Ria Formosa Natural Park Ria Formosa Natural Park, Eastern Algarve, Portugal


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The Ria Formosa Natural Park stretches along about half of the Eastern Algarve coast line - 60 km in total - from Faro to Manta Rota and covers an area of over 18,000 hectares (44,000 acres).  The outer boundary is formed by a line of sand dune islands and peninsulas, which host the fabulous long golden sand beaches of the park. These barrier islands protect a huge tidal lagoon, which is at its widest between Faro and Olhão and tapers to an end at Manta Rota. The lagoon is a system of salt marshes, tidal flats, islets and channels, which is home both to a great diversity of fauna and flora, and also to the important local industries of fishing, shellfish and fish farming, and salt production. It is cited in the Ramsar Convention as a wetland of international importance.

The Ria Formosa Natural Park is of particular importance to bird life: as a breeding ground for many species, as a wintering ground for many birds from northern Europe, as a resting and feeding station for birds migrating between Africa and Europe, and as a habitat for several species threatened elsewhere in Europe. The park is also important for its rich salt-resistant flora and as a breeding ground and nursery for many marine species.

To the visitor, the park presents a massive open area filled with sea air, sparkling water and sunlight. The best view you will probably get of it is as your plane banks over the coast to land at Faro airport (sit on the right-hand side of the plane). From the air, it is a stunning patchwork of green islets, blue lagoons and white beaches. The beaches are fantastic both for bathers in the summer and for walkers in the winter. The salt marshes and tidal flats will thrill bird watchers with the many species of waders, waterfowl and sea birds. For nature lovers, artists, photographers and those curious about local life, the park has much to offer.

Perhaps the best way to see the park is on one of the longer ferry trips to the island beaches from Faro and Olhão. Otherwise, you can access the edge of the lagoon by exploring down many small roads between Faro and Manto Rota. Near Olhão, there is a visitor centre where you can see the only restored tidal mill in the area and have the chance of seeing the rare Purple gallinule - the symbol of the park.

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