Are you looking for practical information because you want to hike the Fisherman’s Trail in Portugal? I’ve written this detailed guide to help you get started! I walked this trail myself and have listed all kinds of useful information for you. I hope this will help you to prepare your own hike. It is very easy to walk the Fisherman’s Trail as an independent hiker. I hope my tips and advice, based on my own experience, will help you to organize a wonderful hike. If you want to get some inspiration from reading my travel story about my own adventure of hiking the Fisherman’s Trail, just click the link 🙂
With the right information it is pretty straightforward to organise your own trek on the Fisherman’s Trail. It is an easy, pleasant and safe trail to hike independently. The trail itself is very well marked, making it nearly impossible to get lost. Each section of the trail runs between villages. This means that at the end of each hiking day you will arrive somewhere where you can sleep in a proper bed and have a good meal. It also makes it easy to buy supplies for your next day. With the added benefit of a luggage transfer service that transports your heavy bag for you every day, all you need to do is tie up your hiking boots, sling on your day pack and start walking!
How long does it take to hike the Fisherman’s Trail?
The part of the trail that we walked and that I describe above consists of 4 sections. Each is worth a day’s hiking. In total it is 75 km of trail. This makes it a perfect introduction for people who want to try their first long-distance hike. It’s also great for people who are looking for a short break in Europe that won’t take you more than one week of holidays. You could, for example, fly into Lisbon, walk the capital’s steep streets for a day to warm up your calves for the heavy work on the sand dunes, then go to Porto Covo to prepare for your walk, hike the four days, and end your week with a day or two on one of the beaches of the Algarve before flying back out of Faro on the south coast.
The Fisherman’s Trail is part of the larger network of the Rota Vicentina. Besides the Fisherman’s Trail this also comprises the Historical Way. This is a much longer trail that runs through the interior of the Alentejo and the Algarve. If you have more time, you can combine the Fisherman’s Trail with sections of the Historical Way because they link up at various points. The full route is 450 kilometers in length.
What are the different sections of the Fisherman’s Trail? Where can I find shops, restaurants, toilets and ATMs?
All of the five villages that connect the trail have bars and restaurants where you can have breakfast and dinner. Note that most places don’t open before 09:00, except for one or two bars that open at 08:00. So if you wish to start your hike early, it’s better to buy your breakfast in one of the stores the night before. ATMs where you can take out cash money are available in all the villages.
I did not see public toilets in the villages. You can use the toilets in the bars and restaurants and of course in your hotel or guesthouse. Along the trail there are no toilets, but there are plenty of discrete spots where you can relieve yourself if necessary. Please do bring a small plastic bag with you to carry out your used tissues and other trash. There are no trash cans along the trail so you should dispose of your trash in the villages.
Section 1: Porto Covo to Vila Nova de Milfontes; 20 km / 7 hours
During this section of the trail you will not pass any other villages. This means that you should bring a packed lunch with you. There are however two opportunities to buy something to drink: at the beginning of your trek at km 3.5 you can find a beach bar close to the fortress, and near the end at km 16 you will pass a little fishing harbour called Canal where you will also pass a small bar that does not sell food.
Section 2: Vila Nova de Milfontes to Almograve; 15 km / 5 hours
Again, food and supplies are available in the towns but there are no villages along the trail. Bring packed lunch. At km 4 you can buy some refreshments at Furnas beach. It is possible to skip the first 3 km of the trail by crossing the Mira river by ferry, instead of taking the detour on the bridge. We kind of regretted not doing this because the section that leads you over the bridge is not particularly inspiring. It goes mostly on a paved road, so it can be skipped without worry of missing out on something spectacular. The ferry is probably a beautiful and fun way to start your day.
Section 3: Almograve to Zambujeira do Mar; 22 km / 7 hours
You will pass the small village of Cavaleiro at about the middle of today’s section. Here I’ve seen at least two restaurants. Beware that they only open at 12:00, so if you start early like we did you may get there before they open. There is one café that is open earlier. It serves simple but good hiking food like omelettes and pork chops. About 3.5 km before you reach Zambujeira, you’ll pass through a small fishing harbour. Here you will also find a simple restaurant serving snacks and drinks. It was during this section when we saw most of the stork nests on the cliffs.
Section 4: Zambujeiro do Mar to Odeceixe; 18 km / 7 hours
At 9.5 km you will pass the seaside village of Azenha do Mar where a fish restaurant serves lunch.
How difficult is it to walk the Fisherman’s Trail?
It is not difficult. You will need some stamina and it’s good to have done at least some training on distances of about 20 km in length. However, the trail does not require any technical climbing skills. The trail itself climbs and falls through the dunes but except from a few steep stretches where you may have to pull yourself up some rocks, it is easy to navigate. The hardest part is probably the fact that most of it runs through loose sand which may tire your calves and thighs.
