How to visit the Berlengas? At first glance, it may seem a bit complicated, but if you are well informed, it is not that difficult. Follow our tips, read for all the information below about the archipelago, what to do, and of course, where to stay and how to visit the Berlengas.
The trip to the Berlengas is legendary… though not always for the best reasons. The limited access, the chaos that is the new Berlenga Pass, and above all, the famous choppy sea of Peniche make the trip a little complicated. Yet, the truth is that the Berlengas is a paradise, one of the most beautiful places in Portugal, and that’s why it’s worth every effort to go there.
Where are the Berlengas?
The Berlengas is an archipelago on the Portuguese coast formed by three sets of granite islands:
- Berlenga Grande (Large Berlenga)
The islands of the Berlengas Archipelago are located between 10 and 17 km from Cape Carvoeiro in Peniche. The closest island is Berlenga Grande which is 10 km away. The crossing time varies according to the boat chosen for the trip and the sea and wind conditions.
Peniche is the only access point to the Berlengas and is located in the central region of Portugal, about 100km north of Lisbon (1h15) and 260 km south of Porto (2h30).
The Large Berlenga island is the only habitable but has no permanent population throughout the year. It is also the only island that can be visited, as there are no tours or trips to Estelas and Farilhões. Despite being relatively small, it has an area of almost 80 hectares, about 1.5 km long and 800 meters wide. The maximum altitude is 85 meters at the lighthouse.
Berlenga is almost entirely divided by a huge seismic fault, which formed two narrow bays called Carreiro do Cação and Carreiro do Mosteiro (where the beach is). In the northern part of the island, we have the fishing village, access to the beach, and the port, while in the southern part, we have the fortress of S. João Baptista, the lighthouse, and the cisterns.
In 1981, the natural reserve of Berlendas was created, and in 2011 it became the fifth UNESCO Biosphere World Reserve in Portugal. About 98% of the protected area of the Berlengas reserve is marine, as it includes the emerged area of the group of islands and islets, and its adjacent marine area, with depths up to a maximum depth of 520 m.
How to visit Berlengas?
The only way to visit the Berlengas is by boat, on one of the many tours that depart from Peniche. As far as we know, there are no boats leaving from other places and no other ways to visit the island.
Boats for the Berlengas depart from Peniche’s marina, and tickets can be purchased online or at the marina. There you will find several kiosks selling tours for the different boats. However, we advise you to buy online to guarantee a spot, especially if you are traveling in the summer or on the weekend.
Note that there is a daily control of the number of visitors to the island. Currently (2022), only 550 visitors can be on the island at the same time. To ensure compliance with this standard, the BerlengaPass.
Buy the Berlenga pass
Everyone visiting the Berlengas has to buy the BerlengaPass. It is not possible to enter the islands without doing so, as operators are not allowed to sell tickets without BerlengaPass. Unfortunately, there are no physical points of sale for BerlengaPass.
The BerlengaPass costs 3 Euros per person per day and can only be purchased online on this site. To buy the pass, we have to register on the site and enter a series of personal data (which we think is completely unnecessary). Then we have to actually enter information about the trip (day and number of people) and pay the price (3 Euros per person, per day). Payment can be made by credit card or transfer.
Honestly, the whole process is too complicated and time-consuming for something so simple. But if we want to travel to the Berlengas, we have to buy the BerlengaPass. One of the advantages of the pass is that it is enough for one person in a group to register and buy passes for the entire group.
Important tip: The control of entrances to the island is done through BerlengaPass. So, if you are planning to during the high season, it is important to buy the BerlengaPass in advance. There are more seats on the boats (over 700 in 2022) than the limit to enter the island (550).
The trip to the Berlengas
As we said at the beginning, the trip to the Berlengas is well known in Portugal due to the wind and strong waves, and there is no good way to avoid them – to go to the Berlengas, we have to take the boat trip.
However, it is not always windy and wavy. It’s relatively easy to see if it’s going to be a harsh trip or not; when it’s very windy, it’s very likely that the sea is choppy. You can also ask the operators – in our experience, they are honest and let you know if the trip is going to be more or less complicated.
The crossing to the Berlengas takes between 20 and 45 minutes, depending on the boat and sea conditions. Traveling on faster boats is usually more expensive, and the boat also undulates a lot more. In addition to possible seasickness, when there are very fast boats in difficult conditions, the trip ends up being very hard with the boat constantly hitting the waves.
