What You Need To Know
The Algarve is the southernmost region of mainland Portugal, and incorporates 16 municipalities. The region has as its administrative centre in the city of Faro, where both the region’s international airport (FAO) and public university (the University of the Algarve) are located. Tourism and related activities are extensive and make up the bulk of the Algarve’s summer economy. Production of food, which includes fish and other seafood, fruit, oranges, carob beans, figs and almonds, is also economically important in the region. The Algarve is the most popular tourist destination in Portugal, and one of the most popular in Europe. Its population triples to nearly 1.5 million people in the peak holiday season thanks to seasonal residents, and receives an average of 7 million foreign tourists each year. In total, including national visitors, almost 10 million people visit the Algarve annually.
The Algarve is currently the third richest region in Portugal, after Lisbon and Madeira, with a GDP per capita 86% of the European Union average.
Area: 1,929 mi²
Population: 451,006 (2014)
- The Euro is the official currency of Portugal, and of most European Union member states, excluding the UK and the Czech Republic, among others. The Euro, symbolized by a “€,” has been in public circulation since January, 2002.
- Denominations of Euro coins are €2, €1, 50c, 20c, 10c, 5c, 2c, and 1c.
- Euro banknotes are issued in €500, €200, €100, €50, €20, €10, €5 notes.
- The currency for Portugal is the Euro. In the ALGARVE region you can buy/exchange Euros very easily at Cambios (Bureaux de Change or Change Shops), Hotels and even shops. Many banks no longer offer foreign exchange however. The best rates and commissions are normally found at the bureaux in larger towns. Worst rates by far are at the airports and hotels. Avoid, unless there is absolutely no alternative. The best thing is to keep an eye out whilst out shopping and always check the commission rates. You will not find much variation in the rates of exchange, as the change shops tend now to be owned by the same company.The Cambios (Bureaux de Change or Change Shops) are open seven days a week in the main tourist areas.You may need your passport to exchange cash (increasingly rare) but you will need it for travellers cheques. It is now virtually impossible to find anywhere that will change Traveller’s Cheques. Shops will not deal with them.Be aware that the exchange rates obtained by changing currency are not good. There are always fees (hidden or otherwise) and Cambios do not exchange money at the most favorable commercial (bank) rates. The best bet is to use an ATM/Cashpoint to obtain Euros from your home bank account, or use a non-fee credit card where possible.
- British visitors wishing to change cash should be aware that you will SOMETIMES get less in Portugal for British pounds than if you had changed your money before you left home.It is not a good idea to be carrying large amounts of cash around and even less of a good idea to bring thousands in cash if your accommodation does not have a safe.You can use your British debit card or credit card to withdraw cash as required (see below) and of course in many restaurants and supermarkets. Be aware that the PINGO DOCE supermarket chain does not accept credit cards on purchases less than 20 Euros. Some small shops will not take cards for small purchases of less than €10. Most small bars will not accept cards at all.
There are automated cashpoints (Multibanco) at most bank branches, at most of the larger supermarkets and in the main shopping areas of most towns. There are also machines at airports and major railway stations. They are not free for all transactions. Look for the blue/green M signs.
The Algarve boasts a magnificent all year round climate, with over 3,000 hours sunshine a year and clear blue skies for most of the year! Algarve weather averages 12 hours of sunshine a day in the summer and 6 hours in the winter. Despite being on the Atlantic coast, the Algarve has a Mediterranean-like climate with mild winters and long, hot summers. If we get some rain in the Algarve (which of course we do from time to time), most of it occurs in the ‘serra’ (the mountainous highland area in the north) and the coastal area averages just 50mm (2 inches) a year. The highest point in the Algarve, at Foia (near Monchique) does, very occasionally, see some snow, but you have to be quick to see it before it melts!
The language spoken in the Algarve is Portuguese but English is widely spoken and most people who work within the tourist industry speak English fluently. The Algarve’s economy is based upon tourism and this combined with the significant expatriate community has forced English as the secondary language of the region. No tourist to the Algarve should be concerned that language (or a lack of Portuguese) would impact their holiday. In the airport and stations signs have English translations and all tourist attractions have leaflets written in English.
Health and security
- The quality of healthcare in Portugal is very good, both private and government-run. There is in the Algarve both a public and a private network. There are two very large hospitals and a few smaller public hospitals. The large hospitals are located in Faro and in Portimão, which are the two largest cities in the Algarve. The private hospitals are located in the towns of Lagos, Portimão (or very close to it in Alvor) Albufeira and in Faro, although there are also health centers located in a number of other locations, including the city of Loulé.The private healthcare in the Algarve is basically controlled by two major groups: HPA, which is a large hospital group; and the Lusíadas Group, which used to be the old HPP group owned by Portugal’s largest public bank called CGD, Caixa Geral de Depósitos, that was privatized. There is then a network of little clinics that are typically privately run and would cover anything from small surgeries, general medicine, perhaps specialties such as ophthalmology, dentistry, and specialist diagnostic exams. So if you need to have a blood test and a CAT scan, you must go to a private clinic.
Everything in the Algarve is located quite close.
- Not that anywhere there are lots of people one is ever totally free from crime, but in the Algarve and Portugal there really isn’t a big worry about personal safety, nor food safety for that matter. If you are someone who likes to party hearty, heading for the local bar scene and staying out ’til the wee hours of the morning, the threat might increase slightly. There is something about the mix of youth, drink, and drugs that begets violence.
But except for that, you’d be hard pressed to find many folks who visit the Algarve who have horror stories to tell.
- Try to avoid the hottest, busiest and most expensive months of July and August if possible. You’ll find great deals, good weather (most of the time) and less crowds if you visit Algarve off-season. Weather-wise, May, June and September are usually hot but not unbearably so and although the risk of rain increases from October to April, and it does get cold at night, it’s possible to get lovely sunny days any time of year.
- If you plan on hiring a car, don’t forget the paper counterpart to your driving licence (if applicable). You need to have your licence with you when driving in Portugal plus the paperwork for the car and your ID.
- Check travel times and distances between places if you’re considering visiting more than one region. It makes far more sense to take your time exploring one area properly and come back again to see another place than to spend half your holiday travelling between destinations. If you feel you must cram as much as possible into one trip, you can save a few hours by flying between Faro and Porto.
- If you’re making your own travel arrangements, find out how to get from the airport to your accommodation before you book your flights. If you’re relying on public transport for transfers, you could get caught out if services finish earlier than you expected or don’t run at weekends.