Ponta da Piedade, the iconic Algarve, where dramatic honey-hued cliffs rise up from turquoise seas. Limestone arches, caves and pillars, chiselled by the wind and waves, form a spectacular coastline near the laid-back town of Lagos. It’s one of the most visited tourist attractions in Portugal, with good reason, but its popularity can be its downfall. Visit out of season to get the most out of a trip to Farol da Ponta da Piedade, as I did recently with blogging friend Heather, from Heather On Her Travels.
Visiting Ponta da Piedade, Algarve
Standing on the top of the headland, the views along the coast and down to the sea take my breath away. A flight of steps leads down to a little jetty where small boats are collecting tourists, timing each pick-up to avoid the large waves that periodically crash against the cliffs. It’s February, and while there are a fair few people around, there’s no queue to catch the boat. In summer, the line snakes from the jetty and up the stairs, with no shade to protect you from the relentless summer sun. The best time to visit is out of season, especially if you hope to capture the views without a gazillion tourist, boats and kayaks getting in the way.
We head down the steps and agree on a price of £20 each for an hour’s boat ride for the two of us. Heather hops on first. I’m about to hand her my rucksack when it’s taken from me and thrown into the boat. My unprotected DSLR survives the shock, better than I do. A lesser camera might not have fared so well.
With a skill that only comes from years of experience, our guide weaves the boat along the cliff face, through tiny arches and into grottos, carefully timing each move with the waves. On more than one occasion I was convinced we’d never make it through a gap in the rocks, but we did! Whether you catch the boat at Ponta da Piedade as we have, or from nearby Lagos, out on the water is the best way to admire these remarkable rock formations.
At times it appears that there is underwater lighting hidden beneath the waves, but everything you see is natural — Mother Nature showing off.
You might also like The essential guide to Quinta do Lago in the Algarve.
How was Ponta da Piedade formed?
The limestone cliffs are estimated to be over 16 million years old. They are continually eroding and evolving, as the rain, wind and waves sculpt magnificent stone pillars, arches and caves. Great care should be taken when visiting, especially in the winter, when landslides are most common. Always stick to the paths for your safety and to help protect the natural environment.
Did you know? Rainwater picks up carbon dioxide from the air which turns it into a weak acid. When it reaches limestone, it travels along joints, dissolving the rock and forming fractures which can ultimately develop into cave systems.
Birdwatching at Ponta da Piedade
The area is one of several in the Algarve designated as Important Bird Areas (IBA) by Birdlife International. It’s one of the few places in Portugal where you can find rock pigeons. Seabirds seen here include cormorants, egrets, shearwaters, and storm petrels. The cliffs are also an important breeding site for the peregrine falcon.
Tips for visiting Ponta da Piedade
- Visit in early spring or late autumn to avoid the crowds.
- Arrive early, for the same reason, especially if you wish to use the car park.
- Take water, sunscreen and a sun hat as there is little shade.
- Wear sturdy shoes as the paths are quite rocky and uneven in places.
- There’s no public transport to the cliffs in winter. In summer, there is a tourist train from Lagos.
- The direct walking route from Lagos takes around 30 minutes. However, a longer path along the coast offers better views.
- Stick to the paths for your safety and to protect the environment.
- Don’t walk along the clifftop in strong winds (check the weather forecast before you go in winter).
- Take particular care when taking photographs. People have been seriously injured and even killed taking selfies here.
- Take a boat ride from Lagos or the foot of the cliffs for the best views.
- Public toilets are located next to the car park.
- The lighthouse on top of the cliffs is not open to the public.
- Head to nearby Lagos for a laidback lunch away from the crowds.
- Take the time to explore Lagos; it’s a lovely little town.
The nearby town of Lagos
How to get to Ponta da Piedade
Ponta da Piedade is about 2 miles south of the town of Lagos in the far west of the Algarve. It’s one of the most famous beaches in the Algarve.
Outside the summer months, there is no public transport to Ponta da Piedade, so you will either need to drive, walk (about 30 minutes), take a taxi or join a boat tour at the nearby town of Lagos. There’s a car park, a gift shop, public toilets and a restaurant here.
In summer, a tourist road train runs between the cliffs and Lagos every 55 minutes, costing €3.50 each way. Check up-to-date information on their website, TouristTrainLagos.com. Kayak and SUP (Stand-up paddle board) tours leave from Batata beach in Lagos, some of which include a stop for a swim.
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