How Big is Ria Formosa Natural Park?

If you’re planning a trip to the Algarve and would like to explore one of Portugal’s natural wonders, look no further than Ria Formosa Natural Park. Located in the southernmost part of Portugal, visitors can look forward to many species of wildlife and frequent sunny days here.

In this blog, we take an expert look at the park’s size, from the landscape’s characteristics to the number and types of animals that inhabit it. While nothing compares to seeing Ria Formosa in real life, this will help you to decide how you wish to explore the park before you arrive.

Lands is the Algarve’s leading eco-tourism expert, allowing inquisitive travellers to experience Ria Formosa’s beauty with a minimal eco-footprint. Our founder is a biologist- who understands the importance of maintaining the park’s delicate ecosystem.

Our informative and accessible tours include solar-powered boat trips to kayaking and walking tours in and around Faro’s nature park, Ria Formosa. If you have any queries about the tours we operate or about the park, please get in touch. Our local team is here to help your adventures come to life.


Ria Formosa’s Size and Scale

Located at the southernmost point in Portugal, Ria Formosa Natural Park is a lagoon made up of barrier islands and inlets formed by shifting sandbanks. The park comprises a maze of canals, islands, and marshes that runs 60 kilometres along the Algarve coast.

Running from Ancão Peninsula (Loulé) to Manta Rota (Vila Real de Santo António), the total area of the park is roughly 18,400 hectares. The park also contains a 7,000 hectares strip of land on the mainland, consisting mostly of built-up areas, pine forests, and farmland. 


This area is located north, where it is divided into salt pans and ponds, sandbanks, and dry land. The best way to get to the park is by boat. Ferries run regularly from Faro or the nearby towns of Olhão and Tavira. Lands is also located in Faro and runs several tours throughout the day.


Ria Formosa Eco boat tour portugal algarve sea trips excursions


Flora and Fauna in Ria Formosa, Faro

Ria Formosa Nature Park is renowned for its wildlife and flora and fauna. It was recognised as a Wetland of International Importance awarded in 1981 by the Ramsar Convention, a Natura 2000 site (Special Protection Area for Birds and Special Area of Conservation), and an Important Bird Area (IBA – Birdlife International).

For our condensed insight into the wildlife of the park, take a look at our guide to the flora and fauna of Ria Formosa. There have been 34 different mammal species recorded in this area, including otters, genets, badgers, and various types of bats that feed in the park.

As for reptiles, there are 19 different species, 12 different species of amphibians, and a whopping 228 different species of birds! All of these creatures make their home in the lagoon’s aquatic fauna, which is fundamental to the survival of birds, fish, molluscs, and crustaceans.


An In-Depth Look at Ria Formosa’s Fauna

Living in the sand and mud at the bottom of the Ria Formosa are vast populations of creatures. Among the inhabits are annelids (worms and polychaetes), crustaceans (crabs and prawns), cephalopod molluscs (cuttlefish and octopuses), gastropod molluscs (limpets, whelks, and sea slugs) among many others.

Over 140 species of fish can be found in the Ria Formosa. Some are resident species, such as the short- and long-snouted seahorses, goby and sand smelt, others, such as the European eel; and still others live in the lagoon as juveniles, migrating to the sea as adults. 

In Ria Formosa, it is also common to see sardines, common two-banded sea bream, white seabream, European bass, sole and red mullet. Mullets in particular are highly lucrative.

Chameleon (Source | License)


Ria Formosa’s Bird Population

Ria Formosa is known as a hotspot for seeing an array of birds. The birdwatchers among you can try to see the more than 200 species recorded in the area, some of which are very rare or endangered.

During winter migration, over 20,000 aquatic birds fly to Ria Formosa, which acts as a temporary home for migratory species from northern Europe that either spend the winter here or stop in Ria Formosa before flying to Africa. 

As one of the most important wetlands in Portugal, the Ria Formosa’s diverse habitats lead to a great number of species visiting. The park has notable high numbers of wintering Eurasian Wigeon and breeding Red-crested Pochard. 

If you’re a keen birder and would like to see some of the most unusual species on your visit, take a look at our Boat Faro Boat Trip – Birdwatching in Ria Formosa. The tour lasts for 2.5 hours and runs every day from 12pm.



How to Navigate the Park

Depending on your preferred method of travelling around the park, you could explore on foot, by boat, or even on a Ria Formosa Kayaking Tour!


Walking Around Ria Formosa 

If you would like to explore the park by walking, take a look at our Ultimate Faro Walking Tour. This 3-hour private walking tour of Ria Formosa explores the pine woodlands, marshes, and salt pans of Ria Formosa in the protected areas of Ludo and Quinta do Lago.


Private Eco Boat Tour in Ria Formosa out of Faro, Algarve


Sailing Around Ria Formosa Nature Park

Ria Formosa is an estuarine-lagoon system, where a large area of marshes, islets and channels is protected by robust sand belts. More than 70% of the water volume in Ria Formosa is renewed each tidal cycle due to the park’s proximity to the Atlantic.  

The lagoon system occupies most of the area, 11,000 hectares to be precise, with an average depth of 2 metres. Taking a boat tour of Ria Formosa is very enjoyable, particularly at sunset. At this time, visitors can enjoy the dramatic skies and silhouettes of birds against the changing hues.



We hope this guide to the size and scale of Ria Formosa has given you a clear mental picture of what awaits you in Faro. If you are inspired by what you’ve read, please feel free to browse our Ria Formosa eco-boat tours online.

As always, our local team of expert biologists is here to answer any questions you may have before you visit our part of Portugal, so do get in touch. Until then, enjoy dreaming of your next adventure in Portugal’s sunny climes.  

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