The Benagil cave, also known as Algar de Benagil or the Benagil Cathedral, is the most popular cave along the stunning Algarve coastline in Portugal. The reason why it has become so well-liked, is its particular rock formation which lets the light flood in via an opening in the ceiling called ‘the eye’. This results is a magical setting, with turquoise waters and golden sand. Because yes, there is a beach inside the cave… but not everyone is allowed to access it. So, what’s the best way to enjoy the Benagil cave in Portugal? Find out in this article!
Where is the Benagil cave in Portugal
The cave is named after the fishing village of Benagil, which is located along the Algarve, Portugal’s mesmerizing south coast. There are plenty of other caves and impressive rock formations on this stretch of coast, especially between the cities of Albufeira and Lagos. You’ll also find some of the best beaches in Portugal in this area.
The road leading to Benagil beach is very steep and parking very limited. Therefore, it’s recommended to leave your car at the car park up on the cliffs. Then follow the signs to the eye. You can reach the beach or the eye in just over 5 minutes.
The exact GPS Coordinates of the cave are: 37° 05’ 12.4” N / 8° 25’ 25.6” W.
How to see the Benagil cave
– From above: catch a glimpse, no access to the cave
You can only access the Benagil sea cave from the water. However, if you just want to have a glance at the cave or see it from a different perspective, you can do so from the top of the cliff. It’s just a 5-minute walk from the Benagil beach (Praia do Benagil). Do note that the eye in the cliff is fenced for safety reasons.
– By boat: in and out, just 2 min. inside the cave
Boats in all shapes and sizes offer tours to the Benagil cave. But what’s important to note is that they can’t all enter the cave. So, make sure to pick out a boat that’s small enough to enter the low cave entrance.
Boat trips to the Benagil sea cave are regulated during peak season. Typically, when you choose to visit the cave by boat, you’ll only be allowed inside for a few minutes. Getting off the boat is not permitted.
A Benagil cave boat tour takes anywhere between 1 to 3 hours, depending on the number of other Algarve caves you’ll visit on that tour and where you’ll be boarding. You can start your boat tour from various Algarve beaches and marinas such as Benagil beach (probably a fishermen boat), Vale de Centeanes beach, Armação de Pêra, Ferragudo, Carvoeiro, Portimao or Lagos.
The cost of a boat tour to the Benagil cave ranges anywhere from €20 to €40 per adult (there’s often a discount for kids). Needless to say that the shortest boat rides starting from nearby locations such as Benagil beach, Vale de Centeanes beach, Armação de Pêra are the cheapest. Do check the reviews before booking a tour.
– By kayak or SUP: allowed to stay inside the cave
The big advantage of a kayak or SUP tour over a boat tour is that you can spend more time inside the Benagil grotto and admire its beauty from the secluded beach. Most kayak or SUP tours allow you to spend about 20 minutes inside. That’s plenty of time to take photos from every angle and to actually enjoy the cave instead of just passing through.
A kayak or SUP tour typically lasts for 2 to 3 hours, again depending on where you’re leaving from. To minimize the physical effort, most tours depart from one of the beautiful beaches nearby such as Vale Centeanes beach. A support boat accompanies the kayakers on most Benagil cave tours so that you’ll only need to kayak one way and get towed on the way back.
You’ll pay about €40 per person for a kayak tour and €50 per person for a SUP tour. There’s usually a discount for children.
Of course, you could also rent a kayak or SUP and visit the cave individually. That way, you can stay inside as long as you want. Just make sure to check the weather conditions before you leave the beach.
We tried a kayak tour with our 2 kids and loved every second. Continue reading to find out more about our family kayak adventure to the Benagil cave.
– By swimming: allowed to stay inside the cave
The Benagil cave is actually located just 200m from Benagil beach so technically, you could swim there. Do note, however, that this option is only advised for strong swimmers who are well-informed on the local weather and the current and tidal conditions.
Be cautious when entering and exiting the cave because the captains of the many tour boats might not notice you. Wearing a colorful swimming cap is advised. Swimming to the Benagil cave is not recommended in peak season because the cave entrance will be swamped with tour boats. Also, don’t swim too close to the cliffs since crumbling or collapsing cliffs are a common risk in the Algarve.
Our kayak adventure to the Benagil cave with kids
We booked our tickets for the Benagil sea cave the evening before (I wouldn’t try that in peak summer, though). The tour would start at 9.30 AM and we were expected at the Vale de Centeanes beach 20 minutes beforehand. The tour would last for 2 hours. Upon arrival, we met with our tour companions. Three couples would join us on this tour.
We wore our beach clothing plus a rash guard and a hat to prevent sunburn. No flip flops, so we could change our position more freely on the kayak. We each received a life vest, which came in both adult and kids sizes. Seat back support for the kayak was available as well.
The tour provider had these plastic jars with a screw top in which we could store the personal items that we wanted to take with us on the tour. At our own risk, of course. Since we really wanted to take some pictures inside the Benagil cave, we decided to bring an iPhone. We were a bit hesitant but I have to admit that these jars did the trick and hardly budged on the kayak when we were out to sea.
