Protected from the sea by five barrier islands – Barreta or Deserta, Culatra, Armona, Tavira and Cabanas – and by the Ancão and Cacela peninsulas at either end, the Ria Formosa extends across five eastern-Algarve municipalities: Loulé, Faro, Olhão, Tavira and Vila Real de Santo António.
This entire line of beaches and dunes protects a lagoon area where part is permanently submersed and another very extensive part is above the surface of the water at low tide. The result is an incredibly diverse series of habitats of great beauty: the barrier islands, the marshes, the sandbanks and mudflats, the dunes, the salt pans, the fresh- and salt-water lakes, water courses and farm- and scrubland.
There is no better way to explore all of the Ria Formosa's fascination and diversity than by boat. From the regular daily transport services, which are the best way of getting to the various beaches dotted along the line of dunes, to the full-day excursions, the choices are many and varied. Depending on where you set off from, the type of group you are with and your interests, you can choose a trip lasting one, two, three hours or more, or even a whole day.
Birdwatching is one of the attractions for which the Ria Formosa is best known. Lying on the migration route for birds flying between northern Europe and Africa, it shelters rare species such as the purple swamphen, which is, in fact, the Nature Park's emblem.
In addition to many other species of birds, you can also see other less common types of fauna here in their natural habit, including chameleons and seahorses.
A peaceful trip through the shallow waters of the Ria Formosa following the whims of the tides, the sun and the perfumes of the plants, seeing and photographing all sorts of life forms, is an outing you will never forget.