The route is fully marked in both directions. A map is available for sale in the Rota Vicentina webshop. The map however is not strictly necessary because it is easy to find your way without one. Just follow the signs of green and blue stripes that are painted on trees, stones and poles along the way. A green-and-blue cross means that you are going in the wrong direction, an arrow indicates a change of direction.
The route is not recommended for persons with fear of height or vertigo because it often passes along high cliffs. Due to the erosion of the cliffs there is some natural risk of falling involved. Make sure to stay on the trail at all times. Also, do not move too close to the edges of the cliffs. On sections where the cliffs are especially unstable this is indicated with signs. Respect these instructions.
What is the best time of the year to walk the Fisherman’s Trail?
The trail is open year round but the best time is either spring (May & June) or autumn (September & October). In spring there will be an abundance of wildflowers. More importantly, you will have the opportunity to see the cliff nesting storks. From May onwards the water temperatures become agreeable enough for a swim. The ocean water is warmest in the fall. September and October are beautiful months for hiking because of high chances of sunny but not too warm weather.
The summer months of July and August are best avoided. Not only is it too hot in summer with temperatures reaching well above 30 degrees, but also do Portuguese from all over the country make their way to the Vicentina coast to enjoy their holidays. You will miss out on the magical experience of deserted beaches and quiet nature. The accommodation rates will be much higher and most hotels will require a minimum of two nights’ stay.
Winter can be a nice choice. You’ll have chances of rain but it is still possible to have bright sunny days with average temperatures of 16°C. Some accommodations may be closed through the winter, although with the increasing popularity of the trail more and more hotel owners find it sensible to keep their place open in the winter months.
Where can I sleep on the Fisherman’s Trail?
Every town on the trail has good sleeping options. These range from beds in hostel dorm rooms to small scale guesthouses and in some locations even agriturismos. I do recommend to book your accommodation in advance to prevent getting stranded at the end of a long hiking day.
I will list here the accommodations where we stayed along the trail. We opted to stay in private rooms with ensuite bathrooms. Prices ranged between € 45 and € 65 per room. I can highly recommend each of the below options. None of them serve breakfast but they all have clean and fairly spacious rooms in good locations, as they are all more or less literally on the trail. Click on the links to visit their website or facebook page through which you can make a booking.
Everything about this building is new, so it looks very modern and it has a great shower. About 5 minutes walking from the village center and the start of the trail.
Vila Nova de Milfontes
Beautifully renovated large room with modern bathroom, loved the high bamboo ceiling. In the center of the village.
Has dorms but we opted to stay in the private room that has its own bathroom. Step out of the door and you are immediately on the trail.
Zambujeira do Mar
Really great hostel where we stayed in the private room. It was huge and had its own little balcony and a private bathroom. Communal room and kitchen available and in the center of town.
Just short of the trail’s end in Odeceixe a dirt road branching off the trail leads to this beautiful place on a hill. Cottages with private bathrooms have been prepared in a traditional style and have a private terrace. There are hammocks, dogs and cats to play with, and it has a natural swimming pond. About 30 minutes walk to Odeceixe if you want to get some dinner; breakfast can be had on site because the owners can bring you fresh bread in the morning if you make the request.
Camping along the Fisherman’s Trail
Wild camping is strictly forbidding along the trail. However, there are some official camp sites that you could use if you wish to pitch a tent. These may not always be in vicinity of the above mentioned towns, so it’s best to do some research and decide where you want to set up camp each night. This should help you to schedule your sections accordingly.
A great list of accommodations that can be found along the trail is on the Rota Vicentina website. Here you can also book your stays directly online.
Luggage transfer on the Fisherman’s Trail
I can highly recommend the services of Vicentina Transfers. This local company, owned by a super nice guy called José who is an avid hiker himself and knows very well the needs of walkers, can pick up and deliver your bag at any point along the trail every day. This is brilliant because it allows you to walk with only the essentials in your day pack. This makes it much lighter (José’s motto is Walk Free!) I personally love to use a luggage transfer service because it allows me to put a fresh shirt on my back every evening and bring a book, a second pair of shoes and all my toiletries and much more without having to carry it on my back all day. It makes the walk so much easier and more enjoyable.
How it works: let José know your itinerary, then leave your bag at your accommodation at 09:30 at the latest each morning. While you are walking, José will pick it up and bring it to your next accommodation no later than 16:30 (but usually earlier). Effectively this means that each afternoon when you arrive at your next guesthouse, your luggage is already there waiting for you.
It is a service of great value that is aimed at serving the independent hiker. The cost of a bag per section is € 15 (or € 10 if you use the service for four sections or more). If you wish to add a second bag it’s only € 5. That means that if you are walking as two persons, you pay just € 7.50 per person per day to walk free and not have to carry a heavy bag through the loose sands of the dunes. You can book the service (using the online booking form) either for your entire trek or just for one day just to try it out. Go for it and you won’t regret it. José was the hero of our trek!
