The Algarve region of Portugal is famous for its pristine beaches, breathtaking scenery, world-class golf courses, and delightful Mediterranean cuisine. But while many view it as primarily a beach destination, it is also a perfect choice for landscape photography. In this photography guide, I’ll go through the best photo locations in the Algarve and discuss some tips and tricks for getting the best images possible.
- Why Photograph the Algarve
- Best Photo Locations in the Algarve
- Photography Tips for Algarve
- Planning a Photo Trip to Algarve
- Drone Photography in Algarve
- Essential Apps and Resources
- Recommended Camera Gear
- Other Useful Things to Pack
- Final Thoughts
Why Photograph the Algarve
Imagine a land where golden cliffs meet azure waters, where cozy beaches give way to charming old towns, and every turn reveals a new, breathtaking vista. Welcome to the Algarve, Portugal’s famous sun-drenched southernmost region.
With 300 days of sunshine a year and more than 130 beaches, Algarve is a paradise for lazy seaside vacations. But it is also an astonishingly picturesque part of the country with some truly amazing landscapes.
With its dramatic coastline full of towering cliffs, hidden coves, and bizarre rock formations, it’s a playground for landscape photographers. You’ll find no shortage of scenic views and fabulous vistas to capture here.
And the best part is that while there undoubtedly are some iconic locations to photograph, much of the Algarve remains relatively undiscovered and unspoiled. This makes the Algarve an exceptionally versatile destination suitable to a wide range of photography enthusiasts.
Those interested in a full-blown photography trip will have plenty to dig their teeth into and loads of shots to pursue. Meanwhile, those who’d rather take it slower will have no trouble mixing their photography outings with some relaxing on the beach.
This would work perfectly for those traveling with their families or willing to look beyond just photography to taste everything Algarve has to offer. In other words, no matter how hard-core or chill-mode you want to go, the Algarve has you covered.
Best Photo Locations in the Algarve
Trying to name all the photography locations in the Algarve almost feels like a moot point. There are just so many gorgeous spots along the coast that you could spend a lifetime exploring them.
Besides, landscapes here look massively different depending on the month, tide level, and weather conditions. You will never experience them in quite the same manner as I or anybody else did. In other words, what worked for me, won’t necessarily do so for you.
That said, I’ll do my utmost to list a few areas in this guide that I think are particularly rewarding. These will serve as a great starting point and are sure to give you some remarkable results.
If you haven’t been to Algarve before, there’s no better place to get an initial taste of it than Lagos. Centrally located, this bustling town is one of the region’s older and larger hubs with lots of activities and things to do. And for photographers, it’s a goldmine of opportunities.
Its narrow cobblestone streets and a few quaint old churches are quite charming. Igreja de Santa Maria is particularly interesting with a reflecting pond right in front of it. But the true gem for landscape photographers is the beaches on the outskirts of Lagos.
There are a few of them just south — Praia do Pinhão, Praia de Dona Ana, and Praia do Camilo. All three feature astonishing rock formations and deserve a visit but it is the latter that steals the show.
Praia do Camilo is among the most iconic spots in the entire Algarve to photograph the sunrise. Looking down at the beach, you’ll be able to capture the soft light on the sea stacks and the wooden ladder weaving its way to the sand. A view that perfectly reflects what the Algarve is all about!
Ponta da Piedade
Just south of Lagos, you will also find the dramatic limestone cliffs of Ponta da Piedade. Here, the windswept ocean coastline forms a bizarre yet beautiful assembly of sea pillars, jagged rocks, and secluded grottoes all intertwined together.
Ponta da Piedade is considered one of the finest natural features of Algarve and rightfully so. It’s both immensely gorgeous and incredibly picturesque, packing a ton of fantastic compositions waiting to be uncovered.
In Ponta da Piedade, you can shoot at sunrise or sunset, during golden light, or in the blue hour. With some creativity, even during the harsh midday sun. From the ground, with a drone, or from the sea — your only limit is your imagination.
My recommendation here is to take a leisurely scenic walk from Lagos to the tip of the peninsula and back. There is no shortage of footpaths on the top of the cliff allowing you to search for viewpoints or outstanding coastal features that catch your eye.
Do it early in the morning or later in the afternoon when the shadows are longer and the cliffs glow golden against the turquoise ocean waters. And I guarantee you’ll find at least a few vantage points you’ll wish to photograph or return to when the conditions are right.
