Visit Ria Formosa, Algarve

Algarve: what lies beyond the beach

Here I am, at the Ria Formosa Natural Park, in the Algarve region, Southern Portugal. Algarve is well known across Europe as a place of sandy beaches, sun and party, but there’s also another side of it, and this Natural Park is on that ‘other side’

The park is a great place for bird-watching!

The park is a great place for bird-watching!

Since it’s a bit off the beaten path, and totally off the tourist track, the Park doesn’t get many visitors, and those few are mainly avid birdwatchers. You don’t need to be one to fully enjoy it, but if you like Nature, to walk and quiet places, you’re in for some great hours! Be sure to come prepared with water and some food. Once inside the Park, there are free toilets and a lunch area.

When you get here, you’ll see a small reception building, where a friendly security guy will give you information, maps and brochures about the park and his inhabitants.  He’ll open the gate so you can park, and here you go! No vehicles are allowed inside, except for the occasional car with staff, and they know what they’re doing, so just put your backpack on, relax and enjoy!

There’s no specific route to follow, but there are a couple of landmarks and interest points you should definitely see. They are all pointed out in the map that you get from the reception and you will for sure come across them while exploring the Park.

I decide to go straight ahead, and after 10 meters I already feel the magic in the air. For as much as I come here, everything always seems so new, it’s so quiet… well, civilization wise I mean! You hear birds, wind blowing against the trees, animals you can’t see rustling in the grass, and a million other sounds you can only get while in Nature. For me it’s just a sensorial orgasm, together with a sense of peace, it seems all in the world is well after all. I love it.

Keeping straight ahead, I see a small and familiar wooden building, home for RIAS, a Wildlife Recovery and Investigation Center. I volunteer here every now and then, and so I know my bearings and exactly where I am at. If you ever come here, be sure to pay them a visit, they do a fantastic job recovering local wildlife. For animal safety reasons (the main objective is to return the animals to the wild, so, the less humans they see the better) you can’t visit the facilities, but they have a free of charge interpretation center where they’ll give you some information on the local species, and about the work done at the center. They also organize wildlife excursions, both in the Park as in the entire Algarve area.

Birds enjoying themselves at the fresh water pond

Birds enjoying themselves at the fresh water pond


After the visit, I go off the track, and more into the grass area. There’s a little path that goes up to a freshwater pond where you can just relax and enjoy the landscape, as well as bird families going their way. Along the same path you’ll find a wooden shelter, used mainly by birdwatchers. It’s a good place to see the life thriving in the pond.

Wooden shelter used by bird watchers

Wooden shelter used by bird watchers


Returning to the beaten track, I see the salt-marsh and the sea in the horizon: this place is just magical! Oh, don’t forget your camera and binoculars, believe me, it’s worth it! Between half-hidden paths of canes and grass you’ll be able to reach close by to the water, where I sit down and enjoy a little bit more of Nature’s ways.

A view of the sea from the Park

A view of the sea from the Park


After some hours of strolling around the Park, I decide it’s time to go, but not before visiting the old tidal mill. You can have a nice view from here towards the South, and be sure to get in too because the Park did a great job remodeling the old grind stones and wood structures so you can really see how it used to work back then!

The Mill

The Mill

It’s time to go back to reality now. I wave at the friendly security and tell him “see you next time”.


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NUNO VELOSO is a Portuguese all-round creative. He writes, draws and composes, “not aiming for excellence but to simply enjoy”. A confessed nature lover, he also loves to meet new people and cultures. When he’s not dreaming, he’s travelling both abroad and inside his own country.

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  • que formosa que é a ria formosa…

  • Zara Says

    I am obviously biased saying this, but Portugal remains a quite underrated destination.
    There is a lot to see and do in our country… Come visit!! ;)

  • Carina Says

    Awesome, beautiful writting and inside of Ria Formosa Park. Will pay a visit next time I’m in Algarve ;o)

  • dave Says

    Hi all, i have small inflatable called a Tinker, sail,row or small two stroke engine and want to venture, when safe, onto Ria Formosa, any advice will be welcome, dave.

    • Nuno Says

      Hi Dave,

      It is safe to venture in the Ria Formosa pretty much anytime, but I advise you to check the nautical charts first. Even tough the Ria Formosa has buoys, it’s a very specific place, and if you’re on ‘springs’ peak the tide is so low that some channels are not safe (but they should be signaled anyway).

      Anything you need, feel free to ask!


  • James Ferguson Says

    Always a pleasure to read your articles folks. Be it here and on Twitter. You always supply us with plenty of information and photos of the places you visit. Congratulations on a well informed and interesting blog. Keep up the good work. And I look forward to more of the same quality in 2014 and beyond as well :)

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