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South Portugal & Spain (W of Gibraltar)

Once east of Cap St Vincent (the SW corner of  Portugal), there's a marked change to a sunny climate. Good communications and mild winters make this a popular region for winter layup or live-aboard. Otherwise, this is a 190nm coast of transit to Gibraltar, with two interesting rivers for a diversion. There are a few delightful anchorages among sand dunes, some other-worldly villages, and plenty of marinas. It's easy to transit this coast just visiting Lagos and Cadiz, but much more fun to allow a few days each "up the rivers". Maybe add a day or three to wait for the easterly "Levanter" to subside.

Click here for Portuguese Boat Regulations

Sailing the Algarve - W to E

The western section, the Portuguese Algarve, is liberally served with expensive marinas, but has sufficient day anchorages to add interest. It is intensively developed for tourism, fed from Faro airport. A convenient railway connects the coast to the airport. From Lagos eastwards, the coast line is one long stretch of beach with occasional gaps for river entrances and attractive anchorages.  Working from the west:

Sagres is a small town just inside the cape, with a welcome nearby anchorage.. An attractive coastline of cliffs and coves (many suitable for day anchoring) leads to:

Lagos is a lively and attractive town with magnificent beaches, many expatriates in residence, and a well run marina popular with live-aboards. If you're considering wintering here, see http://www.lagosnavigators.net/

Portimao is a busy port, less tourist oriented than Lagos. It's 1nm inland on a river which is accessible in all conditions with sheltered anchorages. Near the entrance there's a large, well organised full service marina, with a secure hard and travel lift suitable for catamarans (9m beam) and large craft (up to 300 tons).

Albufiera and Vilamoura have marinas built around holiday developments with limited space ashore, the latter conveniently close to Faro airport

Faro & Olhão are tucked behind a host of sandy offshore islands, accessed by a buoyed maze of channels. Faro, to the west, is close to the airport, and has a popular large yard, Nave Pegos ("Bruce's Yard") where you can work on your own boat. It's accessed through a winding tidal channel (10 min video)Ria Formosa Boatyard, to the east near Olhão, is cheaper and has workshops, but less space. Olhão is a commercial port which has escaped mass tourism. It has extensive pontoons but doesn't accept visitors. Isla Culatra, to the east as you enter the maze, has anchorages, and runs regular ferries to Olhão. The settlements on Culatra are well worth a visit, with a rather other-worldly atmosphere and some enjoyable restaurants.

Tavira has a lovely anchorage, about 20nm east of Olhão, behind the 20km long sand dune of Tavira island. It's only busy in peak season. The old fishing town, well worth a visit, is a mile up river.S Iberia map

Ria Guadiana - the border!

Once you've passed the entrance bar, the Ria Guadiana is navigable for some 18nm inland, and forms the border between Portugal and Spain. First on the left entering is the marina at Vila Real de San Antonio. A little further inland on the Spanish side is Ayamonte, whose marina is rather better protected from the river currents which are sometimes rather brisk in the winter. Depths vary at the entrance, and high water entry may be needed.  Both marinas have been used for wintering by live-aboards, who report them good value and less tourist dominated than other Portuguese marinas. There's a yard with slips at the southern end of San Antonio.

The Guadiana is navigable for about 25nm up river beyond a suspension bridge - air draft 24m above chart datum.  Buoys mark shallows. There are pontoons at Alcoutim, 20nm inland, and Pomarao, ferry points with cafes and restaurants. Away form these settlements the river is sparsely populated olive and citrus groves. Remember the time shift as you cross from one bank to the other of the river; Spain runs one hour later! (more about the river Guadiana)

You're in Spain now, so add one hour to your clocks -

Sailing the Atlantic coasts of S Spain - W to E

The pleasure of Atlantic Andalucia (about 150nm of coastline) is there's much less tourist development here, excepting Tarifa's windsurfer slum! It splits into four parts: the 50nm "Beach"; Ria Guadalquivir; around Cadiz; and "windy alley" - Barbate to Gibraltar. The Beach is 50nm of sand dunes and low lying country leading to Chipiona marina anchorage at the mouth of the river Guadalqiver. Break your journey at El Rompido (shallow river entrance) or Mazagon marina if needed.

"The Beach" (west Andalucia)

"The Beach" is 50nm of sand from Portugal to the Ria Guadalqiver. The western half has some tidal river exits running parallel to the shore which provide good value marinas, amazing beaches, and a mixture of old towns and holiday resorts.

Ria Carreras, just 4nm east of the Ria Guadiana (once part of its delta) has the well sheltered full service Marina Isla Canela, linked with a major holiday development area on the west side. On the east is Isla Christina, a pleasant older town on the beach, its own full service marina.

Ria Pedras, some 15nm further east, has a buoyed sand encumbered entrance. Once past this barrier, travel west along the river (tidal streams up to 2kts), sheltered from the sea by a long, thin sandy spit. After 5nm (past lots of moorings and anchorages) you'll reach Rompido marina , connected to a holiday town.

