In the extreme south of Portugal, in the Algarve Region, we find the Ria Formosa, a lagoon system in the form of a triangle, consisting of marsh and an impressive number of channels that resemble a labyrinth, dependent on the tides and protected from the ocean. Atlantic by a dune cord consisting of 2 peninsulas (Cacela and Ancão) and 5 barrier islands (Deserta, Culatra, Armona, Tavira and Cabanas). It has approximately 18,400 hectares and an extension along the coast of approximately 60 km. It is located within the municipalities of Loulé, Faro, Olhão, Tavira and Vila Real de Santo António. Also, due to its ecosystem and richness of its habitats, channels with the possibility of navigation, access to the barrier islands, etc., the Ria Formosa Natural Park is an important economic system in the Algarve region, making hundreds of professionals linked to different activities, such as fishing, shellfish harvesting, nurseries, recreational fishing, and tourist activities, depending on their existence and maintenance. It is registered in the Ramsar Convention as a highly protected area of extreme 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.


Any and all access to the barrier islands of the Ria Formosa must be carried out by sea. There are no connections with the mainland, and there is no car traffic. 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 the other on foot (no bridges) or swimming (width and current in the bars). Everything you will find will be a different reality from continental life, as everything is typical, rustic, and traditional.


With an extension of 7 km, Ilha da Culatra 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 boundary 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 Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes. This is a fluvial procession that takes place in the Ria Formosa, between the city of Olhão and Ilha da Culatra. It takes place on the first Sunday of August and begins with the removal of the image of the patron saint of the Culatra fishing community from the local chapel to be taken aboard a fishing vessel, along the Ria Formosa, to Olhão. Since 2021, this festival has been included in the National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage, according to an announcement by the Directorate-General for Cultural Heritage published on July 16, 2021, in the Diário da República. Its inhabitants are characterized by unity and determination, which became known on July 19, 1987, the day of the legislative elections, when the population decided to boycott the elections and demand better conditions for its inhabitants. It is a historic day on the island that will never be forgotten by its people, so much so that the main street that crosses the center of Culatra was named “Avenida 19 de Julho”.


It is the largest nucleus and is located in the center of the island, inhabited by about 800 people divided by 6 – 7 families, mostly fishermen, fish farmers, and shellfish gatherers. It is one of the most typical fishing villages in Europe, where we can find an elementary school, a kindergarten, a church, several cafes and restaurants, a playground, a synthetic grass football field, several grocery stores, and a medical center. Infrastructures. The history of its people goes back over 100 years, where unity is strength and because almost all its residents are related to each other.

The path is long from the harbor to the beach (1 km.). There is a cement walkway to the dunes and a wooden walkway from the dunes to the coast. But its route allows you to cross the entire village, walk in the narrow alleys, observe the typical houses and feel the sympathy of its people! It has been quite popular and touristy since the beginning of the 21st century due to its gastronomy, traditional restaurants, and the simplicity of its people in terms of “welcoming” tourists.


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

Its small village has about 100 inhabitants, most of them retired fishermen. Of the 3 centers on the island, it is the only one that does not have public electricity, sewage, and drinking water network. Diesel generators or photovoltaic panels produce energy for homes. The water comes from artesian wells, rainwater reservoirs, or even water transported by sea.

One of the attractions is its ponds of oysters of the Pacifico Crassostrea gigas, located on the other side of the shore, right in front of the village. These are the famous “Oysters of Culatra”, a name recently registered by the local producers’ association. Annually, hundreds of tons of this species are produced and exported mainly to France. During low tide, it is possible to observe the nurseries constantly working on the metallic structures.


Affectionately called “Lighthouse Island” by the Algarve, the center of Farol is the most tourist and visited place on the island of Culatra. Located on the westernmost side of the island, this is where the historic Santa Maria Lighthouse is located. Built in 1851 and 47 meters high, its white conical concrete tower, balcony, and red light at the top, make it possible to see it from a few miles away.

During the high season, this center is highly sought after by national and foreign tourists due to its beaches, which, in addition to having short sand at high tide, allow unique dives in very crystalline waters. Its typical and small houses come to life and transform a super calm place and without inhabitants in autumn-winter, into a village full of culture and vacationers who occupy and fill the terraces of the typical and traditional bars and restaurants existing in this nucleus in the high season.


Over 9 km. in length, this island is made up of beaches in the Ria Formosa and facing the sea. On the west side is the village and the boarding pier of Armona, where it is possible to make the first stop at its traditional bars and restaurants at the entrance. Then we find a cement walkway with about 2 km. With many ramifications, that invites tourists and visitors to take a walk through the narrow streets with typical houses and several stopping points to drink or eat something until reaching the beach on the ocean side. In addition to the houses, there is a wilder area, where it is possible to 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 popular, and the houses are occupied. One of the most beautiful spots on the island is its clean lagoon, which invites you to take a dip when the tide is at its highest. It is located next to the Ria Formosa, on the westernmost 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 travel the island through the channel of the estuary, from end to end, we will pass by the nurseries of Amêijoa and Ostras until we reach the other side of the island, to the east, where we will find the famous beaches of Fuseta. A deserted and wild place that only has beach and passenger disembarkation facilities.


The Ilha Deserta or Ilha da Barreta is where Cabo de Santa Maria is located, which is the southernmost point of mainland Portugal. Today, a place is uninhabited, but until the end of the 80s, it had about 50 houses and a few inhabitants. It has an extension of about 9 km., with dunes and beaches that are quite wide and inviting due to the low turnout. It is a total protection zone due to its rich fauna and flora, with around 200 different plant species and one of the few places in the Ria Formosa where it is still possible to observe the Chameleon. Chameleon Chameleo. Around the Deserta island, it is possible to find some islets, mainly at low tide and that provide a “small Caribbean” scenario, with crystal clear waters that provide unique contrasts.


The most frequented of the barrier islands during the summer. The island of Tavira is 11 km long. long, with unique and famous beaches such as Praia de Tavira, Praia da Terra Estreita, Praia do Barril and Praia do Homem Nú. It has a campsite, legal natural beaches, and several typical restaurants along the various beaches. It is possible to find about 20 dwellings on the island, but the residents are very few. It is the only island in the Ria Formosa where it is possible to find a pedestrian bridge and cross it on foot, located in the village of Pedras d’el Rei, close to Santa Luzia.

mapa da ria formosa algarve
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