Before taking place on the kayak, we received a short instruction on how to kayak and what to do in case of problems. A support boat with certified lifeguard would tag along, which was very reassuring since we were there with our kids (9 and 7 years old). The lightest person had to take place in the front seat, the heavier one of the two in the back seat. Fatih and I each took one of the kids to sit in front of us. Children don’t receive a paddle so it was up to us, parents, to keep moving.
The plan was to explore a few other sea caves along the route and end in the Benagil cave. We then would be spending 20 minutes inside the cave and, after kayaking our way out, the support boat would tow all kayaks back to Vale de Centeanes beach. But since the wind turned shortly after our departure and the sea got rougher, the tour guides decided to change things up. They attached all kayaks to the boat and towed us to the Benagil sea cave. The towing part was quite fun for us but not so much for the kids: Since they were in the front seat, they had to deal with a lot of sea spray. So, we were glad to finally arrive at Benagil. We kayaked our way in and were pulled onto the sand by the tour guide.
We had about 20 minutes to spend inside the Benagil cave, which turned out to be just as mesmerizing as we had expected. Plenty of boats came and went but only us, kayakers and some SUPers were allowed to enjoy this magical place.
When it was time to get back into our kayaks, we paddled our way out one by one. From there, we explored several other caves along our route back to the Vale de Centeanes beach. We had the wind in our back, this time. There was another sea cave which we particularly loved, it was called Paradise cave: crystal clear waters, a very narrow sandy beach and a touch of light falling from the ceiling of the cave. What an amazing place!
After about 1h30 we got back to the beach. Overall, we had been out to sea for 3 hours instead of 2. It was a fun adventure yet pretty intensive for a first-time kayaker. The kids had fun on the way back, when the wind was right where we needed it to be.
The cost for this Benagil kayak tour was €140 (€35 per person) of which we prepaid €40 at the time of booking. At the beach shack we received a discount of €10 per child.
What to look for in a Benagil kayak tour
- Take the distance to the Benagil sea cave into account: Kayak tours leaving from Praia de Benagil or Praia de Vale Centeanes are ideal in terms of distance. I personally couldn’t have handled paddling much further. So when choosing your tour provider, take into account that a Benagil kayaking tour from Ferragudo, Portimao or Albufeira will be more intensive.
- Opt for the morning tour to see the cave at its best, with the perfect incidence of light. Most tours will leave between 9h-9h30.
- Check how much time you’ll actually be spending inside the Benagil sea cave. Our tour included a 20-minute exploration which was plenty to enjoy the magical setting.
- Think of your safety and comfort: Our kayak tour was accompanied by a support boat with a certified lifeguard. This was very reassuring, especially since we brought the kids. Plus, when the wind changes and/or the sea conditions become rougher, you have the option to get towed or to board the support boat.
- Ask the staff to take some photos during the tour. You’ll most probably have your hands full or will be hesitant to take out your camera. Some tour providers offer pictures or even a video as a standard service. Ours didn’t and I really regret not having asked this as a favour from the staff on the support boat. Alternatively, bring your GoPro and a handsfree set to catch your adventure on camera yourself.
- I highly recommend checking the type of insurance that the tour provider might include in the price or to make sure you’re covered by your own travel insurance.
Other Algarve caves worth exploring
Most tours will explore some other Algarve caves as well along this stretch of coast. Some of the most popular ones are the Alfanzina lighthouse Grotto (Gruta do Farol de Alfanzina), the Paradise Cave (Gruta do Paraíso), the Heart Cave (Gruta do Coração) and the Large Boat of the Thief (Lançhão do Ladrão).
Best time to visit Benagil cave and the other Algarve caves
– Best time of year
- The shoulder season is perfect to explore the Benagil cave and its surroundings: the months of May, June and September will allow you to visit this magnificent grotto without the crowds. Plus, it allows for more spontaneity when it comes to picking a date.
- If you can, avoid the peak months of July and especially August: Boats will be queuing at the cave entrance and loaded to their full capacity. You’ll need to book well in advance to secure a spot.
- Note that kayak, SUP and some boat tours are only organized from April to the end of October.
– Best time of day
Take the morning tour to avoid the masses. During our visit, we arrived at the cave just before 10 AM. By the time we left the Benagil grotto, about 20 minutes later, it was noticeably busier already.
Where to stay near Benagil
We actually stayed in Alvor, near Portimao, but these are some hotels closer by the Benagil sea cave that caught our eye:
What to bring on a Benagil sea cave tour
- Reusable water bottle
- Rash guard and hat
- GoPro with chesty (chest mount) or suction cup mount
A final tip: When you’re traveling in peak season (second half of June, July and August), make sure to book your Benagil cave tour well in advance. We took the kayak tour in the last week or May and booked the evening before, but you won’t have that luxury in peak summer.
When will you visit Portugal’s mesmerizing Benagil cave?
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