Enjoy nature in its purest and most beautiful state, on Culatra Island, a fishermen’s island inside the Natural Park of Ria Formosa, in the Algarve.
Ilha da Culatra is one of the five barrier islands in the Ria Formosa Natural Park, located on the southern coast of the Algarve – islands that prevent the tidal forces from invading the interior of the Ria lagoon.
This fishermen’s island is popular for its beautiful and extensive beaches, with white and fine sand and crystal clear and warm waters. A stroll around the island allows you to see the rich fauna and flora, the lagoon and the sea.
Therefore, on Culatra Island you will find everything you need to enjoy a truly peaceful and very relaxing vacation!
Culatra ISLAND MAP
Our visit to Culatra Island, in short, gave us the opportunity to discover a true and different Algarve, connected to nature. Thus, you’ll find in this post, this hidden treasure, this island of sea and Ria Formosa people. So, come along with us!
With 7 km in length, Culatra Island is one of the barrier islands of the Ria Formosa, in the eastern Algarve. The other islands are Barreta, Armona, Cabanas and Tavira, which together with the Ancão and Cacela peninsulas, protect the lagoon from the sea.
Culatra Island has, on the sea side, dunes and almost deserted beaches with fine and golden sands. On the lagoon side, it has areas of marches, channels and islets. Here is concentrated a rich flora and fauna, with particular reference to the birds, that come here to nest or to take refuge during their migrations.
The Culatra Island has three urban centres: Culatra (in the centre), Farol (in the west) and Hangares (between the two). Culatra and Farol are the largest and have the same size.
However, Culatra and Farol are surprisingly called “Culatra Island” and “Farol Island”, as if they were two different islands.
On the east of the Culatra island, is the widest and most unpopulated area and is bounded by Barra Grande (which separates it from Armona island). On the west side, it’s bounded by Barra de Faro / Olhão (which separates it from Barreta or Deserta Island).
These bars allow navigation of vessels to Faro and Olhão ports.
The Culatra village is quite typical and interesting. It is inhabited during the year and mostly by fishermen, although here there are some secondary residences, most used in the summer.
As we enter the Culatra port of refuge, it’s obvious that the seafaring professions are everywhere.
In addition, here we can see fishermen in their bustle with nets, the workers of the oyster ponds, anchored boats and some seagulls looking for a lost fish (with no fear of humans).
Culatra has very funny houses. Some are decorated with objects related to fishing (like giant anchors for tuna fishing or pots to catch octopus) and others have outside amazing colourful bougainvilleas and lush plants.
The Culatra Island is almost self-sufficient with several infrastructures and services.
Culatra has a school, a playground, a sports park, a church, a grocery store and a health centre. It has several cafes and restaurants, so there are always several options for having a meal.
Surprisingly at the entrance of the village, the white of the Igreja-Capela (Church-Chapel) of Culatra Island stands out, highlighted by sunlight.
The Culatra Beach is in the middle of the island with the same name. It is a very tranquil, long and almost desert beach, however it hasn’t much beach support facilities. In fact, from the village, the access to Culatra beach is done through a wooden walkway.
We were delighted with the east side of Culatra Island, from where you can see Armona Island, on the other side of the Bar. The colour of the water and the fine white sand, had left us with the feeling that we were on a Caribbean island😍😍.
Farol (village), also called Farol Island
On the west of Culatra Island is located a village named Farol (lighthouse in English), which owes its name to the Cabo de Santa Maria Lighthouse, located there and that can be seen from a long distance.
The Farol village has mostly secondary residences, used mainly during the summer.
Here you can find some local accommodations, a mini-market and several cafes and restaurants, where you can enjoy the fish and other products from the sea and Ria Formosa.
Near the village is located the Farol Beach. With a vast sandy beach and clear water, the beach is also popular for nautical activities. The beach has some support facilities.
Close to Farol Beach, next to the pier of Barra Faro / Olhão, diving schools teach classes.
Cabo de Santa Maria LIGHTHOUSE
At the Farol village is located the Cabo de Santa Maria Lighthouse. This lighthouse was built in 1851 and has a tower of 50 meters high.
Our visit to the Cabo de Santa Maria Lighthouse required a request for prior authorization to access it. We went up 232 stair steps (phew … 😅) to the top of the lighthouse.
