Cascais is a coastal town about 30 km (19 miles) outside Lisbon. Formerly a fishing village, it became increasingly popular in the late 19th and early 20th century as the Portuguese royal family began to vacation there. By WWII, Cascais and neighboring Estoril served as a temporary home for European royalty, high society, and prominent individuals fleeing the perils of the war in the rest of the continent. Nowadays, Cascais is both a popular vacation destination and a home to British and American expats. While the beaches of Cascais are calm and serene, only a short drive away are some very powerful waves and tides. So powerful and dangerous actually, that one specific area is even called Boca do Inferno: Hell’s Mouth.
Boca do Inferno can be found along the Atlantic cliffs that lead away from Cascais, northbound. It’s actually a chasm or cave that was formed by the repeated pounding of the waves against the cliffs. An archway was created over time, and the waves now come in and out of it. Tourists can explore Boca do Inferno from the top, where they can look down into the cave, and also view the site from the ocean’s end by following a short path towards the sea.
Visitors in the summer months get to enjoy Boca do Inferno in relative tranquility. By tranquility, I mean wave-wise. And even during the best of times, you don’t realize just how strong the waves and tides are just by looking from above. But these are in fact very dangerous waters! Despite the insanity going on below your feet, looking out on either side you are presented with some spectacular views of the ocean and cliffs, which you won’t forget anytime soon. But the winter months are when Boca do Inferno really reveals its hell-like fury. Waves can reach up to the cliffs – or higher – during particularly bad weather. The result is a prime example of nature’s force, which is simultaneously terrifying and fascinating.
Sadly, there have been more than a few lives lost at Boca do Inferno. Fisherman, fishing from the cliffs, have sometimes fallen in and the occasional tourist has also slipped and fallen there while trying to capture the perfect shot. Boca do Inferno is also a location where some go to commit suicide. One particularly tragic incident is recorded on a plaque at the site: it’s an homage to a man called António da Silva who selflessly lost his life there in 1963 trying to save the lives of others. So if you plan to visit, please be careful and stay on the dedicated paths.
On a more lighter note, Boca do Inferno was the site where, in 1930, British magician and occultist Aleister Crowley faked his suicide, which caused a great stir in newspapers at the time… only to reappear at an art exhibition in Berlin three weeks later. He had come to Portugal to meet famed poet,
Fernando Pessoa and it was with his help that he was able to pull off the stunt.
Boca do Inferno is only a 40-minute walk from Cascais; bike and pedestrian paths, as well as a road, make it very accessible. In part due to its proximity to the town, Boca do Inferno is a popular tourist attraction. If you visit, you can reward yourself with a treat at one of the outdoor cafés. Be sure to bring cash, as it’s a great location to pick up some delicious and affordable regional delicacies, such as pastries, cookies and meringues. Food, views, and nature at its best… doesn’t it make Hell’s Mouth seem a little more inviting than the name suggests?