Located at the southernmost tip of Portugal’s Algarve, Ria Formosa Natural Park (Parque Natural da Ria Formosa) is a scenic swirl of freshwater lagoons, sandy islands, and lush salt marshlands. The park hugs the coast between Manta Rota and Vale do Lobo, and is best known for its varied topography and diverse bird life.
Ria Formosa Natural Park is an ideal day trip from nearby Faro. With its scattered islands and aquatic landscape, the park is best experienced by boat—whether you choose to join a boat tour or hop on a ferry to explore at your own pace. There are various options for Ria Formosa boat tours, including bird-watching cruises aboard a traditional painted boat (saveiro), bike tours through the park’s many coastal trails, and catamaran cruises that visit several islands in one day.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Ria Formosa is a must-see for nature lovers.
- The park is a prime destination for bird-watching—look out for flamingoes, wigeon, black-tailed godwit, heron, and the rare purple swamphen.
- The Ria Formosa visitor center is located at Quinta de Marim and offers information and maps of the park’s islands and nature trails.
- Shade is limited in the park, so be sure to bring a hat and sunscreen.
How to Get There
Ria Formosa Natural Park is located near Olhão on Portugal’s southern coast. The closest international airport is in Faro, which is a 20-minute drive from the Ria Formosa visitor center. Ferries to the park’s islands run from Faro, Olhão, and Tavira.
When to Get There
Summer (June through September) is the most popular time to visit Ria Formosa, when ferries run frequently and the weather is typically warm and sunny. The park’s tiny islands can get crowded during July and August, so set sail early if you want the beach to yourself. Ferries are much less frequent in winter and sometimes stop completely, so during this season you may need to charter a small boat.
The Islands of Ria Formosa Natural Park
Five barrier islands make up Ria Formosa Natural Park, and each has its own character. Ilha de Armona is known for its sandy beaches, Ilha da Culatra for its lively fishing villages and Portuguese Water Dogs, and Ilha da Farol for its landmark lighthouse. Remote Ilha da Deserta is a good place to escape crowds, while Ilha de Tavira is ideal for nature walks or bike rides, with easy-to-follow trails linking the villages.