Sights to see in the Algarve: Ria Formosa Natural Park

By admin | | Posted in: Pine Cliffs

Welcome to our ongoing blog series on sights to see in the Algarve. Designed to help you create the holiday of your dreams, in this series we’ve outlined the major towns, beaches, villages, historical sites, and other areas of outstanding beauty in the region, so you’ll be sure not to miss anything of interest during your stay in this gorgeous stretch of Portugal. Previous posts have included the fascinating Capela dos Ossos, or Church of Bones, Faro’s Palacio de Estoi, the charming village of Cacela Velha, plus much more!

In this blog post, we’ll explore one of the most beautiful areas in the world: Ria Formosa Natural Park, an expansive network of lagoons and islands that reaches across 60km of gorgeous Algarve coastline from the village of Cacela Velha to the east to Faro in the west. This important nature reserve protects migrating and nesting birds such as ducks, shorebirds, terns, seagulls, and even migratory flamingos. It is also the annual nesting location for certain rare birds, such as the Purple Swamphen, who are the emblem of the Ria Formosa and lay their eggs within the warm marshes of the reserve. Indeed, over 20,000 birds winter here, making this area one of Portugal’s most important havens for birds and an absolute paradise for birdwatchers.

The area offers far more than adventures in birdwatching, however. This stretch of coastline is one of the most beautiful regions in the Algarve, and is considered to be one of Portugal’s Seven Natural Wonders. The unique system of lagoons, marshes, and coastline offers variety of landscape and a constantly changing environment due to the ever-shifting wind, tides and currents. Here you can view a wide variety of habitats including barrier islands, islets, dunes, saltpans, tidal flats, marshes, lagoons and woodlands, all of which are home to a vast array of wildlife and native flora. Some endangered and threatened species call the Ria Formosa their only home, such as the native chameleon and seahorse, which can be found nowhere else in the world.

In total, the Ria Formosa spans nearly 18,000 hectacres, and is sheltered from the Atlantic by two large peninsulas and five barrier islands. These include the Peninsula of Ancão (which locals call the Island of Faro), the Peninsula of Cacela, the Island of Ilha Deserta, Culatra Island (which features the wonderful Santa Maria lighthouse), the Island of Tavira, the Island of Armona and Cabanas Island. Many towns and villages are situated along this stretch of the Algarve, including Faro, Tavira and Vila Real de Santo António.

The Ria Formosa, with its spectacular views and wide variety of landscapes and wildlife, offers incredible opportunities for exploration for the adventurous. Cyclists, hikers and bird watchers in particular should ensure they include this nature reserve on their holiday agenda, but the area has a lot to offer beachgoers and those wishing to explore the quaint villages along the coastline as well. Between the sand, sea, sun, and wildlife, this area has something for everyone.