Madeira Island - the Pearl of Nature at the Atlantic Ocean

Madeira is a popular year-round destination with a gentle climate and known for its beautiful nature. It's especially famous for its Levada network which provides great possibilities for enjoying the diverse nature and landscapes by hiking.

Watching the sunrise at Ponta de São Lourenço, Madeira

Published on 12/28/2019. Updated on 1/12/2020. Text and photos by Tero Auralinna.

This year we decided to escape Finland's November darkness to the island of Madeira. This trip was also our second trip to Portugal this year. Madeira is a popular year-round destination with a gentle climate and known for its beautiful nature. It's especially famous for its Levada network which provides great possibilities for enjoying the diverse nature and landscapes by hiking.

The Rabaçal viewpoint (Miradouro do Rabaçal) in Paul da Serra, provides great views of the valley vegetated by Laurissilva Forest The Rabaçal viewpoint (Miradouro do Rabaçal) in Paul da Serra, provides great views of the valley vegetated by Laurissilva Forest.

The awesome nature and views are one of the main reasons to travel to Madeira. If you are planning a beach holiday, then it's better to visit the neighbor island called Porto Santo. From Madeira, you only find those rocky beaches, but at the Porto Santo, you can enjoy about 9 kilometers long golden sand beach. There is a ferry connection between Funchal and Porto Santo and even several flights during the day.

Desertas Islands and the sunrise. At this time, despite the name of the blog, we saw more sunrises than sunsets. Desertas Islands and the sunrise. At this time, despite the name of the blog, we saw more sunrises than sunsets.

Madeira has two peak seasons: Christmas and school summer holidays from July to August. These are the times when you can expect accommodation options and flights to be the most expensive. Around Christmas, Funchal is covered by beautiful Christmas lights. Luckily, because the climate is always gentle, you can visit Madeira anytime during the year and still have pleasant weather.

Yet another great viewpoint called Miradouro Terra Grande. The point worth to stop on the way between Funchal and São Vicente. Yet another great viewpoint called Miradouro Terra Grande. The point worth to stop on the way between Funchal and São Vicente.

Madeira reminds me of La Gomera, one of the smallest islands in the Canary Islands. Landscapes, steep mountain roads, and nature are quite similar. You can also find the Laurissilva forest from both of the islands.

Funchal center

The center of the Funchal and the old town is quite small area and you'll wander around quite quickly.

If you like to admire the street art you should visit the street of Rua da Santa Maria. You’ll also find a bunch of restaurants there.

Sunrise at Funchal. Desertas Islands at the horizon. Sunrise at Funchal. Desertas Islands at the horizon.

One shop that caught my attention at the Rua da Santa Maria was the Madeira Duck Store. You can find multiple different kinds of rubber bath ducks from there.

You'll find a nice terrace overlooking the sea called Cais da Ribeira at the waterfront of Funchal. The terrace is built on the two docks. From there you’ll find good snacks, drinks, and nice views of the ocean and the harbor.

Cais da Ribeira terrace at the waterfront of Funchal, Madeira Cais da Ribeira terrace at the waterfront of Funchal.

For great burgers and reasonable prices, I can recommend Hamburgueria do Mercado. They have really tasty gourmet burgers, sandwiches, and side dishes with both the meat and the vegetarian options. Also for bigger hunger, they have this monstrous burger challenge “Man versus Food” you can try to eat in 30 minutes. If you’re lucky you’ll pay nothing, get a T-shirt and your photo to their Hall of Fame.

Pingo Doce Super Brito Câmara is a grocery store at the Funchal center. It’s a decent size supermarket with a good selection. Also, it has a lunch buffet option with very reasonable pricing and multiple alternative food choices like salad, chicken, meat, and seafood. For 5 euros you’ll get a good size meal.

Where to stay in Funchal?

The west part of Funchal is mainly filled with big hotels and the area, in general, feels more touristic. I would prefer the Funchal center for staying.

We stayed at Cayres Suites Surdo apartment which is a beautifully refurbished apartment, centrally located, in a building with over 400 years of history. There are several restaurants and small shops on the next door.

