If you want to cross the southernmost border between Spain and Portugal, the ferry is a novel way to do it. Sure, you could drive across the Guadiana International Bridge if you’re in a hurry (and have a motor vehicle), but where’s the fun in that? Instead, the quick and cheap little ferry between Ayamonte and Vila Real de Santo António makes for a surprisingly delightful international border crossing.
The fifteen minute ferry ride between Spain and Portugal crosses the Rio Guadiana, a natural border and international river, just before it flows into the Gulf of Cádiz. While onboard you can gaze up the river toward its 829 kilometers of winding flow, or out to sea toward the northern coast of Africa. It’s a fantastic way to bookend a day trip from Spain to Portugal or vice versa.
Tourists and locals alike make the ferry crossing on foot, bicycle, scooter, or even occasionally motorbike or car. You can spend a day abroad visiting shops and cafes in another country and be back in your homeland (or your current travel base) by sundown. One-way journeys are fun too; we took the ferry between Spain and Portugal as part of a long-distance bicycle trip since bikes and pedestrians are not allowed on the motorway bridge just to the north.
It’s a quick and easy journey, but there are a few small practicalities you’ll need to know. Read on for a brief guide to taking the ferry between Ayamonte in Spain and Vila Real de Santo António in Portugal.
Important notes: If you want to cross the border by foot or bike, you must take the ferry between Ayamonte and Vila Real de Santo António. Bicycles, scooters, and pedestrians are prohibited on the Guadiana International Bridge. Also, to avoid any confusion, this post is only about the southernmost border crossing. There is another short ferry between Spain and Portugal at the northern end between Caminha and A Guarda.
About the Ayamonte – Vila Real Ferry
The short ferry crossing between Spain and Portugal takes about 15 minutes and runs regularly every day. Transporte Fluvial del Guadiana is the ferry operator. Tickets are affordable and can be purchased for adults, kids, cars, bicycles, and motorbikes, though you should contact them in advance at +34 652 52 51 68 for cars.
Fun fact: before the bridge was finished in 1991, the ferry was the only way to cross this international border. It remains a piece of local history and an interesting experience for visitors.
The ferry schedule changes by season, so be sure to check the website for details. It generally runs at least once an hour between 10am – 7pm (8pm in the summer) on all days except Sunday. On Sundays and holidays the hours are reduced to 11am – 6pm or 7pm. Don’t miss the last ferry!
Ferry Ticket Prices
Tickets are quite affordable. We paid 2.30 EUR per person and 1.50 EUR per bicycle. Cars and motorbikes were slightly more expensive at 6.50 and 4.50 respectively, and drivers are asked to contact them in advance. For the latest prices, which may have changed, see the operator’s website.
The ferry terminals are both small and easy to navigate. Here’s how to find them.
The Ayamonte ferry terminal is here:
The Ayamonte ferry terminal looks like this:
Important: If you’re using Google Maps, the Ayamonte ferry terminal is NOT in the place shown by the dashed line meant to indicate the ferry route. The map above shows the correct location to the north of the inlet.
The Vila Real de Santo António ferry terminal is here:
The terminal is behind the Policia building, which looks like this:
How and Where to Buy Tickets
Tickets are available at both terminals and must be purchased before getting on the ferry, not onboard. Arrive at least 15 minutes before departure so you have plenty of time to buy tickets. Our ferry wasn’t full, but it might be smart to stop by and purchase your ticket early if worried about getting a spot (or get a roundtrip ticket). I’m not 100% sure but I believe tickets might be cash-only.
On the Ayamonte side the ticket office is across the street from the ferry terminal. It looks like this:
In Vila Real de Santo António the ticket office is right next to the terminal, which is behind the Policia building with the arch over the doorway. It looks like this:
What to Expect Onboard
When the ferry arrives, passengers will disembark and then it’s time for you to board. An operator will check your ticket at the ramp, and then you’re on! If crossing with a bicycle or scooter you’ll be left on your own to secure it to the railings (don’t block the entry gates). It helps to have a bungee cord with you.
The deck is fairly open with plenty of standing room, or you can take a seat at the front. There’s a small inside area with seats if you prefer, but most people stay outside and enjoy the view. The ferry moves slowly across typically smooth river water. We felt secure on the deck, but parents of small kids will want to watch them closely.
When the ferry docks you simply disembark and go on your way. As Americans we were confused by the lack of border formalities; no one even checked our passports. Ah, the magic of the Schengen Agreement! Do check requirements for your specific nationality though, and bring your passport if needed.
Whichever direction you’re crossing, you’ll surely enjoy the restaurants, shops, and nice cycling and walking paths on the other side. Enjoy spending the day “overseas” in Portugal or Spain. Just be sure you’re not having so much fun that you miss the last ferry back across the border!
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