Travelling by bus in the Algarve can be a very frustrating experience but it can also be a lot of fun. Obviously, it depends on the kind of mood you are in at the time and whether you have a grumpy bus driver or not. I think I can safely say that most times I used the bus which was at least three or four times a week when I lived there, the bus drivers were always cantankerous but after 10 years I got used to their surly faces and they grew on me.
Eva is the name of the transport company and before I tell you about the different lines and buses I'll just give you a few basic tips:
Always purchase a ticket before you get on the bus. This is an easy transaction and can be carried out at the small kiosks at the various bus stations. Timetables are posted on the wall in a glass cabinet next to the cash desk. If you get stuck with the language don't be shy, ask in English. Most employees apart from the bus drivers will speak English.
Try and get to the bus station or stop early. Buses are generally on time and won't wait. Drivers get a little grumpy if you have lots of luggage and turn up just before the bus is about to drive off. It means he has to open the boot and he won't be happy.
It's best to know where you are going so buy a good map. In all my years of experience Portuguese bus drivers are not helpful to people who are lost and don't know when to get off. Portuguese people on the bus will help you but you might get 10 people all telling you different things. Maps are more reliable.
Now where do you want to go? Let's take a look at the Algarve first as this is the area I know best.
The Rota do Infante covers the area from Portimao to Cabo Sao Vicente taking in places like Lagos, Budens, Burgau, Salema, Sagres. It's a nice bus ride from Lagos to Sagres especially if you get on one of the new style coaches. These are fast and air conditioned. If you get on one of the old cronky buses then this is a different story. The drivers still drive at a fast speed but you are thrown around and it has been known for parts of the floor of the bus at the back to suddenly flap open. A nice breeze especially on a hot day but not a good experience for bad travellers who suffer from an icky tummy. There are curtains on both the old and new buses so you can cover the windows from the sun. Both types of buses sometimes play Portuguese music which is okay - quite jolly unless it is Fado - then you will need the tissues.
Two main bus stations cover this route - Lagos and Portimao. The station at Portimao isn't really like a station. It is just a line of bus stops but there is a small ticket office further down the road next to a restaurant and souvenir shop. Lagos has a station and it hasn't changed at all since the very first day I set foot inside - that's a long time ago - over 20 odd years. Even when we went back last time my Mum commented on the state of the bus station. She said, 'They have built this spanking new marina - you think they could tart the bus station up a bit.' Not sure who she means by 'they.' The Camara (Lagos Council) I guess. Still, I like it the way it is with street dogs sleeping in the middle of the bays as they hide from the midday sun. The ticket staff here are friendly and will help you if you are stuck and If you go on a Saturday morning there is always a noisy but good atmosphere as the farmers market is in a covered area just across from the station.
If you don't get on the bus at the station remember to really stick your hand out at the stops along the way as the driver will ignore you if he doesn't see your waving hands.
Only single tickets can be bought on this route. people over the age of 65 should show their passport to the driver and be able to buy a reduced ticket.
There is another bus station in Lagoa which is half way between Lagos and Faro. This is what I call a real bus station with covered seating areas, toilets, and vending machines. This station covers the central end of the Algarve.
Now we will go on a posher bus - a quality Express coach. These are very stylish coaches with drivers who wear a uniform and dark shades. Again, they are quite officious and always seem in a hurry so when you catch the coach to Lisbon or Seville give yourself plenty of time. Air conditioning should work and there is an on board toilet as well as a TV which shows films. I have caught the bus on speck only once but I would advise passengers to purchase tickets a day before or even sooner as Lagos to Seville and Lisbon are very popular routes and the coach will get booked up quickly. The Seville route is very popular with backpackers and tourists in general. The route travels from Lagos through to Faro, then passes through Olhao to Vila Real de Santo Antonio, Ayamonte, Huelva until it reaches Seville. The Lisbon route travels to Albueifera taking in Portimao and then from Albufeira goes straight to Lisbon. This route is popular with Algarvians at holiday times like Easter and Xmas when they go to the capital to visit families. In the old days we had to travel to Lisbon on the train which was so slow - it took all night. I was so pleased they introduced a speedy bus service.
Another one of my favourite bus lines is the Linha Litoral which travels down the coast from Lagos to Albufeira calling at all the small towns like Alvor and Almancil. This is a slower bus but the ride is very pleasant with some great coastal views.
If you want to travel south west to the untamed beaches it can be done part of the way but unless you like long walks then I don't advise it. Buses go from Portimao to Vila do Bispo and then from here on to Aljezur. There are some fantastic beaches in the Aljezur area but from the town they are way off the beaten track and a long walk on a terrain that is hilly and rugged. I suppose you can always hitch a ride from Aljezur if you feel up to it. A trip on an old style Eva bus from Lagos to Aljezur is a must for all tourists though. It really is like being in the Wild West. The bus stops at every bar along the way to drop off post and deliveries. Sometimes you will see horses tied up outside bars while their owners are having their morning Medronho and chourico.
I love this sleepy part of the Algarve - it's a lot of fun.
So there you go - an insight into Eva transport - the bus network with the green and yellow buses. It's definitely not the best bus network in Europe but it isn't all bad.