Top 15 Tips for Visiting Benagil Cave Portugal in 2023
There are caves all around the world, from high up on mountains to deep under the water to right here in the heart of America. Some are tiny, barely more than holes in the ground. Some are huge, awe-inspiring caverns and networks of open rooms. Some are rugged and rough, ever-shifting with seismic activity. Others are stable and safe, lined with railings and boardwalks to act as tourist attractions. And some of these caves are so impressive that they should be on the bucket list of every adventurer willing to travel the world.
One of the latter is Benagil Cave, which is found in Portugal. Located on the southern edge of Portugal, this cave is a naturally eroded hole in the cliffs by the sea, with a distinctive hole in the roof of the cave that has inspired caves all throughout media.
If you’re interested in this scenic, open, beautiful cave, it’s a great tourist attraction to visit. Here are the top tips you should know before you take your trip!
1: Pick the Ideal Starting Point
Portugal is a pretty small country, which means you can choose pretty much any city in the country to use as your starting point for an excellent Portugal trip. Starting far to the north in Porto means you’re looking at about a five-hour drive south to Benagil, which means it’ll be best visited if you drive down the night before and get up nice and early to view the cave.
As for other towns, Lisbon is a lot closer, but it’s still a few hours away. For close-at-hand destinations, Lagos is only 40 minutes away, Albufeira is 30 minutes away, and Portimao is also half an hour away. Check out the vibes of each starting point and pick the one that resonates most with what you want out of a Portugal trip.
One word of warning: Albufeira has a reputation as a party town for young people out on a holiday. If you don’t mind the active, kind of rowdy atmosphere, it’s great; if you want a more laid-back place to hang out, you might want to look elsewhere.
2: Book Your Benagil Cave Trip in Advance
One of the best tips we can give is to book your trip in advance. That’s true of pretty much anything these days, but the Benagil Cave is a very popular tourist destination specifically because it has been featured on social media, and many influencers want to check it out.
What this means is that trips there fill up fast. Boat tours – which may be the only way to actually visit the cave – are gone in a flash, so be ready to camp out on reservation sites and book as soon as one becomes available in a time slot you can accept.
Normally, we don’t encourage you to plan a whole trip around a single event, but in this case, you may have to. Everything else – from lodging to shows to other touristy stuff to do in Portugal – is a lot easier to fit in around other less flexible items on the schedule. So, book your cave visit, then build the rest of your itinerary around it.
3: Plan to See All the Caves in the Algarve
The Algarve is Portugal’s southernmost region and encompasses the full southern coastline of the country. Benagil is the most famous of the caves along this coast, but there’s more to see and do all along it.
One great option is to book a more robust cave tour rather than just a Benagil cave tour. Benagil is impressive, yes, but it’s just one cave; a tour that takes you along a larger portion of the coast will give you more sights to see along the way.
While you might not get to see all of the caves, a longer tour can be more rewarding, and you might find that some of the other caves are more interesting, especially if you’re allowed to get off the boat. Speaking of…
4: Check Benagil Cave Closures and Restrictions
The internet abounds with photos of influencers standing on the sandy beach within Benagil Cave, but you might not actually be able to do that. As part of conservation and a safety consideration for the people visiting, Portuguese authorities have closed off the cave. It’s not entirely closed, but you’re currently limited to just boat tours, and you can’t get off the boat. Kayak tours, stand-up paddle boats, and swimming are all prohibited.
The announcement to close access to the cave came in mid-September of 2023. It’s not clear when or whether the restrictions will be lifted, either. They were put in place because of a number of capsizes, collisions, and other accidents in the cave, and authorities want to avoid the possibility of anyone being seriously injured or killed in future accidents. If they come up with a solution later, they’ll probably reopen the cave, but for now, taking a boat tour is the only option you have.
5: Plan a Boat Tour to Benagil Cave
Now you know why this is one of our big tips: plan on the boat tour. If you don’t take a boat in, you can’t get to Benagil cave from the underside, where it’s the most beautiful.
You can, however, still walk in. The cave isn’t accessible from the shore without swimming or kayaking, which you can’t do, but you can walk to it from above.
The top of the cave – that iconic hole that lets you view the sky from inside – can be seen from above, too. There’s a guardrail around the top, so you can get relatively close and look in, but you aren’t at risk of falling in.
This can be a beautiful and scenic place to have an ocean-view picnic, as long as you don’t mind your fellow tourists.
6: If You Get Seasick, Plan Ahead
Since the main way to access the cave is to take a boat tour, you’re going to want to be prepared for the water. If you get seasick, make sure you prepare yourself for it.
