A day out on the islands: Ilha do Farol and Ilha Deserta

The islands of Tavira, Cabanas, Armona, Culatra (Farol & Hangares) and Ilha da Barreta all form the sandy barrier between the sea and the estuary, forming an integral part of the Ria Formosa Natural Park.

Over 100 years ago, Culatra and Ilha da Barreta, also known as Ilha Deserta (Deserted Island), were one big island called Ilha do Cabo de Santa Maria. At the start of the 20th century, a canal opened, causing the island to split in two, and the two individual islands were then given the names by which they are known today.

In this article, we’re going to give focus to two of these stunning and very unique islands – Farol and Ilha Deserta.

Farol Island

Farol Island is practically deserted, with only a few homes where fishermen and cultivators of shellfish live. The beach is accessible via ferry, boat or private taxi. The ferry can be caught in downtown Faro, during the summer months, at Cais da Porta Nova with timetables available for consultation on the Faro Council Website. There is also an all-year-round ferry service that departs from Olhão (near the Market), with timetables available here.

The island has a lighthouse (farol) named Farol do Cabo de Santa Maria. This 50m tower was constructed in 1851 and is open to visitors (normally on Wednesdays) who want to explore its interior and climb up its 200+ steps. The area surrounding the lighthouse is also a good spot for fishing, where quite a few fishing enthusiasts can be seen every day.

Farol has a lovely sandy beach with a first aid point, showers, and lifeguards during the summer months. Also, during this period, you can enjoy a wide range of fresh fish and seafood at the island’s restaurants - Associação do Farol and À do João.

The Deserted Island (Ilha Deserta)

The uninhabited Ilha Deserta (or Ilha da Barreta) is located between Península do Ancão and Ilha da Culatra, on Cabo Santa Maria - the southernmost point of Portugal. To celebrate and highlight this special location, a wooden installation has been erected, with signs indicating the distance and direction of many cities worldwide, such as New York, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, among others. The Fisherman’s huts are another quaint feature on this island - located near the pier, they stand out in the landscape with their wonderfully traditional blue and white colours.

With an approximate length of 10 km, Ilha da Barreta consists of a cove (Barreta Ria) facing the Ria Formosa and an extensive beach (Barreta Mar) facing the sea. Barreta Ria is a calm, warm beach with crystalline waters that oozes peace and relaxation. Barreta-Mar, on the other hand, is a blue flag beach that has lifeguards and a very unique, self-sustaining restaurant called Estaminé. This restaurant obtains electricity through photovoltaic panels, produces drinking water that they collect from underground, and treats wastewater – an amazing example of an environmentally friendly restaurant. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, it also has a privileged location with large windows that provide its diners with a great view of the island, while they enjoy the fresh fish and seafood on offer - as well as other local Algarvian products. Well worth a visit!

For those who love and appreciate wild nature, this is the place to be. The flora in the sand dunes is plentiful and well preserved, with bird nests cleverly camouflaged in the sand. The island has many different species of birds such as herons, terns, seagulls, and ducks. But of course, we mustn’t forget the caiman (aka sultana chicken) – a very rare bird in Europe and the symbol of the Ria Formosa Natural Park.

Access to the island is via a 40-minute ferry journey from Cais da Porta Nova in Faro or you can take a private taxi boat from Olhão.


At Blue Sky Villas we offer you a variety of unforgettable experiences with fantastic excursions for those who really want to appreciate the truly stunning features of these islands and the surrounding nature reserve:

“Ria Formosa Lagoon Barrier Islands” is a 3hr private tour starting in Faro that passes along the Ria Formosa, followed by the Islands of Barreta (Deserted Island), Culatra and Armona.

“Length and Breadth of Ria Formosa” is a 7hr private tour that takes you along the islands, providing incredible views and occasionally, sightings of bottlenose dolphins. A further stop for lunch full of traditional and mouthwatering flavours is also on the agenda.

For more information on these tours, please contact us and we will gladly organize everything for you.

Have we left you curious and delighted, with all the wonderfully amazing features of this paradisaic location? Then experience it for yourself, you will wonder why you didn’t come sooner!