The seven hanging valleys trail is the most popular trail in the Algarve and probably the most spectacular as well. It traverses some of the best beaches in the Algarve and goes through the seven hanging valleys offering fabulous views of the Algarve coastline, rock formations, and the Benagil Caves, one of the iconic natural landmarks of Portugal.
This is a relatively short, linear trail, that goes from Marinha beach to Vale Centeanes beach, always along the coast in an almost continuous line of cliffs, hanging valleys, and beaches. We are presented with another beautiful landscape, another lovely beach, another impressive natural monument at every given moment.
The seven hanging valleys trail is extremely popular among foreigners, but it has relatively few Portuguese for some reason. Yet, in our opinion, it is the best trail in the Algarve and maybe even in the country. It’s hard to find trails that offer so much to see and explore in so little space and time. Enjoy, because this one is really worth it.
Seven hanging valleys trail -general information
- Name: LGA PR1 – Seven hanging valleys trail
- Start – Marinha Beach
- End – Vale Centeanes Beach
- Distance – 5.7 km (one way), 11.4 km return
- Time required – 3 hours (5 hours with return), it could be less, but you’ll want to stop several times
- Difficulty – moderate
- Max/min altitude: 46/8 meters
- Altitude gain: N/A
- Type – linear
- Signalization (1-5) – 5, excellent, both ways
- Cyclable: no
- Highlights: Marinha Beach, Algar de Benagil, Carvoeiro Cape, Leixão do Ladrão, hanging valleys
- You can download the official map here (in Portuguese)
The rock formations and the Karst landscape of the Algarve
Before starting the trail, it is important to explain what they are and how some of the famous rock formations in the Algarve are formed, such as the “leixões,” the “algares” (sinkholes), and, of course, the hanging valleys.
Fissured limestone rocks allow for rapid water infiltration. Rainwater has an acidic nature, causing the limestone to dissolve, thus widening the cracks in the rock, infiltrating more and more, forming underground rivers. With the progressive erosion of the rock, the cracks and cavities are accentuated, originating a complex network of wells, galleries and caves. This type of landscape is usually called a karst landscape.
The combination of carification and marine erosion models the characteristic rock formations of the Algarve, such as the sinkholes, caves, arches, and leixões. These can all be seen in the seven suspended valleys.
Everyone understands what caves, arches, and fissures are; we think it is important to explain what hanging valleys, algares, and leixões are because they are not well-known concepts.
Leixões (we honestly have no idea how to translate this word to english) are rocky nuclei more resistant to erosion, which, over time, detach from the coastline due to its general retreat. Leixão do Ladrão (thief’s Leixão) is one of the best known, but there are leixões all along the coast, particularly in Carvalho beach and Marinha beach.
Algares / Sinkholes
These are vertical cavities, i.e., natural wells that form in a limestone zone connecting the surface to the underground galleries. There are many of these natural wells along the route, namely near Marinha beach and Leixão do Ladrão. However, the best known and most impressive is the Algar de Benagil, or Benagil Caves.
They are very characteristic in this area, so they lend the name to the trail. The trail descends and ascends several ravines (gullies/cracks) that almost always end above sea level, like hanging valleys. In the past, each of these hanging valleys was associated with the mouth of a stream. The rapid retreat of the coast was not accompanied by the notch of the waterline, thus forming the famous hanging valleys.
What to expect form the seven hanging valleys trail
The trail of the seven hanging valleys can trek in both directions. Furthermore, it is possible to start in several different places: at both ends and at a few spots along the way, as there are many access points.
In this article, we will describe the route starting at Marinha beach and ending at Vale Centeanes beach. That’s what we did, but we don’t think there’s too much difference in doing it one way or the other. The only thing to consider is that if you want to go to the beach (and you probably will), then the spectacular Marinha beach is perhaps the best option. Thus it might be a better starting and ending point.
Starting at Marinha beach, look for the information plan next to the car park. From there, we have to follow the signs, but we will always be moving west. Right at the beginning of the trail, we have several viewpoints toward Marinha beach and the extensive rock formations in the area. The entire trail is impressive, but these cliffs and geoforms are some of the most beautiful and diverse you will ever find. Here we have arches, caves, sinkholes, and leixões.