Benadryl and Dramamine are common options, but you’ll also want to follow the CDC tips for preventing motion sickness to the best of your ability. Of course, if you’re fine with boats, you can skip this tip entirely.
7: Plan to Get Wet
Depending on the kind of tour you book, you may or may not get wet. Some of the larger boats are pretty slow and stately, but a lot of tours play it fast and loose. They want to bring people in, show them the cave, and get out quickly so they can cycle back through more groups, and the boats themselves aren’t very big.
A consequence of this is you’re going to be splashed a lot more by the wake of other boats and the waves of the ocean, especially when the boat maneuvers. Needless to say, you should plan to get wet. Make sure your electronics are either waterproofed or are packed away so that stray water won’t damage them. Leave anything unnecessary back in your hotel, too, so you don’t risk losing anything overboard.
8: Don’t Expect a Lengthy Viewing
One of the downsides of restricting tourism to just boats is that all the crowds that would usually hang about in kayaks or swim are now boats, and those boats want to have their turn in the cave. That means your tour is really only going to be a couple of minutes at most in the cave itself. There are some ways to try to extend this – that we’ll cover later – but for the most part, you’re going to be brought in, given a couple of minutes to look at the cave, and be brought back out.
Incidentally, this is why we recommend larger cave tours; since you don’t actually get much time in the Benagil cave itself, you can make up for it by viewing more of the other caves along the coast, many of which you can disembark or spend more time in on your tour.
9: Come Back to the Caves on Foot
Up above, we mentioned that you can visit Benagil cave on foot from above. So, do so! It’s a fun little experience, a great place for a picnic, and it’s not far from local accommodations if you want to spend more time in the area.
You’ll probably be facing a lot of crowds, but that’s par for the course for any tourist destination these days, especially one that goes viral on social media.
10: Choose the Best Time for a Visit
While you’ll need to book early and prepare in advance, you should still try to get some of the premium slots for your tour if you can.
So, what are those premium slots?
- Summertime. The cave is open all year round, and the weather in Portugal is generally pretty nice, but there are still times you might be rained out, or the weather won’t be as nice. Summer is the peak time for the cave and other ocean tours in Portugal.
- Morning. The earlier you can get to Benagil cave, the better. This is part of why, if you’re staying in a town further away like Lisbon, you’ll want to arrive the night before your tour. The morning allows you to avoid most of the crowds, and the light is usually best when you’re seeing the cave just after sunrise. Plus, it gives you the whole day to explore the coastline.
Beyond that, timing is your choice, of course.
11: Have a Bad Weather Backup Plan
Unfortunately, part of having to book a tour early is the possibility that it will be less than ideal. Sometimes, the weather might be overcast, the sea might be rough, and the light might be dim; it’s not ideal for taking photos or experiencing the cave itself. In more extreme cases, your tour might even be canceled.
So, have a backup plan prepared. There’s a lot to do in Portugal, whether you’re hanging out in the south or you’re bailing on your plans entirely and heading to one of the more northerly cities for cultural and historic tourism instead. Your tour company should offer some kind of secondary option or backup plan, so make sure to look into that ahead of time as well.
12: Be Ready to Take Great Photos
Since your time in the cave is limited, one of the best things you can do is take photos so you can enjoy them later.
We have a whole guide to travel photography here, and while some of it isn’t applicable or is overkill (and you’ll need to make sure everything is waterproof), it can get you started.
13: Bring the Right Gear for a Cave Viewing
Gear is an essential part of any outdoor adventure, and Benagil Cave is no different. You aren’t going cliff diving, and you aren’t allowed to swim or kayak at the moment, so you’ll need to plan your gear accordingly.
Here’s our general outdoors guide to help you prepare.
14: Make the Most of your Portugal Trip
Taking a trip out to Portugal is a pretty serious investment; any overseas trip has the potential for a lot to go wrong and a lot to go very right. One way you can boost the quality of your trip is to optimize it with travel hacking.
With travel hacking, you can get more rewards and cash back, you can make sure your trip is cheaper, and you can get more out of your time spent at your destination. What’s not to love?
15: Don’t Be Afraid to Come Back
Some people really like Benagil Cave. Others are fine seeing it once and moving on. Which are you? If you want, you can always book more than one tour on a given day or trip.
Seeing the cave in different conditions, with different lighting, weather, and crowds, can be very different experiences. It can be quite interesting to see the changes throughout the day, but since you can’t linger on your own, the only way to do it is with return trips. Something to consider, in any case!
So, have you ever been to Benagil Cave? What did you think? Was it everything you dreamed, or was it an overrated Instagram trend? Let us know in the comments below!