Birdwatching and Wildlife Holidays in the Ria Formosa

Self-Drive Birdwatching

From 660.00 pp

Duration: 8 Days / 7 Nights

Availability: January - December

Birdwatching and Wildlife Tour in the Ria Formosa is a Self-Drive Birdwatching Tour designed by keen local birders. Rightly famed for its golden beaches, golf courses, and wonderful year-round climate, the Algarve is also a secret destination for great birding. At almost any time of the year, there is something of interest to see!


  • Spectacular birding and nature observation in the Ria Formosa Natural Park
  • Visit the Castro Marim Natural Reserve and other important wet areas
  • Abundant species: Oystercatchers, Avocets, Dunlins, Little Stint, Wigeon, Shoveler, Pintail, Pochard, Greater Flamingo, Glossy Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Black-winged Kite, Caspian Tern, Bluethroat, Penduline Tit, Purple Swamphen, Little Bittern, Purple Heron, Collared Pratincole, Audouin’s Gull, Little Tern, Eurasian Thick-knee, Little Bustard, Pallid Swift, Spectacled Warbler, European Bee-eater and Black-eared Wheatear.
  • The amazing Portuguese gastronomy and wines
  • Includes all the information and services you need, from detailed route notes to a 24h hotline

From 660.00 pp

Birdwatching and Wildlife Tour in the Ria Formosa is a Self-Drive Birdwatching Tour designed by keen local birders.

Rightly famed for its golden beaches, golf courses, and wonderful year-round climate, the Algarve is also a secret destination for great birding. At almost any time of the year, there is something of interest to see!

Birdwatching Algarve Black-headed Weaver

Birdwatching Algarve Black-headed Weaver –  Photo Peter Dedicoat

Whether you be an experienced birder or a first-timer, birdwatching is always a pleasure. They are such fascinating creatures, and there is always something new to discover or to smile at! This tour is designed to be enjoyable, no matter your level of birding ability and expertise.

Centred in the Ria Formosa Natural Park, a complex of saltwater lagoons and barrier islands, with mudflats, sandbanks, dune systems, and saltmarshes, the tour extends to another wetland area, in the Castro Marim Nature Reserve.

The Ria is a Special Protection Area under the Ramsar Convention, being of great importance for numerous species of breeding, wintering, and staging waterbirds.

Birdwatching Algarve Collared Pratincole

Birdwatching Algarve Collared Pratincole –  Photo Peter Dedicoat

It’s a place of astonishing beauty and natural interest, where it’s not unusual to spot 40 or more bird species in just a few hours. At the right time of the year, you get to see hundreds of them! Our local birders know where they nest and feed, giving you valuable hints to make the best of your birding holidays.

Between year-round residents and wintering species, we can find Black-tailed Godwits, Ringed Plovers, Little Stints, Little Bittern, Purple Swamp-hen, Purple Heron, Red-crested Pochard, Collared Pratincole, Kentish Plover, European Bee-eater, Red-necked Nightjar, Woodchat, Southern Grey Shrikes, Little Tern, and Marsh Harriers. Booted Eagles are a regular sight during winter.

Birdwatching Algarve Ria Formosa Greater Flamingo

Birdwatching Algarve Ria Formosa Greater Flamingo –  Photo Peter Dedicoat

In the largest area of reed beds in the Algarve, you can see Ferruginous Ducks, Purple Herons, Black-winged Kites, Penduline Tits and Blackheaded Weavers, when in season.

This self-guided tour includes simple and easy-to-use route notes, and you can carry it at your own pace and will. Every itinerary has maps, descriptions, and hints about the most interesting species to be found, with valuable tips.

We’ll make sure you have an unforgettable experience: don’t waste time looking for places to stay, arranging transports, or researching the best birding spots!

Our tour is complete, includes all the services you need, and, most of all, is perfectly thought through and organized!


Day 1 – Arrival in Faro Airport and rental car pick up

Individual arrival to Faro Airport or Faro Train station and rent a car vehicle pick up. Drive to Hotel in Faro.

