Home » Destinations » Cabo Espichel, Portugal: Wild Coast of Legends

Cabo Espichel, Portugal

Cabo Espichel, and all its wild beauty, sits on the tip of the Setubal Peninsula in the southwest corner of Portugal. This wild landscape boasts rugged cliffs, pounding seas and gusting winds and has attracted both pilgrims and scientists. Read on to find out the connection between the Virgin Mary and a dinosaur discovery.  If you love the wildness of nature, then Cabo Espichel will enthral you.

Visiting Cabo Espichel

Cabo Espichel is just 40km south of Portugal’s capital city of Lisbon. It’s also a short 15km drive from the coastal fishing town of Sesimbra.

Parking is not a problem as there is a huge area right by the church and within easy walking distance of other sights here.

The buildings at Cabo Espichel all have an interesting history and are worth the time to visit. And of course, there is the spectacular surrounding landscape to explore – and dinosaur footprints to spot.

Map of Cabo Espichel and Attractions

Things to See and do at Cabo Espichel

Nossa Senhora do Cabo Espichel

The Santuario de Nossa Senhora do Cabo Espichel is also known as the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Cape Espichel, or Nossa Senhora da Pedra Mua.

This ‘Sanctuary of our Lady’, built in the early 1700s in the name of Our Lady of the Cape Espichel, hosted many religious pilgrim’s journeys. They were drawn to Cabo Espichel due to the visions that were reported of the Virgin Mary riding a giant mule along the rugged cliffs. So many pilgrims flooded to the church that long accommodation wings needed to be built on either side of the church.

Sanctuario de nossa senhora do cabo Espichel

 Santuario de Nossa Senhora do Cabo Espichel

 Santuario de Nossa Senhora do Cabo Espichel

 Santuario de Nossa Senhora do Cabo Espichel showing the two wings of traveller/pilgrim accommodation

Casa da Agua

Opposite the Santuario de Nossa Senhora do Cabo Espichel, you’ll find a small hexagonal building in similar colours. This is the Casa da Agua, and 2020 marked the 250th anniversary of its construction.

The Casa da Agua (water house), received water via an aqueduct from the town of Azóia, and vegetables were grown in the attached garden to feed the pilgrims visiting the Sanctuario. 

Cabo-Espichel-Casa-del-Agua

Casa del Agua, Cabo Espichel

Ermida da Memória Chapel

Behind the church, on the precipice of the cliff, you will find the ‘Ermida da Memória’ chapel. This was built in the 15th century, and it marks the site where the image of ‘Our Lady’ (the Virgin Mary), is believed to have ‘appeared’.

The legend tells us that an apparition of the Virgin Mary appeared, riding a giant donkey/mule up the steep Cabo Espichel cliffs from the ocean. On reaching the top of the cliffs,  the Virgin Mary apparently vanished, leaving just the footprints of the giant donkey.

But paleontologists have a different theory about the footprints on the side of the Cabo Espichel cliffs. They believe that they are the tracks of a dinosaur, rather than a giant mule. 

A traditional azulejo (blue and white) tiled representation of the Virgin Mary vision, is found within this tiny Chapel on the cliff.

Cabo Espichel View and the Ermida Chapel perched on the edge of the cliff

View of the Ermida Chapel at Cabo Espichel

Ermida da memoria Chapel at Cabo Espichel

Ermida da Memoria Chapel at Cabo Espichel

The blue and white tiles inside the Ermida da memoria Chapel at Cabo Espichel

A traditional azulejo (blue and white) tiled representation of the vision of the Virgin Mary coming to the Cabo Espichel cliff.

Cabo Espichel Lighthouse (Farol do Cabo Espichel)

An easy fifteen minutes walk from the church will have you gazing up at the majestic 32 metres high, Cabo Espichel Lighthouse. It is a lone sentinel on this wild coast. The lighthouse entered service in 1790 and is still functional to this day. Of course, it has had few technological tweaks since construction.

It is now automated, but this Lighthouse is part of a scheme to promote the importance of Portugal’s lighthouses and is open to the public on Wednesday afternoons. 

For more information on the Lighthouse click here. 

Cabo Espichel Lighthouse in the mist

Cabo Espichel Lighthouse

Cabo Espichel Dinosaur Tracks

Not only do you have religious relics, wild landscape and the Cabo Espichel lighthouse to explore, there are also dinosaur tracks nearby. On the Cabo Espichel cliffs, you’ll find what is believed to be marks embedded in the rocks made by dinosaurs. There are two sets, the Pedra da Mua dinosaur tracks and the Lagosteiros dinosaur tracks.

If you zoom in on the above Cabo Espichel map you can make out the dinosaur footprints – I have put a marker for where to look. 

Pedra da Muer Dinosaur Tracks

The Pedra da Mua tracks are located on the side of the cliffs below the Ermida da Memorial chapel and are difficult to see. The best viewpoint is from the opposite cliff but you’ll need binoculars.  

It is believed that these footprints are from the Jurassic period, (about 145 to 200 million years ago). There are several different prints, but most are presumed to be those of the four-legged sauropod dinosaurs, the largest group of dinosaurs. 

Cabo-Espichel cliffs with the lighthouse in the background

Steep, cliff faces at Cabo Espichel

Lagosteiros Dinosaur Tracks

The Lagosteiros dinosaur footprints are easier to reach and are only a twenty-minute walk from the church. Follow the signs showing you where to go so you don’t miss the markings.

These footprints date back to the Cretaceous period, (about 65 to 145 million years ago) and are thought to those of the two-legged theropod group of dinosaurs such as a tyrannosaurus rex.

Cabo Espichel Cliffs

Cabo Espichel Cliffs

Cabo Espichel Coastal Walks

You might also want to consider taking one of the many well-trodden walking paths in the area. Whether along the cliffs or inland, the landscapes are wonderful. We hiked across quite a few of the paths during our quest to log the many Geocaches in the area. Haven’t heard of geocaching? It lets you discover the out of the way places that you often don’t find on Google. If you’re interested then you can read more about it here. 

Cabo Espichel Lighthouse and geocache found in bush

Geocaching along the coastal walks of Cabo Espichel

Accommodation Cabo Espichel

Budget Option

Cabo Espichel Budget accommodation

Alojamento Espigas – guests love the continental breakfast and this accommodation has an 8.1 review rating.

Mid-Range Option

Cabo Espichel Mid range accommodation

Casal do Frade – Rated as exceptional, this eco-lodge is set in the Arrábida Nature Reserve. It has a salt-water pool, tennis court and holistic spa.

Luxury Option

Cabo Espichel Budget accommodation

Villa Epicurea – Rated superb, this hotel has an outdoor pool, free wifi and free parking. 

Cabo Espichel Budget accommodation

For Motorhome Parking – you can park overnight in the Cabo Espichel car park

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