Travels in Portugal, The Trouble With Social Media

Benagil-beach-and-Benagil-caves-as-seen-from-a-boat

We returned now to the coast with a plan to visit the beach at Benagil, quite close to Carvoeiro and try and find a sea cave that has recently become a popular tourist attraction.

As we set off we had no way of knowing just how popular and it turned out that finding it was not actually that difficult because it soon became clear that every other visitor to the Algarve had chosen the same day to do this.  Parking the car was impossible, getting onto the beach was a nightmare and the whole place was horribly over-commercialised with people pushing and shoving to book a place on an over-priced boat tour.

The Benagil cave is a wonderful natural wonder that has been destroyed by tourism. It is in many guide books as one of the top ten things to see in the Algarve. The problem with visiting somewhere that is very popular is that it is very popular. Even relatively recently this place was a secret known only to local fishermen and villagers, now it is an Instagram bucket-list destination.

Beautiful places have always been fashionable with visitors of course, but the rise of social media means that even the most hidden of hidden gems doesn’t remain so for long. And while in a bygone age visitors would flock to wonderful attractions simply to admire them, now these delights are merely the backdrop to the irritating selfie feeding thousands of social media pages as once secret places are discovered, revealed and overrun.

It is an issue that I struggle with, beautiful places shouldn’t be exclusive but people who visit in their thousands should surely pay more respect and try not to turn it into a Disney World experience.

This is the Benagil cave but we didn’t get to see inside…

Benagil Cave

… and the sad fact it would be most unlikely to see it like this because inside would be swarming with visitors off of the boats lining up to get close and get the selfie.

The Irish artist Patrick Swift lived for a while in Carvoeiro and in 1965 wrote an early travel guide to the Algarve.  He refers to Benagil only once and describes the place as remote and medieval with no roads in or out of the village, he makes no mention of the cave.  He makes it sound really nice.  Just like Norman Lewis in Catalonia at the same time he would be in for a shock if he saw it again today.  There is an ALDI supermarket close by now!

My blogging pal Gunta on her site ‘Movin Ondrew attention to this problem in a recent post – ‘Tourist Madnesswhich is well worth a read.

At Benagil it is not just the place itself that is spoilt but here the local economy has been irreversibly changed and there is no going back – there are no fishing boats anymore because the fishermen have all abandoned the hard life of the sea, discarded their pots and nets and earn their living these days taking boat loads of people to visit the caves.  Tourists are easier to catch than tuna.  Guaranteed income.  Soft hands instead of callouses.  Regular hours instead of the night shift.

It was a shame not to visit the cave but there were plenty more along the coast which haven’t yet attracted the attention of the Instagrammers but I fear that it is only a matter of time.

So we returned to our accommodation in Carvoeiro where we spent what was left of the afternoon in the garden and around the swimming pool. This was our final night on the south Atlantic coast of the Algarve as tomorrow we were heading west so we did some souvenir shopping (pottery ladybird garden ornaments) and after a final walk to the beach, empty now except for a few hardy stragglers as the sun faded away and then choose a restaurant for evening meal. I had a salad and a cataplana, a sort of fish casserole and Kim had prawns followed by chicken kebab. We had walked seven miles today.

Not the Benagil cave but one close by…

Carvoeiro Rocks

Other Cave Stories:

Drogarati Cave and Blue Lagoon, Kephalonia

Altimira Caves, Spain

Blue Lagoon, Capri

Krakow, Wieliczka Salt Mine

Lanzarote – Cueva de los Verde

Cave Houses of Guadix

Llechwedd Slate Caverns, Wales

Cuevas El Aguila in The Gredos Mountains

 

31 responses to “Travels in Portugal, The Trouble With Social Media

  1. We’re visiting Portugal at Xmas so all these posts are aiding my travel planning – thanks.

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  2. Portugal is wonderful and attract many folks. The story is repeated everywhere..

