An island guide to Madeira

Portugal’s jewel in the Atlantic

Madeira is an enchanting archipelago, a cluster of islands just off the northwest coast of Africa where a mild, year-round Mediterranean climate offers the perfect sunny escape. Between Madeira, Porto Santo, Ilhas Desertas and Ilhas Selvagens, discover remarkable outdoor scenes, from beautiful coastlines to wild nature, and sink into the unique lifestyle of this charming island chain.

Natural vistas

Madeira enchants with a wonderful Mediterranean climate and multifaceted flora and fauna. This is favoured by its proximity to the Gulf Stream, which warms the turquoise-blue sea waters around the island to pleasant temperatures. The island’s volcanic origin also provides a unique backdrop that can be explored on guided hiking tours.

Hiking trails

Madeira enchants its guests with lush nature and impressive landscapes. One of the main attractions on the island is the Laurissilva. This laurel forest with thick moss and large, old trees is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Another highlight are the hikes on the levadas. These irrigation canals were created several hundred years ago to carry large amounts of water from the rainy north of Madeira to the south. Today you can go on hikes along the canals and discover breath-taking natural scenery on your way.

Festival of nature

The festival of nature in Madeira is a real experience for all adventurers. This festival is about discovering the natural habitat while getting involved in various sporting challenges. You can take part in free activities anywhere on the island, on land, in the mountains and in the water. From mountain bike tours to surfing or canyoning, there is a wide range of sporting activities, providing something for everyone.

For thrill-seekers

If you want to experience untouched, pristine nature in Madeira and fancy an adrenaline rush, dare to go on a canyoning tour. In small groups, you will explore the watercourse of streams and rivers. Master the art of clambering through partially submerged water holes or climbing waterfalls and jumping into the depths below, offering spectacular views.

Glide over Madeira

Have you ever wanted to see impressive mountain ranges, rough coastlines, and the incredible flora of the island from above? Thanks to Madeira’s morphological characteristics, you will find ideal conditions for paragliding here. Venture into lofty heights with a paraglider and enjoy the unique view. Beginners need not be afraid as they can experience this on a tandem flight with an instructor.

Cross country

The mountainous nature of Madeira’s landscape makes the island a popular spot for trail runners. Three different competitions of this style of long-distance running take place here every year and lead the athletes through wild natural habitats on the highest paths, through rivers and forests. Among the participants are some well-known national and international athletes.

Madeira by bike

Madeira is a real hiking paradise, but the habitat of the Atlantic island can also be explored on two wheels. You can ride your mountain bike on unpaved routes in the middle of the mountain range, enjoy spectacular views of the rocks and valleys below while getting in your daily exercise. Breathe in the clean island air and experience an unforgettable excursion.

The endless sea

As Madeira is an island in the middle of the Atlantic, the surrounding ocean views are endless. With its clear, turquoise-blue colour, the sea shimmers mysteriously under the sun and sparks curiosity about the many secrets that await below the surface. You can go on a boat trip off the coast and see the island from a completely new perspective. Or do you dare to dive into the fascinating depths of one of the best diving spots in Europe?

Nature-formed water pools

The nature-formed sea pools at Porto Moniz and Seixal are a special highlight in Madeira. These saltwater swimming pools, framed by lava rocks, are fed naturally by the sea. They are located on the north coast of Madeira and offer a first-class view of the Atlantic and the lush green landscapes of the island. Relax with a swim in these unique pools and sink into your natural surroundings.

Get active with water sports

A moderate climate and a comfortable water temperature of 17-24 °C invite you to numerous activities all year round in and on the Atlantic. In the north, surfers will find ideal conditions and possibly the perfect wave. On the quieter south coast, windsurfers and stand-up paddlers get their money’s worth. Canoeing is also a popular sport – on your own or on guided tours. While snorkelling or diving off the coast you will discover an impressive underwater world and even a shipwreck overgrown with corals.

Whale and dolphin spotting

Thanks to a sea depth of more than 3,000 metres, the coastal waters off Madeira are home to diverse sea life. Numerous fish species, turtles and 28 different whale and dolphin species frolic in the waters off the island. You can go on a sightseeing tour all year round to see some of these elegant marine mammals. In the waters off Madeira, among other things, spotted dolphins, striped dolphins, sperm whales and pilot whales have all been sighted.

