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The Rota Vicentina – a 2022 detailed guide

The Rota Vicentina – a 2022 detailed guide

The Rota Vicentina – a 2022 detailed guide

The Rota Vicentina is a network of hiking trails in the Alentejo and Algarve provinces in the south of Portugal. The network includes two long-distance routes the Fisherman’s Trail and the Historical Way, and several day-hikes some of which can be incorporated in one of the long-distance routes. We’ve walked both multi-day routes of the Rota Vicentina as well as some of the short-distance hikes. In this post, we describe different route options, cost, transportation, and accommodation options on the Rota Vicentina.

Zambujeira do Mar, a stop on the coastal trail of the Rota Vicentina
Zambujeira do Mar, one of the towns on the coastal route of the Rota Vicentina

Practical information for walking the Rota Vicentina

The Fishermen’s Trail and the Historical Way can be walked in either direction; south to north or north to south.

All routes are well-marked; the coastal route is marked with blue and green stripes, the inland route is marked with white and red stripes. All trails are easy to follow you don’t need a map or a GPS.

Almost every town on the Rota Vicentina has ATMs, shops, restaurants, and hotels.

YouTube video thumbnail for the Rota Vicentina trail
Our detailed video on walking the Rota Vicentina in Portugal

Summer is a very busy time for this area with July and August being the peak season if you do the trek during these months it’s better to book accommodation in advance.

Check-in in most hotels/hostels is after 3 pm you’ll have to kill some time in a restaurant or café while waiting for check-in.

There is usually nothing on the route between the towns you have to carry enough water to last you for the day and maybe some snacks or sandwiches.

Tap water in Portugal is drinkable we didn’t buy bottled water.

On Sundays shops in small towns are closed to get food eating out is the only option. Supermarkets are always open.

I’d recommend buying a local SIM card it’s very convenient to have a phone number to be able to contact a hotel or to use Google Maps to find your accommodation place. We had a MEO SIM card – a 10-day package with 3Gb and many minutes of local phone calls for 10 Euro. You can buy it in phone shops, some supermarkets, and kiosks.

The route can be easily done on your own without a guide or a tour; it is well-marked, there is enough infrastructure in the towns, it’s not difficult to book accommodation or to arrange luggage transfer by yourself.

A trail map of the Rota Vicentina
A map of different trails of the Rota Vicentina, Portugal

Rota Vicentina different route options

As I already mentioned there are two long-distance trails and many circuit routes/day hikes most of the short routes can be incorporated into one of the multi-day trails.

Different routes of the Rota Vicentina

Name The Historical Way The Fishermen’s Trail Day hikes (circular routes)
Starting point Santiago do Cacém S.Torpes Beach (Porto Covo) Different points along
the Vicentina Coast
Finishing point Odeceixe Lagos Different points along
the Vicentina Coast
Total distance 120 km/74 mi 230 km/143 mi 265 km/164 mi
(24 trails)
Number of days 6 days 11-13 days 1 day
Different hiking trails on the Rota Vicentina

The Historical Way

  • Total distance – 120 km/74 mi
  • Number of days – 6 days
  • Starting point – Santiago do Cacém
  • Finishing point – Odeceixe
  • Route marking – red & white markers

The Historical Way has significantly fewer hikers than the Coastal route. We saw between 2 and 5 hikers a day on this route. Overall the area is not touristy compared to the coast that is just 20 km away. As a result accommodation options are pretty limited. There are no hostels or campsites on the Historical Way. The only campsite and a hostel on the route are in Odeceixe. Accommodation works out more expensive here than on the Fishermen’s Trail. Most places don’t have a kitchen so you can’t really cook if you want a proper meal, not just a sandwich you have to eat in a restaurant or bar. Eating out in this part of the Rota Vicentina is cheaper than along the coast restaurants cater for locals not for tourists. You can get a set menu for 6-7 Euro, a dish for 5-6 Euro, a cup of coffee for 0,60 Euro, etc.

