It was Dan’s idea to go to Tavira. While I was busy planning seaside cliff hikes further west along Portugal’s Algarve coast, he read about it in one of his trusty guidebooks and suggested we add it to our route.
I’m so glad we did. From the moment we stepped off of our train and started walking toward our hostel, I felt enamored with this beautiful and historic fishing town.
The lovely buildings lining cobblestone streets struck me first. It didn’t hurt that we were arriving on a vibrantly sunny day, the cloudless blue sky offering the perfect contrast to the mostly white structures.
It also didn’t hurt that the walk to our hostel was short and easy, and we were greeted there by an unexpectedly spacious, clean and stylish building. We reached our beautiful private room by going up one level, walking down open-air hallways and turning right at a small second-floor courtyard.
While Tavira doesn’t offer the dramatic rocky cliffs that have largely come to define Portugal’s renowned southern coast, it shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s an absolutely beautiful town offering history, great food, and proximity to some of the region’s best beaches. I’m so happy we were able to experience a small piece of it to round out our time in the Algarve.
Here are five things to do in Tavira, Portugal.
Climb the walls of the Castelo de Tavira
The ruins of this 12th century castle offer panoramic views over Tavira as well as beautiful interior gardens. The grounds are open daily and are free to visit.
Take a walk along the Gilão River
The Gilão runs through Tavira’s historic center and offers the opportunity to observe some of the town’s fishing culture.
Visit the Jardim Público de Tavira, a riverfront green space lined with cafés, and cross the seven arched Roman bridge to explore the other side of town.
While it was recently found to not be Roman after all by an archeological survey, the pedestrian thoroughfare dates from the 12th century and has become one of the most notable symbols of the city.
Go Chasing Waterfalls at the Pego do Inferno
While checking in to our hostel, we asked the two front desk staff for their #1 Tavira recommendation. We were only there for a short visit and were keen to use some local knowledge to make the most of it.
When they both answered without hesitation that we should visit the Pego do Inferno, we were surprised. The name didn’t sound at all familiar from our research.
Roughly translated to “Hell’s Pool” or “Hell’s Pit,” this remote waterfall and swimming hole has oscillated in and out of the public’s favor over the past few years.
Are you intrigued yet? We were!
The hostel staff lauded it as a peaceful hidden gem, emphasizing the “hidden” aspect. “There’s actually a good chance you won’t find it,” they warned, explaining that resources like Google Maps would direct us to the general vicinity but not the waterfall itself.
We did a little research to learn more and were surprised by what we found.
Severely damaged by a fire in 2012, the site became officially closed to the public for several years; however, that didn’t stop determined visitors (largely tourists) from finding and enjoying it anyway.
Even before the fire, problems with littering and vandalism paired with safety concerns already found the waterfall negatively featured in the news.
TripAdvisor offered a wide gamut of reviews, with many claiming the waterfall had dried up and/or was litter-ridden and not an enjoyable experience. On the other end of the spectrum, some travelers claimed that while it was difficult to find, it was the highlight of their time in Portugal.
Deciding to trust our new front desk friends, we showed up first thing the next morning to rent bikes at Abilio across the river. The friendly woman there assured us that the bike ride to the falls was quick and easy with clear signage. She gave us a basic route to follow and sent us on our way.
Getting To the Falls… Maybe?
We set off heading north out of town on what became an increasingly picturesque and quiet route; but while the scenery was gorgeous and the lack of cars appreciated, we didn’t see any signs.
After turning off of the main road and onto a bumpy dirt path, we met two British men walking their dogs. They advised us we were indeed heading in the right direction, but warned that the falls had dried up and there would be nothing to see. We were confused by this, as we had heard about other travelers visiting the falls and loving it just days before. We pressed on, becoming increasingly confused by our surroundings but still hoping for the best.
After reaching an end to the dirt path and finding a small river, we felt hopeful we were onto something; however, there were still no signs, and no clear pathways either.
After wandering around the water looking for clues for about twenty minutes, we met a British couple who were also looking for the waterfall. We hadn’t run into them sooner because they had approached the area from a completely different direction than we had – further illustrating the general confusion surrounding how to find it!
The four of us decided to look together. We walked along the river until we found an opening where the water stemmed off in another direction. We took off our shoes and headed into the water and through the opening. Encouraged by a loud rush of sound that was slowly amplifying, we found a spot to climb out of the river and onto its banks, shuffled under some low hanging bamboo trees, walked a little further through more brush, and then…
Spoiler: we found it!
