If you are thinking of visiting the Madeira Islands, but you don’t know much about these destinations, we have the right article for you. We will introduce you to the main islands of the archipelago, their characteristics, their main attractions and tell you everything about how to go, what to see and what to do.
Curious? Then take a look at the Madeira Islands business card that we have prepared especially for you.
Madeira Islands: nature in its pure state
The Madeira archipelago is formed by the islands of Madeira and Porto Santo, the Desertas islands and the Selvagens islands. Of the total of eight islands, only Madeira and Porto Santo are inhabited.
The island is characterized by its mild climate, with very mild average temperatures, which are around 25°C in summer and 17°C in winter. The sea water is also temperate, which makes it an attractive holiday destination at any time of the year.
Porto Santo is known for its beaches of fine, golden sand (with therapeutic properties) that invite you to take a long bath in the sun and in the sea. But, in addition to the beach, the city of Vila Baleira holds stories and legends that are told to us at the Casa Museu, where he once lived. Christopher Columbus?? The pristine beauty of the landscapes enchants everyone and invites us to stroll or cycle along the various shortcuts and paths on the island.
The Selvagens Islands comprise a set of islands and islets of volcanic origin and very rugged. The temperatures of these islands exceed those of Madeira and the sea temperature remains stable throughout the year. It is also an important reservoir for birds.
The Desertas islands comprise three small islands: Ilhéu Chão, Deserta Grande and Bugio. Due to their volcanic origin, on these islands you will find a lot of reddish and yellowish ash. It is also an important reserve of sea lions, an endangered species. There is also a nesting center for seabirds here.
Madeira: arrive and explore
Obviously, the most comfortable way to reach the capital of Madeira, Funchal, is by plane. You can easily do this from either Lisbon?? Harbor or faro?? The archipelago only has two airports: Madeira International, located in the municipality of Santa Cruz, and the one on the island of Porto Santo. During the summer, there is a ferry boat that, once a week, connects the Algarve city of Portimão and Funchal.
To explore the island of Madeira, you can rent a car, opt for a taxi, public transport or the Madeira Tuk Tuk service. ??
To navigate between islands, and when it is impossible to find a direct flight between your point of origin and Porto Santo, you always have the option of traveling by cruise ship that docks in Funchal and connects you to Vila Baleira.
What are the must-sees in Madeira?
In the capital of the island of Madeira, don’t miss the Monte cable car, the basket wagons, the farmers’ market, the historic area around Rua Santa Maria and the magnificent gardens.
Porto Moniz natural pools
As if trapped in the volcanic rocks, the pools of Porto Moniz attract countless visitors on the hottest days and reveal themselves as an important part of that village, which ended up developing around this work of nature.
However, human intervention has improved conditions and accessibility, creating stairs, walkways and various infrastructures to support visitors, but it is still possible to witness that the essence is still there and you can even swim in the middle of the solidified lavas of the volcanic eruptions that formed the island. .
Cabo Girão is the largest natural headland in Portugal. Admire the magnificent views over the cultivated fajãs that you can enjoy from its viewpoint.
When you visit Madeira, you will notice a curious factor: the roads are very different from those on the mainland, as they have many curves and are often quite narrow. And that, despite appealing to the common sense and care of each driver, is also a factor of great beauty. The ER101 road is an excellent example of this, as it passes through several stunning viewpoints and allows you to witness up close the traditional way of life of the Madeiran people, between Santana and São Vicente.
On this route, you will also have the opportunity to see the Véu da Noiva viewpoint. It is a waterfall that fell over the old regional road and a place that deserves contemplation.
Curral das Freiras
Currently with easy access, it is worth taking advantage of the viewpoints here, such as the Miradouro do Paredão and the Miradouro da Eira do Serrado.
Head to the Madeira Theme Park and get to know what the traditional houses of Santana were like from the inside. It’s worth the visit, because you’ll get to understand how the local inhabitants lived in times of yore.
Pico do Areeiro
For the adventurous, here you will find the trail PR1 – Pico Areeiro – Pico Ruivo, which is worth doing, first of all for the superb views over the island.
Serra do Rabaçal and Paul da Serra
The winding climb to Serra de Água, with its vertiginous landscapes, is worth it for the destination: Paul da Serra and, a little further on, Serra do Rabaçal.
These are places where it is possible to observe a large part of the island, as well as glimpse a wind farm built there. In Serra do Rabaçal there are also incredible places to go hiking, namely in the area of 25 Fontes and Risco.
Pico Ruivo is the highest point on the island of Madeira, so it’s worth the walk for the dazzling views you’ll reach.