The different tours to the Berlengas
There are almost 20 authorized operators for the Berlengas, so there is a wide variety of boats, timetables, prices, and even extra services. In addition to the trip itself, some operators also offer the possibility of visiting the caves, riding in a glass-bottom boat, kayaking, etc.
In our experience, and from what we have researched, the fastest boats make the trip in about 20 minutes when sea conditions are optimal. While the slower ones take about 45 minutes. Remember that slower boats also make the journey smoother.
Viamar – Cabo Avelar Pessoa has the biggest boat, but it is also slower, we know. The trip is quite time-consuming, but it is cheaper and more comfortable, even on windy days. Despite this, it does not prevent nausea. If you are prone to seasickness on boat trips, we strongly advise you to take a pill before the trip, whatever the boat.
Another of the most popular operators is Feeling Berlenga. We had the opportunity to do the trip with them a few years ago, and it was definitely fun. However, it was a calm day. On windier days, the journey can be very rough. Maybe even inadvisable for older people. See prices and more information. Or a tour with walking and going to the caves.
Berlengatour is perhaps a compromise between the two options above, as it uses a large catamaran with a capacity of 90 people. So it’s a big boat, but it’s also fast and makes the trip in about 30 minutes. The price is also much more expensive than Viamar. We’ve never done the trip on Berlengatour, so we don’t know how strenuous the trip is, but we imagine it won’t be as bad as on small boats. See prices and more information here.
How much does the trip to Berlengas cost
The cost of travel to the Berlengas varies depending on the operator, the time of travel, and the services included. So, slower boats tend to be cheaper, in August the tickets are more expensive, and if you want to do extra activities besides the trip, you will have to pay more (obviously).
The cheapest ticket we found was on Viamar, for 15 euros during the low season, during the week. Just for the trip, the cost usually varies between those 15 Euros and 30 Euros. With extras like snorkeling and a trip through the caves, it can reach around 50 Euros per person.
What to do in the Berlengas?
The Berlengas nature reserve is spectacular. Despite being small, the island has plenty of things to keep us entertained for numerous hours. We have a relatively short trail, the lighthouse, the fort, the beach, boat trips, and even the possibility of snorkeling and diving.
The Berlenga trail is basically the only path on the island. It starts at the fishermen’s village and takes us to all the points of interest. To the north, it is a circular route of about 1km, always on dirt, and it gives us some fabulous views of the sea, Estelas, and Farilhões.
The northern section of the route is quite hard, with hard ascents and descents as they are on dirt. Here we also pass by bird nesting areas, which is quite interesting. Note that the seagulls are particularly aggressive at this time of year, sometimes, it may not even be possible to get past them as they are on the trail.
The southern section of the trail is also very hard, as it involves going up from sea level to the lighthouse and then going back down to the fort. The part between the fortress and the lighthouse has a lot of stairs which can be tricky for some people. In addition, it is possible to go on a dirt path to Ponta de França, and Cova do Sono, at the southern end of the island. The final part is on dirt, but it’s flat, so it’s quite easy.
In short, the whole route is not very long, but given the high slopes, it ends up being a bit challenging for some people. In any case, anyone who is used to walking regularly can visit the entire island easily. Anyone with physical and mobility problems will have problems due to the slopes.
Carreiro do Mosteiro beach, or Berlenga Grande beach, is the only sandy beach in Berlenga. It’s not a big beach, and with the limitations due to the danger of landslides, it gets even smaller. However, it is a beautiful beach. The sand is very fine and pleasant, and the water has an almost unique color in mainland Portugal.
In high season it is expected to be completely full because it is really small. But this is a beach that is well worth visiting and diving. Note, however, the water is fairly cold. On the plus side, this beach is well protected from the wind due to its position on the island.
Fort of S. João Baptista
The São João Baptista fort is the best-known monument in the Berlengas and one of the best-known postcards of Portugal. Built during the 17th century, the Berlengas fort has an irregular heptagonal shape, being completely surrounded by the sea and only connected to land by a stone bridge.
Seen from the top of the island, the fort is a spectacular sight, with the turquoise sea, the bridge, and its medieval aspect. It is currently possible to visit the interior of the fort with a minimal payment of only 1 euro to the association of friends of the Berlengas, which manages and maintains it.