Cabo de São Vincente
Cabo de São Vicente (Cape St. Vincent) is the southwesternmost point of the Algarve and mainland Europe. For centuries, it was believed to be the end of the world and was the last of land seen by sailors venturing into the unknown from southern Portugal.
It is also a place of striking beauty. Here, the rugged cliffs plunge dramatically into the deep cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Above it, on the edge of the precipice, an old fortress and a lighthouse stand as silent guardians against the backdrop of sea and sky.
It’s a captivating scene best photographed during sunset. The silhouette of the lighthouse against the burning colors of the predusk sky with the sea raging far below creates a simple yet impactful composition.
Cabo de São Vicente is typically photographed from the edge of the cliff to the southeast of the lighthouse. From the parking lot, head towards the rocky patch on your left until you discover a suitable angle.
But please be careful! This area is known for its winds and the dropoff is sudden and abrupt. Falling would mean the end. This advice applies through much of the Algarve in general but Cabo de São Vicente is probably where it does so the most.
And if you’re lucky enough to be here on a calm afternoon, both the cape and the lighthouse can make for some absolute banger drone shots during the golden hour. As seen in this video.
The West Coast
The western coast of the Algarve represents its different, more untamed face. While the southern beaches buzz with tourists enjoying their sun-soaked holidays and lively towns, this part of the Algarve is more rugged, desolate, and quiet. And equally – if not more – photogenic.
Here, the landscape is marked by vast broad beaches, dramatic cliffs stretching into the distance, and viewpoints that will take your breath away. It’s wild, it’s raw, and it’s a side of the Algarve that’s well worth exploring for any photography enthusiast.
One immensely versatile and rewarding destination here is Praia do Castelejo. A popular venue for surfers, it’s an absolute stunner of a beach. Untamed yet gorgeous, it is, to quote the Financial Times, “a beach to make you feel small and awestruck”.
From the glistening wet sand to formidable rock formations, pools of water, and magnificent sunsets, there are plenty of scenes to capture here. The selection differs every day too, with the beach changing its looks drastically depending on the tide level.
My advice is to be here at least a couple of hours before sunset, ideally during the receding tide. Praia do Castelejo is certainly the kind of place where finding a composition can be tricky. Show up too late, and you might find yourself scrambling for one. Not ideal.
Praia da Marinha
Praia da Marinha is undeniably one of the most popular photography spots in the Algarve and deservedly so. From the famous double arch colloquially known as the Cathedral to the heart shape to the sand pillars and rugged coastline, there are countless angles to try out here.
Praia da Marinha is a very versatile location that works well for both sunrise and sunset. That said, I would highly recommend coming for sunrise — better light in my opinion, and fewer people.
Tide is another important factor. When it’s low, you can hop over the rocks onto the neighboring Praia da Mesquita. There, you can photograph the Cathedral up close, ideally using water action as a foreground. Not an easy shot but one that can be rewarding.
During high tide, head to the top of the cliffs. There’s a trail there that is part of the famous Seven Hanging Valleys hike. There are several excellent viewpoints nearby, including the Instagrammers’ favorite — the heart shape.
Once again — be very careful up there. For the best photos, you will have to be standing close to the edge. Please be mindful of your surroundings and take necessary caution.
Not too far from Praia da Marinha is another of the Algarve’s classics — the Benagil Cave. This impressive cavern is only accessible from the sea, so you’ll want to rent a kayak or a SUP to get there. You can do so on Praia da Marinha or the nearby Benagil beach.
Keep in mind that Benagil Cave is packed with tourists throughout the day, so you need to be there first thing in the morning or later in the evening to have it all to yourself. Check out this article or this video for some tips on how to do it.
As incredible as Benagil Cave is, capturing a good image there is not at all straightforward. Gear-wise, you’ll need a very wide lens — at least 12mm — to get it all into the frame. You will also need a tripod because the difference in the dynamic range is immense.
But more importantly, you want to be there alone and when the weather is cooperating. When everything aligns together, the results can be truly magnificent. But making that happen will likely require multiple attempts. Whether that’s the best use of your time, only you can decide.
Photography Tips for Algarve
Now, to some general tips. Landscape photography in Algarve does have a few peculiarities that you need to keep in mind both when preparing for the trip and once you’re already there.
Learn to Work with Clear Skies
To me, one of the main challenges of photography in the Algarve is the weather. It’s a very sunny region and from spring to autumn, you’ll mostly have to deal with clear blue skies. I spent five days in Algarve and hadn’t seen as much as a cloud throughout that entire period.
