The Ria Formosa estuary forms a complex of lagoons,marshes and salty areas. The park which extends 60Km along the coast provides habitats to a wide range of wildlife
Awarded Natural Park status in 1987, the Ria Formosa is a coastal lagoon protected by a group of sandy barrier islands. It features marshes, tidal flats, waterways and some excellent sandy beaches and is rich in marine and birdlife.
Regular boat trips take visitors out to explore Cultura Island with its fishing community, lighthouse and beaches and the uninhabited Barreta Island - known to the locals as the 'desert island'. These trips provide a wonderful opportunity to escape the crowds and get close up to nature. Most of the boat tours last 3 to 4 hours. Bring snorkels and you might be lucky enough to spot seahorses in the crystal clear waters of the lagoons. The area is an important destination for birdwatchers, who come here to see flamingos, the rare purple swamp hen and the tens of thousands of migratory birds which stop-off here on their journey between Europe and Africa.
The Ria Formosa is also home to the Portuguese water dog. This long, curly-haired dog, was originally bred to help fishermen with their work, by diving and retrieving fish caught in the nets. This breed has recently become more well known as former US president Barack Obama had two of them during his time in the White House.
As well as still being home to an active fishing fleet another traditional industry remains, salt production. You can visit the saltpans here which are used to harvest the salt out of seawater in the same simple manner used by the Romans some 2,000 years ago.
If you don’t fancy a trip by boat, Praia da Faro Island is connected to the mainland by a bridge, making it accessible by car or by bus. The beach here is good, but because it is easier to access, it tends to get busier than the beaches on the more difficult to access sandbanks.