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Ilha Deserta

Ilha Deserta

Ilha Deserta is one of the 5 barrier islands in the Ria Formosa Natural Park. A commonly asked question is if the island is called Barreta or Deserta. Barreta is the geographic name of the island, Deserta, which means desert or deserted, appeared as a nickname among the fishermen.

Find it. Love it. Preserve it.

The shape of Deserta looks like an arrow pointing south, between the Atlantic Ocean and Ria Formosa. The island has been kept pristine for many years, and today still surprises. From birds, to plants and flowers, crustacean, chameleons and others still to be found, Ilha Deserta is a hotspot of biodiversity.

One of the most enthusiastic characteristics is the unique scent of the island. Due to lack of air pollution, and especially when a wet atmosphere occurs, Deserta is emerged on a vibrant orchestra of aromas.

Paradise All Year Round.

Depending on the season, Deserta keeps something secret for the occasion. The summer brings along the calm of the Atlantic Ocean allowing you to enjoy the pristine calm waters on a bright sunny landscape.

During Fall, thousands of birds start coming down south, finding shelter in Ria Formosa Natural Park to stay hidden from the cold winter of Europe.

As the winter comes along, a composition of silence and nature echoes in Ilha Deserta. (The winter brings us a composition of silence and nature sounds,) The waves start to hit the coast, the wind blows faster, as the wildlife finds shelter on the island.

Spring brings a blossom of colours and scents on the dunes of Ilha Deserta. During this time of the year, the ecosystem is highly productive, allowing you feel life sprouting on every corner of Ria Formosa Natural Park and Ilha Deserta.

Come and feel it for yourselves.​

Ria Formosa Natural Park

The biological diversity of Ria Formosa is beyond imagination.
Ria Formosa is a shallow coastal tidal lagoon with the seaward belt of dunes protecting the system of salt marshes, subtidal channel and the seagrasses bed. The real complexity and value of the Ria Formosa ecosystem are lying between the tides. This ecosystem is considered a nursery for many coastal species, and the areas that become exposed when the tide goes down are being used for traditional growth of bivalve and as aquaculture ponds.

From east to west, the five barrier islands are Barreta (Deserta), Culatra, Armona, Tavira and Cacela, and with the 6 bars – Ancão, Faro-Olhão, Armona, Fuzeta, Tavira and Lacém – the Ria Formosa Natural Park covers an extension of 18400 ha, throughout 5 cities in the Algarve – Loulé, Faro, Olhão, Tavira and Vila Real de Stº António.

In Ria Formosa, due to the calm waters of the lagoon, you really can feel and breathe the pace of the biodiversity as you cross the channel in the direction of the sea and Ilha Deserta.

Map of Points of Interests in Ria Formosa Algarve


Every year more than 30,000 birds use the Ria Formosa during their migrations and in winter, making this one of the three most important wetlands in Portugal. Some species are of European importance because of their important breeding populations, including the Little Tern, the Pied Avocet and Audouin’s Gull. The wide diversity of habitats here leads to the occurrence of a great number of species, one of the highest in Portugal, especially waterfowl, including waders and ducks in particular and, in lesser numbers, herons.

The Ria Formosa is also noted for the highest numbers of wintering Eurasian Wigeon and breeding Red-crested Pochard in Portugal. On the land areas several species of woodland passerines occur, as well as various raptors.

More than 300 bird species have been recorded here, some of them very rare and others recognised internationally as endangered, such as the Purple Swamphen – the symbol of the Natural Park.

The Ria Formosa is one of the most beautiful and important wetlands of Portugal, featuring an extensive string of sandy barrier islands parallel to the coast protecting the interior of the ria from the sea and creating environmental conditions similar to an estuary.

ECO Tour Ria Formosa

Discover Ria Formosa’s secrets in a Guided Nature Tour by boat. Every day at 11 am, departing from Faro, with an average duration of 90 minutes, ending at Ilha Deserta, where you can take the Walking Nature Tour, relax at the beach and have lunch at Estaminé Restaurant.

