To reach Culatra you cross the lagoon of Ria Formosa. Enjoy the view over the maritime landscape and, during low tide, watch the salt marshes and the numerous birds looking for food in the silt.
You disembark on Culatra, a fishing settlement dating back to the late 19th century. It supported the seasonal fishing of tuna. Nowadays, to the east of the quay, you’ll find the port’s fishing boats and equipment, and to the west you’ll find fisheries of grooved carpet shells and oysters.
Crossing the village, a walkway takes you to the vast dune system. The occasional inlet cuts across the sands, flooding with the high tide. Salt marsh plants grow in these parts, e.g. the alkali seepweed and the Cistanche phelypaea, a lush parasite plant.
The environmental conditions of the dunes are harsh. There’s solar insolation, aridity, saline winds, lack of nutrients and shifting sands. Only very specialised species can colonise this habitat. Along the dunes you can find plants like the sea aster, and aromatics like the curry plant and the Thymus carnosus (a species of thyme exclusive to the south coast). The more easily observable wildlife are insects (butterflies and beetles) and reptiles (geckos and the ocellated lizard).
Walking on the sand, you can see the front edge of the dunes, covered in beachgrass and pioneer species of plants which grow on the tide line, like the sea holly, the European searocket and the common saltworth. Other species making the dunes their home are: seagulls, terns (e.g. the little tern) and micromammals like the wood mouse and the shrew.
The walkway on the dunes gives access to a viewpoint over one of Culatra’s coves. The coves are very productive places (natural banks of bivalves), shallow and favourable to birdwatching species like the spotted redshank, the common curlew, the dunlin, the great egret and the grey heron.
Location: Ilha da Culatra
Circular trail: no, linear
Distance: 5,6 km (there and back)
Average duration: 2h
Cumulative elevation gain: 20 metres D+
Type of path: wooden walkways and sand paths
Start of the trail: 36º 59' 41.94'' N 7º 50' 29.87'' W