GUIDE TO DESERTA ISLAND | FARO | ALGARVE
Deserta Island is a peaceful, serene location that’s ideal for a day trip. There are no homes, no roads, no cars, and only one restaurant (however, once the evening comes, all the people from the eatery depart to the mainland). Most visitors who come to the island stay near this restaurant – walk due north or west, and you’ll be all alone on the shore with nothing but a flock of birds for company.
DESERTA ISLAND: THE BEACH
The beach of Deserta Island runs for several miles and is treasured for its seclusion and pristine environment. It’s one of the quietest beaches in the Algarve, even in summer. You can soak up the sun and take a dip in the sea in truly tranquil surroundings.
Here, the shallow sea water is remarkably clear and clean. Because of that, you’ll be able to see the island’s aquatic life silhouetted against the ocean floor.
With some luck, you might even observe lots of small fish and a few delicate seahorses while you swim (if you want to see seahorses, you’ll need to visit the northern shore of the island, on the Ria Formosa side). These rare, threatened, and remarkable creatures are very fragile: if you are fortunate enough to spot seahorses, do not disturb or touch them in any manner.
Deserta’s gentle waters are some of the warmest in mainland Portugal. This island is also an excellent location for those looking to experience a naturist beach – if you are so inclined, you will find a nudism area on the west of the island (which is only a 30-minute walk from the ferry landing).
If you don’t want to explore the huge beach on foot, you’ll have the option to rent sunloungers not far from the island’s pier. In summer, the island’s supervised bathing area is always patrolled by a team of 4 lifeguards.
DESERTA ISLAND: THE WALKS
Deserta Island is a great spot for a leisurely stroll along a truly peaceful shoreline. You’ll certainly be blessed with an expansive beach all to yourself in spring and autumn.
You can also take a stroll along the Santa Maria boardwalk. This is a short nature trail that shows you the special flora, dunes and birds of this place – among many others, you might be able to observe notable bird species such as Audouin’s Gulls, Sardinian Warblers, Eurasian Spoonbills and Kentish Plovers. And there are elusive Chameleons hidden in the small bushes.
Running for a couple of kilometers, the island’s boardwalk ends in the vicinity of the southernmost point in continental Portugal (you’ll find this exact spot marked by a gnarly wooden structure).
DESERTA ISLAND: THE RESTAURANT
The Estaminé restaurant is situated to the west, very near the arrival point. The most southern in mainland Portugal, this wooden eatery is open throughout the year and has reasonable prices. It specializes in Algarve cuisine and seafood, with a kitchen powered by solar energy.
Inside, you’ll find one large area with a glass wall that provides a pleasant view over the seascape. The only toilets on the island are provided by this restaurant. During peak season, it may be wise to book a reservation ahead of time so you can guarantee a seat. The restaurant is operated by the same company that operates the ferry boats to the island: here’s their info and contacts.
DESERTA ISLAND: HOW TO GET THERE
The only way to get to Deserta Island is by boat. Ferries depart daily from Cais das Portas do Mar, in Faro (near the city’s marina: please check the map above). The company operating the route is called Animaris (again, here’s their timetables and contacts). You can buy tickets online in advance, which will save you time and ensure you have a place on the boat. The journey should take 35-45 minutes, on average.
The public ferry has a capacity of up to 96 people and has toilets on board. However, if you’re looking for a more exclusive experience, you may also consider a private speedboat shuttle: this option is obviously pricier, but you can bring up to 18 people onboard, and the journey will save you 30 minutes of travel time compared to the larger ferry. If you’re interested, just let Animaris know in advance or ask for the private speedboat at the ticket desk. One of their various vessels is shown on the image above.
Don’t forget to catch your ride back to the mainland. If you forget, you could find yourself stranded on a deserted island – quite literally. The only way you can get off the island after 6:30 pm is by paying for a private speedboat transfer.
You can also make your way to Deserta Island from Olhão (often, with a stopover in another island). This isn’t a common practice, tough. Usually, those departing from Olhão will visit Culatra Island instead of Deserta Island.
DESERTA ISLAND: THE BOAT TRIPS
The ferry route adds to the overall experience of visiting Deserta Island. The journey will let you appreciate the wide lagoons and meandering channels of Ria Formosa, as well as the varied birdlife feeding across this large wetland. Making it a rewarding destination for birdwatchers, over 300 different species of birds inhabit Ria Formosa throughout the seasons.
Back in dry land, you can then continue your exploration of Ria Formosa by visiting places such as Ludo or Quinta do Lago. But if you’re looking for a different kind of outdoor adventure, you can also join one of the many specialized boat tours dedicated to nature enthusiasts – departing from Faro, there are boat tour operators offering pure sightseeing trips of Ria Formosa, as well as birdwatching trips and dolphin-watching trips.
A BIT OF HISTORY
Deserta Island and neighbouring Culatra Island were once a single piece of land. This larger island was home to the Santa Maria Lighthouse, a structure that was built in 1851. The area where the lighthouse is located is known as ‘Farol Island’.
At the start of the 20th century, a canal was opened which divided the island into the two distinct portions we encounter nowadays. Barreta Island eventually came to be known as Ilha Deserta (Portuguese for Deserta Island, of course). But the local fishermen still call it ‘Barreta’.
Pack light and bring sunscreen, a hat, and plenty of water if you plan to explore the whole island on foot. Consider visiting in the cooler months for more comfortable temperatures. Shade is provided only by the few man-made structures on Deserta (apart from the restaurant, there are also fishermen huts on the inland – these are used only as storage sites for nets and other fishing apparatus). Walking the island’s entire perimeter takes a minimum of 8-9 hours. Use the boardwalk to cross the dunes and do not wander into areas covered by vegetation: the island is home to several species of rare and protected plants, and endangered birds also use those areas to nest or rest. Please respect the island’s ecosystem by not littering and adhering to conservation efforts. Enjoy!