Renovation of old houses is constantly ongoing at the Funchal center. If you rent an apartment, it's good to be aware of the possibility that there might be some noise.

Funchal viewpoints

There are several viewpoints in Funchal. This time we visited only Miradouro do Pico dos Barcelos and Cabo Girão which is a little bit more far away from Funchal. Miradouro do Pináculo on the east side of the Funchal might be another good one.

Views of Funchal from the Pico dos Barcelos viewpoint, Madeira Views of Funchal from the Pico dos Barcelos viewpoint.

Miradouro do Pico dos Barcelos provides fantastic views over Funchal. There is also a cafe. Bus 12 from Funchal center or the red line Hop-On Hop-Off buses will go there.

Funchal cable car and Monte Palace Garden also provide good views. Funchal looks awesome at the night time from the mountains.

Funchal cable cars

Funchal has two cable cars, Madeira Cable Car (Teleféricos da Madeira, sometimes also called as Funchal Cable Car) and Botanical Garden Cable Car (Teleférico do Jardim Botânico). From the Cable Car, you have 360° panoramic views of the Funchal and surroundings.

Madeira Cable Car, which operates 364 days per year, will carry you to the Monte, where you can find a beautiful Monte Palace Garden. From Monte, you can continue to the Botanical Garden by Botanical Garden Cable Car. Round-trip is 16€ and one-way 11€. A combination ticket with a Botanical Garden ticket is 31,40€.

From Funchal old town to Monte journey takes around 15 minutes and is about 3700 meters long route with a height difference of 500 meters.

Before the cable car from the year 1893 to 1943 there was a railway for connecting Funchal and Monte.

Monte Palace Garden

Monte Palace Garden is a tropical garden with various styles.

Views from the Monte Palace Tropical Garden Views from the Monte Palace Tropical Garden.

The Japanese influence is the most noticeable one. There are multiple different kinds of plants and trees from all over the world, Koi fish pools, the central lake where swans are swimming, and a couple of nice viewpoints over the Funchal.

Central lake at Monte Palace Tropical Garden Central lake at Monte Palace Tropical Garden.

Monte Palace Garden can be accessed by the Cable Car or local bus service. We came back to Funchal center by foot via steep, straight downhill street called Caminho da Ferro. This route is around 3km long. So walking is an option too. Also, it’s possible to take a Toboggan ride down the hill. Toboggans are traditional wooden sleds that are controlled by two drivers.

Stepping stones at Monte Palace Tropical Garden

How to get around the island?

Funchal is quickly discovered and it's time to head out from Funchal.

Renting an own car is the best way to experience the island. You can tour about half-island in one day. Of course, it's depending how much time you want to spend when stopping.

The old road and two-way tunnel on the North coast of Madeira. Some of the older roads are in a very bad state and closed, but this one was open for traffic. The old road and two-way tunnel on the North coast of Madeira. Some of the older roads are in a very bad state and closed, but this one was open for traffic.

There are also guided tours and the possibility to hire a private tour at quite reasonable prices. Roads might be quite challenging if you are not an experienced driver. Also, the local guides have good knowledge of the island and they know which places are good for visiting.

Some places are also accessible by public transportation.

Câmara de Lobos fishing village

Câmara de Lobos is a small fishing town about 5 kilometers to the west from the Funchal. The main attractions are colorful fishing boats at the harbor and the viewpoint Ilhéu de Câmara de Lobos. You can access Câmara de Lobos by several local buses from Funchal or red Hop-On Hop-Off bus.

Cabo Girão is 5 kilometers away from Câmara de Lobos, so you might want to combine visits.

Colorful fishing boats waiting for the next trip at the harbor of Câmara de Lobos. Black Scabbard Fish is the main catch there. Colorful fishing boats waiting for the next trip at the harbor of Câmara de Lobos. Black Scabbard Fish is the main catch there.

