I first heard of the Berlengas Islands after reading a 2019 article in The Portugal News about the number of visitors per day to the nature reserve on one of the islands being limited. UNESCO classified the archipelago as a Biosphere Reserve in 2011, though it has been a natural reserve since 1981 and was classified as a Special Protection Zone for Wild Birds in 1999.
After spending time enjoying the wonderful fishing village and surf destination of Peniche for a couple of days, we booked tickets for a journey out to the island. We ended up picking a company called Feeling Berlenga. You can choose from a fast boat, that takes about 20 minutes each way and a calm boat trip that takes 40 minutes each way.
We chose the fast boat for our trip and coupled it with a tour of the caves as well. The cave trip gives the added bonus that it will take you to the other feature of the island besides the beautiful nature of the biosphere reserve, the Fort of São João Baptista, but more on that later.
The trip out to the island, the largest in the archipelago, Berlenga Grande was made on large 20-seater zodiacs (with thankfully well-padded seats).
One bumpy but exhilarating ride later we arrived at the docks facing a beautiful cover with bright blue waters and a small beach.
Perched above the docks are small fisherman´s huts once used so fishermen could fish the bountiful waters around the islands without having to return daily to the mainland. The huts, some now available as hotel accommodation, are accompanied by other modern facilities, such as a restaurant and solar panels that now provide power to the island and its lighthouse.
After arriving and checking out the small beach accessed by a bridge over a cave in the cove, we went back to the docks to meet the small boat that would take us on a tour of the caves and then drop us off at the fort.
The small glass bottom boat met us at the docks and took us speeding along the coast of the island towards the fort. Close to the fort the boat visits a number of caves, the most impressive was the tunnel cave that the boat goes through before going around the headland and returning to the dock at the fort.
Upon arriving at the fort the tour staff on the boat gave us the option of walking back to the point of departure at the main dock, or having a quick look around at the fort and returning on the boat.
There is not really much to see at the fort, the only way to see inside is if you are staying at the youth hostel that now occupies the building, which is only open during the summer months.
The main reason you might want to consider taking the lift back is the about 500, really quite steep steps up from the fort to the top of the cliffs. At the top, you then walk along to the lighthouse on the island´s summit before descending back to the main dock via a paved road. So if you have any mobility issues, or really don´t fancy the stairs I would highly recommend walking up the road from the fishing huts if you want to go check out the lighthouse and the amazing views down on the fort.
Despite one of us having a knee brace on we braved the stairs and got some amazing views of the fort on the way up.
There are lots of trails on the top of the island, that take you from one end to the other. There is a map near the lighthouse and signposts to get you hiking in the right direction. Some of the trails are reserved only for the use of fishermen, who still frequent the island and its rich fishing grounds today.
The lighthouse is still a working lighthouse and is not accessible to the public, after having a quick look we descended back down the access road to the collection of fisherman´s huts. There is a restaurant and small snack bar nestled amongst the huts and we stopped there to have some drinks and watch the comings and goings of all the tour boats at the docks below while we waited for the return journey to the mainland.
I would highly recommend going to see the island, with the cave tour included the trip was €28 per person. You can take the trip without the caves for €20, but it is well worth the small upgrade, both of these trips are 3-4 hours in length. There are also other options from various tour companies including dolphin watching, snorkelling or scuba diving in the caves.