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All Aboard: A Boating Holiday on the Waters of Ria Formosa

12 June 2017

For the Most Unique Boating Experience, Set off on a 3-Day Voyage to Meander the Islands, Beaches and Wildlife of the Algarve. 

If a mega-cruise isn’t to your taste, there are plenty of other fish in the waters of Ria Formosa. Get off the Algarve’s tourist trail and enjoy boat rides to remote islands, empty beaches and endangered marine life during a four-star stay at Formosa Park Hotel.

Day 1 Four Islands of Ria Formoa Nature Reserve

From Olhão to Armona Island (Around 4-hours)

Traversing Ria Formosa by boat is the perfect way to combine four islands in one epic tour. This is a four-hour round-trip from Olhão to the unspoilt islet of Armona, the lighthouse in Farol, and the undisturbed coves of Culatra. If you like your islands off-the-beaten-track, this is the way to do it.

In the morning, set off from Olhão, a small Algarve town of townhouses and fishing boats. Over the next 45 minutes, the skipper will take you up and down the waterways of Ria Formosa, stopping to talk about the flora and fauna. Sit under the deck’s canopies to get a closer look of the sparkling Atlantic, and the flock of flamingos feeding in the shallow wetlands.

After mooring at the jetty of Farol Island, follow your guide along the sandy concrete path to Sta Maria Lighthouse. Built in 1851, it played an important role in the Portuguese maritime industry and is a national monument today. Back on board, continue to Cultara Island for a late lunch on land. Approaching the low-built taverns, you will notice the gardens, flourishing with wildflowers, shell patterns and blushes of bougainvillea. A perfect spot to take photos and enjoy a couple of long cold Sagres beers.

Stretch your legs by strolling along the new boardwalk, passing flocks of gulls and wagtails before reaching a long, empty beach. Relax to the rhythm of the sea as you watch the fishermen in the distance wading through the shallows in search of cockles.

Sail on to Armona Island, looking out for dolphins and turtles, as you cross deeper water, and reach the solitary islet topped with white beaches. Then head on land to the tidal pools, where red-crested pochards  swoop overhead crashing to a halt among the Portuguese waterdogs.

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Lighthouse on Farol Island


Thankfully, after a long day at sea, you will find plenty of relaxation at Formosa Park Apartment. Nestled in the Ria Formosa Nature Reserve, the four-star hotel is surrounded by some of the most stunning nature and scenery in the Algarve. Spend the evening chilling with a drink at the Arcos Bar and make a toast to the culture, the wildlife and rare beauty of the islands.

Day 2 Discover the Secret Life of Seahorses

From Fuseta to Tavira Island (Around 2-hours)

Ria Formosa Nature Reserve is home to the greatest concentration of seahorses in the world. The two-hour trip starts by boat from the harbour of Fuseta, a small former fishing town in the east Algarve. Continue to Tavira Island, one of the natural barriers that protect the south coast of Portugal from the ocean.

Here, you will disembark and follow your guide on a 15-minute walk along the silky sand, scored by a narrow ridge of sand dunes. Along the way, the group will learn about the flora and the effects of pollution on the endangered seahorse. Local tour guide Tiago says the best place to search for seahorses is in the lagoon just before the water turns green because of the sea grass.

Wading slowly into the water, your guide will begin the search of the 12-18cm creatures. As you snorkel the shallows, look out for rays, starfish and crabs scuttling over the seabed. Keep a watchful eye for seahorses as you glide slowly near the sea grass. Discover different species as your guide points out the markings on each one he finds. Back in Fuseta, stroll into the lanes of the old town, which are lined with bars offering some of the finest seafood you’ll ever taste.

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Seahorse in Ria Formosa Nature Reserve


To unwind after an action-packed day at sea, Formosa Park Hotel can arrange a massage at the hands of a professional soigneur. After, dine in your own kitchenette or head to the Arcos Restaurant, overlooking the outdoor pool. And for stargazing with a glass of local wine, the balcony in your apartment is the perfect spot.

Day 3 Final Day of Relaxation

How better to spend a relaxing morning than with a round of golf? Formosa Park Hotel offers two quality golf courses. In Quinta do Lago, pine trees line the fairways at San Lorenzo and the 5th hole is a special treat, with views of the golden beaches and the ocean. On the other side, Pinheiros Altos golf course boarders the beautiful Ria Formosa Nature Reserve. Practice your swing at the golf academies with tuition provided by a PGA professional.   

If you can tear yourself away from your golfing hideout and the pool, there is a scenic nature trail to Ancão beach. Alternatively, play tennis on the courts of the five-star Dona Filipa Hotel, just down the road in Vale do Lobo. You can also go horse riding through the nature reserve at Pinetrees centre before heading back to your apartment for dinner. Whatever you decide to do, you will feel a world away from home as you enjoy the on-site amenities and surroundings.

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Sunset at Armona Bay


From Olhão to Armona Bay (Around 2-hours)

Set off on an unforgettable sunset cruise, which starts in Olhão and takes you over to Armona Bay. This two-hour tour is completely different from a day boat ride, enjoying the peace and charm of the island. Meander the waterways of Ria Formosa National Reserve, the saltpans and the harbour comfortably aboard the ship. Sit back and relax with a complimentary bottle of sparkling wine while watching one of the Algarve’s magnificent sunsets.

Disembark onto the empty bay of Armona to enjoy time alone.  Find a beautiful sunset spot on the vacant Armona Laguna beach before taking a dip in the crystal-clear water. A walk to the island’s inland lank is a great way to dry off. Stroll along Laguna beach, walking past the fishing cottages to sunset views over the shining lake. Follow the path, passing flocks of gulls, big butterflies and wild shrubbery. Just as the light is disappearing, walk down steep sandy slopes back to the beach, from where you will board the boat back to Olhão.

How to Have Your Own Waterborne Adventure

We’re here to ensure you get the most out of your Algarve adventure… if anything you have read on this page sounds appealing, contact us on +351 289 352 800 and let us make your holiday dreams come true.

‘Ria Formosa Sunset’ © Osvaldo Gago  ‘Ria Formosa Boat’ © Ricardo Oliveira 

‘Farol do Cabo de Santa Maria’© Manjeet Bawa


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