Ilha da Culatra

Ilha da Culatra beach and island guide, how to get there and where to stay

The deserted beach of Culatra Island, Faro, Algarve, Portugal

Ilha da Culatra is a barrier island in the Ria Formosa Natural Park, by the cities of Faro and Olhão. Actually, that’s the name given to the eastern side of an island, as the western side is known as Ilha do Farol. It’s 6 kilometers (close to 4 miles) long and is inhabited by about 1000 people. It was originally a fishing community, but many residents now work in tourism.

Ilha da Culatra, Faro

In the 20th century, the ramshackle village of Culatra on the northeastern side of the island grew so much that a public school and a church were built. Most of the houses were erected by and for fishermen, and there are a few cafés and restaurants, mostly serving grilled fish. There are no roads, so you have to walk everywhere, but it’s quite tiny, and a long boardwalk leads to the beach.

Praia da Culatra, Faro

Surprisingly, this beach is never crowded, and is a little quieter than the beach of Ilha do Farol to the west. There are parasols and loungers for rent and lifeguards in the summer by the end of the boardwalk, but continue walking east (to the left when facing the sea), and the beach becomes deserted. Some people take advantage of this seclusion and sunbathe nude, although it’s not recognized as a naturist beach.

Culatra Island, Faro

It’s quite a beautiful and pristine place. Sometimes you can even sight dolphins and orcas in the distance. There are no cliffs like at so many of the famous beaches in Algarve, but there are dunes as far as the eye can see. The white sand and the water are very clean, giving it a Blue Flag certification. The sea is usually calm in the summer and good for snorkeling.

Culatra Island boardwalk, Faro

Many people enjoy the long walk by the sea all the way to the deserted eastern end or west to the lighthouse that marks Ilha do Farol. In fact, many take a ferry to Culatra and then on the return to Faro they depart from Farol (or vice versa). There’s a boardwalk by the dunes to facilitate the walk, which is about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles).

Culatra village, Faro

Beach for: Couples, Naturists
Lifeguards: Yes
Bathrooms: Yes
Rentals: Yes
Bar or Restaurant: Yes
Accessible: Yes
Parking: No (ferry access only)

How to Get to Ilha da Culatra

Boat to Ilha da Culatra, Faro

You can reach Ilha da Culatra on ferries departing from Faro and Olhão. In the summer, there are around 10 departures per day, but these vary every year. In the winter, the number of departures drops to about half of the high season. Always double-check the time of the last ferry at the pier, as you don’t want to be stranded on the island until the following morning or have to pay for an expensive ferry taxi. From Faro, the ferry reaches Ilha da Culatra in 40 minutes, and from Olhão in about 30. The ferry can’t go at high speed due to the shallow waters of the lagoon of the Ria Formosa Natural Park, but it offers the opportunity to admire the view of the coast and shorebirds like flamingos. The departure point in Faro is the pier by the Porta Nova gateway of the Old Town walls, close to the marina. In Olhão, the departure is from the ferry terminal on the eastern end of the waterfront avenue (Avenida 5 de Outubro). You can buy two-way tickets from the stands by the piers. When you arrive in Culatra, you have to walk a bit to get to the beach (about 20 minutes). You need to cross the village, but it’s quite easy -- just walk straight ahead from the pier and then follow the boardwalk.

Beaches by Ilha da Culatra

As mentioned above, you can walk to Ilha do Farol from Culatra. The neighboring island (to the west) should also not be missed. That’s Ilha Deserta (“Desert Island”), an uninhabited island that has a very relaxing officially nude beach. It can be reached by regular ferries or speedboats departing from the pier in Faro.

Hotels by Ilha da Culatra

Eva Senses Hotel, Faro

Eva Senses Hotel

As there are no hotels in Ilha da Culatra, you should stay by the pier in Faro for the ferries to the island. This hotel faces the marina, a short walk away. It’s also perfectly located for all the tourist attractions and public transportation in Faro, and features a rooftop pool, rooms with balconies, a restaurant with views, and a spa.


Hotel Faro & Beach Club

Hotel Faro & Beach Club

This hotel can arrange boat services to Ilha da Culatra in the summer. It’s centrally located in Faro, close to the pier. It has bright and contemporary rooms, but best of all is the rooftop with a restaurant and a swimming pool.


Real Marina Hotel & Spa

Real Marina Hotel & Spa

Since Ilha da Culatra can also be reached from the city of Olhão, you might choose to stay at this wonderful hotel on the waterfront. It has rooms with sea views, indoor and outdoor pools, two restaurants, a gym and a spa with a variety of treatments.