Packing list for the Fisherman’s Trail
Your clothing of course depends on the season. In winter, ensure you bring some rain gear with you. In spring and autumn you can likely walk in shorts and t-shirt. But it’s always wise to check the weather forecast in advance and bring something warmer if needed. We hiked in October and on most days I wore my merino wool long sleeve during the first 20 minutes in the morning when the sun was just up and the air was still chilly, but I could soon take it off and walk in just a t-shirt. The evenings were a bit fresher but still OK to wear shorts on most nights.
What is very important is to wear high hiking boots! We have seen several people walking the trail barefoot because they either had bad experiences with low shoes (very uncomfortable because sand will enter all the time) or open sandals (same problem with sand entering and little protection against rocks and vegetation). I always like to wear wool socks in my hiking boots to prevent blisters. In my main luggage (the one that got transferred every day) I had flip flops to use in the showers and light sneakers. After a long day of hiking in boots it’s always a relief to change to different shoes.
What to take on the trail
If you are using Vicentina Transfers luggage transport service, all you need to carry is a small daypac. This is what I recommend it includes:
- Water! At least 2 liters per person per day.
- Sun lotion. The sun shines really strongly in these parts and you should re-apply multiple times per day. Try to bring also a lip balm with UV factor. I did not and burnt my lips.
- Snacks and packed lunch. The first two sections on the trail do not pass any places where you can buy lunch, so you should bring your own. Also bring some snacks that will keep you going, like bananas, almonds or the good old snickers bar.
- A hat or cap to keep the sun out of your eyes. Sunglasses will also do but a hat is better to protect your entire head from the heat of the sun.
- A long sleeve in case temperatures are chilly.
- Nail clippers. In case that toenail that is just a little too long starts to bother you in the first hour into your hike. You can also consider to bring a small first aid set with some blister tape and the like.
- Tissues or toilet paper and a plastic bag so you can carry it and your other trash with you. It was disgraceful to see how many people leave their used tissues behind along the trail. We all come here to admire the beautiful nature. Let’s not defile it with our trash that we can easily take with us and dispose of in the next village.
- Trekking poles come in handy when walking in the loose sands and going up and down the dunes.
- Swimwear if you expect not to be able to resist the temptation of those incredible empty beaches and blue waters.
- A phone in case you run into any trouble and a camera to capture all the incredible views.
- A piece of string to tie your jaw to your face to prevent it from dropping to the floor with every new amazing panorama that reveals itself :p
How do I get to the Fisherman’s Trail?
If you are arriving from outside Portugal, you can either fly to Lisbon airport or to Faro airport from many major European capitals. From Lisbon or Faro you can reach the starting and end points of the trail by car or by public transportation. Lisbon has better public transport connections.
You can drive to Porto Covo (2 hours from either Lisbon or Faro). You can leave your car for free in the car park near the main square of Porto Covo. After completing your hike there is a bus from Odeceixe back to Porto Covo in the morning. Check the Rede Expressos website for actual timetables. Otherwise to get back to your car you could take a taxi but it’ll set you back €50-70.
There are direct links from Lisbon by bus. It will take about three hours. The bus to Porto Covo departs from the Sete Rios bus terminal. Coming from Faro you’ll have to connect in Lagos. To get to Lagos, take a bus with Eva Transportes either at 08:00 or at 17:25, then change to Rede Expressos to go to Porto Covo. See the link above for timetables. There are no direct train connections to Porto Covo. If you wish to arrive by train you will have to go Santiago do Cacém or to Odemira ,and then connect to Porto Covo with bus or taxi.
I only have time to walk one section. Which one should I choose?
It is of course possible to walk only part of the trail. If you only have time for a one-day trek or you don’t feel like walking for days at a time, you can decide to pick only one of the sections. For me, the first section (Porto Covo – Vila Nova de Milfontes) and the last one (Zambujeira do Mar – Odeceixe) were the most beautiful ones. This is in terms of scenery, because they included the largest share of natural beauty and spectacular views. If you are there in spring and want to see the cliff nesting storks, your best bets are on section 3 (Almograve – Zambujeira do Mar) as this is where we saw most nests. If you think 20 km is too long you can try the second section which has only 15 km (Vila Nova de Milfontes – Almograve).
I need more information about the Fisherman’s Trail!
The Rota Vicentina official website is a fantastic source of information on anything you need to know about hiking the Fisherman’s Trail.
Don’t forget to read my travel story about my own experience on this beautiful trail 🙂
Disclaimer: Vicentina Transfers has sponsored our luggage transfer on our hiking adventure. However, the recommendation we make for their services is purely based on our honest evaluation of their services. It reflects our own personal and unbiased opinion.