Naturally, that’s not an ideal situation. As landscape photographers, we much prefer dramatic skies with clouds set ablaze by the setting sun. If you get that in Algarve, consider yourself lucky. But for the rest of us, the next best thing is to learn to work around that.
One piece of advice I can give is to make maximum use of the golden hour. The cliffs and islets of the coastline light up beautifully during that timeframe. With a strong composition, you can produce some astonishing images.
Another one is to resist the natural temptation of shooting into the sun and look in the opposite direction. Sometimes, that’s where the best light is. Plus, you won’t have to deal with a massive dynamic range difference created by the overexposed sky and underexposed foreground.
Lastly, if shooting toward the light, be sure to bracket your shots. In conditions like these, even modern cameras will struggle to capture the highlights and shadows in a single exposure. And yes, you will have to work through some fun blending exercises in the post-production.
Scout Locations Beforehand
In landscape photography, scouting the locations beforehand is generally a very good practice. However, in Algarve, it becomes especially important.
One of the reasons here is that the same spot might look drastically different depending on the tide. It’s all too easy to show up for sunrise or sunset and find yourself scrambling for composition because the area looks nothing like what you expected.
The position of the sun also changes throughout the year. This means that compositions that work well in one month might end up heavily unbalanced during the other. Checking all that in advance might save you a ton of stress during the actual photoshoot.
Last but not least, it helps to know the terrain as a simple safety measure. Photography in Algarve often involves standing on the edge of the cliff or in places only accessible at low tide. In these situations, I tend to feel more comfortable if I visited the location before.
Don’t Underestimate the Distances
In Algarve, everything looks pretty close when you look at the map. The reality, however, is that roads are often narrow and hard to navigate. Driving from one place to another might take longer than anticipated, especially if you get stuck behind a slower vehicle.
For example, the road from Lagos to Cabo de São Vincente is a good 40 minutes one way. That’s almost 1.5 hours there and back. Now imagine going to different locations for sunrise and sunset, throw in some scouting in between, and suddenly, you’re looking at hours of driving.
Trust me, it gets tiring fast. So if you can, try not to plan too much for any given day. Figure out what you want to visit and photograph the most and start with that. And if some spots are close to each other, check them all out in one go.
Pay Attention To the Tides
If you’re shooting from the top of the cliffs, tide height won’t be much of a factor. However, once you go down to the water level it definitely becomes something to be conscious of.
As already mentioned, tides change how the same location looks. What’s more, in the Algarve, many beaches are connected via passages, tunnels, or simply strands of sand that seem inconspicuous enough but actually get submerged during the high tide.
So whenever you go out exploring, be mindful of the ocean. The last thing you want is to be cut off from the return route by the rising tide. To ensure your safety, there are two simple rules to follow.
First, always check the tide schedule. There are many websites and apps that report this information so have a quick look before heading to a location. Second, be sure to study the map of the area to figure out the available alternative escape routes.
Take It Easy
This last tip might sound strange but you’ll thank me for this. And that is to take it easy. There is always going to be something more to photograph, scout, and explore. But if you attempt to cram in too much, you simply won’t be able to enjoy it.
I’m certainly guilty of this, always being on the lookout for a new photo. But Algarve is more than just beautiful landscapes. Sometimes, it’s best to put the camera away and experience its other highlights. Relax on the beach, have a drink at a seaside restaurant, or take a kayak tour.
It’s OK not to chase every single sunrise or sunset. In Algarve, life flows slowly. So don’t rush it and don’t stress about it. Instead, let yourself embrace this vibe and cut yourself some slack if you feel like it.
Planning a Photo Trip to Algarve
If you’re planning a photo trip to Algarve, there are a few decisions to ponder even before you start with the necessary reservations. Here is my take on some of the common questions that you might encounter.
When to Go to Algarve
In Algarve, there’s really no right or wrong season for photography. The area is fabulous throughout the year, so deciding when to go largely depends on what kind of travel experience you’re after.
If you’re only interested in photography, winter is a fantastic choice. The crowds thin out, travel and accommodation prices take a dip, and as a bonus, there’s a higher chance of some remarkable wave action and dramatic skies.
But if you fancy combining the photography adventure with quality beach time, aim for the warmer months of April through October. That’s when Algarve comes alive with sunny weather and temperatures high enough to tempt you for a swim in the Atlantic.
