With its year-round sunshine, spectacular beaches and historic villages, it’s little wonder that the Algarve is Portugal’s most popular tourist destination. But for a wheelchair user, does the Algarve live up to its hype as being one of Europe’s greatest destinations to visit? Well, recent upgrades to the region by the tourist board has seen beaches, restaurants and hotels all becoming more accessible – here’s everything you need to know:
Your accommodation can make or break your trip, which is why it’s so important that you extensively research the best place for your needs before you go.
When it comes to hotels, many in the Algarve are becoming more accessible and many hotel comparison sites will allow you to filter search results based on accessibility. However, before you book, you may want to contact the hotel directly to ensure your needs are met, just to be safe. Some of the best accessible hotels in the Algarve include:
You may find, though, that rather than a hotel, an apartment or private villa might be a better option. There are organisations in the Algarve that provide specifically modified apartments for wheelchair users – such as Abletoholiday – with accessible facilities such as a heated pool equipped with two hoists. Or, if you prefer something more private, there are plenty of accessible villas on sites like HomeAway – just filter your results by ‘Wheelchair Accessible’. Like the hotels, be sure to contact the owner directly to ensure the villa has everything you’ll need for your stay.
After a flight, even if it’s a short one, the last thing you want is any hassle getting to your accommodation. The stress can really dampen your holiday excitement. For peace of mind, book yourself an airport transfer that will pick you up from Faro airport and take you to your destination. You’ll be able to book a specially equipped vehicle suitable for wheelchairs and any family or carers you’re travelling with.
You may also want to check out my tips on flying with your wheelchair, especially to ensure your wheelchair doesn’t get damaged in transit.
For getting around the Algarve, unfortunately the vast majority of buses and trains have many steps making them inaccessible for wheelchair users; although some of the GIRO buses in Albufeira only have one step so may be possible. Looking into accessible car/van hire is likely to be a better option.
Visiting the Algarve simply wouldn’t be complete without a visit to some of its famous beaches. After all, it’s these miles of golden sand and crystal-clear waters that attract so many tourists to the Algarve every year.
Thanks to the 2004 Portuguese initiative involving the Portuguese Tourist Board and National Institute for Rehabilitation, there are now around 55 beaches that carry the Praia Acessivel – Praia para Todos flag, which translates to “accessible beach – beaches for everyone”. To gain one of these flags a beach must meet certain requirements such as ramps, walkways, adapted toilet facilities, lower counters, parking places and support facilities.
Of these accessible beaches, some will offer amphibious chairs (for water access) and beach wheelchair hires during summer months.
The Albufeira region of beaches have many blue flag and accessible beaches, making them some of the most popular in the Algarve. Of these, Praia dos Salgados is particularly picturesque and Peneco beach even has a lift to help tourists reach the beach.
As well as it’s strive to ensure accessibility for beaches, the Algarve also has good accessibility for many of its biggest attractions.
One of the most popular attractions in the Algarve is the Zoomarine water theme park, which has features such as pools with wave machines, an artificial beach and sea lion shows. The pools are not equipped with hoists so bear this in mind; however there are still lots to see and do, and the animal shows all have special viewing areas with wheelchair access.
If you like animals, Lagos Zoo is great for a day out too, with plenty of wildlife to see and various feedings and activities throughout the day. Some of the animals frequently roam the area – rather than stay confined to their cage – allowing you to get up close and personal with them. The zoo is very wheelchair-friendly and the food is reasonably priced.
Traditional Town of Lagos
Lagos itself is a must for exploring too. Known as the region’s old town, Lagos is filled with traditional whitewashed buildings with terracotta roofs. The town is paved with what is known as ‘Portuguese pavement’, which is basically a mosaic of small, flat stones. This can be quite bumpy at times, particularly at the marina, but isn’t as bad as the cobbles used in other countries. You’ll find plenty of bars and restaurants in the area, most with wide doors and easy access for wheelchairs – perfect for sampling some of the local cuisine!