Vertical pursuits: Rock climbing in the Algarve

Vertical pursuits: Rock climbing in the Algarve

By: João Chambino

Based in Lagos, Volta do Mar promises radical moments of climbing in contact with nature, for all skill levels

In maritime jargon, the Portuguese term “volta do mar” refers to a manoeuvre performed to take advantage of favourable winds and currents and push the expedition forward, perhaps back home. The description fits perfectly with the route taken by the founders of Lagos-based company Volta do Mar, which promotes rock climbing, among other more or less radical activities.

Originally from Lisbon, the Alentejo and the Algarve, respectively, Ricardo Gonçalves, Pedro Caciones and André  Glória have, since 2007, got to know various corners of the world, from Asia to America, where they learnt scuba diving, gained experience in customer care with different jobs and began shaping a dream that was already guiding their trip planning: to open, upon their return to the Algarve in 2015, a company that would make the region and its potential for various activities known.

At Volta do Mar the service is “personalised to clients’ tastes”, explains Ricardo Gonçalves, who adds: “When clients go climbing with us, they have the place practically to themselves. Even when planning for groups, we try not to have more than four people per trip, so as to provide a more thorough and personal service.” But there is more to these outings than just rock climbing.

©Ricardo Gonçalves


“During our tours, we always try to show we always try to show a less ‘touristy’, more genuine side of the Algarve,” he explains. “Before the pandemic, we even held a tasting of products and drinks from the region, such as Algarve orange juice, but these days we’ve put that on hold for safety reasons.”

About the climbing itself, Ricardo sees it as “a growing activity in Portugal, including in the Algarve”, and he confidently states that it is a sport for everyone. “We‘ve had children as young as seven and people over 50 years old. If the will is there, anyone regardless of physical condition can do it.” Gonçalves reveals that Volta do Mar has three preferred locations for rock climbing: Bensafrim (Lagos), with heights of 10 to 15 metres, Rocha da Pena (Loulé), up to 20 metres, and Sagres, where you can get up to 30 metres. The first two “are for beginners”, whilst the Sagres tours “are for those looking for a more demanding challenge, due to the environmental surroundings and their magnitude”, he explains.

For first-timers, Volta do Mar provides beginners’ courses lasting five to six days to prepare future rock climbers for amateur practice. According to Gonçalves, these classes teach basic techniques and concepts for a more assertive climb. “We teach them how to conserve energy, to climb, etc. for example, a lot of people think that this sport is all about arm strength, but that’ wrong. It’s all in the legs.”

©Mike Amico/Facebook @Amico Photography

The various tour packages available with Volta do Mar always include all the required equipment, such as ropes, helmets and more, which he assures are “regularly checked and replaced as needed to ensure the safety of the climbs”. Although, he warns of the possible dangers of practising this sport in nature: “There are a few loose rocks that can sometimes make climbing harder, but climbers in the Algarve are a tight-knit unit and clear the routes of these hindrances when they find them so that the next climbers find everything in excellent condition.”

Although the pandemic changed some of the day-to-day life procedures for the three partners, “like cutting back on client pick-ups at hotels”, as they have reduced costs and try to get clients to go to the climbing sites by themselves, Volta do Mar expects a recovery at the start of next year, with Ricardo Gonçalves aiming “to resume all the services that are now on hold. People are anxious to start returning to normal life”.

©Ricardo Gonçalves

To reach more aspiring climbers, this Lisbon- native now rooted in Lagos, relies on “word to mouth and the great reviews” they receive on several online platforms. “To date, we haven’t really invested in publicity and people still find us, mainly from the UK and North America.” Climbing packs are tailor-made for each client and groups. “People who are interested contact the company by e-mail and we agree on all the details so that the experience is unforgettable,” Gonçalves states.

And as someone who has travelled halfway around the world, from the exoticism of Thailand to the sobriety and grandeur of the Pacific Ocean, this founder of Volta do Mar is not shy in stating: “The Algarve is perfect for climbing and everything else. I left, came back and built my life here. We have all the best of the best, the only thing missing is the snow. But even that is only a few hours away in winter.”

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