Ria Odiel lies a further 12nm east of the Pedra entrance, and leads to the old university town of Huelva, about 12nm up river (anchorages and pontoon berths). Close to the river entrance is Mazagon marina and boatyard. After this, 25nm of beach until you reach:

The Ria Guadalqivir - to Seville.

From Chipiona marina, or the anchorage a little up river opposite, take a whole day trip up river with the tide to Seville, a "must see". It's about an eight hour motor. Quite large coasters use well marked transits to follow the channel.

Seville. 9/10 in spring and autumn. Seville is one of Spain's great old cities. It's very hot in summer (40°C common), so ideally you'd time a visit before mid May, or in October, or over-winter there. Certainly spend at least three nights - for a full day at the old city, and another day for shopping and café life. Keep a firm grip of your luggage; bag snatching happens. There's a choice of three mooring areas.

Gelves Marina. For a short stop, Gelves marina is most convenient as long as your mast isn't high enough to snag the power lines. Nearing Seville, fork left. There are pontoon berths outside the tiny marina. The marina itself should have 2.2m depth at high water, but that assumes it has been recently dredged. If so, there's a popular shore layup facility - book ahead. Frequent buses to Seville.

Seville Lock.  Alternatively, go through the locks and bridges to Seville. The snag is that lock and bridge times are sparse for small craft, so this option is only suitable if you are planning a stay of at least several days. Large locks only open by appointment with commercial craft. Hitch a lift through with a coaster. Immediately right after the lock is a marina mooring area, well out of town. It's suitable for waiting to slip past the next barrier, the bridge. The bridge opens at 2200 on Mon, Wed and Fri, or 2000 on Sat & Sun. Call the club to make sure he does open for you!

Club Nautico, Seville.  The delightful Club Nautico has good security, swimming pools, and is only a 25 min walk to the old city centre. A great place to winter if the price suits your pocket. They don't take advance bookings though.

Ports and Anchorages near Bay of Cadiz

The Bay of Cadiz, about 10nm across, has three marinas, each close to an attractive place to stay for a day, or three, or over winter. Marinas busy until late October, when many visitors leave to cross the Atlantic.

Cadiz. 9/10. Marina Puerto Americo is a scruffy but convenient half an hour's walk from Cadiz centre. Inner Cadiz city has grand squares, slightly run-down grand old houses, more churches that you can shake a cross at and narrow alleyways everywhere. Seek out the tapas bars, many of which sell fried fish take-aways (no, England didn't invent it!).

El Puerto de Santa Maria. 8/10. Sample its excellent sherry bodegas and great seafood restaurants. Moor at yacht club pontoon if there's room, or cross by ferry from Cadiz.

Puerto Sherry Marina (4/10) is expensive compared to Rota, often full of local boats, not particularly attractive, but convenient for Puerto Santa Maria. Shore hard, good repair facilities, suitable for wintering ashore or afloat. 

Rota Marina (6/10) is good value, suitable for wintering ashore or afloat, with the pleasant town centre of Rota neaby.

Sancti-Petri is an attractive inlet  guarded by a sand bar 10nm south of Cadiz. It offers several river anchorages, busy at weekends. Pontoon berths may be available.

Approaching Gibraltar Straits - Windy Alley

Strong easterlies (Levanter) or westerlies (Poniente) are normal here. You'll often have to wait a few days for a favourable wind. Seasonal tunny nets off Barbate and Tarifa add excitement, and there's quite a lot of commercial traffic through the traffic separation scheme of the Straights of Gibraltar. Choose your tide - it runs at up to 3kts in springs, but there are good eddies to give a helping hand.

Barbate is a working tunny fishing port with a neat little marina (fuel, showers, laundry). A useful spot to wait out a Levanter. Shops etc in a workaday town just east, which comes to life with Spanish holidaymakers  in peak summer months.

Tarifa is the (rather tacky) windsurfing capital of Europe, which gives a clue - 30kts is common. If you have to wait out a Levanter, it's more comfortable to anchor in the lee of Tarifa headland, rather than alongside in the harbour, where robust fenders and chafing boards will be needed to survive. 


  • Attractions. Really warm climate. Good winter live-aboard sites. In Spain; Seville, Cadiz, seasonal festivals, superb seafood restaurants, sherry with tapas.
  • Snags. Algarve over-development and expensive marinas. Avoiding seasonal tunny nets. Waiting for the levanter . . . and remembering to change the clocks moving  between Portugal and Spain.
  • Ports of Entry. Lagos, Portimao, Vilamoura, Faro/Olhao, San Antonio, Ayamonte, Seville, Cadiz.
  • Layup or Wintering. Live aboard; Lagos and other Algarve marinas, Ayamonte and Seville. Rota, afloat or ashore. Shore hards at Faro, Isla Canela, Mazagon and Gelves marina, near Seville.
  • Transport. Rail connections along the Algarve coast to Faro airport. Buses from Spanish coast resorts to Seville airport.
  • Boat Charter ?


Reviewed Dec 2016


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