Collectively known as the Benagil Caves, the formations of the sandstone cliffs in the Algarve region of Portugal have one cave that outshines all others. The famous hollow is known by many names: Algar de Benagil in Portuguese, Gruta de Benagil in Spanish, or Benagil Cathedral, due to the church-like beauty of its natural chamber.
But everyone that visits can agree on one thing: Benagil Cave is considered to be one of the most beautiful caves in the world. In fact, Huffington Post, Conde Nast Traveler and Thrillllist have all named it as such. Benagil is one of those caves you have to visit at least once in your lifetime.
It may not have the mysterious ancient ruins of ATM Cave in Belize, or the colourful grandeur of Batu Caves in Malaysia, but there’s just something about this little grotto, perfectly whittled out by the waves, that makes it stand out from the crowd.
In the right conditions, sunlight streams through the natural apertures and openings in the dome giving the cave an almost heavenly appearance. The orange, yellow and white striations in the rock give a nod to the thousands of years of history that make up this land, all slowly eroding away back into the sea. It’s a magical place best visited with a local guide who is passionate about the area's heritage and natural history.
Not only is Benagil Cave a photographer's dream, it is also part of a much larger set of natural wonders that make up this part of the coastline. This scenic stretch of coastline is easy to visit from all major destinations in southern Portugal. Benagil is 40 minutes from Lagos, an hour's drive from Faro or just 30 minutes from Albufeira.
Other sites along the coast which are worth visiting include the two large sea arches at Arco Natural, Algar Seco, the pristine Cão Raivoso Beach, Marinha Beach, the ‘Yellow Submarine’ rock formation, and Farol de Alfanzina - an unmissable red-domed beacon atop a sea cave. You will see these sights and many more on a boat tour of the area.
The easiest way to visit Benagil Cave is by getting an organised boat trip, either from Benagil or a nearby town. Regular boat trips to Benagil leave from Albufeira, Portimão, Vilamoura and Lagos. They vary in length and price depending on which tour company you choose to go with.
Tours also leave from Benagil, however, parking is very limited and the boat tours often have long queues and wait times in peak season. By visiting from another town, you will get to see a lot more than just the cave itself; there are lots of other sights along the way.
The prices are slightly lower from Benagil, as the boat rides are shorter, however by going from elsewhere, you will save yourself the time and stress of finding a parking spot on the very steep road leading into Benagil.
It’s good to know that you’re not allowed to disembark from the boat when you are inside the cave, so you cannot explore the beach inside unless you make your own way there (by kayak/SUP etc). But you can get beautiful photos from the boat trips, and they always allow plenty of time to get the perfect shot.
If you want to get to Benagil Cave without a tour, you can rent a paddleboard or kayak from a nearby beach like Praia da Marinha. This is also the only safe way to access the small beach inside (without renting a private boat), as it is now illegal to disembark tour boats from inside the cave - a recently introduced safety precaution.
Although it isn’t far, there are a lot of boats using the area, making the swim from Praia de Benagil quite hazardous. Swimming to the caves is not advisable as the currents are strong around this area, and swimmers can easily be pulled out to sea by the tide.
The cave is around 150 metres east of the tiny fishing hamlet of Benagil, and it is possible to see the cave from above, but you may ruin several peoples' photos in the process! There is a road to the top of the cave where you can walk up to the hole in the ceiling and look into the cave from above. The view is nowhere near as good as actually being inside the cave, and there is no way to get inside the Benagil Cave itself on foot as it is cut off by the ocean.
There are many options when it comes to getting a boat tour to Benagil Cave. Prices start from around €20 per person and can be more than double that for longer tours. It really depends on what you want to see. Many tours include other sights along the coast, dolphin-watching opportunities or food.
You can choose between comfortable catamarans with catering, guided kayaking tours, and speedy ribs that allow you to get a close-up of the cliff edges. Opt for a smaller tour boat as the larger ones cannot enter into the cave, but check with the company as some larger vessels will change to smaller boats when they get to Benagil for this reason.
The amount of light entering through the openings will affect the photos you will get of the cave. If you really want to get the best possible picture, speak to your skipper or tour company beforehand to work out the best time to visit Benagil Cave.
You can also book tours at sunrise or sunset to avoid the crowds and get the ‘golden hour’ of light on the cliffs.
You could choose to base yourself in Albufeira, Portimao, Vilamoura or any several other small towns along this stretch of coastline.
A safe bet is Lagos, with its global cuisine, old town charm and a fantastic range of accommodation. Try Nah Nah Bah for locally sourced, organic burgers, or grab homestyle food on the laid back terrace at The Garden. For dessert, Pastelaria Algarve has some particularly delightful local sweet treats.
There are also lots of fantastic street art murals and independent shops around Lagos. It’s the perfect place to base yourself in for a trip to southern Portugal.
For accommodation, Porto de Mos Golf & Beach B&B has sea views and a pool, or if you want to be in the heart of town Old School Guest House has everything you need, with free bicycles included to get around on.
Of course, there are countless beaches and viewpoints along this stretch of coast. No trip is complete without a stop at Porches Pottery, the brainchild of an Irish and a Portuguese artist, with the aim of keeping Portuguese traditions alive with contemporary designs.
Head further inland to Silves to explore the magnificent Moorish-style sandstone castle ‘Castelo de Silves’, built between the 8th and 13th centuries. Further north, the whitewashed town of Alte is home to Queda do Vigário, a hidden waterfall and swim spot popular with locals.
Near Faro, you'll find the Roman Ruins of Milreu, an ancient Roman villa once inhabited by prominent families of the area. Highlights are the beautiful marine-themed mosaics, painted stucco and ornate sculptures.
West of Lagos is the Lighthouse of Cabo de São Vicente, the most south-western point of mainland Portugal and Europe. Make a stop at Retiro do Pescador in Sagres for some of the best seafood in the area, as well as a chance to explore the cliffside fortifications at Sagres Fortress.
Another slightly more out-of-the-way option is the beautiful town of Monchique. From there, you can explore the scenic trails around Fóia Mountain.
The area is popular for hiking, birdwatching and, more recently, ATV and quad bike tours. A great place to spend an afternoon nearby is the non-profit Happy-Donkeys Sanctuary; exactly as described, it provides a loving home for retired or injured donkeys.
Last Updated 8 August 2023