Be the Right Kind of Traveller
I recently wrote about the two sides of Portugal’s Algarve region. Not a geographical division, but a split between those who travel with a good understanding of the region (or an appreciation of their ignorance), and those who expect it to be a British holiday outpost. Like Blackpool. Except with 6 or 7 months of sunshine.
Portugal is a warm welcoming place and the Algarve is second to none when it comes to hospitality, but there are a few things to remember if you want to stay on the right side of the culture / vulture divide.
1. Be aware of the facts, but don’t let them stop you
Regardless of where you are travelling, the chances are there will be social, political, cultural and economic differences. This is very much true of Portugal. For many of us, these differences are the very reason we travel. Before you go to any new country though, it is important to have a rough idea of the country’s history, and of any cultural or social norms you should be aware of.
Portugal is cheap, but cheap travel is not necessarily exploitative where tourism brings widespread economic support. This is very much the case in Portugal. Far from being a negative, cheap accommodation, meals, drinks and tours you buy in the Algarve support Portugal and its tourist industry.
Try to support local industry where possible. Wine lovers will have no problems here; the wine produced in Lagoa is particularly tasty! The firewater brandy and locally produced honey are also well worth checking out.
Buy bread from local bakers and fruit from local shops. Try to limit how much imported food you buy. You can do without Walkers crisps for a few weeks!
Portugal is very different to the UK in a great many ways; have a full appreciation of this. The Portuguese locals didn't grow up in the UK and they don't all speak perfect English. Understand the differences between the Algarve and your home country, but don’t let them stop you having a great time.
2. Don’t hog the beach
You find a nice quiet spot on the beach, you take out your towel and lay it gently on the sand. You strip down to your swimming gear, take out your chosen holiday book, and settle in for a relaxing couple of hours. It’s sunny. The sea is calm and soothing. You’re on holiday. Life is good.
A few minutes later some obnoxious strangers decide to sit themselves down about 3 inches from the edge of your towel. Half of the beach is empty. Have they never heard of personal space? They could go somewhere else, anywhere else, but your spot is a good one, and they bloody know it!
A girl sparks up a cigarette and starts blowing smoke in your general direction. Some bloke cracks open a can of Fosters, pulls out a pair of tinny iPod speakers and starts blasting out some UK garage. Everyone loves UK garage; right?
Five minutes later and they’re all sitting stark-bollock naked. This is the non-nudist part of the beach. You definitely checked that! One of the girls is asking her mate if she can see the scar from her boob job. Her boyfriend is grunting, swearing and letting his dog kick sand on your sun-cream covered body. You drop your book. What chapter where you on again? For the last 5 minutes you hadn't really been paying attention anyway. The calming sound of the sea suddenly seems like a distant memory.
Give people space. Find your own spot on the beach!
3. Tip generously, and tip directly
There are some great restaurants and hotels in the Algarve, and in my experience, the staff tend to be very good at what they do. Eating and sleeping out is likely to be cheaper than it would be at home, so you can afford to give a decent tip if you get quality service.
I tend to forget about those “percentage rules” that are common in the UK. I’ve had excellent meals for less than €15 a head. Meals I would have happily paid twice the price for at home. Leaving a €1.50 tip each (10% extra) seems wrong. Chip in €5 each and the meal is still very cheap, but the staff’s daily take-home is also significantly increased. Everyone wins.
4. See a little more. Maybe go inland?
Entirely optional, but the inland 'old' Algarve is well worth seeing. Day tours are one of the best ways to see the Algarve. Depending on what you want to see and do, they can cost as little €30 to €50 per person, per day.
I’ve done a few of these tours and found them to be very well organised. They'll usually pick you up from your hotel and show you loads of places in a single day. Time in each location will be limited, so if you’re looking to take photos, you’ll need to be a bit of a photography ninja; it’s definitely a good way to mix up your experience though.
If you don't fancy going to the inland towns and villages, jeep and nature tours are a good alternative way of getting off the tourist trail. Coastal tours can also give you a taste of Algarvian culture, and city breaks to Faro and Lisbon are very affordable.
If you fancy seeing the coastline from a different angle, a boat trip can be fun, and some will include local wine and freshly caught fish. You can't really beat sipping wine whilst floating on tranquil seas, but do drink responsibly. You are representing your home country, but not in some 'smash it up with the lads' drinking game!
5. Don’t be this guy
The Algarve is vast and varied. If you don’t go inland, or you don’t leave your resort, at least appreciate that the rest of the country exists! I know, right!
“Yeah. Just a week of playing golf, ya know! Ain’t really nothin’ else to do in the Algarve ‘cept play golf. Is there?”
Real words heard on the plane trip home, from a guy who sounded like he’d done nothing but smoke and play golf since he came out of the womb.
There is so much more to the Algarve than golf and sand. Don’t be ignorant!
Read the top tips and want to know more?
For more information, check out Cormac's detailed article on 'The Two Sides of the Algarve.'