A Wondrous Walk in Ria Formosa

by Central Magazine

The views in the Ria Formosa do not disappoint, after all, it is not named as one of the seven wonders of Portugal for nothing. 

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It was a beautiful sunny day in the Algarve, which is how all good stories start, so a family of three decided to head out into the sunshine and spontaneously go for a walk in the Ria Formosa, which we tend not visit anywhere near as much as we should.

The Ria Formosa’s Reserve is a protected area, stretching for 60km along the Algarve coast, which has various habitats just to name a few: saltpans, dunes and sandbanks meaning it has an active abundance of birdlife depending on the time of year, with over 300 species having been spotted. The Purple Swamphen is the star of the park but it is also home to many species during migration as well as flamingos and storks.

We parked not far from Praia da Ilha de Faro and we noted the sign that said to watch out for chameleons, to my toddler’s disappointment we didn’t see any, however, that didn’t stop her from searching along the way.

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As we walked along the boardwalk to the trail, we spotted several e-bikes parked along the way making the trail easily experienced by bike. We could see it was a popular area for birding, hiking and walking so we followed enthusiastic groups to the entrance of the trail.

Ahead there was plenty of runners, dog walkers, cyclists, groups of families and friends walking along with their children. The trail is nestled between the gleaming waters of the river and the salty waters of the sea, and is home to wildflowers, eucalyptus, cacti, and plenty of butterflies to count.

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Year-round fun

Walking around the Ria Formosa is great all year round and its beauty is unparalleled. I am sure the park has its perks in the winter season, which is when the flamingos can be seen and the masses can be avoided. However, you can’t beat a relaxing walk-in glorious sunshine, in my opinion. Everyone on the track seemed so enthusiastic and would share a smile, almost as if to say, “aren’t we so lucky to be here, isn’t this secret haven, just the best!”.

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It was a relatively easy walk due to the flat terrain, making it perfect for people of all ages, which was a huge plus for us with our little one. It also is the perfect terrain for little ones to bring their bikes or to bring pushchairs, just bear in mind that there is no shade, so plenty of sunscreen and a hat are needed and that goes for the older members of the group too.

Another highlight, was that our toddler loved seeing the airplanes fly right above us, and they were pretty noisy too, to her amusement as they made their way from Faro airport.

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The beautiful marsh offers magnificent conditions as a natural habitat for various water birds and there were some fishing boats resting. I imagine experiencing birdwatching here is something else but you would need to get up very early to catch them here however you can tell it is a haven for wildlife in those quieter periods. Due to this, it would be very handy to book a birdwatching tour with an expert so you can experience some wildlife wonders in real time.

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For those who would like to learn more about the park, you can visit its official visitor centre in Quinta de Marim, which is just outside Olhão. The centre also has a 3.5km interpretative trail, where you can see many birds along the way. There are three bird hideouts and you also pass a tide mill that worked until 1970 and has now been converted into a museum. This is also where you will find RIAS, which is the wildlife rescue centre of the Ria Formosa and you can visit to learn more about their projects.

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“The centre has the exhibition "Ria Formosa", accessible to people with reduced mobility and with 5 different exhibition spaces, addressing the natural and cultural heritage of the relationship of symbiosis People-Nature that characterizes the Natural Park of Ria Formosa, geomorphology, lagoon dynamics, habitats, flora and fauna, with emphasis on waterfowl and migrations, archaeology, history and economic activities existing in this protected area.”

Additionally, asides from the Ria Formosa, you are near to many wonderful beaches, with some highlights being Praia de Faro, Praia da Cacela Velha, Praia da Fuseta and our family favourite Praia do Barril, where the ice cream is the cherry on top if a great day out!

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