Algarve surf rolls through clean, warm waters along one of the most beautiful regions of Portugal. It’s primarily for beginners but has something for everyone.
Algarve surf at a glance
- This is a gorgeous region with beautiful beaches.
- Sagres is one of the top surf towns on the continent.
- Great for beginners.
- Inconsistent swells.
- Good surf beaches are far apart.
- Lots of holidaymakers.
This is a part of our greater guide to surfing Portugal.
What you’ll find in this guide to Algarve surf
An introduction to surfing in the Algarve
Mention the Algarve and surfing ain’t usually what comes to mind. Sun-kissed beaches, high cliffs, green-blue sea waters, and pumping party towns are probably closer to the mark. But wave hunters shouldn’t discount this corner of Portugal. It’s got plenty going for it in the swell department. That’s especially true for beginners; the people who come to soak up a tan, chase their first peak, and practice their pop-up.
Sagres leads the way. It’s the only real out-and-out surf town in the region, with two great breaks right on its doorstep. Backing it up are places like Arrifana, where the right-hand point is a heavy set barrel that kicks up some serious challenges in the winter season.
However, the Algarve really shines for novices as you head south. The coastline there hosts popular holiday towns like Lagos and Portimao. But the golden beaches aren’t only for lazing with a Super Bock in hand. They can offer some top waves that are glassy and green, particularly from November to March.
Where is the Algarve?
The Algarve caps off the southern end of Portugal. It’s right on the south-western tip of mainland Europe as a whole, which means it faces the straight out to the Atlantic Ocean. That’s where the swell comes from. To the north is the lesser-known and huge region of Alentejo. To the east is Spain, and the surf towns of Cadiz and the south coast.
A guide to Algarve surf spots
The Algarve has two coastlines – one to the south and one to the west. The first faces the brunt of the Atlantic Ocean, so expect the waves there to be pretty heavy and hard, with reliable sets coming in most months. On the south, meanwhile, rideable days are less common, but there’s way more shelter that makes for some good beginner locations.
Arrifana surf offers two distinct breaks. There’s a pretty reliable beach break that can often be a closeout on bigger days. That’s host to surf schools and everyone up to intermediates trying to improve their take offs. At the northernmost end of the bay is a point break. It’s always busy with local surfers when its working, thanks to the hollow sections that move superfast from left to right. If you’re heading there, beware of localism and shallow rock pools.
You’ll find Beliche huddled under dramatic cliffs to the north of Sagres. It’s one of the classiest waves in the whole region. Locals love it for its fat triangles that move slowly and present nice rippable surfaces. Add in some challenging hollow sections and nice walls that can handle a lot. On smaller days, beginners often come to enjoy the soft beach peaks.
This is the kingpin of Algarve surf culture. Perfectly situated right at the end of the region, where it pokes straight out into the Atlantic Ocean, the town has two induvial beaches. Tonel is the one that most intermediates will head for. It’s a good beach break with reliable surf at low tide. On the flipside of the headland is Praia do Martinhal. Have that on the radar if you’re a beginner or elsewhere is blown out.
Praia da Luz
Mostly a holiday town but facing a gorgeous big beach, Praia da Luz has two point breaks. One goes left and is fast and shallow. The other is a little easier going. Both waves hold up to around 5ft. Hazards include the reefs that ring around the big Rocha Negra rock. Only a short drive from the city of Lagos for easy access.
A beautifully consistent wave that always seems to take the same shape, no matter the swell, Zavial breaks along the southern Algarve cliffs around 20 minutes’ drive from Sagres town. It’s not actually just a single peak, but a few. However, the headline act is that quick, barreling point break that usually goes right but can also throw up awesome A-frames. Gets busy. Lots of localism if you show you don’t know what you’re doing!
A guide to the Algarve surfing season
The Algarve has one of the longest swell seasons of anywhere in Portugal. That’s thanks to its unique geography; one foot southwards, one foot westwards. Summertime generally sees things mellow out and the Algarve surf schools draw more beginners. Winter can be big, but it’s no Nazare – there’s usually something going for intermediates in the more sheltered bays.
