A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a popular destination for hikers, snorkelers, and divers, the Berlengas archipelago is a collection of small islands and reefs off the coast of Peniche, Portugal. Only one of the islands is inhabited, and the unspoiled scenery and secret sandy coves draw visitors from far and wide.
Some 6 miles (10 kilometers) off the Portuguese coast, none of the Berlengas islands has a permanent population. The biggest island, Berlenga Grande, is famous for its 17th-century fort—Fort St. John the Baptist (Forte de São João Baptista)—connected to the land via a precarious stone causeway. Before the fort was constructed a monastery existed on the same site, but it was abandoned after frequent raids from pirates.
The area around the islands is a protected zone for the preservation of local birds and sea life, and only fairly small numbers of tourists are permitted per year. Visitors take the ferry from the mainland or visit Berlenga Grande as part of an all-day guided tour from Lisbon. From the harbor area, you can hike to one of the beaches or see the fort before returning to the mainland.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Access to Berlenga Grande is via boat only.
- The island has uneven terrain and is not suitable for people with limited mobility.
- Glass-bottom boat tours visit the caves around the island’s exterior.
- There is a café/restaurant on the island, but it is advisable to bring extra water with you.
- The fort also serves as an overnight hostel for visitors.
- The waters around the Berlengas are popular with divers and snorkelers.
How to Get There
The Berlengas archipelago is located off the coast of Portugal, approximately 6 miles (10 kilometers) from the coastal town of Peniche. Visitors can take the seasonal ferry from Peniche to the harbor on Berlenga Grande or take part in a guided boat tour with round-trip transfers provided.
When to Get There
Boat tours and passenger ferries visit Berlenga Grande in the summer months only—the sea is too rough in the winter for small boats to operate. Ferries run from late May to mid-September.
Exploring the Town of Peniche
The jumping-off point for boat tours and ferry rides across to the Berlengas archipelago, Peniche town is worth a stop too. Visitors interested in history can tour the fortress that housed political prisoners of 20th-century Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar. Those looking to relax can take a seat on one of the sandy beaches that draw local surfers or head to a seafood restaurant serving up the catch of the day.