How to Walk Rota Vicentina's Fisherman's Trail in Portugal

By Jan Bakker

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How to Walk Rota Vicentina's Fisherman's Trail in Portugal
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Fancy hiking one of the world’s most beautiful coastal trails along the rugged, sunkissed coast of southern Portugal? Explore secluded coves, endless stretches of deserted beaches and cute little fishing villages on the Fisherman’s Trail. The route follows the rocky shores of the Atlantic Ocean on sandy, single track pathways that were created by the local fishermen. If you’re looking for sun, solitude and spectacular sea views, then the Fisherman’s Trail is calling you. Don’t forget your swimsuit!

The Fisherman’s Trail is part of the Rota Vicentina trail network in southern Portugal. The well-marked trail winds along the coast from Porto Covo to Lagos for almost 230 km. You can hike it in 11 stages, though it is possible to do the northern or southern half of the route separately. Distances are manageable, but keep in mind that over 60% of the paths are sandy, making the walking a little bit harder. In this blogpost we share our tips and tricks on how to hike the Fisherman's Trail.

Are the Rota Vicentina and the Fisherman’s Trail the Same Walking Route?

The Rota Vicentina is a 750 km long network of walking trails in the southwest of Portugal. It includes 24 short circular walking routes, a long-distance trail called the Historical Way and as far as we are concerned the most attractive route of them all, the Fisherman’s Trail. For 230 kilometres this route winds along the pristine Portuguese coast from Porto Covo to Lagos via secluded coves and beaches and dips down to the spectacular southwestern tip of Portugal, Cabo de São Vicente. The entire southwest coast is a protected area called the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park. Its protective status prevents mass coastal development, and aims to preserve the natural and cultural heritage of the region. This is one of the very few coastal areas in southern Europe where such a legislation is in place and it’s therefore an ideal destination for those who are seeking a walking holiday along an unspoilt, authentic coastline.

Are the Rota Vicentina and the Fisherman’s Trail the Same Walking Route?

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Where Is the Fisherman’s Trail?

The Fisherman’s Trail starts in Porto Covo, a quaint fishing village in the southern part of the province of Setubal. The travel distance from Portugal’s capital Lisbon is roughly 170 km. This variation of the Rota Vicentina runs along Portugal’s stunning coastal trails to Lagos, a small charming city in the Algarve. As stated before, the full route is 230 km long and can be walked in both directions. Most trekkers choose to walk the Fisherman’s Trail in a north to south direction. This is a great way to extend your trip with a few recovery days on one of Algarve’s golden beaches. For those with less time, the trail can be walked in two separate sections with Aljezur as the main hub halfway.

The trailhead at Porto Covo is well-served by the bus company Rede Expressos from Lisbon, and the journey takes about three hours. Aljezur is perfectly located halfway the Fisherman’s Trail and it takes less than an hour by bus to get to and from Lagos. The closest international airport from Lagos is in Faro.

When Is the Best Time to Walk the Fisherman’s Trail?

The Fisherman’s Trail is a year-round walking route. When you choose your dates there are two considerations to make.

Weather

Southern Portugal is never really cold, even in winter. But as it is right on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, the weather can be stormy and blustery at times and you will need some warmer clothes from December to March. The best time to go is in spring time (April-May) and autumn (October-November). Summers are hot and that takes us to the second consideration for choosing the time to go: crowds.

Holiday season

Two months of the year, July and August, the Fisherman’s Trail gets busy. Guesthouses, hostels and hotels along the route are usually fully booked in advance. The shoulder seasons spring and autumn are much more quiet, with a chance to have a beach or the trail to yourself. If you really want to get away from people then winter time is the ideal time to hike the Fisherman’s Trail.

When Is the Best Time to Walk the Fisherman’s Trail?

What’s the Food and Accommodation Like on the Fisherman’s Trail?

You are on the Fisherman’s Trail, so it’s not a surprise seafood is the main food staple wherever you go. The Portuguese have turned the preparation of seafood into an art form, and hard choices have to be made when the menu is presented. Portugal’s absolute favourite dish is Bacalhau, or cod in English. It comes in many varieties and you can get it in almost every restaurant. Other favourites include Cataplana de Marisco, a hearty seafood stew and Polvo à Lagareiro, which is roasted octopus with olives and potato. And what local snack to bring on the trail? Bring a bag of Pastel de Nata, a sweet pastry with custard, that will keep you going!