Birdwatching Algarve Black-headed Weaver

Birdwatching Algarve Black-headed Weaver –  Photo Peter Dedicoat

Day 2 – Olhão Salt-pans & Quinta de Marim

You should aim to visit the Salinas at high tide when thousands of gulls, waders, and terns may be present during the hours when their feeding areas on the salt marshes are temporarily submerged.
There are many paths to explore around the Salinas and birds can be found on any of the pans depending on the state of the tide and the season. Please take care not to cause undue disturbance to birds whether nesting or roosting. Care should also be taken after rain as the paths and tracks around the Salinas can be become very muddy.
Except in high summer, the most numerous species are usually Avocets, Dunlin, Sanderling, and Black-tailed Godwits. But look carefully as it was in this area that a rare long-billed Dowitcher was once found. Slender-billed, Mediterranean, and Audouin’s Gulls can often be found amongst the countless Lesser Black-backs. This is also a good place to find one or two Caspian Terns roosting and in the breeding season, Little Terns should also be here. Except for a few weeks in late summer you should see White Storks on or around their nests which are easy to spot atop the tall chimneys.
During migration times and even in winter lookout for an Osprey in this area.
The Natural Park is state-managed and the headquarters of the Ria Formosa is here. Currently, the entrance costs 2.5€ and you can obtain information about the fauna and flora either at the entrance or at the headquarters building.
There are sign-posted trails around the park. The park is an area of approximately 40 hectares comprising salt marsh, saltpans, Mediterranean scrub, and pine forest, freshwater lagoons, beaches, and mudflats. With such a range of habitats, it is possible to see a wide range of bird species.
If you are visiting in the spring look out for orchids in the wooded areas and in the summer months look out for Mediterranean Chameleon.

Ria Formosa Natural Park Bird watching

Ria Formosa Natural Park

Day 3 – Tavira & Santa Luzia Salt-pans (Salinas)

The Tavira salinas consist of numerous tanks, channels, creeks, and drainage ditches. In autumn and winter, the large tanks on the south side attract large numbers of waterfowl.
The tanks are a popular high tide roost for waders and gulls and Greater Flamingos can usually be found. It is a site best visited at high tide.
These are home to numerous wading birds at high tide including Dunlin, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Sanderling, and Kentish & Ringed Plover. Common Shelduck can often be found on the bunds amongst the roosting Lesser Black-back & Audouin’s Gulls.
Little Egrets and Kingfishers may be in the channel on the left and Spanish Sparrows often congregate on the fences. An Osprey sometimes perches on the poles eating fish and a Peregrine might fly past as it searches for prey.
The road to Quatro Águas is bounded on the east by Salinas and then the River Gilão, on the west by an extensive area of Salinas, creeks, and disused fish farms, and on the south by the tidal Tavira channel.
The pans are best at high tide but the channel is best at low tide when the mud and shellfish beds are exposed.
It is sometimes possible to see the six common species of gull found in this area, including Audouin’s and Slender-billed Gulls, on the same pan. Caspian Terns can also be found. Grey Herons, White Storks, Little Egrets, and Spoonbills are often seen here.

Birdwatching Algarve Ria Formosa Greater Flamingo

Birdwatching Algarve Ria Formosa Greater Flamingo –  Photo Peter Dedicoat

Day 4 – Free Day

This is an ideal opportunity to relax and enjoy the attractions of the Algarve. You can walk/tour independently, or visit local places of interest. From Faro, there is a wide variety of sightseeing available (we can advise and/or recommend options according to your interests). For birdwatching, you may wish to visit Sagres to the West or Vila Real de Santo António to the East.

Black-tailed Godwith

Black-tailed Godwit –  Photo Peter Dedicoat

Day 5 – Quinta do Lago Wetlands

In Quinta do Lago there’s a small coastal lagoon protected from the sea by dunes. The lake is edged with tamarisks, bulrushes, and reeds which give cover to species such as Little Bittern, Purple Swamp-hen, and occasionally Squacco Heron.
There is a trail that leads to an observation tower and is a good spot for photography.
Eurasian Coots are common and there should be several species of ducks including Gadwall and Common Pochard. Little Grebes and Common Moorhen nest here.
Several heron species are seen regularly. There is also the chance to see Black-headed Weaver. During the winter, the ponds attract small flocks of Northern Shoveler and a few Crag Martins. From time to time Glossy Ibises and Spoonbills are also seen.
Near the pine cone areas, you can observe several species of land birds such as the Turtle Dove, Bee-eater, Short-toed Treecreeper, Eurasian Jay, and Azure-winged Magpie.
It is also possible to observe more secretive species – Little Bittern and Purple Swamp-hen.
Trafal is a small wetland bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, golf courses, and pine woodlands. 200 meters to the west of Trafal is the small coastal lagoon, Foz do Almargem. The lagoon is surrounded on three sides by pine woods and is edged by reeds. The beach and dunes border the lagoon to the south. In rough winter weather, the dunes are sometimes breached.
Azure-winged Magpies are very common in this area, as are Jays. Black-winged Kites and Hoopoes can often be seen perched on the poles, and Marsh Harriers can regularly be seen quartering the wetland. If you are lucky a Booted Eagle might show too.

Birdwatching Ria Formosa marshes

Birdwatching Ria Formosa marshes

Day 6 – Lagoa de São Lourenço & Ludo

The Lagoa de São Lourenço is a body of water that is largely surrounded by a golf course. The Lagoa is rich in aquatic vegetation, edged by reeds and bulrushes, and thus is rich in avifauna. In winter large numbers of ducks including Northern Shoveler, Eurasian Teal, Common Pochard, Eurasian Wigeon, and Tufted Duck gather. However, there are many special birds that make their homes here all year round including Red-crested Pochard, Little Bittern, Purple Swamp-hen, Black-headed Weaver, and Great Crested Grebe. They are joined in summer by Little Terns, hirundines, and swifts.
At the southern end of the lake are the channels, salt marsh, lagoons, and sandy barrier islands of the Ria Formosa which, depending on the tide and the season, can be teeming with waders, gulls, herons, and egrets. To the east of the golf course is an area of pines that open onto Ludo, a busy salt-producing farm where it is possible to see Greater Flamingo, Eurasian Spoonbill, Booted Eagles, and many nesting White Storks.