Câmara de Lobos
Câmara de Lobos is a fishing village on the outskirts of Funchal, although today this activity is not as intense as in the past.
It has excellent fish and shellfish restaurants, very traditional, as is the whole town.
Ponta de Sao Lourenco
Ponta de São Lourenço is located in the extreme northeast of Madeira and, for those who enjoy trails and walks, it is one of the points not to be missed. Our suggestion is the PR8 trail – Vereda de São Lourenço, which is 8 kilometers long – round trip, between Baía d’Abra and Cais da Sardinha.
It’s not just another place to go for a walk… It was at Ponta de São Lourenço that Gonçalves Zarco’s boat is said to have docked when he discovered Madeira.
Caves and Volcanism Center of São Vicente
Visiting the São Vicente Volcanism Center you will understand what volcanism is and, particularly, how the island of Madeira was formed. In addition, you can visit the caves, the lava tunnels through which the fluid material expelled by the volcano flowed into the ocean. Absolutely fascinating.
Madeira Botanical Garden
It’s a real must see from the island of Madeira, whether you are a fan of this type of attraction or not, as no one is indifferent to the famous mosaics of flowers and bushes in the park, which has several viewpoints for the rest of the island.
Ribeira da Janela
In Porto Moniz, Ribeira da Janela is a small village where the only campsite on the island is located.
If you choose to camp there, you will feel as if that piece of island were yours alone, facing two rocky islets that mark the end of the valley that begins in Rabaçal.
What else to do in Madeira?
In Madeira, there are programs for all tastes. So much so that we can subdivide them into four categories: land, air, sea and hiking.
Climbing. For those who love adrenaline, and don’t suffer from vertigo, you should enjoy the cliffs of the archipelago, fabulous thanks to the basalt rock.
Hang gliding and paragliding. There is no better way to discover the archipelago than this: an aerial view over the island. There you will be able to see the wonderful central mountain massif of Madeira, as well as its beautiful coastline.
Diving. Madeira is one of the best places to practice this sport. This is because its temperate and crystalline waters allow you to dive in its natural reserves and observe anemones, black corals, fish (such as groupers, moray eels or manta rays) and even sea lions, the rarest seals in the world. There are many places to do it, but we recommend Madalena do Mar, where you can see the “Bowbelle”, the ship that sank there a few years ago and which today constitutes an artificial reef.
We have two suggestions for you: Footpath from Ponta de São Lourenço and the Trail from Pico Ruivo to Pico do Areeiro.
The first is a 4 km long footpath, along undulating paths, but in good conditions, allowing you to observe the cliff landscapes at the eastern end of the island.
The second joins Pico Ruivo and Pico do Areeiro, the two highest points on the island of Madeira, with 1862 and 1818 meters of altitude, respectively. In total, there are 7 kilometers of walking through tunnels, stairs, ascents and descents, often alongside precipices, so it is a trail to be done only by the most experienced and always accompanied.
The gastronomy of the Madeira Islands is simple, but full of intensity, just like the people. Often resorts to the use of different regional products, of high quality, which allow the elaboration of a varied menu of gastronomic specialties.
Being in the middle of the Atlantic, it is not surprising that fresh fish and shellfish are key points and much appreciated. Be sure to try the wheat soup, the black scabbard fish fillets, the tuna steaks accompanied by fried corn, the beef skewer on a laurel stick or the vine and garlic meat. A little throughout the island, you will find restaurants able to serve some of these delicacies and for all budgets.
And talking about Madeira’s gastronomy implies, obligatorily, talking about the famous and traditional poncha. A typical drink from the municipality of Câmara de Lobos, but known and appreciated throughout the island and even on the mainland. It tastes especially good in summer with ice, but it can also be consumed in winter, as it contains a lot of vitamin C.
There are several places to taste and buy it, but you can also make it at home and, for that, pay attention to the recipe that we share with you.
- 1/4 liter of sugar cane brandy
- 4 tablespoons of bee honey
- Juice of 2 lemons
- Squeeze the lemons and mix the juice with the honey;
- Stir everything very well – preferably with the typical Madeira stick for stirring the poncha, which is called “caralhilho”;
- Add the hot water little by little, stirring constantly.
- Taste and, if necessary, add more honey or brandy, to taste.
- To make the recipe a little less strong, try adding the juice of an orange. Or passion fruit.
I’m sure you’re already marking a few days on your agenda to visit these wonderful islands in Madeira, right? They are really a temptation, because everything in them is worthwhile. Now, it doesn’t seem difficult to choose the next destination for your vacation, right?