The Ria Formosa
Deserted barrier islands, white-sand beaches, crystal-clear waters... the Ria Formosa Natural Park is one of the most amazing places in the Algarve, not only for its variety of landscapes and wildlife, but also for its unique location. And the best way to discover one of Portugal’s seven natural wonders is on board your own Boat for a Day, the best boat trip experience in the Algarve.
Classified as a natural park since 1987 and covering 18,000 hectares, the Ria Formosa is the most important wetland in the south of Portugal, home to a wide array of fauna and flora. Its waters, its islands and the life within it are intrinsically linked to the wider region and its development.
On your private boat tour around the Ria Formosa, take your time to navigate the labyrinth of lagoons and marshlands, go dolphin-watching or spot some seahorses, or go island-hopping on the five barrier islands and two peninsulas that protect the lagoon: Ancão Peninsula, nicknamed Ilha de Faro by locals; Barreta, also known as Ilha Deserta; Culatra, home to the Santa Maria lighthouse; Armona; Tavira island; Cabanas island; and Cacela Peninsula.
Before hopping on board, discover the hidden charm of Olhão by walking to the top of the main church tower, where you'll see the hundreds of roof terraces the "açoteias", typical of the Algarve.
Back at ground level, it's worth wandering through the fishermen's quarter, which stands between the quay on the Ria Formosa – where you'll start your boat tour – and the heart of the city defined by the main church.
On the quayside you'll experience the colourful atmosphere of the market, with stands selling fish straight from the sea, and fresh fruit and vegetables from the farms further inland. After your boat tour Olhão, why not stop at one of the open-air cafés to be found along the long quayside?
At the other end of the island, in the small fisherman's community of Culatra, the houses are less manicured, there are no large restaurants or large beach bars, except for a few small cafés. And that's all part of its charm. The beauty of Culatra is hiking on the island, allowing you to explore some of the protected sand dunes that also make up the unique habitats of the lagoon.
Ilha do Farol, as it’s known locally, is actually located on Ilha da Culatra. Although the names suggest they are separate islands, they are two different parts of the same 6km-long island. With exceptional white sandy beaches, translucent waters and an incredible desert-island feel, it’s the most fantastic day trip and a true paradise for beach lovers.
Another of the Ria Formosa's stunning sandbar islands, Ilha da Armona is a slice of island life and the perfect place to relax. It boasts 9km of sand, lapped by the Atlantic on one side and the lagoons on the other, as well as several bars and restaurants.