Join this relatively flat walk in the heart of the Ria Formosa Nature Park. You will get to see the labyrinth of channels and marsh vegetation, breathe in the salty sea air, perhaps cross with a Chameleon (Chamaleo chamaleon), spot aquatic birds and listen to their distinct sounds, as well as enjoy outstanding landscapes while discovering a complex ecosystem.

The Ria Formosa is classified as a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention. It is an integral part of Special Protected Areas (SPA) of Nature 2000 Network, is qualified as Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) according to the criteria of BirdLife International. It was classified as Natural Reserve in 1978 and upgraded to Nature Park of Portugal in 1987.
The Ria Formosa Nature Park is formed by coastal dunes string of islands, sandy peninsulas, the lagoon and a continental land strip occupying a total area of about 18,400 ha. Part of the lagoon is permanently immersed, and a significant part emerges during the low tide. The ebb and flow of water together with the shallow water, create conditions to foster great biodiversity of crustaceans, molluscs, annelids, fishes and birds.
From an environmental perspective, the Ria Formosa represents a place of exceptional importance. This area is characterized by grouping a wide range of habitats, such as: areas of marsh, dunes, sandbanks permanently covered by shallow waters with the presence of seagrass meadows, intertidal mudflats and sandy beaches.
This variety of habitats, combined with relatively high availability of nutrients, allows the presence of great diversity and abundance of species. In this way, it constitutes a fundamental area for the ecology of the entire Algarve coast, since it is a preferential spot for the reproduction and development of numerous fish, crustaceans and molluscs.
The Environmental Education Center of Marim (CEAM), also known as Quinta de Marim, is the space dedicated to making the Ria Formosa Nature Park known for its various components of habitats, fauna, flora, geology, landscape and intense relationship with Man. And it is in this space, with a privileged location in the heart of the Ria Formosa Natural Park, that we will undertake the journey to discover its fabulous natural heritage.
The high vegetable biodiversity is associated with an abundance of fauna that is one of the notable aspects of the Ria Formosa, especially the avifauna, which includes numerous species considered threatened, one of the main interests of nature conservation.
Many species of migratory waterfowl from northern Europe spend the winter here or use the Ria Formosa as a stopover on their route to more southern areas. Among the most important wintering wildfowl species, the Teal Anas crecca and the Pochard Aythya ferina can be highlighted. Of the waders, we can highlight the Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola, and the Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta.
The Swamp-hen or Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio porphyrio), an emblematic specie of the Park, deserves to be highlighted. Due to the increased protection and study of this species, its population numbers have increased in recent years.
The Iberian Magpie (Cianopica cooki) colony is also worthy of mention, the Kingfisher (Aldo atthis) also resident; and the population of Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus). The population of the Little Tern (Sternula albifrons), a species in decline in Europe, breeds in the dunes and salt flats of the Ria Formosa.
The benthic communities range from clearly marine species to others belonging to the lagoon system and have extremely numerous populations. Some of which are of economic interest, such as the Clam (Ruditapes decussatus), the Cockle (Cerastoderma edule) and the Razor Clam (Ensis siliqua).
Of the ichthyofauna, 65 species of fish have been identified, which are divided into sedentary, occasional and migratory-colonizing; among these, the ones of greatest economic interest are the Gilt-head bream (Sparus aurata), the White Seabream (Diplodus sargus), the Sea bass (Dicentratus labrax), the Senegalese sole (Solea senegalensis) and the European eel (Anguilla Anguilla).
The Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon), is one of the reptiles of this ecosystem. It is an endangered species whose distribution in Portugal is confined to the coast of Sotavento do Algarve, in the pine forests of the mainland coast and in the barrier islands.
Of the existing mammals, the Otter Lutra lutra, the Mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon), the Genet (Genetta genetta), and the Beach marten (Martes foina) can be highlighted.
Although the conditions in the Ria Formosa Nature Park are very unfavourable to the survival of insects due to the almost complete absence of freshwater courses, there are insects in the region that adapt to local adversities, such as the Clouded yellow (Colias croceus) butterfly and the Swallowtail (Papilio machaon) butterfly as examples of Lepidoptera. As examples of Odonatas we can highlight the Banded Dragonfly Brachythemis impartita and the Algarve Dragonfly (Selysiothemis nigra). The Beach beatle (Erodius tibialis), and the Sand beetle (Scarites Cyclops) are examples of Coleoptera.
Sympetrum fonscolombii 2
Zerynthia rumina - Carnaval - Spanish Festoon
Photo credit: Michele Lamberti / / CC BY
Regarding the flora, the vegetation in the Ria Formosa provides stability and works as a habitat to countless species. Amongst many others species can be found the Cistanche phelypaea, the Sea Rush (Juncus maritimus), the Glasswort (Salicornia ramosissima), the Armeria gatidana, the Marram Grass (Ammophila arenaria), the Limoniastrum (Limoniastrum monopetalum), the Sea-daffodil (Pancratium maritimum).
Several resources in Ria Formosa have for ages stimulated the settlement of people in the surroundings. Since ancient times humans have carried out activities such as fishing and salt production, as may be seen at the ruins of Roman tanks used to produce Garum, a mix of fish, salt and spices, located at Quinta de Marim in Olhão.
As in ancient times, nowadays the Ria Formosa still works as an anchor for local populations as it facilitates several economic activities such as fishing, aquaculture, canned fish, salt production, touristic activities, sand extraction and goods transportation.
Photo credit: R. Ornelas / Visual hunt / CC BY

Fantastic views of the Ria Formosa and Armona island.

  • Duration: Half day

  • Price: 30€/pax

Includes :

  • Nature guide

  • Binoculars

  • Telescope

  • Birds Field guide

  • Fauna and Flora Field guides

  • Transport

  • CEAM Entrance fee

  • Insurances

  • Taxes

Timing recommendation: All year round

This activity is suitable for visitors staying in Olhão / Faro area. Visitors staying outside of this area, an alternative meeting point will be arranged.

Photo credit: JerryL2008 / / CC BY