Ria Formosa: Algarve’s best kept secret

Ria Formosa (meaning “beautiful river”) was first connection, the first ever thing we saw and clicked while landing in Portugal’s Faro Airport.  Considered as one of the “7 Natural Wonders of Portugal”, Ria formosa is a protected natural park since 1987.  The Natural park circumscribes a total of 18000 hectares that spreads over roughly 60kms of Algarve coastline from the towns of Ancao to Tavira.   When you go see it yourself, you know why it is called a natural wonder.  
This natural park comprises of narrow strip of land separated from sea by 5 barrier islands and 2 peninsulas behind which you can see a plethora of lagoons, mudflats, marshes which naturally became home to myriad of plants and animal life.  

Ariel view Ria Formosa

Many species uses this fertile environment to advantage and have made it their breeding ground, while many others have kept it as a migratory stopover.   

Bird Watching in Ria Formosa Nature Park

Birds can be seen throughout the year, but the best seasons are spring and autumn when the birds migrate from/to Europe. Purple heron, egrets, white stork, flamingos and many other bird species that you cannot else find back in your home at such close encounter. Endangered species like Seahorse and Chameleon can also be seen here. The park is also known for Portuguese Water Dog (a native to Algarve).

Ria Formosa Wetlands

During December we saw flamingos, spoonbills, pintails, white stork etc. Goes without saying, this park is a haven for bird watchers who flock from all over the world to see the bird migration. 

FaroI am not yet done boasting about Ria Formosa’s diversity.  Conjointly, this is not just a place for ornithologists, but also a paradise for hikers, and to those who were bitten by shutter bug. There are plenty of walking trails within the Natural Park for hikers to enjoy the rich vegetation while enjoying the birds chirp their way around.  

Ria Formosa is also one such natural park that’s blessed with white sand beaches.  There are 5 barrier islands (Culatra Island, Barreta Island, Island of Armona, Island of Tavira and Cabanas Island) and 2 peninsula (Peninsula of Ancao and Peninsula of Cacela) that are reachable only by ferry service, and you can so imagine the white sandy beaches sans crowd.  These island beaches can be reached from cities Faro, Tavira or Olhão.

Culatra Island
An island with no roads or vehicles yet having approx 1000 inhabitants, this island can be reached from Faro or Olhao on a ferry. 

Barreta Island
The only uninhabited and deserted island with pristine beach in Algarve region, which also happens to be the southernmost point of continental Portugal.  A short ferry ride from Faro takes you here. 
Desert Island in Ria Formosa

Armona Island
Fancy staying in a nice beach house or villa that’s surrounded by idyllic island and lovely beach? Armona island has a handful of well kept houses and about half a dozen of bars. Can be reached by a 20 minute ferry ride from Olhão.

Armona Island in Olhão
Credit: Jorge Manso

Island of Tavira
Closest island from the town of Tavira, the ferry service can be taken from Quatro Águas peer and takes approx 5-10 mins only.  The island includes Camping park, restaurants, cottages.   

Ilha de Tavira
Credit: Gregor Samsa

Cabanas Island
Apart from having a lovely beach by its side, Cabanas is also home to São João da Barra Fortress and Chapel of Nossa Senhora do Mar. 

Ilha de Cabanas
Credits: Ivo Gomes

Visiting Ria Formosa has been the highlight of our trip, and this is indeed the best kept secret of Algarve region. Visiting any of these barrier islands or the peninsula islands whether peak or off-peak season will definitely be your trip’s highlight.  The islands are well connected with ferry and water taxi, but its often always less crowded because most of the tourists tend to visit Faro beach or famous beaches along Algarve region.  In a nutshell, Ria Formosa islands are a great place to picnic, swim, enjoy the nature, watch birds, and witness a beautiful sunset. 

Practical Information:
# Make sure to carry binocular to be able to do bird watching.
# Check the weather forecast and wear clothes accordingly 
# Wear comfortable pair of shoes or welly boots if you plan to walk/hike in Ria Formosa
# Pack snack-box and water bottle
# Carry hat/sunglass/sunscreen

28 Responses

  1. Beautiful photographs!!

  2. The water is so BLUE 🙂

    Destination Infinity

  3. Really pretty pictures! The sunset one is gorgeous!

  4. Beautiful pictures. Lovely beaches.

  5. Gorgeous captures. Seems like a wonderful place.

  6. I have been to the Algarve but for some reason never made it to Ria Formosa, I definitely want to visit next time. Wonderful pictures.

  7. Perfect place for a calm weekend. Lovely shots Anu 🙂

  8. Wow! Thats a lovely place!

  9. These islands are really beautiful. As usual loved all the pics Anu.

  10. Amazing place. Just look at the sky! I'm in love… Adding it to my bucket list 🙂

  11. Love those aerial shots.
    And such naturally blessed islands. Thank you for taking us there. 🙂

  12. Beautiful pictures especially the aerial shots. Lovely beaches with blue water.

    I am in love with the place now. 🙂

  13. What a lot of places to visit!
    Glad to see them through your pics.

  14. A few months ago I visited Portugal after coming from boston washington bus tours but did not get a single chance to see Ria Formosa. I’ve heard about it the first time from your blog. It seems to be very beautiful. I like all the images that you have mentioned in your blog. They are very attractive and fascinating.

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