Last Updated on July 30, 2020 by Anisa
The rugged coast in the Algarve is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been! The rock formations have been carved out by the water over the course of history.
I thought the most fitting way for us to admire Mother Nature’s work would be to do a coastal hike (or walk) in the Algarve region of Portugal. After further research, we decided we would do the Seven Hanging Valleys walk. It may be the best walk in the Algarve.
While we loved our hike, there are definitely a few things I would have done differently. Let me tell you more about this coastal walk and share some tips for planning to do the Seven Hanging Valleys hike in the Algarve.
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What is a Hanging Valley?
Before I heard about this coastal walk I had never heard of a hanging valley! A hanging valley is formed by glaciation, leading to a river that is above the floor of another valley (or coastline). This creates the appearance of a valley left hanging halfway up a cliff.
These rock formations are found all over the world, including Yosemite National Park and the fjords in Norway. Although waterfalls are often found at the end of a hanging valley, all the hanging valleys on this walk are now dry.
Overview of the Coastal Walk
The hike goes along the coast from Praia do Marinha to Praia de Vale Centeanes. It’s a distance of 3.7 miles making 7.4 miles roundtrip. For the most part, the hike is not too difficult (which is why many people just refer to it as a walk) although there are a few short sections that are steep or have a lot of stairs. I did the hike in tennis shoes, so don’t worry about any special equipment. The views make it one of the best hikes in Portugal.
The trail is well-marked, so you won’t need a map. You want to look for the yellow and red striped signs and follow the coast. The red line indicates you should go straight or need to make a turn. If you see a yellow and red “x” then you have gone the wrong way.
Note: Parking at Marinha Beach is free and there is no charge to do the hike.
Our Experience on the Hike
We got off to a bit of a late start and didn’t arrive at Praia da Marinha until about 11 am. I was worried that it might be difficult to find the start of the Seven Hanging Valleys trail, but there were signs for the trailhead and a large map of the route right next to the parking lot.
The remarkable scenery starts as soon as you start the walk. There are so many interesting rock formations! I love the contrast between the rocks and the blue sea. They did a nice job with the trail, some parts had a wooden barrier along the cliff’s edge. It didn’t obstruct the view but it made me feel a little safer.
The first section of the hike was stunning. We stopped to take a lot of pictures. The rock formations were so interesting. It wasn’t too long before we came across our first sinkhole. Don’t worry these are well-marked with wooden barriers around the edges. Some of these sinkholes are actually caves. You might be tempted to throw a rock in to see how deep the hole is, but don’t do it. There could be people inside exploring these caves.
At Praia do Carvalho, we found some hidden stairs so we could access the beach. Apparently, during the high season, the beach can be packed. Since it was January, which is the off-season in the Algarve, we had the place to ourselves.
We stood on the sand and looked up at the cliffs that surrounded us. I walked towards the sea and looked out at the dramatic rock formation towering above the water. I had to pinch myself, the beach was so idyllic, like something out of the movies. While we would have liked to stay forever, we had to continue on with the hike.
We almost made it to the lighthouse, which is about ¾ of the way to the end of the hike before deciding to turn back. I wanted to make sure we got back to our car before it got dark and we also wanted to fit in some drone flights. If I were to do the Seven Hanging Valleys Hike again (which I probably will), I would plan on starting the hike earlier.
I thought we would have been able to have a better view of the caves during the walk. Don’t get me wrong, the hike is scenic but it’s not the way to see the caves. To do that, you need to get a boat tour. Keep reading for my suggestion on that.
Seven Hanging Valleys Hike Video
You can get a better idea of what the hike was like by watching our video. Isn’t the scenery along the route just incredible?
Itinerary Recommendations for Your Hike
Plan on spending a whole day for this hike. It is a gorgeous area and you are going to want to stop and take a lot of photos. I want you to have time to complete the entire walk. You also might want to spend some time on one of the beaches or even take a boat trip to get a different perspective of the caves.
Begin your hike at the trailhead in Praia da Marinha. Enjoy the views as you head west. Peek into the sinkholes/caves and listen for the waves. Make sure you get a photo of some of the rock formations and arches that you pass.
After an hour or so (depending on how many photo stops you take), you will reach an area with a few restaurants and a beach. This is Benagil Beach. I suggest you take a break from your hike and take one of the boat tours to see the caves. They start running the tours at 9:30 am during the summer months and 10:30 am during the winter. During busier times, it might be a good idea to make a reservation. If you prefer, you could also rent a kayak or standup paddleboard (SUP).
Note: There are also kayaking tours from Lagos but they won’t go to the Benagil Cave.
If you didn’t bring along any snacks, then you might want to grab an early lunch at one of the restaurants in Benagil after your boat tour. If not, continue west on the hike. After about 30 minutes or so, you will come to Praia do Carvalho. You can stop and enjoy the beach now or on the way back. There are some hidden stairs here to go down to the beach. The stairs aren’t the most even so be careful. We were lucky to have this gorgeous beach to ourselves.