The southwestern coastline is protected and you won’t see mass scale resorts and hotels en route. Villages offer authentic, locally owned accommodation, often very close to the sea. We typically book 3-star hotels and guesthouses with excellent reviews. At Bookatrekking.com, we know which charming guesthouse to arrange for you on the Fisherman’s Trail.

The Fisherman’s Trail is well-signposted with its typical blue and green markers. The ocean is never far away and is a great handrail for navigation as well. However, there are plenty of maps and guidebooks available to give you more in-depth information about the route. Below you can find an overview map of the Fisherman's Trail.

Walking the Fisherman’s Trail 

Walking the full version of the Fisherman’s Trail can take 11 to 13 days. However, not all of us have the luxury to embark on such a long hike. Besides offering the full hike, we created two shorter versions of the route, the northern half and the southern half. Let’s get deeper into what to expect for each half.

Fisherman’s Trail - Northern Half

The northern half of the Fisherman’s Trail starts in Porto Covo, a sleepy historic fishing village just south of the fortified town of Sines. In terms of seascapes, the first days of the walk kick off really well. The sandy trail meanders through the coastal dunes and passes small secluded coves and broad beaches that are often accessible from the main trail. The majority of the path runs above the coastal cliffs, veering inland at times through coastal shrubs and woodlands. In summer you can spot storks nesting on the rocky outcrops, perched high above the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Although the elevation difference is small, on average 170 metres per day, the walking itself is quite strenuous due to the soft sand. Along the way it’s surprisingly underdeveloped, so don’t expect to find  restaurants or shops. You will have to carry a lunch pack and picnic (on the beach!) on most days. The great thing about walking all day on sand with a silty sea breeze? You can treat yourself to a plate with the catch of the day and an ice cold Sagres, Portugal's favourite beer! The northern half ends in Aljezur, from where it’s an easy transfer to Lagos and the Algarve.

Day
1

Porto Covo - Vila Nova de Milfontes

Duration: 04:35 h
Distance: 18.3 km
Ascent: 130 m
Descent: 130 m
Today, your path will follow the shoreline. Traverse the expansive area of sandy hills along the Ilha do Pessegueiro, Aivados, and Malhão beaches, where you may stumble upon secluded coves and caves. The landscape ahead will consist mainly of sand dunes, yet the many beaches you encounter will leave you in awe. Spend the night in Vila Nova de Milfontes.

Villa Eira (Vila Nova de Milfontes)

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Villa Eira (Vila Nova de Milfontes)
Day
2

Vila Nova de Milfontes - Almograve

Duration: 04:15 h
Distance: 16 km
Ascent: 150 m
Descent: 150 m
As you embark on today's journey, you'll be stunned by the breathtaking views overlooking Vila Nova de Milfontes, the Mira River, and the point where the river drains in the ocean. When leaving Vila Nova de Milfontes, you have the option to either walk the initial kilometers across the bridge or take a small ferry across the river (fare not included). The lush natural vegetation serves as a magnet for an array of bird species and small mammals. Follow the rugged cliffs until you reach Almograve, where you'll spend the night.

Almograve Beach Hostel (Almograve)

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Almograve Beach Hostel (Almograve)
Day
3

Almograve - Zambujeira do Mar

Duration: 05:00 h
Distance: 19 km
Ascent: 160 m
Descent: 160 m
During today's journey, you'll pass by charming fishing harbors, wind-swept sand dunes and fragrant pine tree forests. One of the unique sights that will captivate you is the presence of storks nesting on the cliffs, a spectacle found nowhere else in the world. Despite being exposed to the persistent winds of the ocean, these cliffs serve as the nesting grounds for many bird species. As the afternoon unfolds, you'll reach the picturesque white-washed village of Zambujeira do Mar, which is your destination for today.

Rosa dos Ventos (Zambujeira do Mar)

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Rosa dos Ventos (Zambujeira do Mar)
Day
4

Zambujeira do Mar - Odeceixe

Duration: 05:10 h
Distance: 18.9 km
Ascent: 220 m
Descent: 240 m
Today's journey promises another fascinating trek along the scenic clifftops. As you traverse the path, you'll encounter a series of beautiful beaches including Alteirinhos and Machados. Along the route, you'll also come across a natural fishing harbor at Azenha do Mar. However, the true highlight of the day awaits you at the majestic Ponta em Branco, where you'll be treated to breathtaking views of Odeceixe beach.

