Finally, time to put on my hiking shoes again! This time, I was heading for Portugal to start a hike that had been on my wish list for quite some time: the Fishermen’s Trail.
This trail runs from Sines to Lagos (or vice versa) in the Alentejo and Algarve regions. In this article, I will give you practical tips and information about the trail, the journey there and back, packing lists and all the things you need to consider if you are thinking of doing this hike as well.
Every journey starts the moment you decide to go. Once you’ve made that decision, it’s time for the fun part: preparations. Have you decided to hike the Fishermen’s Trail yet? If so: good decision! As to the preparations: read on.
First of all, you’ll have to decide on your route and direction. Do you want to go SOBO (north to south) or NOBO (south to north)? For more information on hiker terms like NOBO and SOBO (and many more), you can read this article.
The trail officially runs between Saõ Torpes and Lagos, but most hikers start in Porto Covo because it is easier to reach. Porto Covo is about ten kilometres (just over six miles) from Saõ Torpes, and that stretch is reportedly not the most interesting. I say “reportedly,” because I also started in Porto Covo so I don’t have firsthand experience. If you do want to start in Saõ Torpes, travel to Sines and take a cab from there.
Both Sines and Porto Covo are easy to reach from Lisbon by Rede Expressos bus (information from May 2023). We flew from Eindhoven to Lisbon and took a bus to Porto Covo that same afternoon. From the Lisbon airport, we took an Uber for around 7.50 euros. This takes about 20 minutes (with fairly heavy traffic, but no traffic jams). At the bus station, we bought a bus ticket for the express bus to Porto Covo (final destination Lagos) for 16.50 euros. Normally this bus takes about two hours.
Your return will depend on your end point. If you walk the whole route to Lagos, then Faro will be your nearest airport there, but it’s also quite feasible to return to Lisbon by bus or train. If you only walk a section of the trail, both airports might be an option. Most coastal towns along the route have regular bus service, but check in advance, as there might be just one bus per day. Also, it will depend on when you hike, as things will slow down considerably in the winter months.
If you want to hike NOBO, you could fly to Faro and start there. Is there a big difference between going NOBO and SOBO? Not in my experience. Once you get past Cabo Saõ Vicente (the most westerly point) and “round the bend,” you’ll be looking into the sun a bit more if you go SOBO, so that might be a reason to go NOBO, but it honestly didn’t bother me much. Also, the stretch from Cabo Saõ Vicente to Lagos is quite a bit more touristy (and thus busier) than the stretch before, so do you want to end or start in the most crowded area? It’s up to you.
When is the best time to go?
If you can at all avoid it, don’t do this hike in summer. In July and August, temperatures soar and the hike gets much more strenuous. It is also much busier with “regular” tourists then, and that will limit your accommodation options and raise prices. I myself went in mid-May, and although it was already quite warm (up to 27 degrees Celsius / 80 Fahrenheit some days, although it felt like over 30C / 86F), it was quite doable. At night, temperatures dropped to around 12C / 53F though, so bring a warm sweater or jacket, it cools down quickly in the evening. But hiking earlier or in the fall is also very doable. If you want to go in winter, keep in mind that most restaurants and accommodations may be closed. But in peak summer season, hiker facilities are also unavailable at times (for example, luggage transport).
Another advantage of a May visit is the opportunity to see the dunes come to life. They will be full of colourful flowers and the stork nests along the cliffs will be populated with baby storks vying for their parents’ attention.
How much time do I need?
The route is divided into stages that are easily achievable in a day for an average hiker. Allow at least a day for the outward journey and another day for the return journey. Do you want to walk the entire trail? There are thirteen stages in all:
|Stage||From||To||Distance (km)||Distance (miles)|
|1||Saõ Torpes||Porto Covo||10.0||6.2|
|2||Porto Covo||Vila Nova de Milfontes||19.5||12.1|
|3||Vila Nova de Milfontes||Almograve||15.1||9.4|
|4||Almograve||Zambujeira do Mar||21.8||13.5|
|5||Zambujeira do Mar||Odeceixe||17.9||11.1|
|9||Carrapateira||Vila do Bispo||15.4||9.6|
|10||Vila do Bispo||Sagres||19.4||12|
If you want a really relaxing hike, you can walk from village to village and shower every night, eat out and put on clean clothes. There are even a few companies that will carry your luggage from village to village every day for you. For the first five stages, I used Rota Vicentina Transfers. There were three of us on that stretch and we shared two bags. We paid 15 euros per stage, and if you pay for four transfers or more, the fee includes transport of two bags. We stopped in Arrifana for a week. From Porto Covo to Arrifana are six stages, so for a total of 90 euros (30 euros per person), we had our bags with clean clothes every night and could hike carrying nothing but some water, our lunch and rain gear just in case. An incredible luxury that took some getting used to. The second part of the trail, I hiked alone and with my camping gear, which of course immediately resulted in a much heavier backpack!
Off the beaten path
The trail experience changed radically for me after my friends left and I continued on alone. I hiked alone from Aljezur to Lagos, with my camping gear. When I go camping, my routine changes. I follow the rhythm of the sun. Rising with the sun and going to bed as the sun takes its leave for the day.
Moreover, if you’re camping, you don’t have to adhere to the stages anymore. You stop when you want to stop, hike when you want to hike. I spent my nights completely alone in the most beautiful spots and met almost no other hikers. By the time everyone left their hostel or B&B, I’d usually already done quite a few miles. I stopped in the villages I passed for breakfast, lunch or dinner and then continued on. I no longer met the people behind me, nor the people in front of me. This way I could easily do a section and a half, or even two, in one day. All of a sudden, the trail went from being social to being isolated.
However, I did pass through one or two villages every day, so I hardly needed to bring any food with me, keeping my pack weight down. I took one or two meals and a couple of litres of water and replenished in town.
Whether you like hiking in this way is, of course, entirely up to you. If you like to be around other hikers, if you like a light backpack and short days, then you’ll enjoy walking from village to village. But if you like hiking alone, love being alone in nature or like to save money, then camping is also a good option. A word of warning here: Wild camping is officially NOT allowed on this trail. If you do decide to do it, it is at your own risk. Camping at designated (paid) campsites is possible, but not everywhere, and the camp sites might be some way off the trail.
Make sure you pitch your tent somewhere out of sight, away from any buildings nearby, pitch your tent only after sunset and leave before sunrise. In addition, of course, you live up to all the LNT (Leave No Trace) principles, so no one can tell you’ve been there.
What really struck me on this hike was the incredible amount of toilet paper strewn about. It was everywhere and in plain sight. It drove me quite mad. All that natural beauty, marred by our garbage.
Bad examples lead to bad habits, so please, please, please, please leave NOTHING behind. That includes used toilet paper, or food scraps. ‘Biodegradable’ is quite a pliable concept, and in this dry environment, degradation may take a very long time. Besides, you’re not the only one there. Just make sure you bring a garbage bag, okay? (If you think it’s a dirty idea to pack out your used toilet paper, I suggest you go find another hobby)
Want to know what I brought on the second week of my trip while camping? You can find the packing list here!
Are there any other things you want to know about the Fishermen’s Trail? Let me know in the comments!