Anyone planning a move to Portugal’s sun-drenched Algarve quickly stumbles onto a dilemma: Choose the west, with its picture-postcard coves and established resort towns, or the east, with notably different scenery and (some believe) an extra degree of Portuguese authenticity.
Algarve expats take on the “west vs. east” debate with the same vigour as Londoners championing living north or south of the river. But the need to make the decision is a fun problem to have.
What some aspiring residents don’t realise is that East Algarve beaches are vastly different to those in the west. In place of orange cliffs and coves are vast expanses of sand, many of which form the islands of the Ria Formosa natural park.
The best thing of all about East Algarve beaches is that there’s always somewhere you can find total seclusion, even in the height of the busiest tourist season. You just need to know where to look.
With that in mind, here’s a selection of five “secret” East Algarve beaches. They may well help you make the “west vs east” decision. Just don’t tell too many people.
Ilha Deserta (Faro)
We begin near the region’s capital, with a beach that provides a true Robinson Crusoe feel. Ilha Deserta (also known as Baretta) is an uninhabited island paradise, with no facilities other than one restaurant (open for limited hours each day). If you want to swim and sunbathe without another human in sight, this is the place to be.
If you fly into Faro from northern Europe, you often pass over Ilha Deserta as you descend. The pale sand and shimmering waters provide a distinctly Caribbean feel. While that water may not reach the warmth you’d expect in Antigua, the shallows around the island provide some of the Algarve’s most glorious places to bathe.
Just one word of warning: This is a place to be aware of tides and shifting sands, especially if you get there under your own steam (see below). Time your visits carefully.
Getting There: There are various ways to get to Ilha Deserta. They include ferries and water taxis, both from the waterfront in Faro and from Ilha de Faro near the airport. Exactly what’s available varies considerably depending on the season.
The most exciting way to arrive is by kayak, setting off from Ilha de Faro. It’s advisable to only do this as part of a supervised trip, and with awareness of the tides.
Praia do Barril (near Santa Luzia)
Praia do Barril is one of the most-loved East Algarve beaches. It’s memorably reached via a miniature train that departs from around a kilometre west of Santa Luzia, the Algarve’s “octopus capital.”
Barril itself can be gloriously deserted off-season, but if it’s packed with summer crowds, all you need do is reach the sand and turn right. You quickly reach Praia do Homem Nú.
The clue is in the name with this beach. It translates to “beach of the naked man” – and you may encounter a few! This part of the island (in fact the westernmost part of Ilha de Tavira) is a nudist beach and offers literally miles of total seclusion. If you don’t stray too far from Barril, you can head back there for its facilities.
Getting There: This beach is most easily reached by taking the tourist train from opposite the Pedras del Rei resort. However, if you have access to a boat, you can also head there from the harbour at Fuseta.
Praia do Rato (near Tavira)
The ever-popular city of Tavira isn’t technically a beach resort, because its primary beach is the Ilha de Tavira, reached by ferry or water-taxi. However, there’s actually a small “secret beach” you can reach by land.
Located at the end of a road the weaves through salt pans, you may even see flamingos as you head to Praia do Rato. The beach is named after a ruined fort (perfect for kids to explore) that sits just behind the sand.
The beach isn’t entirely undiscovered. There’s a hotel here (the Vila Galé Albacora). But beyond the few guests from there, this is primarily a compact and glorious spot for locals in-the-know.
Getting There: Take the road heading out of Tavira towards the Vila Galé Albacora – it’s just off the roundabout near Tavira’s Gran Plaza shopping centre.
Fábrica (near Cacela Velha)
This one is truly stunning, but timing is everything. Arrive at high tide and you’ll find nothing but a tiny strip of sand and a cluster of beached fishing boats.
Arrive at the right moment and you can walk over onto the island, and enjoy the unique sensation of feeling completely surrounded by beach and sea. Off season, there may only be you and the crabs, and the occasional local out farming clams.
Getting There: Get to Fabrica by road – the village is a couple of turnings off the main EN125, on the way to the Spanish border.
Praia da Lota (near Manta Rota)
Of all of the East Algarve beaches here, this one perhaps has the potential to be the “busiest” in peak season. However, it’s still a bit of a spot for “those who know.”
Since Lota is located between the (much busier) resorts of Manta Rota and Altura, it tends to only be visited by those who are staying just behind it, or those who make the effort to walk beyond the throng. There’s just one restaurant (serving basic but good fish), and a vast expanse of sand.
Getting There: Drive through Manta Rota and head east. There’s a car park right by the sand, just down from the low-key Hotel Praia da Lota Resort.
Has this run-down of East Algarve beaches made you feel inclined to choose this part of the Algarve? Find our guide to the region here.