October – March
The best time to come to surf Algarve’s shores. When the ocean starts putting swells up through that all-important N-NW channel, there’s really nothing better than a morning session down on the southern Algarve or in the big beach bays that filter away from Sagres. They can go overdrive sometimes, true, putting closeouts into the unsheltered spots. But, generally speaking, the conditions are reliable, with more rideable days than not.
The seas do cool in the winter, but they are still the warmest in the country. A wetsuit and booties are probably needed. Winds come offshore to help with wave shape, and the weather tends to be mild and spring-like, save in the height of winter – Dec, Jan.
April – September
The start of the busiest season in the Algarve means the coming of the tourist crowds. Places like Luz and Lagos will fill to bursting with sun seekers. Resorts like Albufeira will be nigh on unbearable. What’s more, the Atlantic slackens its power from autumn onwards. There’s not the same day-to-day surf hitting the south coast, and even the west coast can be unpredictable. Still, there are great sessions to be had, especially for novices who are keen on mellow beach breaks in warm, clean conditions.
Some of the best surf hotels in the Algarve
The Algarve is no stranger to hotels and resorts. This is the most holiday-friendly corner of Portugal, remember? These days, you’ll also find places that are either out-and-out surf establishments or really well located for waking and hitting the waves…
Jho’La Surf Camp, Luz ($-$$)
In a charming Portuguese casita, the Jho’La Surf Camp is only a stone’s throw from the waves of Luz. The inside is comfy and quaint, with cool sitting areas and a flowery terrace. There are usually great vibes if you want to meet and mingle with other people. And they’ve got a partnership with one of the oldest surf schools in the Algarve, so you can book lessons and surf trips on site.
Martinhal Sagres Beach Family Resort Hotel ($$-$$$)
Hit the two surf beaches in Sagres (one for beginners one for intermediates) by booking this highly rated (9 on Booking.com) resort. It’s perfect if you’re coming as a whole family, thanks to it big suites that sleep six people or more. The pool is also a stunner, with sweeping views right across Martinhal Beach – you can check the quality of the swell from your balcony!
Salema Beach Village ($$-$$$)
A series of self-contained holiday rentals ring a beautiful pool in this resort. Some of them are big enough to host groups of six, which makes it a doozy for surfing families. Beginner riders will also love the location, because it puts you within reach of lots of the good and mellow breaks on the southern shores of the Algarve. A car will be required.
Things to do when you’re not surfing in the Algarve
Be sure to check out the other draws of the Algarve when you’re not in the water. Here’s just a taster:
Party in Albufeira
Sagres might have some great après surf bars, but there’s no match for the hedonism of Albufeira in the midsummer. Think about bookending your Algarve surf trip with a few days in this pumping resort. The main strip has karaoke and loads of DJ dives, so there’s never a dull moment.
Praia da Rocha
Perhaps the most stunning of all the seriously stunning beaches that fringe the Algarve, Praia da Rocha is one you’ll want the camera at the ready for. It’s framed by high cliffs of ochre and orange, washed by seas of see-through blue. There’s a big rock arch at one end and high stacks of stone that seem to jut straight out of the water. It’s simply beautiful.
How to get to the Algarve
Because the Algarve is such a big tourist hotspot, you shouldn’t find it hard to get there. Faro Airport is the main aviation hub. It’s a top arrival point for low-cost carriers coming from all over the continent. However, most of those run seasonally, which means fewer dates during the peak Algarve surf season of the winter.
Buses can take you to towns like Lagos, Sagres, Faro and Albufeira straight from Lisbon. They take a just shy of four hours in total and cost in the region of €20. If you’re driving, the time from Lisbon is usually cut to about three hours. But that’s only if you’re not tempted to make pitstops at the hidden Alentejo and northern Algarvian surf spots along the way!
This ultimate guide to Algarve surf is always being updated and changed. If you think we’ve missed something or gotten something wrong, we’d sure love you to get in touch. You can use email or just drop a message in the comments below.