A few years ago, when we visited, it looked rather worn out, but now it looks much more renewed and better looking. The association has done an excellent job with the partial restoration, opening it to the public, and its adaptation to an inn.
Inside the fort, there is also a small bar, where you can buy snacks and drinks. Although we have never done so, it is possible to spend the night in the fort, but you will have to book in advance (see more information below)
Boat tour of the caves
One of the most popular activities in the Berlengas is taking a boat trip through the caves and islets around the island. These tours are usually sold as an extra service by the tour operators that make the crossing.
If you are interested in taking this tour, we strongly advise you to book it when purchasing your ticket to the island, so you can relax while having your trip fully planned. These tours cost 8-10 euros.
The cave tour is usually done on a small glass-bottom boat where you can appreciate the seabed, the caves, and all the phenomenal landscapes of the Berlengas reserve. Remember, this is primarily a marine reserve.
Snorkeling and Diving
If you want to observe the sea of Berlengas in a more active way, then snorkeling or diving are definitely activities to consider. The Berlengas reserve is considered one of the best places to snorkel in Portugal.
If you have the equipment, you can take it with you and go snorkeling at will, especially near the beach and the fort, where it is very easy to get into the water. But we have to advise you to be very careful about the sea currents. Don’t forget that we are on the high seas.
Those who prefer can also join one of the groups organized by the operators, where, in addition to the trip, there is snorkeling. In this case, the operators provide the necessary material.
Kayak and SUP
For the more adventurous, another way to explore the island is by Kayaking or Stand-up Paddle. Once again, some tour operators sell this service separately, but in the high season months, it is also possible to rent the equipment directly on the island.
If this is an activity that you really want to do, we advise you to book directly with an operator, as it is more certain. Again, pay close attention to wind and sea conditions on those days, as it may not be possible to do this with not-so-great weather.
When is the best time to go to the Berlengas?
The best time to go to the Berlengas is in the summer. During other periods it can be quite tough, or there may not exist an open operator at all.
However, during the summer we advise you to avoid going in August and on weekends as that is when there are more people. At these times, the capacity of 550 people is reached very quickly, which means that you may not be able to buy the Berlenga Pass to enter the day you want, or the experience may not be not as good as it could be.
The island is not so small that 550 visitors won’t fit in, but people end up concentrating near the beach and the fort, where the available space is not that much.
Is it possible to spend the night in the Berlengas?
Yes. It is possible to spend the night in the Berlengas, however, we have never done so and therefore we cannot speak about the quality of the accommodation. There are two possibilities for those who want to stay on the island, accommodation in the Fort and accommodation at the restaurant in the village.
In both cases, you will have to contact the accommodation directly, as none of them are on the online platforms that we usually recommend:
- Fort – 60 Euros for a double room – e-mail for reservations: email@example.com
- Restaurant – 130 Euros for a private room (+40 Euros for an extra bed) – firstname.lastname@example.org. Cellphone: +351 969 395 763
- The existing campsite is deactivated (2022), and from the looks of it, it won’t be reactivated any time soon. For more information, contact the Peniche city hall.
Important note: If you want to spend the night on the island, don’t forget to buy the Berlenga Pass for two days.
Where to stay when you go to the Berlengas?
Although it is possible to spend the night in the Berlengas, the truth is that most people prefer to take a daily tour (which normally lasts between 4 to 6 hours, depending on the operator and the season). Thus, the usual thing is to stay and sleep in Peniche or in the surroundings.
Peniche is a very popular destination on the west coast due to the surf, the beaches, and the Berlengas, so it has lots of accommodation offers. Here are some options below:
- Wot Peniche – The hostel offers shared and private rooms. It has an excellent atmosphere and amenities at very affordable prices. It is close to the Marina and the restaurant area, so it is perfect for those who go to the Berlengas. This was where we stayed the last time we went to the Berlengas, and it is a place we will return to. See more information here.
- MH Peniche – It’s just outside the city. Probably too far to walk to the marina, it makes up for it by being close to the Cova da Alfarroba beach. It is a hotel with outstanding amenities, an indoor and outdoor pool, and very comfortable. Perfect for a romantic getaway or for families. See prices here.
- Casa Vintage Guest House – is a good option for couples who want to stay in the city center, close to everything, including the marina and the Peniche fort. This is one of the cheapest accommodations and with good value for money. Check here.