Ria Formosa Natural Park

Natural Beauty

islands and canals

In the extreme south of Portugal, in the Algarve Region, we find the Ria Formosa, which is a lagoon system in the form of triangle, consisting of marshes and an impressive number of canals that remind a labyrinth, dependent on tides and that are protected from the Atlantic Ocean by a dune cord consisting of 2 peninsulas (Cacela and Ancão) and 5 barrier islands (Deserta, Breech, Armona, Tavira and Cabanas). It has a total area of approximately 18,400 hectares and an extension on the shoreof approximately 60 km. It is inserted within the municipalities of Loulé, Faro, Olhão, Tavira and Vila Real de Santo António. Also for its ecosystem and richness of its habitats, channels with navigation possibility, access to barrier islands, etc., The Ria Formosa Natural Park is an important economic system in the Algarve region, making hundreds of professionals linked to various activities, such as fishing, bivalve harvesting, liveers, recreational fishing and tourist activities, depend on their existence and maintenance. It is inscribed in the Ramsar Convention as a highly protected area of utmost international importance for the protection of its habitat for waterfowl. For this reason, any and all activities are limited and restricted by temporary licensing and strictly inspected by the authorities.

Barrier islands of Ria Formosa

Any access to the barrier islands of the Ria Formosa must be made by sea. There are no connections to the mainland and there is no car traffic either. You can only find a few tractors that help residents and traders transport goods and essential goods on some dunes and sand paths where they are allowed to be used. There is no possibility of crossing from one island to another on foot (no bridges) or swimming (width and current on the bars). All you will find will be a very different reality from continental life, as everything is quite typical, rustic and traditional.

Culatra island

With an extension of 7 km, Culatra Island has three population centers: Culatra, Hangares and Farol. It belongs to the municipality of Faro and the bar between the island of Culatra and the island of Armona (Barra velha) is the territorial delimitation between the municipalities of Faro and Olhão. It is the barrier island that has the largest number of inhabitants. With a unique cultural and religious tradition, the 3 centers are very close geographically. At the same time, they have different everyday realities from each other. The highlight is the feast/procession of Our Lady of the Navigators. It is a river procession that takes place in the Ria Formosa, between the city of Olhão and Culatra Island. It takes place on the first Sunday of August and begins with the removal of the image of the patron saint of the fishing community of Culatra from the local chapel to be taken aboard a fishing vessel, by the Ria Formosa, to Olhão. Since 2021, this festival has been inscribed in the National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage, according to the announcement of the Directorate-General for Cultural Heritage published on July 16, 2021, in the Diário da República. Its inhabitants are characterized by union and determination, which became known on 19 July 1987, legislative election day, when the heavy population decided to boycott the elections and claim better conditions for their inhabitants. Its inhabitants are characterized by unity and determination, which became known on July 19, 1987, the day of the legislative elections, when the heavy population decided to boycott the elections and demand better conditions for its inhabitants. A historic day on the island that will never be forgotten by its people, so much so that the main street that crosses the core of Culatra was named “Avenida 19 de Julho”.


It is the largest core and is located in the center of the island. Inhabited by about 800 people divided by 6 – 7 families, mostly fishermen, fishermen and mariscadores. It is a fishing village of the most typical in Europe, where we can find a primary school, a nursery, a church, several cafes and restaurants, a playground, a synthetic grass football field, several grocery stores, a medical post, among other infrastructures. The history of its people dates back more than 100 years, where the union makes strength and also because almost all its residents have a degree of kinship with each other.

From the harbor to the beach, the path is long (0.6 miles). There is a cement walkway to the dunes and another wooden from the dunes to the coast. But its route allows you to cross the whole village, walk in the narrow alleys, observe the typical houses and feel the sympathy of its people! Very popular and touristic since the beginning of the 21st century due to its gastronomy, traditional restaurants and simplicity of its people with regard to the “welcome” tourists.


