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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!

Culatra Island

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.

Barcos na Ilha da Culatra. Boats on Culatra Island
Boats on Culatra Island

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.

Culatra (village)

The Culatra village is quite typicaand 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.

Porto de Abrigo da Culatra, Ilha da Culatra. Culatra Island port of refuge
Culatra Island port of refuge

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).

Pescador, Porto de Abrigo da Culatra. Fisherman, Culatra Port of Refuge
Fisherman, Culatra Port of Refuge

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.

Casas Ilha Culatra. Culatra Island houses
Culatra Island houses

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.

Rua Principal na Culatra, Ilha da Culatra, Faro, Algarve. Culatra main street
Culatra Main Street

Surprisingly at the entrance of the village, the white of the Igreja-Capela (Church-Chapel) of Culatra Island stands out, highlighted by sunlight.

Igreja Capela da Ilha da Culatra. Culatra Island Church Chapel
Culatra Island Church Chapel

Culatra beach

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😍😍.

Praia da Culatra. Culatra Beach
Culatra Beach

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.

Localidade do Farol, com Farol do Cabo de Santa Maria e ISN, Ilha da Culatra. Culatra Island lighthouse
Culatra Island Lighthouse

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.

Rua da localidade do Farol, Ilha da Culatra. Farol village street, on Culatra island
Farol village street, on Culatra island

Farol BEACH

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.

Praia do Farol, Ilha da Culatra. Farol Beach on Culatra Island
Farol Beach on Culatra Island

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.

Farol do Cabo de Santa Maria, Ilha da Culatra. Cabo de Santa Maria Lighthouse, Culatra Island
Cabo de Santa Maria Lighthouse, Culatra Island

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.

Entrada da Barra Faro/Olhão (vista do farol) Ilha da Culatra. 
Lighthouse view to Barra Faro / Olhão, on Culatra Island
Lighthouse view to Barra Faro / Olhão, on Culatra Island

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!

Vista para a Ilha da Culatra, do Farol do Cabo de Santa Maria. 
View from the lighthouse to Culatra Island
View from the lighthouse to Culatra Island

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.

Vista do Restaurante Á do João, Farol, Ilha da Culatra.  Á do João Restaurant, Farol, Culatra Island
Á do João Restaurant, Farol, Culatra Island

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…

Hangares (village)

The history of the village of Hangares is very interesting!

Hangares vista a partir do Farol do Cabo de Santa Maria, Ilha da Culatra. Hangares, Culatra Island
Hangares, Culatra Island

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!

Antiga Base de Apoio a Hidroaviões em Hangares, Ilha da Culatra. 
Former Seaplane Support Base in Hangares, Culatra Island
Former Seaplane Support Base in Hangares, Culatra Island

Hangares beach

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?

Cais de Hangares, Ilha da Culatra
Cais de Hangares, Ilha da Culatra

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;

Flora Vegetação da Ilha da Culatra. 
Vegetation of Culatra Island
Vegetation of Culatra Island

=> 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.

Cais do Farol (localidade), Ilha da Culatra. Farol Pier, on Culatra Island
Farol Pier, on Culatra Island

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

Visit Faro

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.

Arco da Vila, Faro, Algarve. Village Arch, Faro
Arco da Vila (Village Arch), Faro

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.

Visit Olhão

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.

Mercado do Peixe e Mercado da Hortaliça, Olhão. Fish and Vegetable Markets, Olhão
Fish and Vegetable Markets, Olhão

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.

Vista de Cacela Velha para a Ria Formosa. 
View from Cacela Velha to Ria Formosa

View from Cacela Velha to Ria Formosa

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:


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Other Places to Visit in Algarve

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