Widely known for its excellent beaches, the region also offers the perfect setting for nature hikes
Van Gogh once said: “If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” Believing in this, but mainly wanting this belief to be shared with others seems to be what lies inside the mind of a tour guide.
Once upon a time, there was a sensation-seeker working a nine-to-five job who ditched everything to connect with nature and call the Algarve home. If we multiply this by three, we have the story of T.J. Eisenstein (USA) from West Coast Adventure Co., Chris Holt (Canada) from Raw Algarve Adventures, and António Bule (Portugal) from The South Explorers, all based in Lagos.
“It all started in 2013, when I flew from Ireland to Faro and randomly got in a bus to Lagos. I cancelled all the plans I had for travelling around other places and just ended up staying. Normally, as soon as I arrive in a place, I naturally seek out the wilderness and nature around, and that’s what happened,” T.J. recalls.
Founder and owner of West Coast Adventure Co., T.J. started realising the picture people had of the Algarve was incomplete.
“I borrowed a van from the hostel I was working at and started showing others the real Algarve that I knew from exploring alone on my days off,” he explains. And that was just the beginning, as now, eight years later, he can count 5,000 clients who have joined him on his tours.
’Follow curiosity, not crowds’ is not only his slogan but also proof of the uniqueness that he offers on his tours. “This is not the passive sight-seeing tour.
This is a full sensorial experience, where people sweat, get their hands dirty and come across places they wouldn’t know otherwise,” he assures.
All T.J.’s clients are told is that they will go on a tour of the Costa Vicentina – “and that’s about 80km that go from Salema to Odeceixe”. Routes are chosen according to the group and weather conditions, and they are difficult to get there, unmarked, and not available on Google or hiking apps. “I choose wilderness and remoteness over guidebook tour destinations,” T.J. shares. Tours take around eight hours and the final moment that brings the whole experience together is the food, in the darkness, under the stars, with some Portuguese-flavoured nibbles and wine.
Chris Holt has a similar story. He wanted to add some local history knowledge and social involvement to his tours. Wanting people to see “a different side of the Algarve”, Chris offers a perfect combination of beautiful sights, wild nature, local immersion, and social responsibility.
“One of the most popular tours is the Aljezur one, where the group walk the dogs from a local shelter up to the medieval castle, then stop by a beautiful beach on the west coast to eat Portuguese tapas and drink some local wine,” he explains. “People love it, and they feel that more than just seeing a nice view and ‘eating a pastel de nata’, they do something more meaningful.
“I started Raw Algarve in 2018 with my Australian friend Matthew, but one year later he had to go back to Australia, and I just carried on with the business on my own. Me and my Dolores.” Dolores is a 1999 Toyota Hiace with a unique colour and a special sound that adds some humour to Chris’ tours, making them a more entertaining experience.
Having studied History, Chris admits that “Monchique is full of that (history), from the food (chorizo, honey) and the liquors to the ceramics”, he states. “The Monchique tour is an incredible hike where we walk through the pine, eucalyptus and cork forests and finish off with a delicious meal whilst looking at the spectacular views from the top (Picota).”
From his clients’ reviews, we get the idea that Raw Algarve tours are a great mixture of nature (views), storytelling (history) and food. “I try to explain all possible important facts about plants, culture or history, creating a bridge between the clients and the local area,” he tells us. Another important aspect that Chris instils from the beginning is the importance of taking care of the land but, more than that, “leaving the place better than you found it”.
The combination of what António Bule is (an explorer) with where he operates (southern Portugal) led to the creation of The South Explorers in 2018. “I grew up in Alentejo but had lived in Lagos 14 years ago. Being good with interpersonal relationships and a nature-lover with the local knowledge” has helped make this possible.
Suitable for all ages, António’s tours are the perfect opportunity for a relaxed, fun hike day with a local guide that provides a lot of useful information including the best local restaurants to indulge in Portuguese flavours.
From the Sagres Sunset Tour and the Wild West Coast Hike, those booking with António can also go on the Algar Seco Walk and visit Silves and Monchique. With a kind smile and the ability to engage in a good conversation with his clients regardless of where they come from, António goes beyond expectations. “I give them good tips and explain local facts about fish, the trees around or the cork and they just love it and feel that their questions are mostly answered.” In fact, in 2020, The South Explorers won the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice award.
Remembering his weekends with his father, as a child, fishing in Sagres, the Portuguese tour guide can’t hide his passion for the West Coast’s beauty and the need for preserving it. “I normally explain to my clients how important the Natural Park is for protecting the environment and I tell them about the menace of wild camping in the area.”
Whether you prefer something wild and off the beaten track, a mixture of wilderness and local immersion, or relaxed walks guided by a Portuguese fun character, make sure you leave the Algarve with the full picture.
T.J., Chris and António will guide you through the ultimate truth: “A walk in nature walks the soul back home.”
By MARGARIDA PIMENTA