Around 4:15pm one random Monday, something flashed across my Facebook screen – Portugal trip, ½ off, 5 spots only! This trip had been on my mind for a while, but the 99-euro price tag made me hesitate for quite some time. This time (for once) my hesitation paid off (ok I’ll stop with the puns) and I quickly snatched up one of the five trips for less than the cost of one of the textbooks for my university courses. My friend (and freshman year hall-mate) Sarah was also able to snag one of the five ½-off spots.
To be honest, I was a little nervous about going to Portugal with a tour group – I had no idea how large the group was going to be, I was worried I’d be speaking in English the whole time, and I wasn’t sure how safe and/or how much fun we’d really be having. Classic Julia, I worried a lot, and everything was fine. No, everything was pretty close to perfect (mainly thanks to great weather!)
First of all, we were a small group – only about 35 students (the weekend after ours, however, looked like it was about 70 students in two busses!) While I did speak a bit of English, there were also some ERASMUS students (i.e. students from other European countries who are studying abroad in Spain for the semester or year). For example, a bunch of girls from France didn’t speak English very well, so it was actually easier to converse with them in Spanish!
We traveled via bus into Portugal with literally zero fanfare. Here I was thinking I’d get a lovely Portugal stamp in my passport (and that we’d be stopped at the border for half an hour while everyone’s passport got checked) but I literally slept through the Spain-Portugal border crossing.
We then arrived at our hotel and it was GREAT. Sarah and I had our own room, and not only did it have two beds and a bathroom, but it also had a private patio, a FULLY-STOCKED kitchen (plates, utensils, pots/pans, etc.), a TV and a fridge. After we unpacked, we took a five minute walk and arrived at our first beach of the trip. The water was actually pretty cold for late September, but someone told me that that was because Portugal doesn’t get to benefit from the Jetstream – they receive water/currents from the artic instead. Regardless, it was a great afternoon swimming (a little) and playing games on the beach.
Next up was our boat rides. Yes, plural! The first one was on a “pirate ship” which really was a sailboat with some pirate costumes. We got to jump off the boat into the water and I think there was coral underneath us (though it was a little far to see sans-goggles!) After that, we headed onto a speedboat to look at (and go through) caves all along the cost of Portugal. I’m not kidding when I say I think we covered at least 1/3 of the southern coast of Portugal – we were FLYING in this boat, and it was such an exhilarating feeling watching the shore (and caves) pass by.
After that, Sarah and I ate at a nice diner-like place and were later joined by some of the French students. We then went back home, took a little nap and then headed out for the night. We went to three different clubs and they were actually pretty fun.
The next day we had breakfast in our room (we had bought stuff the night before) and headed to Sagres, which earned the nickname “the end of the world” since it was the most south-western point in all of Europe. There were gorgeous views as well as a lighthouse from this rocky spit of land, which reminded me a lot of the “other” end of the world I visited in Cape Town two summers ago.
We then headed to Doña Ana beach, one of the most popular in Portugal. The skies were grey and the water was a bit chilly, so Sarah, our friend Patrick and I decided to walk along the dunes/cliffs. We were able to see some gorgeous views and came down and had lunch right as it started raining. Soon the sun was back out, and I went straight into the water. This time (unlike the beach from the previous day) there were actually some pretty big waves and had the best time swimming in the water.
As the tide came in, a certain large rock seemed like a (relatively) safe thing to jump off of – and so Patrick, Maddy and I decided to do just that. It was a wee bit terrifying climbing up (there was only a rope to hold on to) but we all made it and proceeded to jump into the water one by one.
After that we swam a bit away from the crowded beach and came to a different beach that you can only access from the water (i.e. you can’t walk along the shore to get to this beach!) We lay on the sand, trying to warm ourselves and eventually took off towards the end of this beach towards some more caves. It’s pretty hard to explain how awesome these caves were, but after quite a bit more climbing, we came to the most secluded beach – we were essentially surrounded by 360 degrees of rocks, except for one little opening where water was washing up onto this beach. Although I have no photographs of the experience, it’s one of those things that will stay in my mind for quite some time.
After swimming back to the shore where the rest of our group was, soon it was time to go to Punto de Piedad. Here we encountered another lighthouse and a set of probably 200 or 300 stairs leading down to the level of the sea. There was also a little trail you could take to essentially get to 270 degrees of stunning water views. We had a little time to explore the town center and have dinner, and then headed out again for the night.
On Sunday, we went to the Playa de Albufeira, which was yet another stunning beach. Sarah and I had a nice chat while swimming/wading in the water. We then climbed this tower at the end of the beach, and had lunch at a GORGEOUS waterfront restaurant, situated at the top of the cliffs. After that, we headed back to Sevilla, thus completing one of the best weekends of the year for me!