Bohemian Antique Guesthouse (Odeceixe)

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Bohemian Antique Guesthouse (Odeceixe)
Day
5

Odeceixe - Aljezur

Duration: 07:20 h
Distance: 23.2 km
Ascent: 190 m
Descent: 180 m
Continuing your journey from Odeceixe, you'll maintain a southward course along the coastal path, meandering through the picturesque coastal area. After a long day on the trail you will eventually arrive at the enchanting Moorish village of Aljezur, steeped in rich history and cultural heritage.
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Fisherman’s Trail - Southern Half

The southern stretch of the Fisherman’s Trail is a little harder than the northern part. Apart from the distance, the daily vertical gain and loss is higher, though still very manageable. From Aljezur, which is slightly inland, you walk to Arrifana, a famous surf spot and brilliant place to wind down. South of Arrifana is truly pristine with very little human interference apart from the trail. Often the route winds inland through the dunes that are covered in heather, thistles and fragrant shrubs. It eventually leads to the highlight of the Fisherman’s Trail, Cabo de São Vicente. Marked by the stunning red and white lighthouse on top of the cliff, this is continental Europe’s most southwestern point. From here, the trail heads east along the golden coastline of the Algarve province. The walk ends in Lagos, where you can replenish your burned calories in some of the best restaurants on the south coast.

Day
1

Aljezur - Arrifana

Duration: 05:45 h
Distance: 17.3 km
Ascent: 250 m
Descent: 260 m
From Aljezur, slightly inland, you'll head back to the coast following the course of Ribiera de Aljezur. Once you hit the coast you walk south again along the craggy coast. The day ends in Arrifana, a famous spot among surfers for its great waves.

Utopia Guest House (Arrifana)

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Utopia Guest House (Arrifana)
Day
2

Arrifana - Carrapateira

Duration: 05:30 h
Distance: 20.1 km
Ascent: 300 m
Descent: 300 m
Walk along the golden sands of Praia da Arrifana, passing dramatic cliffs and enjoying panoramic ocean views. Quickly the path heads inland and follows the sand dunes and heathland and reaches the coast again at Praia da Bordeira, a wide sandy beach embraced by crashing waves and picturesque cliffs. After crossing the small river you head back inland for a kilometre to reach Carrapateira where you'll spend the night.

Carrapateira Lodge (Carrapateira)

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Carrapateira Lodge (Carrapateira)
Day
3

Carrapateira - Vila do Bispo

Duration: 05:50 h
Distance: 20.1 km
Ascent: 490 m
Descent: 430 m
This stage a little harder as you are climbing more than on other days. The coastline goes up and down and this requires quite some effort. This effort is worth it, walking along the hauntingly beautiful coastline, some of the most stunning stretches on the whole route. The final few kilometers go back inland to Vila do Bispo.

Hotel Mira Sagres (Vila do Bispo)

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Hotel Mira Sagres (Vila do Bispo)
Day
4

Vila do Bispo - Sagres

Duration: 05:45 h
Distance: 21.8 km
Ascent: 180 m
Descent: 240 m
Today you walk to an iconic landmark on the European continent, Cabo de São Vicente. This is the extreme southwestern point in Portugal and Europe for that matter. It's a spectacular headland, guarded by a beautiful red and white lighthouse. The direction of walking dramatically changes after reaching this point, and you are now headed straight east towards Sagres. Enjoy your stay in this historical fortified town.

Residência Júlio (Sagres)

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Residência Júlio (Sagres)
Day
5

Sagres - Salema

Duration: 05:45 h
Distance: 18.8 km
Ascent: 270 m
Descent: 290 m
The walk from Sagres to Salema runs along the southern coastline, showcasing the Algarve's golden beaches and impressive cliffs. Enjoy this penultimate stage!

Salema Beach Apartment (Salema)

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Salema Beach Apartment (Salema)
Day
6

Salema - Lagos

Duration: 07:20 h
Distance: 22.1 km
Ascent: 370 m
Descent: 370 m
The final leg of what's been an epic journey along the southwest coast of Portugal. Lagos is where the Fisherman's Trail ends. For those with a little extra time we recommend hanging around the Algarve coast to recover and replenish all those calories burned.
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Packing List for the Fisherman's Trail

No matter where you go hiking or for how long, bringing the right equipment is of utmost importance. For your hike, the first thing you need is a good backpack. The size of it will depend on the number of days you will be trekking, the season and the clothes you take with you. If you have luggage transport, the comfort level of your daypack is most important. We have compiled a packing list with a few essential items of clothing you should bring and some extras you might find useful:
  • Essentials

  • Extras

Is It Expensive to Walk the Fisherman’s Trail?