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  3. Wait . . . isn’t that one of them there selfies you decry? In fact, I remember seeing lots of photos of you in front of monuments, statues, and various landmarks.

    Perhaps I should start showing photos of landmarks with me prominently featured front and center.

    That’s sure to keep the tourists away!

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    • A good point but I am not talking about Buckingham Palace or the Statue of Liberty but rather the secret once inaccessible places that are now tourist honey pots.

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    • OK, but you went there and took a selfie . . . and posted it . . . and described its general location. It kind of makes me want to go there.

      . . . it seems almost a bit of the old do-as-I-say, not as-I-do.

      Let me posit the idea that perhaps it’s not all them selfie-taking-tourists that cause (or caused) the onslaught. There are many (many, many) travel shows that highlight such places and so do (many, many) magazines and travel books. Websites push “secret” places and local tourism boards are more than happy to share “secret” spots with the entire world. I’ll even go as far as saying they often embellish what might otherwise be a mundane sight.

      True, there are now more people about and (as Gunta says) you can’t even count on the school year curtailing visitors (we used to do much of our travels in September for that very reason) because older people with nothing better to do, love to travel.

      Come to think of it, we’re all a part of it, so what’s with the sadness? I mean, yes, I don’t like people, but I’m not sure that gives me the moral high ground to complain about too many people about.

      Remember, even if you don’t snap photos and even if you don’t publish photos you took, you are still there . . . as a tourist. That’s why it seems strange to me reading complaints about tourists. Perhaps you should do as I do . . . don’t go.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You were brave even trying! Have to admit if I see somewhere plastered all over social media I tend to now avoid it, as there’s always somewhere else just as beautiful further down the coast or up the valley. It’s so sad though that this is what happens.

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  5. Social media just seems to encourage the herd instinct most people seem to have. Definitely one of the worst American inventions ever.

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  6. Is there anywhere in Europe you can go on holidays where no one else goes?. Or what if you stayed at home?

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  7. It is something that we have noticed more and more on our travels. We lived in Madrid for 17 years and when we had guests we would take them to the tourist related destinations during lunchtimes when they tended to be much quieter. The rain here, now we are back in Ireland, goes a long way to keeping the crowds away! Very interesting thank you.

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  8. As someone who is part of the Instagram generation, I often find myself hating social media precisely because of this. But the truth is that more and more people have access to the privileges of travelling in such a way that it’s almost not a privilege anymore.

    I wish I could have lived and travelled twenty or thirty years ago, when hidden gems were still hidden, when you could still experience a culture in its natural form, not staged for the tourist to see, when I didn’t have to watch out for selfie sticks threatening to rip an eye out of my face, when I could go to a gallery and truly enjoy the art without the danger of suffocating in crowds.

    Unfortunately, something that is so good about all of us having more equal access to travelling and getting to know the world also brings negative consequences not only for the experience of oneself but for local communities and natural habitats. Social media is just a tool of democracy, and I’m afraid we’ll have to live with both the positives and the negatives of it.

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  9. TV too! Thinking Outlander here. There’s a secret gorge just outside Glasgow which is no longer a secret and has cars parked dangerously along a narrow road.

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  10. Which is why I prefer to travel off-season. Peggy has booked a Rhine River Cruise for us next summer to take the kids and grandkids on and I am dreading that it is in the heart of tourist season! Paying more to fight the crowds… –Curt

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  11. I think most genuine travellers struggle with whether to tell the world about beautiful places or to selfishly keep it to oneself. Nowadays I tend not to tell! I realize though, that this is selfish of me and I worry that I’m denying locals the chance to make money.

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  12. Aaaargh, social media and bucket lists

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  13. You make a lot of good points, the biggest being that a lonely place changes character when filled so it is no longer possible for anyone to enjoy anything but an echo. At the same time, by sharing such a lovely image you’ve lifted the spirits of people who see it here and can share in the echo vicariously.

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