Although it is part of Portugal, the island of Madeira is closer to mainland Africa than it is to Europe. Only 500km away from the Canary Islands and a three-hours flight from Paris, this stunning island is often compared to Hawaii due to its volcanic landscapes. If you are looking for adventure, botanical wonders and dramatic coastlines this is the right place for you.
In this post I have highlighted five reasons to visit Madeira, a destination that offers a glorious climate, a stunning natural scenary and challenging mountain hikings.
Let’s discover together the best things to do in this subtropical island!
1. Ponta delgada and São Vicente
Located in the north coast of Madeira, Ponta Delgada and São Vicente are small villages which economy is based on agriculture, services and tourism. The main attractions in this area are the dramatic «São Vicente Caves» and the festival «Arraial do Bom Jesus»
São Vicente Caves
Formed 890.000 years ago from a volcanic eruption in Paul da Serra, they were first reported by the English naturalist James Yate Johnson in 1885. These are among the first caves of volcanic origin to be opened to the public in Portugal (1st October 1996) and may be visited by following an underground route over 1,000 meters long.
At the end of the tour, visitors are welcome to access the Volcano Center, a pavilion where to discover more about the birth of Madeira and the evolution of the caves among the years.
Arraial do Bom Jesus
If you go to Ponta Delgada in September make sure you see this festival. It takes place the first weekend of the month and it is one of the biggest on the island. Pilgrims come from all over Madeira in a desmonstration of faith to devote the Imaculado Coração de Maria.
The rest of the year, Ponta Delgada is a quite rural area which activity is based on agriculture and some tourism. There you can find a few hotels and high quality local restaurants. Surounded by stunning cliffs and located close to the mountain, this part of the island is ideal if you want to enjoy wild nature.
2. Porto Moniz
Still in the north of Madeira we can find Porto Moniz.
This area is known due to its three natural swimming pools filles with salt water and its black sand beach. This unique pools are formed by natural volcanic rock structures which allow cool, fresh sea water to enter, offering a refreshing experience to visitors. Enter in this pools will cost you only 1 or 2€ per day.
Personal tip: Use some water shoes and a mask to have a better experience
3. Ponta do sol
Situated on the south coast of the island, Ponta do Sol is more turistic than the above mentioned places.
Although the economic activity is based on the primary sector, mostly on the production of sugar cane, bananas and floriculture, Ponta do sol is considered the sunniest point of the island, which is an attraction for both locals and foreigners. Here you can enjoy a cute pebble beach and amazing sunsets.
In case you´d rather enjoy the mountain than the beach, there is another stunning attraction in this municipality: Paul da Serra, the only plateau on the island of Madeira with an altitude of 1,500 meters, from where you can enjoy the stunning views surrounded by indigenous vegetation.
Walking along the levadas is one of the main tourist attractions of Madeira. But do you know the origin of this paths?
Levadas are channels of water with a slope originally created to transport the water from the north to the south of the island, where the climate is drier and the population higher. The origin of these paths dates back to the 15th century, when the levadas were created as a way to irrigate sugar and vineyard plantations.
Nowadays, the levadas are an extraordinary way to discover the magnificient nature of the island.
In this post I want to share with you two of my favourite levadas:
Levada das 25 Fontes
This is one of the most popular levadas in Madeira. Its name comes from the number of little waterfalls that you can find once you arrive there. The path is stunning and it allows visitors to admire a wide variety of flora and fauna.
To walk along the 25 Fontes levada I recommend you to wear comfortable mountain shoes and clothes. The climate in this mountain is really damp and warm, therefore do not forget to bring some shorts and something to drink.
It took us around 4 hours to finish the whole path. Would you also like to enjoy this magic place?
Vereda de Ponta de São Lourenço
This mini levada is situated on the very east point of the island. Unlike the «Levada das 25 Fontes», São Lourenço’s climate is windy and semi-arid, which explains the lack of trees and the low vegetation that you will find along the path.
Walking along this levada you will enjoy stunning rock formations, resulting of the volcanic origin of the island. Take your time to appreciate all details!
After a few kilometers you can find the Sardinha house. If you are wondering why someone would like to live in the middle of a levada, let me tell you that São Lourenço is part of Madeira’s natural park. Therefore, the Sardinha house is the base for a group of people, who work for the park and who are responsible for watching over the area and its species.