It’s easy and cheap to fly to Portugal’s capital Lisbon and Faro in the Algarve. Portugal itself is one of the cheapest countries in Western Europe to travel in. Getting to and from the trailhead/end by public transport is efficient and won’t cost more than 50 Euro in total. A local draught beer in Portugal costs 2 Euro and you can have a meal for around 10 Euro. Breakfast is ready for you every day so you only have to put money aside for your lunch and dinner. And a trip at Bookatrekking.com? For less than 700 Euro per person, you can already be on the trail with a comprehensive offer from Bookatrekking.com.

Is It Safe to Walk the Fisherman’s Trail Independently?

The Fisherman’s Trail is a safe trail to hike independently. In the towns, though, keep an eye out for petty crime. This means pickpocketing and muggings can occur. This is relative to any other holiday destinations in Western Europe. On beaches, always keep a close eye on the warning flags and don't swim too far into the sea. The currents in the Atlantic Ocean can be very strong and drownings do occur on the Portuguese coast. Some of the trail sections get close to the cliffs. Make sure you keep your distance, as some cliff edges may collapse due to erosion. Bring enough water, make sure your phone is charged and it's a good idea to bring a map, which you can buy in Porto Covo. On the Fisherman’s Trail, you are never far from civilisation and you will always meet several people on the route.

Is It Safe to Walk the Fisherman’s Trail Independently?

Safety tips for the Fisherman's Trail

Although this is far from being a trek in the Himalayas, unexpected things can always happen and you might also find obstacles on the hiking trails along the way. The Fisherman's Trail is safe, the trails are quite straight forward and there is not an extreme difference in altitude. However, for your safety, every hike deserves a level of respect; respect for the terrain, the trails, wildlife and vegetation, local rules and regulations, and above all, your physical capabilities and safety. Therefore, for an unforgettable and safe hiking memory, please keep the following safety recommendations in mind:

  • Know your limits

    Always prepare each stage carefully to use your energy wisely, respect your physical and mental limitations, and avoid taking unnecessary risks. When ascending or descending, if applicable, always use the aids provided, such as handrails and ropes. Is this trek suitable for you? Well, familiarize yourself with the grading system and figure out if this trek matches your capabilities. If you still need professional advice you can always contact Bookatrekking.com experts.

  • Stay on marked trails

    The most important thing is to never leave the marked paths. For easy navigation we work with our trusted partner Komoot, whose interactive maps, also available offline, provide you with the necessary digital means to get from A to B in the Fisherman's Trail. As a backup, make sure to bring a hiking guide or a paper map with you.

  • Fully equipped

    Make sure you have the necessary gear for the conditions you'll be facing, including appropriate clothing, footwear, and any necessary equipment for the terrain you'll be hiking on. Always wear clothing adapted to the weather of Fisherman's Trail and protect yourself from cold and wetness or heat and sun. Besides, make sure you carry enough food and water for the duration of your trek. On the way, you might (or might not) be able to buy snacks.

  • Stay reachable

    If you are hiking solo or in small groups it is advisable to inform people back home about your plans, what route you are taking and when you plan to return. Even small incidents can lead to unpleasant emergencies so make sure you are available at all times. Bring a charged phone containing at least the phone numbers of immediate family members, your accommodations en route and the emergency phone numbers operating in the Fisherman's Trail.

  • Respect for nature

    Do not litter, prevent noise, stay on the marked trails, do not disturb wildlife or grazing animals, and respect protected areas.

Where Can I Book the Fisherman's Trail?

At Bookatrekking.com you can book the self-guided Fisherman's Trail and many other treks. We take care of all the details for you, including arranging accommodations, organizing luggage transportation and providing you with relevant information well in advance of your trek. Find our offers here. Our easy-to-use platform allows you to browse and compare different trekking options and find the perfect fit for your interests, abilities, and budget.

If you have any questions about a specific trek or need help choosing the right one for you, our team of trekking experts is here to assist you. Simply reach out to us and we will be happy to provide you with personalized recommendations and advice to help you plan the trekking adventure of a lifetime.

Is the Fisherman's Trail not your cup of tea and are you looking for other epic adventures? Check out one of our following blog posts:

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