North or South?
In a earlier post I suggested heading south (the usual way) was better. I’ve now revised that opinion….
It depends! Heading south is good because you get a definite end point at Cabo do Sao Vicente (although plus a couple of miles to get to Sagres). If doing the coastal route (Fisherman’s Trail), then you have the prevailing wind behind you. But this must be weighed against having the sun in your face all day, every day. Don’t underestimate how hard work that is.
My opinion would be go south if going coastal where it is windier, but north if going inland.
I was pre-warned about Portuguese transport. Trains will turn up when they want, buses may or may turn up at all, etc.
It is all lies.
I found the transport system excellent. Everything worked fine and everything was on-time. The only issue I found was with the trains. You have to play “platform lottery”. There is little if any information. On the way out of Faro, the ticket office were surprised when I asked which of the 6 platforms I needed. On the way back from Grandola it was a herding instinct – we all (5 people) stood on the same platform hoping one if us knew it was the right one!
One thing to be aware of… Like a lot of places, weekend travel services are infrequent. It is much easier to get to Sagres (from Faro), than getting to Santiago do Cacem on a weekend. If hiking south, be sure to travel on a weekday.
From people I met, they report the taxis are reliable. Particularly important if you are travelling the Historic Route between Santiago and Cercal. You will need a taxi out if Vale Seco and then back in the next day, unless camping.
The one taxi I did need (6.30am to the airport on my final day) arrived 5 minutes early, waited patiently until I left the hotel and didn’t overcharge due to the early hour. I like Portugal.
To camp or not to camp
Definitely “not to camp”. The hike days are pretty much defined by where the villages are. Camping is hard to find around the villages, but accommodation is cheap (as you won’t be hiking in summer season!). Book your accommodation just to be sure – pretty much everything is on Booking.com.
The only day not having a tent is a problem is at Vale Soca between Santiago and Cercal. Here a taxi is needed, as noted above.
Shorter routes can be arranged by starting at alternative points in the north (and avoiding the Vale Soca accommodation issues).
Popular choices seem to be
- Start or end at Cercal if doing the Historic Route.
- Start or end at Porto Covo if doing the Fisherman’s Trail.
The hiking is easy inland. No really steep ascents or descents. Nearly all of the hiking on the Historic Trail is on gravel or compacted sand farm/forest tracks.
However, it is tiring work on the soft sand that I encountered on the coastal sections that I chose to do in the south. People I met who had done the Fisherman’s Trail reported hard going on all the sandy beaches.
My choice was mostly inland with a little bit of coast. I was happy with my choice. Most people I met had chosen the full coastal route.
I always use trekking poles. I found that using rubber tips was worthwhile on this trip (cheap versions are available, but Leki’s plastic covers do work best). Not steep enough terrain to need the pointed tips and no “clackety-clack” at every pace.
The route is extremely well marked. The best I’ve seen on any long distance hike. However, there are always a couple of places where things go wrong. Mine was a 1 mile loop ending up no closer to my destination. Still don’t know how it happened. For these rare occurrences I would recommend taking GPS (I had a separare GPS, but using a phone will suffice). See my Rota Vincentina GPX page for the tracks. Bikehike.co.uk can read in .GPX and export as .KML if you want to use Google’s format.
A paper map is worth having for an overview of the surrounding area. You will need to buy one – the ones I printed from Freizeitkarte did not have enough contours to get a good overview of the topography.
You should always try, but even in the remotest places English and German are widely understood. I started the trip with zero words of Portuguese. As I didn’t need to try too hard, and am lazy (!!!), I now know 3 words: “thanks”, “beer” and “two”. I am of course fluent in “point and nod”.
A good introductory hike to the joys of long distance hiking, without being too taxing.
Do I need to say it?…it can get hot, so choose your dates carefully, and take plenty of water.