Praia de Benagil is one of the most beautiful and well-known beaches on the Algarve coast between Lagos and Sagres. From an oceanographic point of view it is interesting because of its small dimensions and shallow waters near the beach, which allow for underwater exploration from above water by swimming.
Where is Praia de Benagil?
Praia de Benagil is located 3 km south of Vila do Bispo, next to Cala Figueira (also know as pebble beach), which has almost the same characteristics but does not have such popularity among tourists. The name “Benagil” comes from Arabic origin (“boún-ághil” = “fox cave”) after a rock formation with an arch over the sea, which has a reddish color and is called “Cabeco do Diabo” (Devil’s head) by locals. The beach is flanked with cliffs that shelter it from winds and offer protection from the sun.
Introduction to Praia de Benagil
Because of its small dimensions, Praia de Benagil is particularly suitable for lovers of snorkeling and diving. Since 1997, one can notice beds or patches of purple seaweed on the beach, always in late autumn/winter months when there are no tourists around.
There is an apparently simple explanation for this phenomenon: When winter comes the water temperature decreases gradually and reaches cold temperatures similar to those typical of Northern Europe countries such as Norway, Denmark or Germany. These cold temperatures do not affect shallow waters near the beach, where seaweed beds are visible year-round. The temperature of the water can vary depending on how far it is from the shore: if you look at a depth of 5~10 meters you will find warmer water temperatures.
If there is an increase in the volume of tourists visiting Praia de Benagil and coming close to the sea during low tide (or snorkeling) they may disturb some creatures that live in this area and provoke them into motion toward deeper waters; consequently, seabed sediment may appear dark due to increased siltation produced by their movement. This phenomenon has been observed in other beaches along Algarve coast affected by intense human presence (Cabo São Vicente, São Rafael, Pedras d’el Rei and Espiche) and it occurs every year in the same period of time. The siltation produced by small crustaceans and invertebrates has no environmental impact other than the darkening of seabed sediment, which recovers its original color after two or three tides.
Archaeological findings in Praia de Benagil
Archaeological findings have been made in this area that date back to the Roman occupation of Southern Portugal (approximately 1500 years old). One can find Roman pottery along with Egyptian coins dating back from 1941 to 1944 near “Cabo do Diabo” (Demon’s head), a very peculiar rock formation located at the southern tip of Praia de Benagil that may look like a face or head of a demon emerging from the sea.
Diving in Praia de Benagil
The beach is specially well-known for its diving areas. There are several diving schools in Vila do Bispo (the nearest village) that offer guided dives, night dives and training courses. It is best to go either early morning or late afternoon in order to avoid crowds of tourists around the water’s edge. Diving spots abound along Praia de Benagil, such as “Buraco das Pedras” (“Cave of Rocks”), which offers calm waters with visibility varying between 5 meters and 20 meters, depending on tides; “Farol dos Arrifes”, the most famous dive spot in this area, where visibility is around 10 meters; “Chafariz das Rolas” (“Fountain of Snails”), characterized by a large number of snails, which hide between the rocks during daytime and emerge at night to feed on marine algae; as well as the “Ribeiros do Sul”, spring waters that are believed to have healing properties.
Other Popular Activities on Praia de Benagil
In addition to scuba diving, Praia de Benagil offers other activities such as swimming, sailing, surfing or just sunbathing. Due to shallow water depths (around 1 meter) it is also suitable for children, families with baby strollers or elderly people. Water temperature in winter time usually reaches 13-15 C° / 55-59 F° but can be as low as 10-11 C° / 50-52 F° (this can be easily verified by the chill one feels in an area such as Praia de Benagil, which is close to sea level). The beach is open all year round and its seawater is cleaned daily.
Bars and Restaurants
There are several bars and restaurants around the beach that offer panoramic views over Praia de Benagil, especially good for people watching between 11:00 AM – 02:00 PM or after sunset until midnight. Most of these establishments offer international cuisine but traditional Portuguese dishes are also served. Many of them have been designed in recently built facilities that contribute to a cheerful atmosphere where tourists, residents and local fishermen come together to enjoy fine food, music and sea view.
There are also several small hotels around Praia de Benagil, many of which offer spectacular views over the beach and its surrounding area, which is a very well-known birdwatching spot. During winter time these accommodations are not heated due to cold temperatures but it is possible to find some with heating systems available upon request.
Many Algarve residents choose Praia de Benagil for their summer vacation or weekends as this area of coast in particular is quiet compared to other spots such as Albufeira or Lagos and can offer a more relaxed environment that allows one to recharge batteries after long months at work.