Continuing west, you reach an area with several sinkholes; in several of them, you can hear the sea beneath your feet. The sinks are very easy to locate as they are all protected by fences. After the various sinkholes (algares), and even a natural bridge over the sea, you cross a more vegetated area where you can easily identify the Algarve’s typical juniper bushes and thyme.
A few hundred meters later, we glimpse a magnificent beach, but it’s completely impossible to access it by land. This is Corredoura beach. Soon after, we arrive at Algar de Benagil (Benagil caves). Seen from above, it is impressive for its size, but without going over the fences (which we strongly advise against), it is not possible to see the beach or the water beneath. You can hear it but not see.
Benagil Caves (Algar de Benagil)
Relatively close to the Benagil caves, a large car park serves Benagil Caves and beach. Thus, this could also be a good place to start the journey. After the car park, we have to descend towards Benagil beach. Arriving at the beach, we reach the lowest point of the route, and to continue, we have to go back up the other slope. However, take some time to explore the beach. If you want, this is also a great place to restock and/or rest as it has several cafes/restaurants with a terrace.
If you want to visit the impressive Benagil caves, you have several options. You can rent a kayak, a SUP board, or go on one of the many boats that enter the caves. There is a rental shop on Benagil beach, but it is always dependent on the sea conditions. If the sea is a little more choppy (this happens mainly when it is windier), it is no longer possible to rent kayaks or SUP or take a boat from the beach. However, it may be possible to take a tour from Portimão.
Finally, some people go swimming from the beach to the caves, particularly when the sea is completely flat and the tide is low. It is a bit dangerous, so we advise against doing this, but it is a possibility for more adventurous people.
While limbing the west slope of Benagil beach, we have some spectacular views of the beach and coastline. Then we continue along the top of the cliff until we reach Carvalho beach, another iconic beach on this route.
In terms of natural beauty, it rivals Marinha beach. It does not have the diversity of geoforms of the first, but it is perfectly located in a hanging valley, abruptly interrupting the high cliffs that are there. The small beach is flanked by ocher rock walls subject to strong erosion. AS if all this was not enough, the access to the beach is through a tunnel carved into the rocks. How cool is that?
Leixão do Ladrão and Alfanzina lighthouse
Proceeding from Carvalho beach, we have to climb a huge staircase, where we have to turn left almost at the end and follow a dirt path. Note that this is the only place where we don’t find the proper signs, so be careful and remind yourself to turn (left). The next point of interest is Leixão do Ladrão, a huge, very scenic leixão that gives an even greater beauty to this coast sculptured by the sea. In between, we have a small stopping point with shadows. There are very few shadows along the way, so this is a great opportunity for having a snack and drinking some water.
After Leixão do Ladrão, we enter a small protected area, and, therefore with more trees, it is perhaps the only area with natural shadows on the entire route. There, we have to descend another suspended valley; we pass by Vale Espinhaço beach, where we have to climb again. Here, you’ll find a few slightly technical areas but nothing too hard, really. At the top of this 200/300-meter climb, you’ll arrive at Alfanzina lighthouse.
Vale Centeanes Beach
After the lighthouse, we continue along the cliffs and gorges for almost another 2 km. In this area, the cliffs are only interrupted by another hanging valley, where there is a beautiful viewpoint where you can admire this magnificent section of the Algarve coast.
Finally, we arrive at the last beach on our trail, the beach at Vale Centeanes. It is a beautiful beach, with fine sand and blue, green, and turquoise water. It would feel much more impressive if we hadn’t already experienced all the natural wonders mentioned above. After all, this trail goes through 3, of the best beaches in the Algarve!
The beach at Vale Centeanes is well developed with infrastructure, including a café-restaurant where you can stop for a drink or a meal. If you walk a little inland, there are also other restaurants in the village.
This is the endpoint of the route, so from here, you should return exactly along the same path. If you think you’ve walked enough, you can always call a taxi that will quickly take you to the starting point at the Marinha beach car park.
When to hike the trail of the seven hanging valleys?
