Ria Formosa

The Ria Formosa is a nature reserve consisting of a lagoon and barrier islands near the Algarve’s capital, Faro. Birdwatchers come for the migratory birds including flamingos, seen in huge flocks over the winter, and there are some long narrow islands with interesting landmarks.

The lagoon is sheltered flat water so ideal for beginners or when the surf is too high elsewhere. And it’s much warmer than the ocean! If you visit the islands, you have the choice of ocean or lagoon side paddling. Strong paddlers might fancy attempting some circumnavigations.

Paddler by Olhão fish market

Apart from the beaches, it is easy to launch from Faro harbour. Olhão is more difficult as the marinas are behind barriers, but there is a spot to the W of the main seafront where a car can get close to a muddy launch point by some fishing boats.

22.5km circumnavigation

Some of the gaps between islands are man-made, to improve the connections of the local ports, and are dredged and have breakwaters. However, the channel between the peninsula of Praia de Faro and Ilha de Barreta is not used by big ships, and is narrow and shallow. This leads to strong currents and tideraces forming when the Ria Formosa is emptying into the ocean and vice versa. In the bathing season there are often lifeguards with jetskis in the area to warn people that they might get swept away. There are reports in the news of people needing rescue after attempting to swim the small distance between the islands. However, a confident paddler might enjoy playing in the waves kicked up in the tiderace on an incoming tide with light winds, as a mishap will merely sweep them into the calm shallow water of the lagoon.

Passing through the narrow channel as part of a circumnavigation of Ilha da Barreta

Inland explorations by kayak or SUP are a good way of spotting birdlife. Flamingos are most commonly found in winter. However, they are white here not pink.