We stopped along the way to take pictures through the windows (don’t think it was to catch our breath😁!). At the top of the lighthouse, the view is, above all, stunning !
Undeniably from the top, one has the feeling of dominating the entrance to Faro / Olhão Bar, with Deserta Island (also called Barreta) on the other side.
The visit to the lighthouse would have been perfect, if my sunglasses hadn’t been taken through the air due to a wind gust.
After falling from a height of half a hundred meters, the glasses were undamaged down in the sand, without a single scratch!
When the Cabo de Santa Maria Lighthouse will be open to the public again, we recommend the visit as it is an experience not to be missed, given the amazing views from up there!
farol restaurants – Culatra island
À do João Restaurant
We had lunch at the Restaurant “À do João”, which is at the bottom of the Farol village.
The meal was taken at the shade of the terrace, at one of the tables closest to the sea, to enjoy the view. In fact, we always prefer restaurant terraces😎!
The food was delicious and the staff were very friendly and caring, making us feel safe.
As starters, we tasted the mackerel in a pickled sauce, the razor clams ‘à bulhão pato’ (with coriander and garlic!) and the natural oysters (very fresh from Ria Formosa).
As a main course we chose a grilled anchovy, which was very fresh, with a superb flavor “of sea”! The side dish was boiled potatoes with tomato salad and chopped peppers, which is very typical in Algarve!
The dessert was based on typical Algarvian products: fig, almonds and carob tart!
To drink we chose champagne sangria. Sangria is a popular drink in Portugal and Spain that traditionally consists of red wine and chopped fruit, often with other ingredients or spirits. Our sangria instead of having wine had champagne! Delicious…
The history of the village of Hangares is very interesting!
Hangares is facing the lagoon of Ria Formosa, between the villages of Culatra and Farol. This is the smallest village on the island, sought mainly due to its holiday homes.
The place owes its name to the fact that there were two hangars located in this place, which belonged to a support base for French and Portuguese seaplanes, which took part in the anti-submarine warfare in World War I.
In the mid-twentieth century, a delimited area near the pier was used as a training ground for the Portuguese Navy.
Therefore, it is still possible to see an old bunker and the military area fenced in with wire!
From the Hangares village, take the wooden walkway, which cross the dune system, to arrive at the beach on the sea side of the island.
It’s well worth going to Hangares Beach, since it’s long and tranquil, with the chance of watching some birds from Ria Formosa. How about a walk along the crystal clear water?
Walking Trail PR1 FAR Culatra Island
The walking trail – PR1 FAR Culatra Island – is 6 km long and easy, made over wooden walkways and sand.
This route allows you to see three distinct areas of the Ria Formosa (marshland, dunes and beaches) and see the local vegetation and sea birds and shorebirds (which feed on the mud).
=>The route starts at the Culatra Port of Refuge (which can be reached by boat), where you can see the frenzy of fishermen taking care of their nets, next to the boats of different colours;
-> Follow the main road through Culatra village;
->Then continue on a wooden walkway (for 500 meters) to the beach over the dunes and marsh channels, to see the local flora and fauna;
=> At sea side, continue towards east, to watch the birds (terns, sanderlings, Kentish Plovers and others) and all the multiplicity of shells on the sand;
=> After walking for 1.5km along the beach, follow a wooden walkway to a viewpoint inside de dunes. From there, you can enjoy a view of the Ria Formosa lagoon and the surrounding undergrowth;
-> Return to the starting point, by the same path.
Certainly, this is a pleasant and peaceful route to take!
RIA FORMOSA NATURe PARk Code of conduct
Don’t forget that Culatra Island is located in a Nature Park, so its natural beauty must be discovered and enjoyed, with a respectful attitude, that promotes the protection of the delicate balance of ecosystems, adopting rules of conduct such as the following :
- Do not pick plants. Allow other visitors to join you in contemplating their richness;
- Maintain a certain distance from animals, and do not feed them. Preferably, observe them using binoculars;
- Try not to make too much noise, nor engage in peace disturbing activities;
- Follow the signalled paths, using de wooden walkway, don’t walk on the dunes.
How to get to Culatra Island
Access to Culatra Island is only by boat.
