Madeira, you’ve certainly heard the name before but what do you really know about the island? Probably not much unless you have been there. This paradise is somewhere lost in the Atlantic ocean 1000 km away from Lisbon which has daily flights. Madeira offers a lot for nature lovers with breathtaking and diverse landscapes and more. If you like hiking or surfing, this island is for you.
1. Visit Monte tropical garden aloft of Funchal
This is one of the unmissable things to visit when in Funchal. Considered as one of the 10 most beautiful gardens in the world, the Monte palace tropical garden allows to its visitors to wander in an extraordinary lush tropical forest with its huge green ferns as well the oriental garden. Among many other species, 700 different types of orchids can be found in the garden. The permanent African art exhibition is as well worth to check. Don’t hesitate and go explore.
2. Explore the dramatic landscapes of the North coast
Only one hour drive from Funchal you can discover the unspoiled North coast of Madeira where the mountains fall sheer into the sea. Every road corner will make your jaw drop from “Porto da Cruz” to “Ponta Delgada” on the way you could stop for some rhum tasting in one of the old rhumeries and eat some fresh fish while looking at the ocean. Strongly recommended.
3. Walk a Levada
The Levadas are the veins of Madeira that bring the water from the green Western part to the drier part in the South of the island. Built from the 16th century these mini-canals are originally made to supply the agriculture. There is more than 2000 km of levadas and they provide a remarkable network of walking paths. Sometimes it can be dangerous with very narrow sections along cliffs but most of them are safe to go on. This is a unique experience! You will encounter waterfalls and tunnels along the way. Some of the walks like the “Levada do Rei” are passing through the Laurasilva forest, which is known the largest surviving area of laurels in the world. Going to Madeira without walking a levada would be a shame. Here is a great site listing all of them with descriptions and difficulty levels
4. Try some Poncha then try it again
You’ve been spending the day hiking on the levadas…Time to treat yourself with the local weapon. It’s Poncha time! Poncha is a traditional alcoholic drink from the island made from sugar cane juice. Honey, sugar, lemon rind and with different fruit juices according to the version of Poncha. A great place to try it is the “Revolucion Bar” located in the old town of Funchal. Great to meet up with the locals in a nice atmosphere, plus they’re friendly and play good music.
5. Dare stepping on the glass platform 580m above the sea
The cliffs of Cabo Girao are some of the highest in Europe, with a near vertical drop. Amazing views over the sea and the vineyards at its bottom. Stepping on the glass platform will challenge you for sure but it is worth to try. A great stop over on your way to the magical South coast of the island.
6. Try the local products in the “Old Market” of Funchal
Start your day to walk around Funchal by going to the old market. A place that overflows colour, aroma, sound and tradition. The first floor is dedicated to the fruits and spices. You’ll discover exotic fruits you probably never imagined it exists like the Loquat. Walking further down, don’t miss the part where the fish are. You could even bring some of them back to where you stay and cook it in the local way.
7. Watch the sunset in Paul Do Mar
Away from the main attractions, almost at the edge of the South coast lay the villages of “Jardim” and “Paul Do Mar“. Here, the time has stopped. Ideal for sunset lovers, this area is known for its good weather conditions which differs from the rest of the island. It barely rains here all year round. Surfers love going to “Paul Do Mar” as it has great waves for it. If you like the laid back life style this place is for you. The Maktub guesthouse in Jardim is great to connect with other travellers in a very beautiful and chill environment. The friendly family that runs the business also owns the Maktub reggae bar in “Paul do Mar” and there is no better place to watch the sunset sipping one of their world acclaimed cocktail the “Mojito” listening to good reggae music on the terrace. Some great walks can be found as well nearby which reveal the volcanic past of the island. Well, in fact this is the perfect mix!
8. Have an “Arroz de Marisco”
Grab a bunch of new friends you’ve made or go for a romantic dinner. This traditional recipe is a signature of Madeiran seafood and rice dish combining mussels, prawns and clams.
9. Hike along the cliffs of the Eastern Peninsula
On the extreme Eastern part of the island, there is a peninsula which has a very different type of landscape than on the rest of the island. Another testimony of the diversity that can be found on Madeira. You won’t find any tree there but breathtaking sceneries that even looks like some parts of Ireland. The road stops in Ponta de São Lourenço where the trail starts. This 7km walk (return) is worth the effort. On the way back have a look at the village of Canical which is a very pleasant and authentic fisherman place.
10. Enjoy a cable car ride over Funchal and slide down back to town
For those who are not interested to walk all the way up to admire the view from the top of Funchal, you can use the cable cars. A great way to discover the city and surroundings. In some portions, there are some significant drops, so it is not advised if you are sensitive to vertigo. Anyway the experience is really fun! The last stop is the Monte Tropical garden, so don’t hesitate to combine with the visit. To go down and for the most adventurous you can also use the “Monte sledge” made of basketwork. This toboggan ride is an unmissable experience.
Extra. Pico Ruivo the roof of Madeira
For fit people only
1861m above sea level the Pico Ruivo is the highest point on the island. This is a challenging walk to get there. Some sections are literally about living on the edge with vertical drops on both sides. In order to enjoy and complete the ascent you need to be fit. Though, you don’t need any professional climbing gear just good walking shoes will do but you’ll have to stay focus to avoid troubles. It is not rare to see snow here and there on the path during winter. For the adrenaline seekers only…great reward on the top on a clear day.