The shoulder seasons — spring and autumn — give you the best of two worlds. The weather’s warm but not scorching, making it perfect for both exploring and photography. It’s not overly crowded either. In May, I had no trouble finding parking at even the most popular beaches.
How Long to Spend in Algarve
The Algarve Coast is truly a treasure trove for photographers with a near-endless supply of stunning landscapes. Honestly, one could spend a lifetime here and never run out of new things to capture.
But since you probably don’t have that long, I’d suggest setting aside at least three full days. That’ll be enough to hit the most famous spots and come away with a solid collection of images. Assuming, of course, that you prioritize photography over any other activities.
Of which there are plenty. So for a more balanced experience, I’d recommend 5-6 days. This will allow you to photograph the region while still indulging in some well-deserved downtime. And if you can swing it, why not even longer? It’s a marvelous place to be in after all.
Where to Stay in Algarve
Finding a good base for your photography trip to the Algarve is a tricky business. And to be honest, there probably isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. The region’s most iconic photo spots are sort of spread out, so expect some driving no matter where you choose to stay.
If you’re there for at least a few days, you might consider splitting the trip between two bases. This helps to cut down on driving but comes with a downside of dealing with relocation midway through the trip. Naturally, that’s not everyone’s cup of tea — I for one am not a huge fan.
For a single home base, I would suggest either Lagos or Carvoeiro. Lagos is centrally located, so you’re never too far from the Algarve’s most stunning landmarks. Some of them — Ponta da Piedade and Praia do Camilo — are within walking distance from the town center.
It is also one of the Algarve’s larger settlements with plenty of restaurants and shopping opportunities, several gorgeous beaches, and lots of ancient history to dive into whenever you want a break from photography activities. That’s where I stayed and I loved it.
Carvoeiro is a charming cozy town and easily one of the Algarve’s prettiest. It is also very close to several classic photo sites like Benagil and Praia do Marinha. I haven’t stayed there personally but it’s a kind of place where I sure wouldn’t mind spending a few nights.
Getting Around the Algarve
When your main goal in the Algarve is photography, you’ll want to rent a car. Many of the Algarve’s best photo spots are tricky or even impossible to reach using public transport. And even if they are, bus schedules aren’t typically built around the golden hour.
Rental car gives you the freedom to chase the light on your terms and photograph even the most off-the-beaten-track locations. It’s the easiest way to ensure you’re in the right place at the right moment. And in photography, timing is everything.
If renting a car just isn’t an option, you can still make things work albeit with some compromises. In this case, it’d be wise to base yourself somewhere close to a few prominent photo locations. Lagos, for example, has quite a few that you can simply walk to.
You can then use a combination of public transport and local tours to venture to more remote areas. It won’t be quite as flexible as having your own wheels, but with some planning and a bit of luck, you can still achieve some fantastic shots.
For car rental in Portugal, I used Centauro but can only partially endorse them. The car was in a somewhat shabby condition and the service leaves a few things to be desired. On a positive note, they didn’t require a credit card and the pricing was quite straightforward without any hidden fees.
Drone Photography in Algarve
The Algarve is a wonderful destination to bring your drone to. Photographing its rugged features from the air opens up a whole array of new creative opportunities. While there are some restricted zones to avoid, on much of the coast you can fly without any issues.
Being part of Portugal and thus the EU, Algarve is subject to all the standard European regulations. In short, you must register your drone and (for drones heavier than 250 grams) complete an online training course. Nothing too complicated here.
Unfortunately, there’s one odd rule that makes flying legally anywhere in Portugal a little tricky. And that is, to take any images or video with your drone, you have to obtain a permit from the National Aeronautical Authority (AAN).
If that sounds silly, I fully share your sentiment. The process isn’t quite straightforward either and might take a while to complete. So if you decide to go down that route, be sure to plan ahead and do it well before you arrive in Portugal.
Is that strictly necessary? I can’t give you legal advice but from what I’ve seen, nobody cares. People fly their drones in the Algarve without any issues and I doubt they all have permits. My feeling is that unless you do something stupid, you should be fine.
Essential Apps and Resources
In the digital age, having the right apps on your phone is as essential as packing the right gear for a trip. Here are some of the apps that I found extremely helpful when photographing the Algarve.
Windy is my go-to app for checking the wind speed and direction. The winds in the Algarve can be fierce, so knowing what to expect is important. Especially if you own a drone. Windy can also display an overlay with the current satellite cloud coverage, which is insanely helpful.