Ferry to Culatra Island
Most visitors take a ferry (roundtrips), departing from Faro or Olhão, to the villages of Culatra and Farol.
Another option is taking a water taxi, that will take you and pick you up at the time and place of your choosing, including Hangares village.
However, some people prefer to take their own boats.
To get to the island, we went on a boat of Passeios Ria Formosa, because we wanted to do a trip just with both of us.
Things to do near Culatra Island
Faro is the capital of the Algarve region and is located on the south of the Ria Formosa Nature Park. It has a lot to see and do, which presents an opportunity to appreciate a rich and diverse architectural heritage.
We highlight the historic centre of Faro, of Arab and medieval origin, with three nucleus:
- Vila Adentro is the oldest area in Faro, which invites you to stroll through the cobbled streets, to discover the Cathedral (from the 13th century), the Municipal Museum and the Town Hall. The access is made through Arco da Vila (Village Arch), which is a door to the old walls that surrounded the city;
- The old Mouraria has houses with a façade of carver stonework, with bay windows and ‘telhados em tesoura’ (gable roof for each room in the house). Around the refreshing Manuel Bívar Garden are the Old Hospital, the Igreja (church) da Misericórdia and the Banco de Portugal building;
- Bairro Ribeirinho has narrow streets, with houses with carved stonework and ‘telhados em tesoura’, as well as several churches and chapels.
Undoubtedly, Faro has the main infrastructures in Algarve, such as Faro International Airport (used by most foreign tourists arriving in the region) and Faro Commercial Port, one of the busiest.
Olhão is a city linked to the sea and the Ria Formosa. Near the pier is the fishermen’s quarter, with small white houses. Part of the houses have either ‘platibandas’ (a decorated small wall in the highest part of a façade) or roof terraces and windows bordered in blue or gray.
The 17th century Mother Church has a tower that is a good viewpoint for the Ria Formosa.
On Avenida 5 de Outubro, which is along the riverfront, there are countless restaurants where local cuisine can be eaten. There, you can enjoy the fresh fish and seafood, grilled or in the cataplana (popular cookware used to prepare Portuguese seafood dishes, traditionally made of copper and shaped like two clamshells).
In the middle of this Avenue there are two ex-libris of Olhão: The fish and vegetable markets, side by side. These neo-Arab buildings from the early 20th century stand out for the reddish colour of the roofs, walls and turrets. Here the local producers come to sell their products.
The Fishing Port of Olhão, concentrates most of the Algarve’s fish, is a place to visit to see the bustle of the arrival of boats loaded with fish caught!
Visit Cacela Velha
Cacela Velha is a picturesque village on the coast of the Algarve (between Tavira and Vila Real de Santo António), from where you can enjoy one of the best views of Ria Formosa.
This land of history and poets was invited by UNESCO to be part of the indicative list of candidates for World Heritage.
From the well preserved historic centre, you can admire the water mirror with little colourful boats anchored in Ria Formosa. The calm waters allow the collection of molluscs and bivalves at low tide.
Near the village church you can see the long sandy beach of Cacela Velha (or Fábrica), considered one of the best in the world!
Learn more about Cacela Velha.
Culatra Island accommodation
On the islands of Ria Formosa the offer of accommodation is limited, especially since we are in the heart of a Nature Park.
However, it is possible to use some locations on the Algarve coast as a base to discover these wonderful islands. Check the prices to find a deal:
Pin this post to enjoy Culatra Island to the fullest and whenever you want.
Other Places to Visit in Algarve
- Aljezur: Self-guided walking tour in Aljezur, Portugal
- Cacela Velha: Cacela Velha village: must-see Algarve gem at Ria Formosa
- Castro Marim: 7 spots to visit in Castro Marim, Algarve
- Lagos: Self-guided walking tour in Lagos, Portugal
- Portimão: Self-guided walking tour in Portimão, Portugal
- Ria Formosa: Ria Formosa Natural Park: skip the crowds of Algarve and escape to a paradise
- How to Get to Algarve: Getting In and Getting Around
- The best beaches in Algarve, Portugal
- Best things to do in Algarve, Portugal: find our selection
|To learn more about other LikedPlaces, go to our Destinations in Portugal page.|
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