If you ever make it to Algarve by plane, you will find yourself landing in Faro. If you get the chance, before going where ever it is you are going or upon returning, spend (half) a day exploring the Ria Formosa Natural Park. Ria Formosa is a series of saltwater lagoons and waterways in the outskirts of Faro, and the small islands are definitely worth a visit. The Natural Park protects the various birdlife and saltwater aquatic life, as well as helps preserve the small fishing communities which rely on traditional and sustainable fishing methods. In late May the islands were far from crowded, which made the experience even more enjoyable.

Desert Island living up to its' name

Desert Island living up to its' name


You can experience the Ria Formosa islands and do some birdwatching with a tour, or decide to explore on your own. If you choose to be independent, you can either go just to the Ilha Deserta (Desert beach, not literally but it is as isolated and quiet as you can find in Algarve) with a ferry (10€ return from Faro), or invest 30 euros in a hop on-hop off-ticket that allows speedboat rides between Faro, Ilha Deserta, Farol island and Ilha da Culatra fishing community. I would highly recommend taking the speedboat hopping ticket, as it gives you more to see and the freedom to spend as long as you like on one island and even returning if you so desire. The speedboats run once every hour, and if you get lucky you can even have a private boat ride!

A stranded whale welcoming people to Ilha Deserta


Ilha Deserta

Ilha Deserta seems definitely the default destination for most visitors, and no wonder; the beach is pristine and extremely peaceful, and the whole island has only one restaurant/snack bar. The atmosphere is very tranquil and relaxing, even though some idiots have managed to ruin the desert illusion by leaving trash behind. The Cabo de Santa Maria is the most southerly point of mainland Portugal, and the monument is rather interesting. 


Ilya do Farol

Ilya do Farol (Farol=lighthouse in Portuguese) hosts a beautiful lighthouse which can be seen from almost all directions. This island is definitely local, with a few restaurants and beach cafes. You can see fishermen with their rods on the long pier; the whole island reminds me of Indonesia and other places in Asia with its’ one storey white stone houses. The island has close to zero permanent residents, the houses are Portuguese holiday homes. 


Ilha da Culatra

Ilha da Culatra is definitely a fishermen’s island. Tourists mainly come to find the beach on the opposite side of the island than the marina (maybe 1km walk), and some odd photographers might take pictures of boats. Besides these two activities, there isn’t much else except the residential area on this island. It is definitely worth a short visit, though, as it is very quaint and authentic.