One of the 7 Natural Wonders of Portugal

Is right on your doorstep if you are in the Algarve and if you landed at Faro then you flew over it!  I am talking of course about the beautiful Ria Formosa.

Sometimes at it's most stunning at night
Sometimes it is at its most stunning at night


As regular readers to this blog will know one of the reasons we return again and again to the Ria Formosa is the birdlife. As well as being one of the stop-over points in the bird migration routes it is also a wintering ground for birds, particularly waders, DSCN8288from northern and central Europe. There can be around 20,000 birds here during the Winter months.  Don’t worry though if birds are not your thing as there are plenty of opportunities for boat trips, walks and cycle rides, and of course there are also the glorious beaches, which even in the height of summer apparently have quiet(ish!) areas.


DSCN8134For those who have not visited before, the Ria Formosa is a large lagoon on Portugal’s Algarve coastline, extending around 60km east from Faro to a few km west of Vila Real de Santo Antonio. The lagoon becomes a labyrinth during falling and low tides as hundreds of sandbanks and channels appear.  At times it can feel as though there are islands everywhere, there are in fact only 5 islands which create a barrier to the Atlantic.  There are 6 inlets from the Atlantic but only one permanent river – the other rivers I understand from this environmental report dry up in the Summer – so consequently it is a coastal water lagoon.  Today I thought I’d a share a little bit more about the Ria Formosa tides.

DSCN8937The tides are part of life here in the Algarve, and a few hours ether side of low tide you will notice local people heading out onto the sands to dig for clams and other shellfish. Some head out by walking (or wading!) from the saltpans or the small beach by the marina, others heading out in small boats to the sandbanks further out. Just occasionally one of them leaves it rather late to return and you will spot them in the channel with the water up to their chests and their basket on their head.

In the past the power of the tides was utlized through tidal mills.

View from one of the ruined water mills
View of the Formosa from one of the abandoned water mills

Today though there are no working mills left as far as we are aware, but one has been partly restored at the park’s headquarters on the outskirts of Olhão and ruins of others are dotted throughout the area.

Views from the tidal mill in the park headquarters
Views from the tidal mill in the park headquarters

DSCN1174Whilst we have explored the Ria Formosa from the islands a few times now, and explored it further east most of our strolls tend to be in Olhão’s saltpans.  It is around here I have begun to try and to capture the range of the tides.  The tides are 6hrly so most days there are two high and two low tides.  The tidal range (between high and low) is from 1.5m to 3m, but is the variation in height of the high tides which has enthralled us.  The highest tide we’ve seen was at least 3.7metres  – can’t be definite on height as it was windy that day so may have been higher.  A few days earlier the high tide was only 2.7metres.  Below are a few shots of the same channel at different high tides.

The Highest Tide we've seen
The Highest Tide we’ve seen
Usual High Tide
Usual High Tide
Occasionally this is high tide
Occasionally though this is as high as high tide gets

Watching the tide come in and go out is a lovely way to spend a few hours.

The same channel from a slightly different angle and during a lower tide
The same channel from a slightly different angle and during a lower tide
Low Tide
Another angle, but this is at Low Tide 

So if you have not yet been to this Seventh Wonder then make sure you do soon, and if you are wondering about the other six Natural Wonders.  Two are in the Azores, one is Madeira and the remaining three you have the caves of Mira D’Aire near Fátima, Portinho da Arrábida about 40 km south of Lisbon and Peneda-Gêres National Park in the north.  I’ve only achieved 2 of the 7 so have lots to do on our return trip this Autumn!

Evening high tide
Evening high tide

Author: BeckyB

It had been a good life walking, cooking, photographing, volunteering, blogging, and best of all spending time with MrB, family, & friends. Sadly it no longer is. Suddenly and unexpectedly I have become a widow.

6 thoughts

  1. Hi Becky, Your Algarvian Blog is a lovely gift! Thank you so much for the wonderful photo essays and for introducing us to Olhao and the eastern Algarve. My wife and I and our extended family enjoy our visits to Olhao in the Summer months. We’re not yet able to live there year-round, but your blog has opened our eyes to the beauty and wonder of the area we look forward to calling home some day. We delight in reading (and talking about) your Olhao blog updates!

    1. Hi Nathaniel thank you so much for your lovely lovely comments. We’ve yet to stay in the summer months!! Always disappearing late Spring and returning early Autumn . . .one day I’ll brave the crowds. You and Mercedes will have to write a guest post for me when you are here in the summer 🙂

  2. I love that tidal mill at Olhao, Becky. You’ve certainly done your share of observations 🙂 Occasionally we’ve been caught out by tides when we’re on our local Shell Beach. Fortunately it just means a bit of a walk via the Hotel Albacora.

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