Day 7 – Lagoa dos Salgados and Vilamoura

This is probably the most extensive area of reed beds and lagoons in the Algarve. It is bordered by farmland with cereal fields and orchards to the south, a sewage treatment plant, favoured by gulls and ducks, to the east, and golf courses to the north. This is one of the most important sites in the Algarve for migrating passerines, especially warblers and hirundines, Corn Buntings in winter, and is a hunting area for various raptors including Black-winged Kite, Marsh Harrier, and Booted Eagle and, in winter, Short-eared Owl.
In the Parque Ambiental, Vilamoura, half a decade ago, there were farmlands covered with irrigated orchards, cereals, and pasture. Over the years, the land was replaced with reed beds, alongside the man-made artificial ponds and irrigation channels.
The riparian vegetation of the river of Quarteira and the bordering golf courses constitutes a habitat of the great diversity of birds and small mammals.
This pond has good patches of reed and reedmace and holds several interesting birds. Regular species here include Little Grebe, Moorhen, Purple Swamp Hen, and Kingfisher, as well as some passerines, such as Cetti’s Warbler; in winter, there are usually Bluethroat, Chiffchaff, and Penduline Tit. In the surrounding fields, it is possible to find several passerines, such as Northern Wheatear on autumn passage, or White Wagtail and Meadow Pipit in winter.
In Lagoa dos Salgados, at certain times of the year, along the banks of the lagoon is not difficult to find waders. Black-winged Stilt, Turnstone, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Sandpiper, Common Redshank, and Greenshank are some of the common species that can be regularly observed. Sometimes Bar-tailed Godwit turns up. Other interesting birds that can usually be seen on this site are Coot, Greater Flamingo, Glossy Ibis, Spoonbill, Marsh Harrier, and Caspian Tern.
The surrounding areas may produce Kestrel and several species of passerines like Crested Lark, Stonechat, and Zitting Cisticola; in autumn, a few trans-Saharan migrants put in an appearance, like Whinchat and Northern Wheatear, whereas in winter there are Skylark and White Wagtail.

Day 8 – Individual departure or extra days



Hotel Eva, Faro

Hotel Eva, Faro


Hotel Eva (4****) or similar

Embraced by the Marina and the stunning landscape of Ria Formosa, Hotel Eva is a landmark hotel in the Algarve and in particular in the city of Faro. Integrated into the historic and commercial centre of Faro, a few kilometres from the airport and the islands of Faro, Hotel Eva leaves nothing to chance and it is an excellent choice for those seeking to combine work and leisure.
The facilities of the hotel include a panoramic restaurant, a bar, an outdoor pool, and a health club.
Faro, the capital of Algarve, stands out from the popular Algarve cities for its history, heritage, cultural life, and natural beauty.

What's included


  • 7 nights in a twin room for two pax (4 stars hotel)
  • Single supplement available with a surcharge
  • Extra nights available on request


  • 7 buffet breakfasts at the Hotel
  • Half-board available with surcharge (buffet dinner at the hotel without drinks)


  • Rental car vehicle (class A with ABS, 4 seats, and 3 doors)
    Your car rental includes unlimited mileage, insurance (except Excess and TWL), and 24h Travelling Assistance
  • Rental car upgrade and extras available on request, with extra costs

Your information pack includes

  • Accommodation vouchers
  • Emergency contact numbers
  • General information about your holiday
  • List of species more common and where to find them
  • List of the hotel(s)
  • Directions for arriving at your first hotel, if applicable
  • Detailed maps and route notes in your own mobile with App Routes & Maps (or detailed travel documents 1x per room)
  • Foreign Office Travel Advice
  • Assistance 24/7


Any services not listed as included

  • Flights to and from Portugal
  • Meals, tips/gratuities, baggage, or personal insurance (except as outlined)
  • Admission fees to castles & attractions or events (except as outlined)
  • Personal expenses
  • Supplements


You must be adequately insured to join our Self-Drive Birdwatching Tour, Guided Birdwatching Tour, and Self-Guided Birdwatching Tour. We do not insist that you insure with us but we require that you are adequately insured for the nature of your holiday.

BeCool Travel has partnered with to keep you travelling safely. Travel Insurance is designed for independent and adventurous travellers, with coverage for overseas medical expenses, cancellation, baggage, and other expenses.

Please consult our Travel Insurance page, where you’ll be able to get more detailed info about insurance requirements and an immediate quote for your trip.