Miles of dunes, fine sand and crystal clear waters: that´s Culatra, one of the main islands that form the boundary between the open ocean and the lagoons of Ria Formosa. For those willing to walk, Culatra Island offers some of the best and quieter beaches along the Algarve’s southern shore. When on the island, visitors just need to walk due east to find deserted sands at the point where the ocean meets the Ria.

Location: Culatra Island, Faro municipality; GPS Coordinates (start of the trail): 36º 59′ 41.94” N 7º 50′ 29.87” W; Grade: easy, except on windy or very hot days; Type: linear trail (out & back); Length: 5600 meters/ 3.44 miles; Average Completion Time: up to 2 hours; Best Time to Visit: year-round; Activities: nature walks and hikes; birdwatching; swimming.

That point where the ocean meets the lagoon is depicted on the main image above. But first you’ll have to take the ferry boat from the public quay in Olhão to reach Culatra Island (please check the map below). After making it across Ria Formosa, you’ll disembark at the island’s ugly and rundown (but welcoming) fishing village. Founded during the 19th century, this little settlement supported small fleets devoted to the harvest of tuna. Follow the village’s main street towards the ocean on the opposite side and you’ll soon encounter a wooden walkway leading to the island’s pristine beaches. Image: Vítor Oliveira
On the boardwalk, you’ll have the opportunity to see a large dune system populated by rare or endemic plants – like the Curry Plant or the perfumed Portuguese Thyme – as well as by birds such as Redshank, Dunlin, Little Tern and Great Cormorant. Partially flooded by the tide, the island’s ever-changing sands and saltmarshes are also a crucial habitat for numerous species of fish and shellfish. That much is attested by the countless white shells that cover the island’s shallow channels.
Of course, visitors do not need to restrict themselves to the boardwalk: you are free to explore the surroundings as long as you don’t step directly on the fragile vegetation of the dunes. In summer, walk along the shore towards the east and you’ll eventually encounter a point where the island offers access both to the colder oceanic waves and to the warmer Ria Formosa. Here, where there are almost no people, it is not that uncommon to find seahorses drifting gently through the Ria’s gentle waters. Sunsets are beautiful. However, do not miss the last boat to the mainland as there are no tourist accommodations on the island.


Further Tips

There are two main settlements in Culatra: Farol (located on the westernmost tip) and Culatra proper. Ferry boats depart from Faro to Farol and from Olhão to the village of Culatra. Check their schedules here (in Portuguese, bottom of the page). Ferry boats operate year-round and the tickets are bought at the quay. From the mainland, it takes about 30-40 minutes to reach the island by ferry boat. You can also travel by taxi boat but this option is far more expensive than the regular service. The distance between the village of Culatra and the village of Farol is approximately 4 kilometres. Please note that many bars, cafés and restaurants are closed during the low season. Always carry enough water and sunscreen with you, even in winter. Enjoy!