The scenery on the Historical Way is nice and peaceful with a lot of walking through the fields (if you walk it in April-May it will be covered in flowers), a bit of forest, and quite a lot of hills. It’s the route with the most ascents and descents though nothing is very steep or long. Overall the Historical Way is a nice route to walk if you want to see off-the-beaten-path areas in southern Portugal. In our opinion, the scenery is not as impressive as along the coast.

Wheat fields on the Historical Way of the Rota Vicentina
Wheatfields and hills – a typical scenery n the Historical Way of the Rota Vicentina

The Fishermen’s Trail

  • Total distance – 230 km/143 mi
  • Number of days – 11-13 days
  • Starting point – S.Torpes Beach, Porto Covo
  • Finishing point – Lagos
  • Route marking – blue & green markers

The Fishermen’s Trail (the Coastal route) of the Rota Vicentina is a popular route with many day walkers and weekend groups. The trail goes through the touristy parts of the Alentejo and Algarve regions. Besides hikers in the season, there are many holidaymakers. If you walk this route during the summer months you’ll see many people. It’s highly recommended to book accommodation on the route beforehand.

The Fishermen’s Trail has more accommodation options and campsites because it is a popular summer holiday destination. It’s possible to find budget places to stay. Eating out on this trail is more expensive compared to the Historical Way. For a set meal in a restaurant (Menu do Dia), you pay 25-30 Euro for two people vs 15-20 Euro on the Historical Way. You can reduce your food expenses if you stay in places with a kitchen and cook yourself. Every town on the trail has a supermarket or at least a grocery store.

The part of the Fishermen’s Trail from Odeceixe to Lagos is not as busy as the part from Corto Covo to Odeceixe. Most people finish walking in Odeceixe probably because it used to be the end of the route before it was extended first to Cabo de S.Vicente (Sagres) and later to Lagos.

The scenery on this route is truly spectacular; rugged cliffs, sandy beaches, turquoise water, picturesque bays, hidden caves, breathtaking lookout points, and charming towns. If you ask me I’d definitely choose the Fishermen‘s Trail over the Historical Way.

If you’re planning to walk the Fishermen’s Trail you can download our free PDF file that includes walking stages and places to stay along the route.

A lighthouse at Cabo Sardão on the Costa Vicentina in Portugal
The lighthouse at Cabo Sardão on the Fishermen’s Trail of the Rota Vicentina

Day hikes on the Rota Vicentina

There are 24 short hiking trails on the Rota Vicentina with a total distance of 265 km/164 mi. Distances of the day hikes vary from short 4-5-kilometers trails to 12-16-kilometers routes. All day hikes are circular routes. You don’t have to worry about getting back to your car or your hotel after finishing a hike. Many circular routes are partly included in one of the long trails. We haven’t walked any of the 24 trails yet but now living in Lagos we’re planning to start hiking them in order to prepare for walking the Portuguese Camino de Santiago with our 7-months old daughter. The day hiking trails are indicated with red and yellow markers.

The day trails offer a combination of coastal and forest/fields scenery. You can easily incorporate a couple of day hikes in a road trip or a beach holiday in southern Portugal.

How to combine the trails?

You can walk the entire Fishermen’s Trail or the Historical Route separately, you can walk only parts of the routes, or combine them. The two routes merge in Odeceixe.

Option 1. Porto Covo – Odeceixe – Santiago do Cacém. You walk on the Fishermen’s Trail from Porto Covo to Odeceixe. From Odeceixe instead of continuing along the coast, follow the Historical Way and walk to Santiago do Cacém. This way you combine both country and seaside scenery and get to see different parts of the Alentejo region. The total distance of this route option is 196 km/121 mi. To complete it you need 10 days. The route can be walked either way starting in Porto Covo or in Santiago do Cacém.

Option 2. Santiago do Cacém – Odeceixe – Lagos. You walk the Historical Way from Santiago do Cacém to Odeceixe and from there continue on the Fishermen’s Trail through Cabo de S.Vicente to Lagos. The total distance of this route is 274 km/170 mi. You need 13-14 days to complete it. It can be walked either way. You can cut it shorter if you don’t have enough time to complete the route.