Secure Vacations, in an almost desert paradise

Packages of 2,3 and 5 nights with different program's options.

Surprise yourself by a most unknowned Algarve.

Beach - Praia da Barreta

We welcome you to one of the most secret beaches in the Algarve. Imagine how amazing it is to have a 7 km extension of white sandy beach to choose where to lay your towel and enjoy your day in the sun.

Would you believe if we told that the water temperature during the summer can reach 24º C (75º F) and the water is so clear that you see the shells lying on the bottom? It is true, most of the days during the summer the beach in Ilha Deserta displays an authentic setting of paradise.

The beach in Ilha Deserta has the highest rank of the region in terms of water and air quality, and for 20 years now, we were proud to be a Blue Flag.

During Summer bathing season - from June 1st to September 30, to guarantee your safety, Deserta Beach has the permanency of lifeguards along the beach. And for your comfort, we have a beach concession, equipped with sun shades and sun beds.


The Santa Maria boardwalk, along the Ria Formosa Natural Park, was built in Ilha Deserta in 1999, and today is one of the must visit places in Faro and Ria Formosa, in the Algarve.

Imagine this:

Your journey already started on a boat tour to Ilha Deserta, and you’re already on paradisiac island. The Santa Maria boardwalk in Ilha Deserta is 5 minutes away from the pier, and it starts with a scenario of the main elements on the local ecosystem: the Atlantic Ocean flooding the Ria Formosa, creating a labyrinth of channels sided by marsh salt biotope on a seagrass bed and the Barrier Islands, protecting the Ria Formosa from all the strength that the Atlantic Ocean can reveal.

As you walk along, you can sense the biodiversity flow and gradient amongst the complex dune system. The path goes on for two kilometres, and it finishes on the southernmost point of mainland Portugal – Cape St. Mary.

Once you reach the beach, you’ll have in front of you a walk along the wave lines on a white sandy beach with a carpet of shells. The variety and abundance of shells in Ilha Deserta is notable, and to keep it that way we sincerely ask you, as you go along the beach, to take a picture instead of taking them home.

Walking Nature Tour

Discover "Rota das Dunas", our Walking Nature Tour, with a professional guide, along Ilha Deserta’s boardwalk, with destination to Cape Saint Mary.

Cape St. Mary

The barrier islands are highly dynamics systems and sensitive areas in terms of coastal erosion. Like the name recalls, the islands of the Natural Park, act as barrier to Ria Formosa form storm erosion, subsidence and sea level rise.

The relationship that the local culture has with Ria Formosa, the Barrier Islands, and with Cape St. Mary was subject for the history books. During the century V, the area we know recall as Faro, was named “Santa Maria de Ossónoba’’. The myth of the Santa Maria continued the name of the city during 9 centuries, until it evolved to ‘’Faroon’’ and then Faro.

The Cape St. Mary is the southernmost tip of Mainland Portugal, in the Ria Formosa, municipality of Faro. It is a point in the curve of the beach in the Barreta island, that also has the name of the island of the Cape of St. Mary or Ilha Deserta. The cape was located in the primitive Island of the Cape St. Mary. The definitive opening of the Barra Nova canal, to service the ports of Faro and Olhão, in the first quarter of the 20th century, divided the island into two - Culatra Island and Barreta Island.

All it takes to reach Cape St. Mary, and visit one of the historical landmarks of Faro its beyond imaginary – a 30-minute walk on a boardwalk, or the white sandy beach lying on the bottom of Europe.


Our concept is to give you the perfect vacation day: after a boat tour along the Ria Formosa Natural Park, you will have the opportunity to enjoy a gastronomic experience in Restaurant Estaminé, with fresh fish, local seafood and some Portuguese Wine, and finish up on the beach laying on a sunbed.

Estaminé Restaurant

Surrounded by the tranquility of the island, Estaminé offers an authentic gastronomy experience, a quality service and spectacular panoramic views.