Based in Lagos, Volta do Mar promises radical moments of climbing in contact with nature, for all skill levels
In maritime jargon, the Portuguese term “volta do mar” refers to a manoeuvre performed to take advantage of favourable winds and currents and push the expedition forward, perhaps back home. The description fits perfectly with the route taken by the founders of Lagos-based company Volta do Mar, which promotes rock climbing, among other more or less radical activities.
Originally from Lisbon, the Alentejo and the Algarve, respectively, Ricardo Gonçalves, Pedro Caciones and André Glória have, since 2007, got to know various corners of the world, from Asia to America, where they learnt scuba diving, gained experience in customer care through different jobs and began shaping a dream that was already guiding them: to open, upon their return to the Algarve in 2015, a company that would make the region and its potential for various activities known.
At Volta do Mar, the service is personalised to clients’ interests, explains Ricardo Gonçalves: “When clients go climbing with us, they have the place practically to themselves. Even when planning for groups, we try not to have more than four people per trip, so as to provide a more thorough and personal service.” But there is more to these outings than just rock climbing.
“During our tours, we always try to show a less touristy and more genuine side of the Algarve,” he explains. “Before the pandemic, we even held a tasting of products and drinks from the region, such as Algarve orange juice, but these days we’ve put that on hold for safety reasons.”
About the climbing itself, Ricardo sees it as “a growing activity in Portugal, including in the Algarve”, and he confidently states that it is a sport for everyone. “We’ve had children as young as seven and people over 50 years of age. If the will is there, anyone, regardless of their physical condition, can do it.”
Gonçalves reveals that Volta do Mar has three preferred locations for rock climbing: Bensafrim (Lagos), with heights of 10 to 15 metres, Rocha da Pena (Loulé), up to 20 metres, and Sagres, where you can get up to 30 metres. The first two are for beginners, whilst the Sagres’ tours “are for those looking for a more demanding challenge due to the area’s natural landscapes and their magnitude”, he explains.
For first-timers, Volta do Mar provides beginners’ courses lasting five to six days to prepare future rock climbers for amateur practice. According to Gonçalves, these classes teach basic techniques and concepts for a more assertive climb. “We teach them how to conserve energy, to climb, etc. For example, a lot of people think that this sport is all about arm strength, but that’s wrong. It’s all in the legs.”
The tour packages available from Volta do Mar always include the required equipment, such as ropes, helmets and more, which he assures are “regularly checked and replaced as needed to ensure the safety of climbers”.
However, he warns of the possible dangers of practising this sport in nature: “Loose rocks can make climbing harder, but climbers in the Algarve are a tight-knit unit and clear the routes of these hindrances when they come across them so that the next climbers find everything in excellent condition.”
Although the pandemic changed some of the day-to-day life procedures for the three partners -“like cutting back on client pick-ups at hotels”, as they have reduced costs, and try to get clients to go to the climbing sites by themselves -, Volta do Mar expects a recovery at the start of next year, with Ricardo Gonçalves aiming “to resume all the services that are now on hold. People are anxious to start returning to normal life”.
To reach more aspiring climbers, this Lisbon-native now rooted in Lagos relies on “word of mouth and the great reviews” they receive on several online platforms. “To date, we haven’t really invested in publicity and people still find us, mainly from the UK and North America.”
Climbing packages are tailor-made for each client and groups. “People who are interested, contact the company by email and we agree on all the details so that the experience is truly unforgettable,” Gonçalves states.
And as someone who has travelled halfway around the world, from the exoticism of Thailand to the sobriety and grandeur of the Pacific Ocean, this founder of Volta do Mar is not shy when he states: “The Algarve is perfect for climbing and everything else. I left, came back and built my life here. We have ‘the best of the best’ that there is, except the snow. But even that is only a few hours away in winter.”
By João Chambino