January 27, 2020
There are several reasons why you would include a visit to Nazaré during your travels through Portugal. They have beautiful deep sand beaches with amazing views of the Atlantic and surrounding cliffs that jet out into the ocean complimented by the lighthouse of Nazaré. The locals demonstrate their relationship with the ocean by drying their fish along the shores and sharing their fishing boats with you. The area is lined with many restaurants featuring the bounty of the sea, and it comes directly from the boat to your table.
But the main reason to visit Nazaré from October – March is for the big waves that rise off the swells of the Atlantic Ocean. World record waves are born here in excess of 90 feet tall. They are mesmerizing to watch but the real show happens when the jet skis and surfers arrive. Because of the Nazaré Canyon, a huge underwater canyon that runs deep into the ocean just off the shore of Nazaré, the waves are generated on the edge of the canyon by winds and several cross currents.
As we did research for our trip to Portugal, we knew we wanted to see the waves and the surfers. However, the waves don’t happen every day and you must be patient. From what we had read, you need to allow at least a two week window to get a few big wave days. So, we bookmarked the Nazaré Wave Indicator website and started watching for the big wave alert.
The waves are ranked by size, wind direction and the period of time it keeps its shape. While we were hoping for gigantic waves (10 on the wave scale), we only saw 6’s and 7’s (25 – 30 footers). We continued checking every few days and finally started seeing some 6’s and started getting alerts for “big” waves. Of course, the weather can change but we went ahead and booked our hotel in Nazaré and worked our travel around the waves.
Getting to the Wave Site
It’s funny how a curve in the landscape can make all of the difference in the world on what you see. As we looked out our hotel room, we could see the cliffs and the Nazaré Lighthouse, but you cannot see the waves. Seriously, they were just around the corner. As the waves on the north side of the Lighthouse were growing, we could see the waves building on the edge of the underwater canyon. For a birds eye view, we had to climb the cliffs or take the funicular to Sitió and walk down to the Nazaré Point.
For €3 pp round trip, we chose the funicular from Nazaré up to Sitió on our first day of wave watching. It’s a slow paced ride that provides spectacular views of Nazaré on the ride up and down. at the end of the ride you are at the edge of Sitió, home to some of the best seafood restaurants around. From this point, it’s about a mile walk to the lighthouse. You can’t miss it if you turn toward the Atlantic and head down hill. Or, just follow the people that got off of the funicular.
If you have a caravan, there is a camping lot at the top of the walk and it was filled with quite a few vans. The road to the lighthouse is a narrow two-lane road that sees quite a bit of car traffic but no busses. If you drive down to the lighthouse, your parking options are very limited. So, park at the caravan lot and walk like everyone else.
During our three visits to the lighthouse, we watched the waves from various points. I highly recommend moving around as you certainly get various perspectives of the size and depth of the waves and the skills and abilities of the surfers and their jet ski pilots. Believe me, this isn’t a sport for weenies!
I strongly recommend that you pay the €1 admission to the lighthouse museum. The museum has an interesting display and educational room on how the waves are generated and a diagram of the underwater canyon. Several other rooms have displays and the actual boards that have surfed the Nazaré gigantic waves. There are kite boards, long boards, short boards and even body boards. It’s interesting to read about the individuals and their story of surfing the waves.
For me, being able to climb to the top of the lighthouse and relive some of those National Geographic photo moments was worth the cost of admission and the climb back up the hill to Sitió. From here, you get a perfect view of the underwater canyon. The waters change from a beautiful blue to almost black. It’s easy to watch the waves develop along the rim of the canyon. You also get a great view of the surfers making their way across the Atlantic from the boat harbor to the surfing point.
You would never be able to grab one of these waves from the shore, that’s why the jet skis are an important tool. The guides, surfers and boards race to the wave zone, the surfer hops off the jet ski and gets on his board. In an action similar to skiing, the surfer is pulled into the wave by the jet ski, the rope is released, the surfer starts surfing. At the same time, the jet ski must outrun the wave and get into position to retrieve the skier once he completes his run. It’s crazy fast and there are multiple skiers and jet skis going at the same time, trying to grab the same wave face.
This was a dream come true for both of us. While seeing gigantic waves would have been great, we were “over the top” excited with seeing 25 – 30’ waves and lots of surfing action. Of course, after walking back up the hill to Sitió, we rewarded ourselves with a large cauldron of shellfish rice stew. Yum yum yummy
Looking for more surfing pics? Check out my blog on Nazaré Surfing – Just The Pics
A Bit of a Trivia: American Garrett McNamara surfed a 78-foot wave at Nazaré and two years later he surfed a giant 100-foot wave thereby breaking his own record.
Directions: We arrived in Nazaré by bus from Coimbra. The one way trip was 1 hour long and cost €12 on Rede Expressos bus line. From the bus station, every location in Nazaré is in walking distance. Very easy town to get around.
Nazare Waves Website: https://www.surf-forecast.com/breaks/Nazare/forecasts/latest/six_day