The replica of the 16th century caravel ‘Boa Esperança’ has been turned into a fully explorable museum
It was with pomp and circumstance that the Algarve’s latest tourist attraction was inaugurated in Lagos on Tuesday, with live music, historical re-enactments and smiles all around.
After years of neglect which had left it in a sorry state, the completely renovated ‘Boa Esperança’ replica caravel has been permanently moored at the Bensafrim stream pier and turned into a fully explorable museum (technically described as an “interpretation centre”).
‘The Boa Esperança Caravel and Portuguese Discoveries Interpretation Centre’ aims to educate visitors on Portugal’s Age of Discoveries and showcase the role that Lagos and the Algarve played during such an important period of Portuguese history.
Simply boarding the caravel is a major part of the experience, giving visitors a taste of what Portuguese explorers must have felt when embarking on their daring voyages.
The boat’s interior areas are lined with displays and panels providing information on the Age of Discoveries, the intricacies of the art of navigation in the 15th and 16th centuries and much more.
There is also an ‘app’ entitled ‘Boa Esperança Caravel’ which can be downloaded for free (for Android and iOS systems) and allows visitors to “enjoy a fully immersive and sensory experience in the company of some of the members of the crew”.
Using augmented reality, the app helps provide even more context during the visit and can also be used when exploring Lagos and other points around the municipality, offering interesting titbits on Lagos’ role during the Age of Discoveries.
A 13-minute video documentary detailing the importance of caravels and their historic relevance to the Portuguese Discoveries and maritime exploration can also be viewed aboard the caravel. The documentary was produced by New Light Pictures and can be viewed in English, Portuguese and Spanish on the VisitAlgarve YouTube page.
The inauguration ceremony was attended by Lagos Mayor Hugo Pereira, who celebrated the occasion as a “decisive step” for the caravel to become an “emblematic asset” in the promotion of “such an important historical period of humanity.”
“We have been able to move on from words to actions and transform what had become nothing more than a postcard – and one which gave a bad image of the Algarve due to the poor state of the caravel – into something that represents the history of Lagos and the Algarve,” said Pereira.
“It will also help establish once and for all that the Algarve is not just a ‘sun and beach’ destination, but a destination which has a lot of offer in terms of culture and history,” he added.
“We are certain that it will provide another reason to visit our town and region, helping consolidate the ‘Lagos dos Descobrimentos’ (Lagos of Discoveries) brand and make Lagos an even more gratifying place to visit for those who visit us for cultural reasons,” the mayor said.
The Algarve’s tourism boss João Fernandes was also in attendance and praised the joint efforts by the regional tourism board (RTA), Lagos council, Lagos Centre of Living Science and Fundación Nau Victoria to finally bring the project to life.
“The caravel is not named Boa Esperança by chance,” he said, referring to the vessel being named after the Cape of Good Hope, also known as the ‘Cape of Torments’ due to the many lives lost as navigators tried to bend it.
“We had to overcome a true Cape of Torments to make it here today,” said Fernandes.
“We are hoping to turn the caravel into a dynamising hub of cultural tourism, which values our region’s cultural heritage and preserves the cultural memory of Lagos and the Algarve,” the tourism chief added.
The interpretation centre is due to open to the public very soon from Tuesday to Sunday between 10am and 6pm. Visits will be managed by the Lagos Centre of Living Science. There will be an entrance fee although the cost is still being discussed.
To book a visit: +351 282 770 000 | +351 969 685 985
The troubled history of the replica
The Boa Esperança replica was built in Vila do Conde by specialists in wooden shipbuilding and was completed on April 28, 1990. It was purchased by the regional tourism board in 2001 “as a means of taking the history of Portugal to the rest of the world.
“Since then, the replica has navigated many nautical miles on noble missions, visited European and Mediterranean ports, taken part in big regattas, been used as the set for documentaries and films, and welcomed students and tourists for guided tours,” says RTA.
However, the last decade had not been very kind to the caravel, which became increasingly rundown due to a lack of investment. It was eventually moored in Lagos, with no clear sign of what was to become of it.
Major renovations were desperately needed to restore the caravel to its former glory, which is why many celebrated when it was announced in 2021 that it was due to undergo a “substantial revamp” at Portimão’s shipyard.
Now, it is finally being put to use once again.