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Sea Arch at Sunrise, Portugal
Portuguese Sea Caves & Arches

#210 Portugal Coast Sea Caves & Arches

The Algarve is the name of this beautiful and lesser known Portuguese coastline that features one of the world’s most amazing sea caves and several stunning sea arches. First, avoiding this area in summer or on weekends is a great idea. I went in late September and found it mostly deserted, with excellent food and lodging at cheap rates. You will want to fly into Faro and rent a car. Set your car GPS for Benagil, a tiny town next to the Benagil sea cave. This cave is very close to the beach at the town where you will hopefully be able to arrange a boat to take you to the nearby site when the tides are lowest. Even though it’s a short distance, don’t go if the ocean is rough. Without tide tables to help me well in advance, I originally planned to arrive right around the full moon when the tides are at their lowest and highest. New moon works also. A few weeks before leaving I was able to obtain real tide tables and see that the best chance for getting into the cave was in the morning which is also the time of day when the sea cave gets the best light in fall.

What makes this sea arch so amazing? It has three openings – two facing the ocean and one opening to the sky above. During higher tides, the interior is entirely flooded, so be careful if the cave is free of water but the tide is rising. After being dropped off by the boat, I had two hours to shoot as the sun rose and sent light inside through all three openings. Dynamic range problems were extreme here, so I shot enough images to create HDR’s, which I eventually had to do. A wide angle lens (I had an 11-24 Canon) is great here to get all three of the openings. If you visit anytime except winter the local beach is close enough for very strong swimmers to make it over, so be prepared for some interruptions in your shooting from visitors.

The sea arches in this area are also amazing. Top on the list are the “Heart’” sea arches which are an easy hike in the morning from a parking area a few miles away from Benagil. This would be a sunrise and morning shot all year. It’s good to scout this location the day before you shoot to find the “heart” location, which is created from the rim by a double sea arch far away and an indentation on the cliff close by. I searched all along and up and down the cliffs for the right spot, but finally, it was in one of the most obvious locations. You can use my image to guide you to it, and maybe even do a better job than I did of making a perfect arch by combining the near and far. To get it all in focus you will have to use the hyperfocal distance and stop down. Beware of packs of wild dogs at this area, I used my tripod to scare them away from a Swiss woman who was trying to photograph the spot.

Another sea arch nearby does not have a name, but is an unusual free-standing formation in a quiet cove. Again, this is close to Benagil. The water here is intensely blue-green and in fall and spring you can get great sunsets shooting from the rock on the east side or play up the water colors by shooting on the other side.

Other nearby attractions include the Lighthouse of Cabo de Sao Vicente, the most easterly in Europe, and the seaside town of Sagres, which is best in morning light.

Triple arch in Benagil Portugal

Heart Arches in Portugal

Sea Arch at Sunrise, Portugal


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