It is located between the Culatra and Farol. As its name implies, it has something to do with airplanes, in this case, seaplanes. In 1918, on the occasion of World War I, a Naval Aviation Center dedicated to the anti-submarine fight began to be built on the island. Although partially built and used, with the end of the war, the center was never officially activated, and its facilities were used by the Portuguese navy as support infrastructures and a military training center.

Its small village has about 100 inhabitants, mostly retired fishermen. Of the 3 nuclei of the island, it is the only one that does not have a public electricity network, sewers and drinking water. The energy for homes is produced by diesel generators or photovoltaic panels. Water comes from artesian wells, rainwater reservoirs or even water transported by sea.

One of the attractions are its nurseries of Oyster of the Pacifico Crassostrea gigas, situated on the other side of the bank, right in front of the village. They are the famous “Oysters of culatra”, a name recently registered by the local producers’ association. Every year, hundreds of tons are produced of this species and exported mostly to France. During low tide, it is possible to observe the living men in constant work in the metal structures.


Affectionately called “Farol Island” by the Algarves, the core of the Lighthouse is the most touristic and visited place on the island of Culatra. Located on the western most part of the island, is where the historic Santa Maria Lighthouse is located. Built in 1851 and 47 meters high, its white tower conical in concrete, varandim and red lighthouse at the top, make it possible to see it a few miles away.

During high season, this core is highly sought after by national and foreign tourists due to its beaches, which besides having a short sand at high tide, allow unique dives in very crystal clear waters. Its typical and small houses come to life and transform a super quiet place with no inhabitants in autumn-winter, in a village full of culture and holidayers who occupy and fill the terraces of the typical and traditional bars and restaurants existing in this core in high season.

Armona island

Over 9 km. this island consists of beaches in the Ria Formosa and facing the sea. On the west side is the village and the boarding pier of Armona, where at the entrance it is possible to make the first stop in its traditional bars and restaurants. Then we find a cement walkway about 2 km. with many branches and that invites tourists and visitors to a route through the narrow alleys with typical houses and several stopping points also to drink or eat something until you reach the beach on the ocean side. In addition to the dwellings, there is a wilder area, where you can find, for example, chameleons and other specimens of the local fauna and flora. The inhabitants are not many (about 100), although there are more than 150 dwellings, however, in high season, the island is very frequented and the houses occupied. One of the most beautiful spots on the island is its clean lagoon, which invites you to a swim when the mare is higher. It is located next to the Ria Formosa, on the westmost side of the island. Armona also has a campsite and is very inviting for water sports such as canoeing, sailing and diving. Recreational fishing is also quite popular. If we go through the island through the channel of the ria, from end to end, we will pass through the nurseries of Amêijoa and Oysters until we reach the other side of the island, the spring, where we will find the famous beaches of Fuseta. A deserted and wild place that only has beach infrastructure and passenger disembarkation.

Deserta island / Barreta island

The Deserta island or barreta island is where cabo de Santa Maria is located which is the southernmost point of Mainland Portugal. A place that nowadays is uninhabited but by the end of the 80’s had about 50 houses and some inhabitants. It has an extension of about 9 km., with dunes and beaches quite wide and inviting due to the low affluence. It is a total protection zone due to its rich fauna and flora, with about 200 different plant species and one of the few locations in the Ria Formosa where it is still possible to observe the Chameleon Chameleon. Around deserta island it is possible to find some islets, mainly at low tide and that provide a scenario of “small Caribbean”, crystal clear waters that provide unique contrasts.

Tavira Island

The most frequented of the barrier islands during the summer. The island of Tavira is 11 km away. with unique and famous beaches such as Tavira Beach, Terra Estreita Beach, Barril Beach and Praia do Homem Nú. It features a campsite, legalized naturist beaches and several typical restaurants along the various beaches. On the island it is possible to find about 20 dwelling houses, but residents are very few. It is the only island of the Ria Formosa where you can find a pedestrian bridge and cross on foot, located in the village of Pedras d ́el Rei, near Santa Luzia.

mapa da ria formosa algarve
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