Colourful traditions

Immerse yourself in the warm, cosmopolitan culture of  Madeira. The people here exude real ‘joie de vivre’ and share this passion with their visitors. Festivals and events are held throughout the year celebrating the rich culture of Madeirans. Experience the capital Funchal with its sights and the hustle and bustle in the streets, taste the traditional cuisine and enjoy the sweet life with a glass of Madeira wine.

Tastes to feed the soul

In Madeira’s local cuisine you will taste the warm soul and hospitality of the people. Thanks to the proximity to the sea, you can expect first-class fish and seafood dishes on the islands, such as grilled limpets, tuna steaks and Madeiran swordfish fillets. Try the traditional “Espatada”, a beef skewer made of bay wood with fried corn and the typical “Bolodo-Caco”, a bread with garlic butter. The wickedly delicious, homemade honey cake is a must.

Local produce, wine & handcrafts

Discover the traditional handcrafts of Madeira, such as embroidery which is a centuries-old craft that is characterised by its high-quality and impressive details. Fabrics such as linen or silk are embroidered with modern and traditional patterns. The tradition of Madeira wine also goes back over 500 years. The fortified wine is grown on the mountain slopes of the island and is defined by its special aroma and unique character, for which it is popular all over the world.

Stroll through Funchal

Funchal, the capital of the archipelago, is in a bay on the south coast of Madeira. The city owes its name to fennel, which was found as a wild plant growing all over the island at the beginning of the settlement. Funchal is the largest tourist, commercial and cultural centre in the entire archipelago. A wide range of activities awaits you here, from museums and monuments to excursions to the fantastic gardens, to a leisurely stroll on the marina. You will also find colourful nightlife in Funchal with its numerous restaurants, bars, and clubs.

Funchal’s farmers market

The ‘Mercado dos Lavradores’ farmers market is one of the hallmarks of Funchal and is in the middle of the historic centre. The market building was designed in a stylistic mix of Art Deco and Modernism and is well worth a visit. Let yourself be enchanted by the aromas of the islands, taste the exotic fruits and marvel at the vast range of beautiful flowers, meat, fish, vegetables, and regional spices.

Wild ride in a basket

If you fancy a unique and fun experience on a visit to Madeira’s capital, then try a ride on a basket sledge. The ‘Carros de Cesto’ are made by hand from wood and willow rods and are controlled by the so-called ‘Carreiros’, two men dressed in traditional costumes. In the district of Monte, you get on the traditional vehicle and go down a slope on a wild ride – a whimsical throwback to your childhood.

Carnival celebrations

Various annual celebrations take place in Madeira. Visit the carnival at the beginning of the year with its brightly coloured costumes and world-famous parades. The Flower Festival celebrates spring, and the streets are decorated with flowers and music concerts are held everywhere. The Festival do Atlântico ushers in the summer on Madeira with pyro-musical shows. During the grape harvest in late autumn, the wine festival takes place with all kinds of festivities and activities. At Christmas and on New Year’s Eve the Madeirans’ fireworks are among the largest in the world.

Porto Santo beach paradise

Porto Santo is the second largest of the islands belonging to Madeira and is located about 50 km northeast of the main island. This heavenly island is best known for its beautiful, long sandy beach. The simple beauty of the Porto Santos landscape also invites you to go hiking or cycling.

The golden beach

Lapped by the turquoise-blue, crystal-clear sea, you will find a small paradise for sun worshipers on Porto Santo. The approximately 9 km long, golden sandy beach takes up almost the entire south coast of the small island and has been voted the best dune beach in Portugal. Here you can enjoy beautiful weather, the sun, and the sound of the sea all year round.

Colourful underwater world

Porto Santos is a popular dive destination because of its pleasant temperature and clear water. Here you can experience an excellent view from a depth of up to 40 metres. Popular spots include the sunken ships Madeirense and Corveta General Pereira d’Eça, which have been used to create artificial reefs. A species-rich marine life congregates here with dark groupers, salema, kingfish and amberjacks.

Relax amongst nature

In addition to its beautiful beach, Porto Santo is also known as a wellness and relaxation destination. The carbonated sand has proven therapeutic properties. A stay here is said to have a positive effect on orthopaedic and rheumatic problems. The seawater from Porto Santo is also used for therapeutic purposes, for example in thalassotherapy, because of its high content of strontium, chromium, and iodine. Even the island’s drinking water is rich in health-promoting minerals.

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