Levada walks

Levadas are open irrigation channels that bring water from the mountains for agriculture. Levada's building started in the sixteenth century. Partly it was very difficult and dangerous work due to mountainous terrains. For the maintenance work, there is a walking path beside the concrete water channel. Nowadays they provide a unique hiking route network in the most scenic spots at the Madeira.

Levada dos Cedros Levada dos Cedros

It’s possible to access Levadas with the guided tour or alone. Some of the Levadas are like a walk in the park and some of them are for more experienced hikers and require better physical condition and head of heights. Some of them might be even dangerous. Unfortunately, there have been some accidents.

Especially if you go without the guide you should select a route based on your hiking experience. Also, you should read warnings before going. Some parts of the Levadas might be closed due to hazardous conditions, like falling rocks, landslides, and broken railings. Also, the weather can change quickly, so it's good to have a backup plan.

You'll find more extensive information about Levadas from the Visit Madeira website. From the site, you'll also find a list of recommended walks and the status of the condition of each walk.

Levada dos Piornais "City Levada"

Levada dos Piornais starts behind the football stadium Estádio do Marítimo (formerly known as Estádio dos Barreiros). The starting point is clearly marked with the sign.

At first, this Levada is quite urban, then it passes the banana plantations and views start to change when it reaches the Socorridos Valley. At the valley, the route is carved into the hill and there are short tunnels. I have never got beyond this point so I don't know how the route ends.

Goat at Levada dos Piornais During a couple of hours walk at Levada dos Piornais we met a goat, a cat, a dog who lazed upon the path but politely gave way for us and only a handful of other hikers.

Levada dos Piornais is a kind of city Levada so don’t expect anything so special. Anyway, it’s a nice walk in a little bit different environment.

Levada do Caldeirão Verde

Levada do Caldeirão Verde is quite versatile Levada walk. You’ll see lots of different kinds of nature. You’ll go through forestry routes, pass through tunnels and steep cliffs, and have scenic landscapes during the route. The route ends at the 100 meters high waterfall, which has formed the small lagoon underneath.

Hiking at the Ponta de São Lourenço

One of the most visited routes on Madeira is the hiking route to the most eastern point - Ponta de São Lourenço.

Scenic path at Ponta de São Lourenço Scenic trails at Ponta de São Lourenço.

The route is around 3.5 kilometers in one-way from parking space to the viewpoint of Ponta do Furado. It’s quite an easy terrain to walk. There are a couple of places with a little bit of difficult terrain. The steps at the end of the route to the viewpoint needed a little bit more work to get up.

Ponta de São Lourenço is all about rugged landscapes, stunning sceneries, and interesting rock formations. Ponta de São Lourenço is all about rugged landscapes, stunning sceneries, and interesting rock formations.

Note that there are no trees so you don’t get any shade during the hike. Also, there are no toilets or water points so be prepared.

The route of Ponta de São Lourenço is really popular so there are lots of other hikers and visitor groups. Also, trail runners seem to use this path for the training. We started early when there were only a handful of other people and the temperature was perfect for nice hiking. It started to get hot and crowded when we were coming back at around eleven o'clock.

Bare and rugged views of the Ponta de São Lourenço Bare and rugged views of the Ponta de São Lourenço.

There is also a small, really small camping area near Casa do Sardinha.

This is a hike you can perfectly do alone without a guide. But if you need transportation or feel that guided tour would be nice I can recommend Hit the Road Madeira Sunrise Hike. They do small group tours and the Sunrise Hike tour starts early. They will bring you to the perfect location to view a sunrise before the actual hike.

The sunrise and windmills near Ponta de São Lourenço, Madeira The sunrise and windmills near Ponta de São Lourenço.

Paúl da Serra

Paúl da Serra is a plateau, 1300 - 1500 meters above sea level. It's the flattest location on an entire island. The starting point of many Levada walks is there. The plateau is also important for Madeira's renewable energy production due to its good location for windmills and solar panels.

The plateau of Paúl da Serra is also a home for free walking cows The plateau of Paúl da Serra is also a home for free walking cows.

On the way to the Paúl da Serra from Funchal, you can drive through the Eucalyptus Forest. Eucalyptus Forest is really beautiful and the fragrance of Eucalyptus was fabulous in the area.