You can walk any stage of the two routes separately as a day hike or you can choose a couple of stages and do a 2 or 3-day hike.

There is a great option for those who want to combine two outdoor activities (hiking and surfing) and enjoy the sea as much as possible. You can start walking in Porto Covo and finish in Arrifana. Where you can stay in a surf hostel rent a board or take a couple of lessons. Days needed – 6, total distance – 118 km.

A beautiful forest on the Rota Vicentina in Portugal
Lush green forest on the Historical Way of the Rota Vicentina

 The cost of walking the Rota Vicentina

The Algarve and Alentejo provinces are very popular summer holiday destinations which means in the peak season, between June and September the coast gets very busy and accommodation prices increase significantly. How much money you’ll spend walking Rota Vicentina depends on when you go. If you walk during the off-season, between November and March it will be the cheapest, the bordering season, October, April, and May are more expensive. The summer months from June to September is the most expensive period. We walked the Rota Vicentina in May and did find accommodation prices being quite high in some popular touristy places.

On average you’ll spend 35-40 Euro per person per day on the Rota Vicentina. It includes accommodation (a room for two people or a dorm bed in a hostel), food, and transport. If you’re going to use a luggage transfer service you have to add 15 Euro per day extra.

Accommodation

Accommodation is the main expense on the Rota Vicentina. Depending on the type of places you’ll pay between 10 Euro (camping) and 30 Euro (a room in a hotel) per person.

Camping is the cheapest option though not every town on the route has a campsite. Even if you like camping you’ll have to stay sometimes indoors. Prices for camping are between 6 and 10 Euro per person per day depending on the season. A drawback of camping is that you have to carry your camping gear (tent, sleeping bag, pad, cooking stuff, etc.) which adds significant weight to your backpack.

Hostels are the cheapest indoor accommodation option on the Rota Vicentina. Just like with camping, not every town on the trail has one. On the Fishermen’s Trail there are hostels but not on the Historical Way. A bed in a dormitory costs between 15 and 20 Euros per person depending on the season. In July, August, and September the prices are at their highest. The lowest prices are during the offseason; from November to March.

Hotels/guesthouses are the most popular accommodation type on the trail. Prices vary between 40 and 60 Euros for a double room. We had one or two places where we paid around 30 Euro per two people. During the off-season, you’ll find more places offering rooms in this price range.

Food

Eating out

Eating out at the restaurants on the Rota Vicentina was quite expensive compared to some other areas in Portugal that we traveled. Even in the same area, there was a significant price difference between places located inland and beach towns. Prepare to pay 10 Euros for a dish, plus 2-4 Euros extra if you order drinks, bread, coffee, etc. Our average bill was about 30 Euros for two people when we went out for dinner. If you order a sandwich (Tosta Mista) and a coffee or a cool drink it’ll cost around 3 Euros.

Portugal has one of the cheapest coffee in Europe; Espresso costs 0,60-0,70 Euro, coffee with milk (sort of cappuccino) – 1-1,2 Euro. If you order Americano you’ll pay about 1 Euro for it, cappuccino is quite expensive about 2 Euros on average and it’s not like a normal cappuccino it’s more like Latte with chocolate. Café com Leite (coffee with milk) is much closer to the Italian cappuccino.

Shopping

The cheapest food option is to buy stuff in a shop and make your own food. To be able to cook you have to stay in places with a kitchen otherwise you’ll be limited to eating sandwiches. Shopping will cost you between 7 and 10 Euros per person to buy food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Bigger supermarkets have cafes or canteens where you can buy a well-priced meal, a sandwich, or a pastry.

Transport

Almost every town on the Rota Vicentina can be reached by public transport. A bus from Lisbon to one of the starting points (Porto Covo or Santiago do Cacém) costs between 15 and 20 Euros one way. Getting from Lagos or Odeceixe to Lisbon will cost you 20 Euros. Buses between the towns on the route cost between 3 and 7 Euro depending on the distance.

