It’s OK to be Popular – Portugal Beaches in the Summer

Wow. I had heard that the crowds in summer were bad in the Algarve. And I didn’t believe that the people who told me that realized how many people were already visiting in June and July. Now I think we were both correct.

To say it is busy here now would be ridiculous. I can’t explain how busy it is. I have to admit, I took others’ advice and didn’t go to down the main beach strip from Friday to Sunday night for a while now. I’ve been avoiding the strip altogether as a matter of routine since sometime in June. But a friend wanted to get one drink before calling it a night one late Saturday, after we’d been out and about all day. So we hunted down a parking spot for him fairly easily as we returned to the beach area and walked toward the strip.

Because of the ease with which we found the parking spot I thought half the crowd may have gone home or back to their lodging. It was after 10:00pm so my assumption was that the families would be taking children home to bed and that older people would go to bed early. I figured they wanted to get up to be first at the beach and stake out a prime spot.

I was still impressed by the large crowd heading toward us as we made our way to the main strip. It looked like a sporting event just let out, like a professional baseball game or something. The kind of crowd you walk through trying to find where you parked your car along with 40,000 other fans. And yes, many of these looked like the families or older folks I expected to be going home after dinner.

What I didn’t expect were the crowds that were left. I think it’s now official. Every storefront is open with some kind of tourist business. I guess I had gotten used to some closed doors, knowing that most tourist areas can have considerable turnover and had watched many places take months to do renovations or otherwise get ready for the tourist season. In fact, just a week or so ago, the main road to take between coastal cities was still doing road construction (which seemed like really poor planning on someone’s part).

It was still overwhelming to take in. The crowds, the noise, the hustle and bustle and sidewalks with five or six people across…it was craziness! If you had told me the Super Bowl had just gotten out I would have believed you. I have no idea where all those people are staying. Nor where they park, although I have seen many cars on medians and sidewalks. We made our way through the crowds and found a table at a sidewalk cafe that hadn’t been open since early October, when it was still 80 degrees outside.

We both ordered a drink and marveled at the makeup of the crowd. The children and families and of course, the young adults. But the biggest surprise wasn’t just the children out at that hour, it was that they were wide awake! By this time it is after midnight and most are walking on their own. Even those too young to walk are wide awake in their strollers! What shook me back into reality was when I paid the bill.

As we watched the crowd as our amusement, we had our glass of wine and beer and shared a bottle of water. But as I tired more than the children around, I offered to pay the bill and we left. Still in disbelief of all the number of people I hadn’t known were around, I didn’t think to check my change from our drinks. Imagine my surprise when I realized I had paid almost twice the normal charge for the drinks AND had left a tip. Apparently, there is no local discount or we didn’t make it known we are local. I was no longer amused! The availability of the table might have been luck or a signal of the upcoming charges. Either way, and before realizing the bill amount, we had already vowed not to walk the one block this direction from my apartment again until September.

As of today, I have less than a month to wait before I venture back out. While I’ve enjoyed exploring some other coastal towns around, including one that’s larger and I thought, more famous for crowds than mine, I realize why others warned me about the crowds. Of course I see more people walking about in the crowds during the day as well, but nothing could have prepared me for the size of crowd I saw that Saturday night. I admit I love to people-watch, which explains how I didn’t make it back to my apartment until almost 2:00 am. But it’s hard to imagine the actual number of people until you see it for yourself.

I think my biggest concern would be the impression one gets when coming to visit at this time of year. As a guest, I would vow never to return, what with the parking hassles and the waits and the prices, not to mention the heat that comes at the peak of summer. As a potential expat, I would also vow not to live here, imagining how quickly one would tire of the inconveniences and disruption the crowds would cause. As a guest, taking some of my valuable vacation time and hard-earned dollars to come, I would probably discourage you to vacation here at this time, if you didn’t absolutely have to. However, as an expat….

Your takeaway –¬†While admittedly, this would not be the time of year I would suggest you visit, don’t feel that the summer season (July and August) would keep you from moving to this area of the Algarve. Yes, summer is when all of Europe comes to vacation in the Algarve, including the rest of Portugal. But this entire post should tell you that I had no idea all this was going on around me. Granted, I try to avoid the heat in summer anywhere, so I only go out when necessary or in the morning or evening. But my view of the ocean is still amazing and I try to avoid tourist places anywhere I go, including here. There have been a total of two road waits that have been awful, reinforcing my decision to take public transit as much as possible. Other than that, find a place to live with reserve parking included and enjoy the convenience of extra shopping, (perhaps at a premium though), while you wait out the crowds. It will definitely be worth it!

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