There is no public transport to Paúl da Serra nor through the plateau.

Fanal at the Laurel Forest (Laurissilva)

Laurissilva Forest is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its biological diversity. It's the largest Laurel Forest area in the world and it occupies around 20% of the surface of the island.

Mysterious Fanal Forest, Madeira Mysterious Fanal Forest.

Fanal is a beautiful ancient area in the middle of the Laurissilva Forest. Fanal is usually covered by the fog which gives the mysterious look for the forest. It's really like the fairytale forest.

Foggy views at the Fanal Forest, Madeira Foggy views at the Fanal Forest.

Many of the Levada walk goes through Laurissilva forest so it's easy to see these awesome relic areas.

Fanal Forest, Madeira

The North coast of Madeira

The North coast provides multiple beautiful places on the coastal line. Also, there are towns like Porto Moniz, Seixal, and São Vicente, which are good places for a pit stop.

Views of the North coast at Madeira Views of the North coast.

At Porto Moniz, we visited Restaurant Sea View where we enjoyed a great lunch menu along with the beautiful sea views.

Ilhéus da Ribeira da Janela is a photogenic rocky beach and rock formation near Porto Moniz.

Ilhéus da Ribeira da Janela, Madeira Ilhéus da Ribeira da Janela

At the Seixal, we did a short round-trip in the beautiful valley. There were old rural stone houses and cowsheds that have been renovated to apartments. It’s also possible to rent some of them. Like this country house.

At São Vicente you can visit São Vicente Caves, that were evolved 890 thousand years ago by volcanic activity.

Wine valley somewhere on the North coast of Madeira Wine valley somewhere on the North coast of Madeira.

Cabo Girão Cliffs and Skywalk

Cabo Girão is the highest cape in Europe. The height of the cliff is 580 meters. The glass skywalk provides amazing panoramic, breathtaking views over the never-ending looking Atlantic Ocean.

The Skywalk platform is made of glass, and you'll see the ground 500 meters underneath.

Cabo Girão - the highest cape in Europe Cabo Girão - the highest cape in Europe.

The entrance to Cabo Girão Skywalk is free. It's quite a popular tourist attraction so early morning or late afternoon might be preferred time to visit.

Madeira weather

The climate at Madeira is very humid. The temperature is always around 20 degrees. On the hottest summer months, it can get close to 30 degrees. In the evening and night, it still might get chilly.

Though there are multiple microclimates around the island and the weather can change quickly. So it's hard to predict the weather. Some parts might be covered by a thick mist and other parts enjoy nice sunshine. And then the other part might have rain. In general, the northern parts of the island are less sunny.

Plane spotting at the Madeira Airport

Madeira airport is famous for its challenging runway which was originally really short and between the rocky mountains and the ocean. It has been extended a couple of times already. The most recent extension was built on a platform, partly over the ocean.

Madeira Airport has good facilities for airplane watching due to the outdoor balcony Madeira Airport has good facilities for airplane watching due to the outdoor balcony.

The outdoor balcony provides you a direct view of the runway. The only thing is that the airport is not the busiest one so you might need to wait for airplanes for a while.

Wine recommendation: Madeira Wine

This time the wine recommendation is quite obvious. Madeira is a sweet wine and it's usually served as a dessert. The unique flavor is produced by heating, oxidizing, and aging. The unique making process also ensures that Madeira Wine will keep its quality very long time even in the opened bottle.

Madeira wine was invented by accident. During the Age of Exploration, when the Portuguese sailed around the world they noticed that wine taste became better when it's exposed to the heat of the climate during the long voyages.

In Funchal, there are several Madeira Wine Lodges wherefrom you can book a tour and wine tasting if you're interested to know more.

Other things still left in our Madeira Bucket List

Like always there is so much to see so something is always left behind. Here are some places we still want to visit when going back someday.

  • More Levada walks, especially Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo
  • Valley of the Nuns (Curral das Freiras)
  • Porto Santo
  • Desertas Islands
  • Whale and dolphin watching

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