Based on all these I’d suggest an estimated budget of 20-25 Euros per person per day if you’re planning to camp (when possible) and make your own food; 35-40 Euros per person if staying indoors (hostels and budget rooms) and cooking for yourself most of the time and from 45 Euros if staying indoors and eating out at least once a day.

Cape Saint Vincent lighthouse, Rota Vicentina, Portugal
The lighthouse at Cabo de São Vicente in Portugal

The best season for walking the Rota Vicentina

Summer in general (July and August in particular) is the busiest season in the south of Portugal with the most people and the highest prices. It gets very hot in the south of Portugal day temperatures go over 30°C. If you decide to walk the route in the summer months it’s recommended to start walking early in the morning in order to be finished before it gets too hot. Booking accommodation on the Rota Vicentina in advance is a must-do in the summer.

Border season (April-May and October) is a perfect time for walking the Rota Vicentina; there are significantly fewer people than in the summer. It’s warm but not too hot, accommodation is cheaper, and you don’t have to book it months in advance. We really like hiking in Portugal in the spring the scenery is very beautiful this time of the year.

Off-season (November-March) is great if you want to have a solitary and quiet walk with very few tourists. Weather-wise it doesn’t get really cold on the Vicentina Coast and in the Algarve. The average temperatures in winter are between 13°C and 16°C but it might rain quite a bit in November and December. The wind can be a problem as well. As for accommodation prices, they are at their lowest (excluding Christmas and New Year) so you can get a really nice place for not expensive.

Travel insurance. Hiking like any other outdoor activity involves a risk of getting injured, sick or losing gear, etc., it’s always recommended to have travel insurance. The Rota Vicentina is not a high-altitude trek in the wilderness. It’s still a physically challenging experience that involves walking 20-25 km daily with a backpack. Anything from a small injury like blisters to a knee or shin split can happen on the route. It’s important to make sure you will be able to get medical assistance any time you need it. If you have a European Health Insurance card you don’t need any other medical insurance for Portugal.

Luggage transfer service on the route

It’s possible to arrange a luggage transfer on the Rota Vicentina. If you don’t want to walk carrying a big backpack with all your stuff it can be transferred every day between your accommodation places. You can walk with a small day pack carrying only valuable, water, and snacks.

Vicentina Transfers is the company that provides luggage delivery service on the trail. The price is 15€ per luggage item per stage. The weight limit is 20 kg per luggage. It’s a door-to-door service your backpack is picked up in the morning (around 9 am) at the reception and delivered to the next place.

Accommodation on the route

Every town on the Rota Vicentina has hotels and guesthouses, some more popular touristy places have hostels. Most of the places can be booked online through booking sites. Some areas have more accommodation options some less. On the Historical Way, there are not many places to stay. The route goes through not touristy areas of the Alentejo region. On the Fishermen’s Trail, there are more accommodation options including hostels and campsites, especially in some towns such as Sagres or Lagos. During the peak summer season, it’s highly recommended to book your accommodation on the Rota Vicentina a couple of months in advance.

If you want to make your own food it’s better to stay in hostels or rent apartments to have access to the kitchen. If you stay in hotels/guest houses you’ll have to buy ready-made food or eat at restaurants.

On the Fishermen’s Trail campsites can be found in Porto Covo, Zambujeira do Mar, Vila Nova de Milfontes, Odeceixe, Aljezur, and Sagres. All campsites are not far from the route. On the Historical Way, there is only one campsite in Odeceixe. On the stretch between Santiago do Cacém and S.Teotónio there are no places to camp only indoor accommodation options.

How to get to the Rota Vicentina?

Most towns on the Rota Vicentina have direct buses to Lisbon. It’s very easy to get from the capital to the trail and back.

