Collecting shells, diving into the waves and a boat trip through the Ria Formosa
This island, which, like its sister island the Ilha da Armona, can also be reached from Olhão after a half-hour boat trip, is also inhabited. However, it is much less touristy than the Ilha da Armona. This may also be due to the fact that large parts of the island were used as a military training area until 1998. Unfortunately, such use has recently become the subject of discussion once again and could considerably disturb the silence and peace that Culatra has radiated in recent decades.
They climb smoothly onto the railing of the pier,
stay there for a few minutes,
looking for interested eyes,
waiting for the right moment,
repelling each other powerfully,
and then they jump enthusiastically
into the dark floods.
On Culatra, there is a school, a library, a church and a stadium, and everyday life is less determined by tourism than on all the other islands of the Ria Formosa. Originally a collection of simple fishermen’s huts, the villages on Culatra slowly developed into real villages, which until the late 20th century had no electricity, water pipes or a sewage system, and they had to organise their own security outside any police jurisdiction.
There are 3 small villages on the island: Culatra, the biggest one, Hangares, a small collection of houses directly in the military restricted area, and the far-off Farol, another village that is 47 metres high and therefore has a visible lighthouse, after which it was also named. Culatra and Farol are frequently visited by the boat from Olhão, and you can take a peaceful and extensive 4-km-long walk on the beach between the two villages. Anyway, the return journey from Culatra to Olhão is always via Farol.
We disembark in the small harbour of Culatra and walk comfortably through the cosy little village. It is wonderful that there are no cars here and that our children can walk around everywhere without us having to worry. After a quarter-hour walk, we reach the school in Culatra, which is one of the last houses before the beach, and are overwhelmed by the thought that children here can actually have school between the village and thebeach. So extraordinary and so idyllic!
Now, a comfortable wooden walkway leads us over a dune landscape that almost seems desert-like. We have no idea how different this landscape will be on our way back, because with the evening tide, the same wooden footpath leads over small rivers and ponds, which are getting bigger and bigger.
We spend a very nice day on the beautiful beach itself, and when evening finally comes, only worry drives us not to miss the last boat. Now, the village is comfortably enveloped in twilight. The inviting restaurants near the harbour are moderately full. At the harbour, some boys jump from the jetty into the water. The boat crew keeps them as far away from the boat as possible, but the boys want to prove their courage to the people on the boat and use every opportunity to jump into the water directly by the boat.
The Ilha da Culatra is a beautiful, quiet island in the Ria Formosa. Even in August, when the entire Algarve is overrun by foreign and domestic tourists, it is by no means well-visited. It has preserved a lot of its natural beauty, and you’d be hard-pressed to find another place in the Algarve where you can so authentically get a feel for island life like you can here. We ride wistfully through the dark Ria and see a swarm of storks flying west in formation, and looking at the sun setting over the mainland, we are sure that we will be back again soon.
Crossing to the island:
The journey takes 30 minutes by boat from the port of Olhão. In summer, boats run around every two hours. You can find the current timetable here: www.olhaocubista.pt/horariobarcos.htm
GPS (Parking directly at the boat terminal):
Directly in front of the boat terminal, there are lots of parking spaces with fees, and there are few free spaces. Barely 100 metres further on, there is a large free parking lot. However, in the summer it is also quite crowded.
We strongly recommend that you bring a sun umbrella, UV T-shirts for children and sunscreen with a minimum protection factor of 50, as the sun is very strong here.
On the beach itself and in the harbour area in Culatra, there are some cosy bars and restaurants.