The varied reactions we’d seen online and heard in person meant that we really weren’t sure what we would find at the end of this waterfall hunt… if we found it at all, that is. Would there be a waterfall to begin with, or would it be dried up? Would we be disappointed by litter and vandalism, or have the opportunity to enjoy a special and peaceful oasis?
In the end, I loved our visit to the Pego do Inferno. At its busiest, there were four other people there with us. We laughed while noting that two of them were wearing jeans and clearly hadn’t had to walk through water to find it. We went for a refreshing (freezing) swim and didn’t see any litter or vandalism, though I don’t doubt that both of those have been issues in the past.
This would normally be the moment where I direct you to a helpful map I created allowing you to find the falls with no trouble. Sadly, due to our own challenges finding it, I can’t exactly provide one!
I don’t love the idea of sharing a suggestion with such hazy details, but I wanted to recommend the Pego do Inferno regardless. The bike ride was beautiful. (We actually took a different way there and back for a change in scenery.) Even if we hadn’t found the falls, that part alone would have made it a successful outing.
Plus, straying from the beaten path can be a lot of fun, and doing that is easier said than done, especially in this day and age. Feeling confident, then hopeful, then confused, then resigned, then frustrated, then hopeful again, and then super pumped to finally find the falls was a satisfying adventure that only made our time in Tavira that much more memorable.
In summary: use all of the local resources you can, definitely rent a bike from Abilio (they were great), drop a pin on the satellite version of Google Maps, and go for it. Just be sure to send me your thoughts after!
Enjoy the Coast on the Ilha da Tavira
Tavira Island is located just off of the coast. It’s ~7 miles (11 km) long and just over half a mile wide at its widest point. The small island offers some of the Algarve’s most beautiful stretches of beach. One option for getting there is taking a short ferry ride from Tavira, which was our original plan. In the end, at the recommendation of the helpful staff at Abilio, we decided to bike to the nearby town of Santa Luzia instead.
Fun fact: Santa Luzia is known as the octopus capital. If you’re a seafood fan, don’t miss it!
From Santa Luzia, you can access the island by walking across a bridge. Once you reach the island, you can hop on a small train to take you to the Praia do Barril, or just walk the rest of the way.
The bridge and trail offers beautiful views of the surrounding Ria Formosa Natural Park, a collection of protected mudflats and lagoons critical to migrating birds.
Once you’ve made it to the Praia do Barril, you can rent a lounger and umbrella or just hang out on the sand. The highlight of the beach is the anchor cemetery. Hundreds of old anchors have been placed along the beach’s edge to honor the town’s history of tuna fishing. The dangerous occupation no longer exists, but the anchors remain to commemorate what was once a mainstay of the community.
Bonus fun fact: While I loved our day of bike riding in Tavira, I did actually fall off of my bike at one point, cutting open my leg in two places as well as my elbow. Luckily there were no major injuries, but nearly four months later, the healed marks are still there. While I would prefer to not have them at all, the one upside is having reminders of a beautiful day. (Except for the initial fall, which was not great, followed by twenty minutes of looking for soap and water with my new bright red wounds on display.) Wear a helmet, people!
Take a Break in the Praça Dr. António Padinha
This quiet, restaurant-lined square (more of a triangle, really) is named after a former mayor of Tavira. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a coffee and take in the sunny surroundings.
After a full day of visiting the Pego do Inferno and Ilha da Tavira, we spent time relaxing at the Snack-Bar Alagoa, surrounded by locals, visitors, and many adorable dogs. It was great!
Some (food-related) extras…
La Baguette: Our hostel was conveniently located right across the street from this delicious French bakery. We enjoyed their bread multiple times and made ourselves a picnic for our next train ride using their baguettes with ingredients from the supermarket conveniently located right by the train station.
Casa Simão: Thanks to the advice of a lovely British couple (a different British couple than before – we met several!) we enjoyed a great meal at this local favorite. Regular Tavira visitors, they walked us through what we should order for our first time (including a big plate of sardines).
Muxagata Gelados Artesanais: You can find this small kiosk selling homemade ice cream in the riverside Jardim Público de Tavira, mentioned above. I had an artisanal lemon “Magnum” bar that was absolutely delicious.
La Petite France: We passed this small eatery while walking around town our first evening enjoying the scenery and tiled buildings. It looked so beautiful and inviting, but we already had plans to eat at Casa Simão. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to come back and visit this spot before leaving town, but it has great reviews and is on my list for next time.
Have you been to Portugal and/or Tavira? What was your favorite part?
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I’m sharing this post to one of my favorite blog link-ups: the Faraway Files, with Fifi + Hop, Hilary Style, Oregon Girl Around the World, Suitcases and Sandcastles, and Untold Morsels. Follow the links to check out their sites!