A key benefit of living in the Algarve, and along Portugal’s coast, is the selection of stunning beaches to choose from. When you live here you quickly choose your favorites to return to regularly, usually those closest to home, and then venture to others for a mini local or national vacation. With more than 600 beaches to choose from across the country, it’s as wonderful luxury as it sounds, and why Portugal has a rich beach culture, and also an unspoken beach language.
A beach culture might make sense since who can resist relaxing oceanside to the sound waves lapping in the distance, working on a summer glow, socializing with friends, or devouring ice cream on a hot summer’s day? But an unspoken beach language? Yes, and one you should know if you plan to live here or even just visit.
The Atlantic ocean is a beautiful thing, but it’s also a powerful, living, moving, organic system with a mind of its own – and can be very dangerous. If you’re not familiar with coastal living or beach life there are a few rules of play you need to know and follow to make sure your beach days are safe and maximum fun. Everything you need to know, including new Post-Covid flags, is below.
Portugal’s Beach Flags
Beach Water Condition Flags
Green Flag – Low Risk. Calm waters, safe for swimming.
Yellow Flag – Medium Risk. Requires caution. Sunbathing is allowed, and entry into the water just up to the waist height. Swimming prohibited.
Red Flag – High Risk & Dangerous Conditions. Sunbathing is allowed. Entry into the water and swimming is prohibited.
New Beach Occupancy Flag (Post-Covid)
Green Flag – Low Occupancy. Good distance between sunbathers.
Yellow Flag – Medium Occupancy. Limited distance between sunbathers.
Red Flag – Maximum Occupancy. Small distance between sunbathers. Another beach is recommended.
Alert & Warning Beach Flags
White with Purple Jelly Fish – Notification of active ocean life in waters: jellyfish, man o war, or other stinging, venomous or dangerous ocean life.
Red & Yellow Flag – Swimming zone indicator flag. Two of these flags may be placed on the beach parallel to each other, indicating there may be currents and the space between them is the designated swimming area.
Checked Flag – Temporarily unsupervised beach.
Black Flag – Beach closed to sunbathing and swimming.
Award Beach Flags
Blue Flag – Excellence awarded beach. Internationally qualified for cleanliness in and out of water.
Golden Beach Flag – National gold standard qualification for having achieved 5 consecutive years of high water and beach cleanliness.
Accessibility For All Flag. Awarded and identified for accessibility and facilitating mobility: wheelchair, crutches, walkers, etc.
Beach Like An Algarve Local Tips:
Sun Protection & Comfort:
- Use a beach umbrella to manage your heat and sun exposure. Make sure to dig it in deep so a gust of wind doesn’t accidentally make it airborne and spears your beach-loving neighbors
- Keep sandals or shoes with you, dry sand can become very hot and may burn your feet
- Saltwater can harden your towel and take time to dry. Take two towels one to dry off the other to lie on
- Take a low-rise chair if you prefer to be in a seated position rather than lying down
- There are many beaches with chairs and umbrellas if you prefer not to carry your own.
- Wear a brimmed hat or sunglasses to protect your eyes from long direct sun exposure
- Use an ocean-friendly sunscreen SPF 20+, and don’t forget to reapply after a swim. 50+ for children and avoid using spray sunscreens as they can easily leave areas exposed causing sunburns
- Use extra protection during high sun & heat hours (umbrella, hat, or SPF 50+) between 11:00-16:00
- Avoid at all costs falling asleep in the sun without protection
Food & Hydration:
- Stay hydrated by taking or purchasing water to manage your body heat. Remember to keep your water bottles out of the sun
- Pack a cooler bag with water and snacks, or take an entire picnic or meal. Make sure your beach food can be kept cool and not grow bacteria and is suitable for beach temperatures
- Have some cash with you for water and snacks. Most beaches have card-accepting snack bars, more remote or small beaches however may only have walking vendors passing-through
Fun & Electronics:
- Take entertainment: a book, musical instrument, games, or beach sports equipment
- Learn a water sport, Portugal has plenty for you to choose from: surfing, kite surfing, snorkeling, scuba, sailing – the list is long…
- Bring minimal electronics to the beach and keep them out of the sun to avoid overheating. Sand can also cause severe scratches and permanent damage to plugs and electronic interiors
Beach Safe Kids:
- Accompany children in water or keep a very close eye on them even in shallow areas
- Have kids wear something distinctive on busy beaches, having a unique umbrella is also helpful for them to always keep an eye on you
- Take sand building or other toys that keep them busy and where you can keep an eye on them
- Avoid having small children and kids in direct sunlight at high summer sun between 11:00 and 16:00
- When visiting an unmonitored beach you may be at risk, it’s not recommended you go alone if you’re not a strong and experienced swimmer, and even if you are.
- Always read the condition of the water before entering. Watch for the speed and strength of waves, possible currents, and movement of the water – if it seems turbulent or aggressive at all wait. Undertows can happen quickly and when least expected, it’s better to wait than wish you did.
- Never dive headfirst into unfamiliar waters or water you haven’t accounted for tide changes
- Watch for Portugal’s beach flags before you enter the beach and water. There may also be more than one to let you know what is happening at any given time.
- Leave jewelry, watches, and expensive items that are easy to lose at home
- Help keep beaches clean by taking your waste with you. Most beaches have full rubbish facilities some even provide recyclable beach ashtrays
- Beaches in Portugal are generally very safe, but also highly trafficked. It’s a good practice to be discrete with any valuables (phones, wallets, etc.) and not leave your belongings unattended
Delicious Beach Musts:
Beach pastries: (Bolas de Berlim), doughy donut-like pastry filled with pastry cream, Nutella or jam. Check the vendor has them in a temperature-controlled carrier for maximum freshness.
Ice cream: try quirky Portuguese flavors by the scoop if available, or the pre-wrapped varieties.
If divided between the two, have one of each – the Portuguese have a serious sweet tooth, no one will judge you.