The next landmark is the Alfanzina Lighthouse (aka Farol de Alfanzina). Unfortunately, we had to turn around before we reached it. From my research, it looks like there are limited hours (Sunday – Tuesday afternoons in July and August) when the lighthouse is open to the public. It’s worth a stop as I have read you get amazing views even from outside the lighthouse. If you get lucky and can go to the top that’s a bonus.
Continue on to Praia de Vale Centeanes and relax for a bit before turning around. Follow the valley to get down to the beach. Close to the entrance, there will be a cafe and toilets. During the summer, there is also a hut selling ices and cold drinks. The beach is perfect for sunbathing because the cliffs will block the wind. There is also supposed to be some good snorkeling. During the peak season, there is a lifeguard.
Once you’ve had a chance to relax at the beach or if it’s getting late in the day, then it is time to head back. Depending on your pace, I would recommend you start heading back 2-3 hours before the sun is going to set. I can imagine the hike would be difficult in the dark!
If you are going to fit in all my recommendations, I suggest you start early. It will be worth it!
Hiking Options if You Are Short on Time
If you don’t have the whole day to devote to this hike, that’s ok too. Skip the stops at the beaches and the boat tour. If you walk at a decent pace, don’t make any stops or take too much time taking photos, the whole hike can be completed in around 4 hours.
For those that have less than four hours, there is another option. Figure out how long you have for hiking. Do the hike and then turnaround halfway through that time. Even if you only have an hour, I think it is worthwhile to do a bit of the hike. While we enjoyed all the scenery along the walk, we felt like the most spectacular rock formations were towards the beginning.
Hiking the Seven Hanging Valleys with Kids
You may be wondering if the Seven Hanging Valleys walk is appropriate for children. We did not do the hike with any kids, nor did we see any kids when we were walking. The hike is not too difficult for kids, the issue is more the cliffs and sinkholes. In some places, there is a nice wooden railing to prevent falls. Unfortunately, I don’t think this railing would prevent a small child from falling. In addition, there are sections when you walk along the cliffs on the coast and there is no railing. Of course, each child is different, but you need to be comfortable that your child won’t have an issue with the cliffs and sinkholes before taking them along on this hike.
What to Bring On Your Coastal Hike
It is important to be prepared for your hike in the Algarve as the facilities along the way are limited. Sunscreen and sunglasses are a must as there is limited shade on the trail. We forgot our sunglasses, so luckily our hotel had some to give us. Be sure to also bring along some water, a reusable water bottle (like this one) is the best option for the environment.
If you want to go in the water at one of the beaches, then be sure to bring your swimsuit and a towel (this one is fast drying and compact). Maybe even some snorkel gear (or snorkel gear for kids) if you would like to see some fish! Don’t plan on doing the hike in flip-flops though. I did the hike in sneakers and it was fine.
Last but not least, bring along some snacks. There are some food options at Benagil and Praia de Vale Centeanes, but other than that you are on your own. We brought along the oranges we got from our wine tour but that did get a little messy. Granola or protein bars are probably a better option.
Flying Your Drone in the Algarve
When we went in January 2019, we found the Algarve to be very drone friendly. While there are several no-fly zones in the Algarve, you can fly in the area of the Seven Hanging Valley Hike. For the most part, the Portuguese Drone Code will look pretty normal for drone operators from other countries. In summary:
- Stay within visual line of sight, and under 120m from ground level (30m for a toy drone under 250g)
- Do not fly at night, or over crowds of 12 or more people
- Flying in the exclusion zones around airports or other secure sites is prohibited
- Insurance is not mandatory, but it is recommended
The one thing that may surprise people is the need to get permission from the Portuguese National Aviation Authority for using a drone with a camera. As usual, wherever and whenever you fly, please be respectful of other people who may not like drones, and local wildlife. If you have any queries about flying a drone in Portugal, see the drone code website (it’s in Portuguese, but Google Translate does a reasonable job of converting it to English), or contact the Portugal Civil Aviation Authority:
National Civil Aviation Authority
Rua B, Edifício 4 – Humberto Delgado Airport – 1749-034 Lisboa
Telephone: +351 212 842 226
Fax: +351 218 473 585
We didn’t have any issues flying our DJI Mavic Pro drone. We did have one older French gentlemen come and try to talk to us while we were flying it, but he couldn’t speak English. In other cases, we did have a few people watch us, but no one else bothered us at all. Most people seemed fascinated rather than hostile. The seagulls were probably our biggest concern.
As you are aware, drone regulations are constantly changing so please make sure you double check before taking your drone to the Algarve. You might also find our drone pre-flight checklist handy – get your copy here.
Reflecting on the Hike
Looking back, the Seven Hanging Valleys Hike was one of the most scenic hikes we have ever done. I wish we would have been able to complete the entire hike. Next time we are in the area, I would love to complete the walk and also take one of the boats to get another perspective on the caves.
Would you like to do a coastal walk in the Algarve? What other scenic hiking trails that have you done?
Expert Tips for the Seven Hanging Valleys Coastal Walk
- Plan a whole day if possible, there is a lot to see along the way.
- Don’t forget the sunscreen, sunglasses or water and be sure to wear proper footwear.
- Check drone regulations before you decide to fly and claim your free drone flight checklist here.
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