Tips and Tricks for hiking the Rota Vincentina

1. Preparation

  • The official guide book (available here) is good for preparation, but the downloads of each stage (also available on the official website) will do  as well. While walking I didn’t find the book of much use and only extra weight. It also does not include any historical information on sights or cities on the way.
  • The map from the official website (available here) I found helpful although it can be done without – the trail is mostly very well-marked. I recommend getting the offline map app maps.me (here), in case you get lost – the trails are mostly marked on there.
  • For experienced hikers the stages might seem short, but do not underestimate this hike. Because of the sand and the constant ups and downs these are strenuous walks in a merciless sun.
  • Take light shoes. Particularly the fisherman’s path is very sandy and real, heavy hiking boots will only add to the struggle. On the other hand high boots do not collect so much sand…it is a tough call. Sandals might seem like a good idea, but in particular in the sandy parts none if us found them comfortable because the sand rubs everywhere. Walking with bare feet is only rarely an option, because there are also stones and thorns etc. which make this very uncomfortable.
  • Bring your swimsuit and travel towel for spontaneous ocean dips. Often you can dip naked also on deserted beaches.
  • You absolutely MUST bring a hat and sun screen. You will be grilled nonetheless, but this way prevent serious sun burn and dehydration.
  • Pack as lightly as you can. 10-15% of your body weight is the rule.  Most villages have at least little shops where you can stock up on food and water.
  • If you, like me, can’t eat Gluten – sometimes you will find gluten free stuff on the way, but be sure to bring some bread and bars from home. I bought rice crackers in Lisbon, which you also find in the shops along the way from time to time, but it’s better not to depend on it. For more information see below “gluten free and vegetarian eating on the way” and yes, there is a gluten free restaurant on the way
  • For tips on budget accommodation see my post here.

2. Where to start and where to end?

I would recommend to start in Porto Covo, even though then the first day will be one of the hardest. Santiago to Porto Covo is not supposed to be so pretty, and apparently there are many aggressive dogs. I prefer walking towards a great destination, like Cape Saint Vincent, over ending in a small village like Porto Covo anyway.  Porto Covo to Cabo de Saint Vincent takes 9 days of walking.

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End of the world in Sagres.

If you want to walk longer then 9 days do one of the round hikes like the one in Carrapateira.  If you are looking to extend your holiday just stay a day in Odeceixe or Arrifana and surf or simply relax on the beach.

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Arrifana beach.

If you have less time than 9 days, I suggest to walk Porto Covo to Odeceixe – this is in my opinion the prettiest part of the hike.

 3. When to go

I would absolutely not recommend to go in summer. I went end of October/November and it was sometimes 30 degrees Celsius and at times unbearably hot. Especially on the fisherman’s trail there is often absolutely not the tiniest bit of shadow on the way. If you do go in summer – carry even more water with you.

4. How to get there

Fly into Lisbon (plan some days to see the city) and out of Faro or Lisbon.
The Rede Expressos busses stop in all the bigger villages on the way and leave from Lisbon Sete Rios bus station. There is a local bus from Cabo do San Vincente to Sagres and Lagos. From Lagos there are several busses and trains to Lisbon and Faro.
On Friday/Saturday/Sunday there are also busses from Sagres to Lisbon directly. People will tell you the bus does not exist, but I took it and it was a very real bus. 😉

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Lisbon

 5.  On the way

  • Check before each stage whether there are restaurants on the way and where in order to know how much water and food you need to bring. There are generally no fountains on the way (unlike on the Camino).  In particular between Porto Covo and Vila Nova de Milfontes, as well as between Vila Nova and Almograve there are no villages or restaurants in between, except for a Café 3.5 km after Porto Covo at the castle.
  • Make sure to carry enough water: At least 2 liters per Person per day between Porto Covo and Vila Nova and Almograve are recommended. I do not usually drink so much, but I really needed it on these two days.
  • Make sure to start early when it’s not so hot and in order to make sure you will arrive before it gets dark – walking in the dark out on the cliffs  is very dangerous.
  • Take the Fisherman´s Trail on the coast as often as possible – it is much more beautiful than the Historic Trail in my opinion.
  • Attention: Watch out in Aljezur. The Rota Vincentina meets the Via Algarvina here. Both trails are marked with red white strips. Both trails start behind a church in Aljezur. For the Rota Vincentina you do NOT have to go in the new part of Aljezur, you start at the church on the hill in the old city center and walk south west immediately. Best check on your phone which way you are walking. sketch-1511348925921.png
  • Equally watch out in Vila do Bispo. Do NOT take the Via Algarvina path next to the church. While it also leads to Cabo it takes another route that does not go by the coast. Find the small circuit in the north of the city (not the one that leads to Lidl) and pick up the signs there. Then choose the fisherman’s trail when it comes up (you can’t miss it).
  • There are two shortcuts I would recommend: (1) Instead of walking over the bride in Vila Nova de Milfontes, you can take the ferry to the other side of the river from below the Forte de Sao Clemente (from 9 a.m., 5 Euro) and safe 4 kilometers that day. (2) On the way from Carrapateira to Vila do Bispo there is no need to walk through Bordeira and there are several alternatives to walk you can see on Maps.Me, including one path that leads you to the coast. The hike is not particularly nice, so I recommend to cut it short and relax in Vila do Bispo or on the way on the beach instead. Do not take an alternative route if you do not have an offline map! It is easy to get lost in these forests.
  • Please respect the fact that the hike leads through a nature reservoir and carry your trash with you. Also be sure to take the marked trail in the nature reservoir (between Porto Covo and Odeceixe) and try not to walk anywhere else in order to respect nature. Also it is easier to get lost here than one thinks, so staying on the marked trail means staying safe.

Extra: Gluten Free and Vegetarian Travel

Portuguese cuisine basically consists of fish, seafood and little pastries.  If you don’t cook yourself, the vegetarian options in restaurants will mostly be limited to omelettes and fries, sometimes salads and rarely vegetable soup. Often I also saw vegetarian burgers, which of course would need to be eaten without the bagles to be gluten free and sometimes are marinated (so ask ahead, if they use wheat).  “Sem glutina”  means “gluten free” in Portuguese and “farinha de trigo” is wheat. “Trigo de vermelho”  is buckwheat, so gluten free. For snacking on the road I often cooked eggs to take along and ate my rice crackers with the small white goat cheeses every shop sells on the way.
I am not vegan, but I would consider vegan hiking on the Rota Vincentina very difficult: The mini mercados in the smaller villages often have no more than tomatoes and onion and apples, so the cuisine would not be very diverse for lack of vegetables.  Beans in cans are often available. However, if you are vegan and do not quite know what to take on a hike the blog Wanderveg offers recipes and tips for hiking vegans here (German only).
Some restaurants with good vegetarian and gluten free options are on the way:
There is a gluten free restaurant on the way called “trigo vermelho” in Carrapateira which has gluten free pizza and pancakes.
In Arrifana “Sea You” and “Oceana” are excellent, and “Bisamar” has a really good cheese omelette.
Sagres has many places that have vegetarian food. For gluten free options I recommend the Dromedario.
A story of my hike on the Rota Vincentina can be found here (coming soon).
If you have any questions or comments you do not want to leave in the comment section below, you find my contact information here. If you wish to receive updates on new blog posts you can sign up to follow my blog if you click on the little three striped menu on the top right corner.
Looking for some inspiration to walk even longer distances or go on a pilgrimage? Maybe the Camino de Santiago or Via Francigena in Italy is for you. Read about my experiences here and here (in German only).

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