Nestled within the pristine boundaries of the Costa Vincentina Natural Park in the western Algarve, Salema stands as a testament to the untouched beauty of Portugal’s coastline. Unlike the heavily developed central Algarve, the west retains its authentic charm, with Salema being a shining example. This quaint town, with its rich fishing heritage, is a delightful blend of the old and the new. While modern holiday homes dot the surrounding hills, the heart of Salema remains true to its roots. The cobbled streets, adorned with whitewashed fishermen’s cottages featuring blue trims, echo tales of bygone eras.
Every morning, the beachfront comes alive with local fishermen tending to their brightly painted wooden boats, mending nets, and unloading their fresh catch of sea bass, bream, octopus, and sardines. As the day progresses, the village centre bustles with visitors exploring boutiques, enjoying the Algarve sunshine at cozy cafés, or indulging in sumptuous seafood at family-run restaurants.
Among these eateries, the Atlântico stands out, offering an unparalleled beachfront dining experience, especially when candlelit during power outages. Another gem, the Boia Bar, promises hearty portions with the soothing backdrop of the surf.
Useful Resources for Your Trip to Salema
Here’s our top tips and tricks for getting the best deals for your trip to Salema.
- Accommodation: Booking.com and Airbnb are the two most comprehensive websites for finding hotels, hostels, apartments, and other types of accommodation in Salema.
- Car Rental: Discover Cars and Rental Cars are the two most useful sites for booking local car rental, particularly from Faro Airport.
- Airport transfers: There are taxis and Ubers at Faro Airport, but you can also pre-book an airport transfer with Welcome Pickups.
- Tours & Things to Do: Both Get Your Guide and Viator list lots of local tours and activities in Salema and the surrounding Algarve.
- Luggage Storage: Luggage Hero and Bounce are two great sites for finding places to store your luggage in the Algarve.
- Public Transport: Vamus.pt is the main bus company for the Algarve and Cp.pt is the main website for trains in Portugal. For longer distance buses, see Rede Expressos. Flixbus.pt often has cheap tickets between cities in Portugal.
- Flights: Skyscanner and Google Flights are the two most useful websites for finding flights to Portugal: The nearest airport to Salema is Faro Airport.
What to Do
There aren’t a huge number of things to do in Salema besides relax and enjoy the beach, and you may need to venture outside of the little village if you’re looking for an action-packed trip. However, there are definitely a few things to keep you occupied.
Salema’s beach, often referred to as Praia da Salema, is the heart and soul of this quaint village. Spanning a kilometre in length, this pristine stretch of golden sand consistently earns the coveted Blue Flag certification, a testament to its exceptional water quality, accessibility, and commitment to ensuring safety for families.
The beach’s location within a small bay provides a sheltered haven, ensuring that the waters remain calm and inviting. This tranquility means that while surfers might venture elsewhere in search of bigger waves, families and young swimmers can enjoy the gentle slope of the beach and the serene waters with confidence. Even during high tide, there’s an expansive stretch of sand available for sunbathers and beachgoers to unwind.
As the beach is located right next to the town, there are several cafes, restaurants, and small shops nearby.
Nestled among the golden and orange limestone cliffs at the ends of Praia da Salema lies a prehistoric marvel: fossilised dinosaur footprints. These cliffs, emblematic of the Algarve, date back to the Lower Cretaceous period, making them approximately 150 million years old. Amidst these ancient layers of limestone, remnants of marine life and the distinct footprints of dinosaurs are preserved, offering a fascinating glimpse into the Earth’s distant past.
The most prominent set of these footprints can be found on the western end of the beach. Accessible during low tide, enthusiasts might need to clamber over some rocks to reach this site, though a well-maintained staircase from the cliff top also leads directly to this paleontological treasure. Once there, a large rock platform reveals several dinosaur footprints, unveiled to the world by archaeologists and geologists from the University of Lisbon in 2001. The most distinct footprints, forming a line several meters long, are believed to belong to an Ornithopod, a herbivorous bipedal dinosaur. The name “Ornithopod” is derived from the Greek term for “bird-foot”, and true to its name, the footprints showcase the characteristic three-rounded-toed imprint of this ancient creature.
Forte de Almádena
For visitors staying in Salema, a nearby historical attraction beckons. The Forte de São Luís de Almádena, usually referred to simply as Forte de Almádena, stands majestically on the cliffs above Praia da Boca do Rio. This 17th-century fortification was constructed back in 1632, acting as both a protective shield against pirates and privateers for the coast and its valuable tuna fisheries and as a pivotal strategic point linking the iconic Fortress of Sagres and the bustling town of Lagos.
From its elevated position, the vistas stretch impressively from Sagres to the bay of Lagos. Historical records, including a 1754 drawing, showcase its original design, featuring a mix of lower and higher batteries at its rear, both equipped with cannons in their heyday. The fort’s entrance was guarded by bastions, a moat, and a drawbridge.
By 1849, the fort’s active military use came to an end. In 1946, it was handed over to the local authorities. Time, however, has not been kind to Forte de Almádena. Presently, it stands as a testament to both its glorious past and the ravages of time. Much of its structure, including outer walls and the lower battery, has succumbed to decay. Yet, some of its features, like the main armoury gate, walls, and moat, persist, along with barracks and a few vaulted rooms, one of which is believed to have served as a chapel.
Visitors can access the site via a small car park, where an information post offers some historical context. For those who prefer a leisurely experience, parking and exploration are free, providing a worthwhile detour from the beach.
- Flying: The nearest airport, Faro Airport, is situated just over an hour by car from Salema (103 km or 64 miles). The easiest way to get between the two is by renting a car or taking a taxi, Uber, or airport transfer.
- Train: There is no train station in Salema. The nearest station is in Lagos, which is roughly 27 minutes by car. From Lagos, you can get the Route 47 bus which runs between Lagos and Sagres, and stops in Salema. Timetables can be found at Vamus.pt.
- Bus: The Route 47 bus runs from Lagos to Sagres and stops in Salema. Timetables can be found on Vamus.pt. From Lagos, you can get buses to other parts of the Algarve and long distance coaches to the rest of Portugal.
- Car: Driving is the easiest way to get to Salema, and having a car will make it much easier to get to other towns in the region due to the limited local public transport. The drive from Faro Airport takes around an hour and it takes just under 3 hours to get from Lisbon Airport.