Tourists in Lagos

Summer in the Algarve

Summer is here in the Algarve and full-time residents have to make certain accommodations to what that means.

It happens every year around this time, but it does take some getting used to especially among those of us known as expatriates or newbies. The main issues that need to be dealt with are the heat and tourists, both that seem like major forces of nature.

The heat

When your pal Pat first arrived on the southern coast of Portugal, he was frankly surprised by just how hot it got. As my loyal reader knows, my lovely wife and I moved here from Panama, a subtropical country not that far from the equator that is pretty darn warm all year round with an average temperature around 87°F.

The average temp around these parts in July, for example, is a rather comparable 32°C (okay, if you’re going to be a globe-trotting citizen of the world, you’ll need to know both Celsius and Fahrenheit, both how to spell and convert the two measurements).

What is surprising is that it can get much hotter here in July and August, sometimes in the shocking 40°C, which is 104°F or higher. They don’t call the nearby Spanish city of Seville “the frying pan of Europe” for nothing.

Those are temperatures you need to deal with. Yes, the humidity is at a dry 57%, but that also can cause issues. All residents of the Algarve know that we should be concerned and careful about wildfires. Paradise is not perfect. My lovely wife and I also found out we need to do more in the hydration department than we were used to – such as using much more lotion on our sandpaper skin and drinking a lot more water. We even now take something called Dioralyte every day, which seems to help.

We have some very nice sliding glass doors in our house facing south across the terrace to lovely views of the Atlantic in the distance. In the cooler months, these big windows provided some pleasant passive solar to keep the indoors comfortably warm. It didn’t take ol’Pat long, however, to realise that in July and August these same expansive panels of glass generated something quite different that could be called aggressive solar energy. The daily glare turned our front room into a hothouse, where even the flies died of heatstroke. I rushed out and bought two massive umbrellas and set them up on the terrace. We don’t sit under them much outside, but they do shade the interior.

During the hottest times – you know, like in August, when there are five or six straight days in the 40°C – we also leave the air conditioner on in the bedroom and close the windows and the door. We call this cool haven “the meat locker”, and escape there every once in a while, for some relief or maybe a siesta.

One trick I use during the long hot summer is, I take what I call the “mad dogs and Englishmen” approach to doing errands and shopping. I have found that the stores, banks, post offices and cafés are seldom busy during the heat of the day between 2pm and 4pm – so that’s when I go. I’m not an Englishman, so I must be a mad dog who has a good air conditioning system in my car. Don’t go between 12 noon and 2pm because the Portuguese are at lunch.

Another thing we do is get up out of bed much earlier during the dog days. My lovely wife and I are late risers and happy to be so since we’re retired. However, if you’re going to go for a walk or especially walk your dog, it’s not that pleasant a prospect after about 9am. Unless your pup wears flip flops, asphalt and sand can get so hot that you risk burning their paws. I hope we all know not to leave your canine friend in a car, even with the windows cracked open; and we all hope that people stop chaining their watchdogs out in a yard with little or no shade. Full bowls of water are a requirement of pet ownership.

The good thing is that it does cool off pretty well after that blasted sun goes down, which means that eating out al fresco at any number of beachside restaurants can be quite enjoyable, if you can get a table. Which brings us to …



No doubt about it, the quality of life is impacted when those relentless holidaymakers descend on the Algarve in ever growing numbers now that Covid restrictions have been lifted. One just can’t drop by one’s favourite neighbourhood restaurant and expect good ol’Angelo to give you your favourite table. No, you need reservations, maybe a day or two in advance.

Remember back in February when you were driving on the A22 and went two or three kilometres without encountering another automobile? It was a Twilight Zone experience, or you worried that they had just announced World War Three on the radio, but it was in Portuguese and you missed it. Now taxis are coming up fast in your rearview mirror and you can’t get over quick enough.

We just don’t go to beach towns for about two months. During the offseason, driving across town on the Avenida de Lagos past the Mercado Municipal is a scenic pleasure, but starting mid-June, you’re lucky if you get past two signals before stopping. Instead of five or six green lights in a row on the straightaway, there’s nothing but beady red eyes staring you down. Those rascally tourists persist pushing those pedestrian crossing buttons.

Where are they all headed or coming from? The beach, which is often packed shoulder to sunburned shoulder, with hordes of families playing beach blanket bingo. I personally do not enjoy scampering across scalding hot sand in a vain attempt to rent the last beach umbrella, and that’s not just me. Many residents take a rather proprietary attitude toward their favourite beach when it comes to the invasion of “those tourists”.  There are many of them, maybe too many, but that’s not going to change. Many, if not most, of the amenities in these parts would not exist if it weren’t for the tourist trade. So there is that to keep in mind when they do finally leave and the weather is still sunny and the Atlantic has finally got as warm as it’s going to be in September.

One of the problems with many of the visitors to our region during high season is that they’re almost desperate to have fun, and they don’t seem relaxed and certainly not patient (particularly with the wait staff, not even Carlos, our favourite waiter), much less laid back. Particularly our guests from Great Britain and other northern climes love to come to their favorite destination because of guaranteed sunshine. They come for the heat. That’s an important consideration if you’re coming from a “green and pleasant land” where it rains often. So they seem to need to squeeze as much sun and fun into a week off as they can. Part of that plan for some vacationers is to drink as much alcohol as possible and then walk around the streets of Albufeira in rowdy groups way past the local’s bedtime.

To be honest, I tell friends and family to please not plan to pay us a visit here in Portugal during the months of July and August. It’s too freaking hot, I say, and too crowded. The rest of the year is fine.

By Pat the Expat
For the previous 10 years, Pat lived in Panama which used to be rated above Portugal as a top retirement destination (but not any more), where he wrote a column for a tourist publication.