Ria Formosa – the natural park of the Algarve

Ria Formosa in Portugal
Ria Formosa is a natural park in the Algarve that stretches over several cities. It took us a while before we understood how big this area actually is. But it is an amazing place that is well worth visiting and each city shows you their part of the Ria 

Natural park in the Algarve

It’s actually a lagoon – a system of islands that has six inlets that take the water out to the sea. All of the inlets are natural except for one that is manmade. The Ria Formosa plays an important part in the economy of the Algarve. There are a lot of people making a living by having seafood farms inside the park.

It feels like no matter where you turn – you are always close to the Ria Formosa. The main towns that have the natural park are Faro, Olhao and Tavira. But there is more than water to the Ria Formosa – this is also a great place for birdwatching. And there are also several islands that are part of the natural park, like Culatra Island and Armona Island.

Great Birdwatching in Portugal

During our stay in the Algarve, we got to see some really nice birds. Not that we are knowledgeable when it comes to birds but we do appreciate them. It seems like wintertime in Portugal equals with storks. There are storks all over Portugal and a lot of them. We also saw some baby flamingoes and a lot of other birds that I don’t know the name of.

There are even some birdwatching towers around the Ria Formosa that allows you to see the birds without disturbing them. And you can walk for miles inside the natural park. There are walkways and pathways and beaches and everything in between – ready to be explored.

Ria Formosa in Portugal

The Ria Formosa during low tide.

Ria Formosa in Portugal birdwatching

A tiny bird is showing off in the reserve. No idea what kind of bird that is.

Ria Formosa in Faro

You can see the nature park from the above if you visit the science center. Here you can see the whole area and the water here are so clear that you can even see the fish swimming. And whats awesome with the Ria Formosa is that you can walk out and search for clams during low tide.

Being in the city center of Faro and at the same time being in a natural park is a pretty unique thing. And it’s a really nice place to visit and to take a walk in. Make sure you look for some clams too but don’t go into the farmer’s nursery – that won’t be appreciated.
Ria Formosa in Portugal

Ria Formosa in Olhao

There is a huge area that you can walk while visiting Olhao. And we never got the hang of how it worked with entrance fees. We walked that area several times and one of them there was a guard that wanted five euro for entrance. However, we walked away and walked into the park from another way. And since there are several ways to enter the nature reserve – how can they be charging at just one place?

Ria Formosa in Portugal

The tide mill that is open for you to explore.

Ria Formosa in Portugal

People are looking for clams and selling them to stores and restaurants.

Well never mind – just know that you can visit the park for free and that you don’t have to pay any entrance fees. This place is great for some serious birdwatching with bird towers placed around the area. Here you can also find loads of farms where they have different kinds of clam-farms.

Visit the tide mill in Olhao

Inside the nature reserve, there is an abandoned tide mill. It is open and you can come inside and learn about how a mill of this kind works. Since the tide mill was run by tidal rise and fall, I can understand why it was placed in Portugal. This is a country where you can see extreme differences in tides.

The tide mill in ria Formosa

Olhaos tide mill is no longer in use but it is still there for you to visit.

The tide mill used the tides as a source of energy for grinding cereals. The flow during low tide set the grindstones in motion. Olhao tide mill was built about 1885 and was one of three dozens that were placed in the Ria Formosa and it was used until 1970.

Seeing Ria Formosa during different high and low tides

If you visit during the day at the right time and there is low tide, there might be no water (or just a little) and if you visit during high tide, all you can see is water. This is very important to know when you want to visit a beach in Portugal. You might get stuck there if you visit during the changing of the tides.

And the tides are also a perfect way to see how the birds behave. You can see them swimming during the high tide. During low tide, you can see them looking for food in the shallow waters. This is really interesting to see.

Ria Formosa in Tavira

My absolute favorite of all the places to visit the Ria Formosa is outside of Tavira – in Santa Luzia to be exact. I love this place because it is also here that the anchor beach is located. You can either walk by the Ria Formosa out to the beach or you can take a small train that takes you out to the beach.

The beach is filled with anchors and it looks amazing!

Ancor beach at Ria Formosa

Lots and lots of anchors at the beach in Santa Luzia.

No matter where you are in the Algarve – you will not want to miss the Ria Formosa.
Don’t miss out on your complete guide to Faro, Portugal


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