started our European tour we have both put on weight, Nigel a lot more than Deby. This was not the plan, but oh dear, the food is just too darned good. It’s the bread. The bread is the main culprit (Nigel – looking at you…)
In Monte Gordo, there was still a thriving fishing community that had no doubt been there for many years. It seemed like a lot of the fishing was using pots or long fishing nets as are there were many piles of these around the boats.
The beach here is gorgeous. Soft white sand that goes on for miles in both directions. A short nice walk into town for a few small grocery stores. Perfect.
We moved along quite a way to our next place of wild camping to Quarteria. This time we had a nice picnic area, open grassland and the woods behind us, while we were parked up on top of some cliffs overlooking the sea.
We had a great view out of our motorhome every day, although the sea wasn’t always that calm. We are still very much drawn to the sea. It was so quiet at night, not a sound. There were always quite a few motorhomes here, but never any problem for us. Be aware though, no facilities so make sure you have adequate water on board and an empty cassette.
Like Praia do Cabeco, we spent 4 nights at Quarteira. We again did our daily walk into town which was full of hotels on the front, a few gift shops and lots of great looking cafes and restaurants.
Past them, there was a marina for the local fishing boats and then along further was a 5-star marina for all the posh boats etc. It was a very trendy looking place and a quick peek in the estate agent windows confirmed a sudden big price hike for the local property.
Here, Deby bought a great new pair of summer shorts in a very reasonable Chinese shop but our visit to the local ‘British’ pub was not so good. It was our fault as we did not check the prices. It right on the marina and looked a little like a Wetherspoons but without the Wetherspoon prices. A basic coffee cost us €3.50 each. That was by far the most expensive one so far on our whole trip.
We had a great time here, not doing much, just relaxing and enjoying the views and the walking, both in the daytime and the evening. Scruffy loved this place because of the huge area at the back where he would go for long walks in the evening.
Praia de Arrifes (near to Albufeira)
Getting to this car parking area was a little tricky in our motorhome as the track down was much steeper than what we had been used to and quite winding. Luckily for the cat (Scruffy), Deby was driving. He says she’s a much more careful and smooth driver 😉
We ended up parked up on some cliffs above a beautiful beach with huge rocks jutting up out of the ocean. We were above “The Sardine” Restaurant which seemed to be permanently smoking sardines.
We only spent one day and one night here because we came to realise that at the pace we had been moving, we would never leave the Algarve. But we went on some sensational clifftop walks with amazing views down onto some incredible beaches. Highly recommended if you like exploring the coast.
Some of the beaches were easily accessible while others looked like only for the intrepid adventurer or the foolhardy.
Some of the beaches had absolutely incredible arches where the ocean had carved out these wonders, which were of course very photogenic.
We’d been really looking forward to Portimao from everything we read. We got there just gone noon and parked a little way back from the cliffs and the beaches. We immediately decided to go out for a beach walk and it didn’t disappoint. We were at one end of the beaches where the beaches eventually ran out and became rocky cliffs poking right out into the sea.
It had been a cloudy day so walking at noon was fine, not too sunny but still lovely and warm. The beaches were vast (and empty) and sometimes you could easily walk along the shoreline to the next cove.
However, we had started walking when the tide was coming in so on the way back from our epic walk now and again we had to rush around one headland missing the next wave coming in. Other areas were really easy to get around because there was a natural cave through the rocks. Make sure to check the tide times if you go on a walk along this stretch of coast from cover to cove, to make sure you don’t get stuck on the way back! Most of the coves have steps up to the cliff where you can always get on the road to walk, but the beach is much nicer 🙂
While walking along we had a conversation regarding moving onto the next place straight away. The problem was when we had arrived at the parking area (a small field just back from the cove) there were some ‘hippies’ just getting up out of their tent and a couple of scruffy looking vans with them with aggressive dogs. It was stretching and cleaning teeth time just after noon!
When we had finished our walk quite a few hours later, we were just about to put on a cup of tea when we heard the sound of a guitar which is never really bad but then two of them started singing. That was it. The singing was, to put it mildly, was absolutely shite. And it went on and on and on, the same melancholy tune. The cat was terrified – he thought there was a cat being tortured outside, it was that bad.
We put two and two together and realised with them getting up that late probably meant they would stay up late into the early hours, probably having a few beers. Not a real problem unless they kept on with the guitar and terrible singing – maybe it gets even worse after a few beers!
We moved on just a few miles up the coast to our next wild camping site. That’s the joy of wild camping. You’ve not paid for the campsite so if you decide you don’t like it for whatever reason, you can just go somewhere better. Nothing wrong with this place to stay though. Check it out in case the hippies have left 🙂
We stayed in a large public car park just behind the dunes and went for a nice beach walk but we didn’t take many photos. The beach at the other end was undergoing some almighty earthworks. There was a huge hole dug and a floating pipe going hundreds of feet out into the ocean.
We don’t really know what was going on. It didn’t make much sense. Maybe it was some work to help the sand dunes for protection or conservation reasons, but it was more in the middle of the beach? We spent a quiet night, no singing, and only a couple of other vans there. Early the next morning, well about 9am, we moved onto our last Algarve area.
Lagos (not the Nigerian Lagos)
This place doesn’t count as a wild camping spot on the Algarve really as we actually stayed in Lagos in a football stadium car park, with motorhome facilities, for €3 for one night. It’s a pay and display a ticket arrangement. You can use the showers and the washing machine in the stadium next door for a small fee. However, on that day we did get on our moped to visit what is described as the most picturesque coves in the Algarve.
We stopped at the Ponta de Piedade lighthouse where there was a very busy car park, which even included 4 coaches. There were a few cheeky motorhomes parked alongside the road here, but it wasn’t the nicest place to stay. We then walked down the many steps to what we thought would be a beach but it turned out to be just somewhere to get a boat ride to explore all the amazing caves. The cliffs are so high and so steep here, that you often can’t see what is at the bottom, and neither of us like heights so we don’t get close to the edge.
Taking the boat rides to all the caves and hidden coves along this stretch of coast is very popular. You can get the small boats directly from here or from Lagos.
We then decided to walk to the next beach area along the rugged cliff line. The views were spectacular. Once we were away from the lighthouse and the crowds from the coach trip, we were suddenly alone and it was gorgeous. Endless tiny coves, caves and rock outcrops make the entire area so picturesque.
We walked along the cliffs to the left of the lighthouse, to a small car park and restaurant. Here there were some nice wooden steps going down to a beautiful but very busy beach of Praia do Camilo, voted the most beautiful beach in Portugal. Somebody had drilled an opening through the rocks which allowed access to the next small cove which again was lovely but busy.
When you return to the lighthouse, on the right hand side there is also a nice clifftop walk to follow with paths and walkways so it’s fully accessible. Great views in every direction.
Overall we had a great and relaxing time in the Algarve. The beaches are stunning and the weather in the two weeks of May that we were there was amazing. Not one drop of rain. It is highly recommended. Check out some of the free parking spots we tried and maybe leave a comment with some details of your favourites too!
Don’t forget to find all the details of where we stayed on the maps page.
I’m afraid this article is out of date. Wild camping is now banned in Portugal with threats of large fines. It’s such a shame because Quartiera was one of our favorites and it now has no camping signs and large concrete bollards stopping parking near the edge.
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