PhotoPills is a paid app but perfectly justifiable if you’re a photographer. The AR feature alone that shows you exactly where the sun will be rising or setting in real-time makes it worth the investment in my opinion. I used it a ton in the Algarve.
Windguru is a website that provides weather forecasts and crucially, wave and tide information. This is incredibly useful, for instance, if you intend to rent a kayak to go into Benagil cave on your own.
MagicSeaWeed has been my tide-level app of choice for years. Sadly, they are now replacing it with Surfline which I haven’t thoroughly tested yet. My initial impression is it’s less intuitive but I’m yet to find a proper replacement.
Maps.me and Mapy.cz are my two favorite apps for maps and navigation when moving around on foot. Both are super detailed and work offline. Last but not least, Waze is my GPS navigation app of choice when driving.
Recommended Camera Gear
The best gear is what you have on you — this adage is certainly true for Algarve. You can capture its beauty with just about any equipment. That said, let me guide you through some of the items that I used extensively during the trip.
- A camera. I relied on a full-frame Sony A7III along with the iPhone 14 for most of the shots. But honestly, any camera will do as long as you know how to operate it.
- An all-around travel zoom such as 24-105 mm. It’s my go-to lens for just about any destination because of its versatility and extra reach.
- A wide-angle zoom, such as 16-35 mm or 17-28 mm for all the situations where you want to go wide. And there will be lots of those in the Algarve. Also, if you plan on shooting inside Benagil Cave, I would recommend something like 12-24 mm instead.
- (Optional) A telephoto lens. Personally, I didn’t bring mine to the Algarve. There were some cases when I wished I had, but generally, I didn’t miss it much.
- A sturdy tripod is a must. Winds can be fierce in the Algarve. Having your tripod tumble from the edge of the cliff is the last thing you want. Believe me.
- A polarizing filter to tame reflections and enhance saturation. In Algarve, I mostly found it helpful when shooting in bright daylight.
- A set of ND filters. In Algarve, I found myself doing frequent long exposures to smoothen out the ocean water. This often creates more impactful shots and is hard to achieve without an ND filter.
- A drone. I haven’t used my drone as much in the Algarve because it was very windy and I had lots to shoot from the ground anyway. That said, there is plenty to capture from the air when conditions allow it.
Other Useful Things to Pack
In addition to the camera gear, here are a few more essentials that will ensure your trip to the Algarve runs as smoothly as possible.
- Sunscreen. It’s hot and sunny in the Algarve most of the year. Unless you fancy some nasty sunburns, I suggest you pack some protection.
- A hat or a bandana for the same exact reasons.
- Reusable bottle. Tap water in that Algarve (and Portugal in general) is clean and safe to drink. I drank it all the time and never had issues.
- Swimming attire. Photography aside, Algarve is an outstanding beach destination. So don’t miss out on the refreshing dip into the ocean.
- Waterproof bag. If you rent a SUP or a kayak, most companies will provide one but some will charge extra for it. So if you already have your own, might as well bring it.
- Water shoes can be handy if you plan on shooting from the beaches.
- European power plug. Portugal uses standard European power sockets (type F), so depending on where you come from, you might need an adapter to charge your stuff.
With its dramatic cliffs, secluded coves, incredible beaches, and charming towns, Algarve is a fantastic destination for landscape photographers. I spent five days there and honestly felt like I only scratched the surface of what it has to offer.
Algarve isn’t just picturesque. It challenges you as a photographer, inspires you as an artist, and captivates you as a traveler. So whether you’re a seasoned veteran or just starting your photography journey, you might want to add it to your bucket list.
And hey, photography aside, it is simply a great destination to visit. Relax, hit the beach, feel the leisurely vibe of it, and just have a good time. I’m sure you’ll love it.
I hope you enjoyed this photography guide to Algarve and got some value out of it. If so, do me a favor, and share it with your friends and on social media. And of course, feel free to ask any questions in the comments below.
I also have other posts about Portugal and beyond. If you liked this one, you’ll probably enjoy them too. Here are just a few for you to consider:
- Photography Guide to Madeira: Best Locations, Tips, and More
- 10 Great Reasons Why Madeira Is a Perfect Travel Destination
- Lisbon Photography Guide: 10 Fabulous Spots to Capture
- The Best Spots for Photography in Porto and Practical Tips
- Photography Guide to Scotland: How to Get Amazing Images
- Top 7 locations for landscape photography on Tenerife
- A Land of Wonders: 10 Great Reasons to Travel to Slovenia
- Best Landscape Photography Locations in Patagonia
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