Getting from Lisbon to Santiago do Cacém, the Historical Way

There are several daily buses from Lisbon Sete Rios bus station to Santiago do Cacém, the journey takes 2 hours, price 14 Euro. If you’re planning to start walking on the same day it’s better to take the earliest bus that leaves at 7.30am. You can buy tickets and confirm the departure time on the Rede Expressos website.

Getting from Lisbon to Porto Covo, the Fishermen’s Trail

As of March 2022, there are 4 daily buses from Lisbon to Porto Covo. 3 buses leave from Sete Rios bus station and 1 from Oriente station. The journey takes between 2 and 3 hours. The price is 16 Euro.

Getting back to Lisbon from Odeceixe and Lagos

There are buses from Odeceixe (Historical Way) and Lagos (Fishermen’s Trail) to Lisbon. There are 3 buses from Odeceixe to Lisbon (Sete Rios), the drive takes 3h30min., price is 18,5 Euro. From Lagos, there are many buses to both bus stations in Lisbon: Sete Rios and Oriente. The standard price is 20 Euro, sometimes you can get a ticket with a discount of 12 Euro. The journey takes 4 hours. You can check the itinerary and buy tickets online.

Tours and activities in the Algarve

If after finishing the route you still have some time to spend in the area there are some amazing places to see in the Algarve. Doing a kayak or a boat tour is a great option to discover the incredible beauty of the region:

Storks on the cliffs along the Rota Vicentina
Storks in the nest on the edge of the cliff on the coastal route

The Rota Vicentina vs the Camino de Santiago

We met many people on the Camino de Santiago that want to do Rota Vicentina and another way around. We decided to compare both based on our walking experience. We’ve walked 7 different routes of the Camino de Santiago; French Camino, Portuguese Camino, Camino Primitivo, Camino del Norte, Vía de la Plata, Camino Finisterre, and Camino Inglés. And two routes of the Rota Vicentina; the Fishermen’s Trail and the Historical Way. I’ll compare the scenery, the cost, and the facilities on the Camino and on the Rota Vicentina.

Scenery

It’s a tough choice but we are both hands for the Fishermen’s Trail we both love the sea it’s not often when the entire route follows the coastline; dramatic cliffs, pristine beaches, hidden bays – all these sound like a perfect holiday trail. You do get sea scenery on the Coastal Route of the Portuguese Camino and on the Northern Camino as well.

Cost

The Rota Vicentina is definitely more expensive than the Camino de Santiago. The main reason is accommodation there are no albergues for pilgrims on the route only hostels and hotels (some towns have campsites). You pay for accommodation between 15 and 20 Euro pp. depending on the season and type of accommodation you choose. Camping will cost you between 6 and 10 Euro pp. again the season is an important factor and you’ll have to carry camping gear with you.

Like any other beach holiday destination the area is more expensive than the rest of Portugal not only accommodation but food prices as well. On the Camino, you can get Menu del Dia (Menu do Dia in Portuguese) for 7-10 Euro on the Fishermen’s Trail you pay the same for one dish.  On the inland part of the Historical Way eating out is significantly cheaper you can get a menu for 6-7 Euro or a sandwich for 1-2 Euro.

Facilities

Both Rota Vicentina and Camino are well-marked you don’t really need GPS or a map to follow the route. As I already mentioned there are no albergues on the Rota Vicentina but there is accommodation in every town on the route as well as ATMs, restaurants, and shops – basically all one needs to complete the route.

Walking surface

Unlike on some Camino routes on the Rota Vicentina you hardly walk on the road or asphalt, most of the time it’s a footpath or a gravel road which is much better for walking it’s not as hard on your feet as asphalt.

Final thoughts

I would say the Rota Vicentina, especially the Fishermen’s Trail is more of a holiday trek that has nothing to do with the pilgrimage. If you want to hike for a couple of days or a week and combine the walk with a beach holiday the Rota Vicentina is the perfect option. If you’re seeking a spiritual or cultural experience (architecture,  historical towns, etc.) rather walk one of the Camino routes.

Recommended books and guidebooks

Rota Vicentina planning resources

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