The most natural thing is to hike this trail in summer, as that is when people tend to visit the Algarve. However, in our opinion, the best time to do it is in spring or early autumn. The ideal point will probably be the end of spring (May/June), where you can enjoy the good weather, temperatures that are not too high, but it is already possible to go to the beach.
During the summer peak, it is perfectly possible to do this hike, but we strongly advise you to do it in the morning or at the end of the day. It has very few shadows, sometimes several km without any and it becomes extremely hard to continue walking under the summer sun. On the other hand, summer is ideal for enjoying the sea and beaches. And, knowing the nature of these beaches, it’s something not to be missed.
During winter, or rainy and windy days, be careful as the route can become dangerous. There are some technical areas where you can slip and fall. Remember that the trail runs close to the sea cliffs…
Who can hike this trail?
This trail is suitable for anyone who doesn’t have mobility issues and has minimum stamina. People with vertigo and fear of heights may have problems too, due to the cliffs and canyons.
Note that given the possibility of returning by taxi, stamina is not really a big issue. Though, if you want to return hiking, the constant ascents and descents may start to weigh, especially if you go out in the sun.
What to take?
With less than 6km, this is a relatively short trail, but it takes a while to do as it has plenty of photography opportunities and points of interest. On the other hand, knowing that it crosses several areas with shops and restaurants, you don’t need to walk carrying too much. So, we advise you to take:
- Lots of water (minimum 2l per person) – you may take less, but you’ll probably need to buy along the way. Especially if it’s hot.
- Snacks – even if you’re of stoping to have a meal along the way, take some snacks with you. A few energy bars at the very least.
- Comfortable walking shoes. Don’t hike this trail with flip flops. It has lots of stones and some technical areas.
- Comfortable clothes;
- Wind and rain coat, in winter;
- Swimwear, sunglasses, hat and sunscreen in summer;
- Camera and mobile phone as there are many opportunities to take beautiful pictures. Mobile phone also to be used as GPS.
- Small backpack to carry all this;
As always, please don’t make trash. Bring everything you take with you.
Despite the incredible natural beauty of the route, much of this area of the Algarve is well developed, with tourist villages and support infrastructure scattered all over the region.
So there are at least 4 main spots where it’s extremely easy to replenish yourself with water, sandwiches, ice cream, or even a sit-down meal. From east to west, these are:
- Marina beach
- Benagil beach
- Carvalho beach
- Vale Centeanes beach
Is it possible to ride the trail of the seven hanging valleys by bicycle?
No. Completely impossible, or at least highly inadvisable. It has several technical areas and many areas with rocks where it is not possible to cycle. Also, remember that you are going to pass right by the cliffs. You really don’t want to fall or lose your balance there.
On the other hand, the vast majority (if not all) of the points of interest along the route is reachable by bicycle on other routes. Thus, you may not be able to follow the seven hanging valleys trail, but you can bike through alternative circuits and visit the beaches, points of interest, the lighthouse, and even some viewpoints.
How to get to the trail?
As we have already mentioned several times, this trail is accessible in several places as it passes through various tourist points of interest, beaches, viewpoints, sinkholes, the lighthouse, Carvoeiro Cape, etc… We would say that the most common places to begin the trail are Marinha beach and Vale Centeanes beach (both ends), and then Benagil beach, Carvalho beach, and perhaps Alfanzina lighthouse along the way.
Either way, there are parking lots, and it’s quite easy to go there by marking your destination on your GPS. However, during the summer the parks will probably be full as this is a very popular beach area. We suggest going early, taking the trail in the morning, and then enjoying the beaches.
Finally, we have to mention that if you are in Carvoeiro and like longer walks, you can simply walk to Vale Centeanes from Carvoeiro along the coast and then take the opportunity to see the beautiful Algar Seco on the way.
Where to stay when hiking trail of the seven hanging valleys?
Of course, there’s no lack of accommodation options in this area of the Algarve, both along the route and other places close to Praia da Marinha and Vale Centeanes. Remember that Lagoa (where the trail is) is also quite close to Portimão, Albufeira, and of course Carvoeiro, so the accommodation possibilities in the region are almost unlimited.
Check on the map below for some of the best accommodations along the trail of the seven hanging valleys. You can also directly search for the days and areas where you want to stay.