Since this part of the island can be very warm and sunny, I recommend you to walk this levada early in the morning. It took us around 3 hours to reach Ponta de São Lourenço and come back.
If you are interested in more Levadas take a look at this page, where you can find more than 50 walks, safety information, points of interest and more!
The capital of Madeira is located in the south coast of the main island. The majority of the population of this volcanic island live in dramatic Funchal, with abundant plant life, colourful gardens and an eternal spring climate.
There are lots of things to do in Funchal, many of which are free. From cable cars to colonial architecture, this city is a fantastic holiday destination.
Lets explore some of the best things to do in Funchal:
Old town Funchal is relatively flat and easy to explore by foot. Here are some of the highlights of Funchal that we discovered during our trip:
In 2010 the project «Arte Portas Abertas» breathed new life into the historical center of the city by turning old, disused doors into works of art. Rua Santa Maria is the best place to enjoy the creativity of local artists.
Fruit, fresh fish, vegetables, flowers and souvenirs are beautifully displayed in Funchal’s «Mercado dos Lavradores».
Santa Clara convent
Built in the 16th century, by order of the second captain-major of Funchal, this convent is a valuable heritage for its furnishings. Nowadays, this unique place is still the house of Franciscan Sisters, who kindly open their doors for those ready to admire the stunning Amarante Chapel and the courtyard.
Monday – Saturday: 10:00 am – 12:00 pm & 15:00 pm – 17:00 pm
Ready to enjoy magnificent panoramic views from Funchal?
The cable car is one of the main tourist attractions in the city. It takes you from the old part of Funchal to Monte in around 15 minutes. As you go up the environment evolve and the urbane mesh is substituted by green slopes and flowery hills, with the city and the sea in the background. A stunning experience not suitable for those suffering from vertigo (although one of my companions suffers from vertigo and he took the cable car without hesitation. Yes, he couldn´t move a muscle during 15 minutes 😉 therefore, he took great photos 🙂 ).
Monday to Sunday: 09:00 am – 17:45 pm
Wicker toboggan ride
Once you reach Monte you will find a very special type of transport: the Wicker Toboggans, which is a unique experience not to be missed 😉
The «carros de cestos» are produced with wicker and wood. Traditionally, they have two seats and are driven by two men called «Carreiros», who are dressed in white cotton clothes and a straw hat, using their rubber-soled boots as brakes. The downhill journey is made in about 10 minutes (around 2 kilometers at a speed of 48km/hour) of pure adrenaline. Ready to try it?
Madeira botanical garden
One of the most beautiful, colorful gardens in the island is Madeira botanical garden. Built in 1881 this part of the city was created by the Reid family as a private park. Luckily, this 80,000m² park is now open for everybody ready to enjoy its fascinating collection of a wide variety of plants.
Monday to Saturday: 09.00 am -18.00 pm (last admission at 17.30)
Madeira typical food
Espetada is made with meat cubes – it can be chicken, beef or pork – in a laurel skewer and grilled on wood. To accompany the dish, locals suggest «Milho Frito» (fried maize).
If you want to try the best espetadas of the island, I highly recommend you the local restaurant São Cristóvão in Boaventura, north of Madeira. Try them while enjoying a stunning view of the blue ocean and the magnificent Madeira’s cliffs.
«Espada«, or black scabbard fish, is the most typical fish of Madeira. This kind of fish swims in deep waters and has a fearsome appearance, at least before cooked. However, it is really tasty, mostly when they prepare it with some fruit sauce.
Another traditional recipe of Madeira.
Prepared with beef cut into small cubes, fried and seasoned with garlic, «Picadinho» is always a good option if you want to try some local food.
Bolo do caco
A typical bread made from wheat flour. Its name is due to the way it was traditionally cooked: on a basalt stone called «caco«.
It can be consumed hot as a meal entree, with garlic butter spread to melt, or as a main dish.
The island of eternal spring, the «Hawaii of Europe», the blossom island…
Madeira is a stunning place full of exotic plants, tropical fruits, steep cliff edges and beautiful waterfalls.
Have you ever been to Madeira? Is there any other hidden gem in this island you would like to recommend us?
In this case feel free to leave a comment below or to contact me via any social network. I am alway thrilled to read your adventures and suggestions!