Madeira is a Portugese archipelago made up of four islands off the northwest coast of Africa [roughly 400km north of the Canary Islands]. With a subtropical climate, Madeira is a popular destination all year round and is known mostly for it’s rugged landscapes, greenery and beaches.
I wanted to visit Madeira mostly for hiking, but I was blown away with just how much it has to offer. It can be a destination to visit for a long weekend in the sun, for a two week hiking holiday, honestly it just has it all and would be a suitable destination for most.
If you are planning to travel around the main island of Madeira, the best place to situate yourself is the capital ‘Funchal’. This area is the best place to stay as you have a wide range of restaurants and bars at your doorstep, along with access to buses and boats to other parts of the island although I would recommend hiring a car to experience everything that the island has to offer. Some of the roads in the city centre are quite narrow, but the hills up to the hikes are steep so your best option of a rental car is something that is relatively small but that still has a lot of power to make it up the hills (our Fiat 500 while stunning, definitely struggled on the uphills!!)
Madeira is one of the BEST spots to go to if you like hiking. It has hikes through forests, by the coast, in the middle of the mountains – honestly there is a terrain and experience level there to suit everyone and anyone.
We did three of the main hikes on the island while we were there. These are some of the most popular, but I will outline some more that we had earmarked but didn’t get the chance to get to below.
PR8 – Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço
This is a 7.4km out and back trail located on the Eastern tip of the Island. This is an easy to moderate hike with a 400m elevation gain, mostly towards the end of the trail.
There is a section of the trail where it says it’s closed from that point on but if you continue from that area it will bring you up to the end point of the trail. This walk has epic coastal views the whole way along and is clearly marked the whole way.
If you are keen for swimming you can pack your swimsuit for this hike and stop at Sardinha pier on your way back. You can find the trail on AllTrails here.
This is a really popular hike so make sure to get here early if you have a car and are looking to park. Mid week and early mornings would be the best time to go here to ensure you get a spot.
PR1 – Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo
This is an 11km out and back trail, starting at Pico do Arieiro and following on to Pico Ruivo, the highest peak in Madeira and the third highest in Portugal standing at 1,862 metres. This is marked as a hard hike and to complete the whole thing it would be best to have experience in hiking before you attempt it. That being said, if you are up for the challenge I would HIGHLY recommend this hike as it is one of the most magical ones I have done to date! The weather can change very quickly on this trail so make sure you pack for all eventualities (our day started with bright blue skies but we were hiking through mostly clouds towards the end). You can find the trail on AllTrails here. There are great facilities at the beginning of the hike at Pico Arieiro with bathrooms, a cafe and gift shop.
While we didn’t do this ourselves, Pico Arieiro is the best spot on the island to catch a sunrise! If you aren’t up for hiking, you can always come to Pico Arieiro to get the views as the carpark is located more or less at the top of the peak making it really accessible.
PR6 – Levada 25 Fontes e Risco
This trail is a roughly 8km looped trail through woodland & mountaineous areas with several waterfalls to admire along the way. This trail is totally different to the two already mentioned above and is really, really worth doing as it has a little bit of everything. Note that there is an 800m tunnel on this hike so you will need to pack a headtorch – but you can go around the tunnel if this is something you wouldn’t like to do.
There is a cafe called Cafe Rabacal at the beginning/end of the hike depending on which way you choose to do the route. You can find the full route on AllTrails here.
There are a few other hikes that while we didn’t get to do, were recommend to me before I went and all look like great options if you want to check them out.
PR13 – Vereda do Fanal : An 11km point to point trail through Fanal Forest. This would be a great option if you have bad weather as the forest is apparently majestic when shrouded in fog and clouds.
Rota da Banana: This is a short, 1.9km walk through a banana plantation. This is an easy walk, perfect if you have lower levels of fitness or if you want a break between larger hikes.
Vereda do Larano – Boca do Risco: This is a 9km out and back coastal trail near Porto da Cruz. The best part about this hike is you don’t have to do the full thing, if you don’t want to.
PR9 – Levada do Caldeirao Verde: This is a 16km out and back route is a wet trail with lots of waterfalls along the trail. Judging by the comments on AllTraills, this route isn’t particularly challenging but is quite long.
Madeira, being an island, has some of the most magical swimming spots along it’s coast. Obviously, there are plenty of beaches to choose from but Madeira is also known for it’s tidal pools which are a great option if you are more comfortable swimming without currents or too many fish.
Seixal – Porto do Seixal Beach: This beach, located in the town of Seixal is a stunning and unique black sand beach surrounded by green cliffs and waterfalls. On the left of the pier you will find a tidal pool here which you can also swim in if you want to avoid currents/waves.
Porto Moniz Natural Lava Swimming Pools: This place is a MUST visit, even if you don’t like to swim, this location is a feast for the eyes! It is free to visit these pools and the seawater lava pools are naturally filled by water at high tide. These pools look so unique because they are formed by volcanic lava and it has natural salt made up of volcanic rock.
Forte de São Tiago: Located in the centre of Funchal, there is a small swimming spot just in front of the Forte de São Tiago for those who would like to swim but aren’t comfortable taking public transport or driving to a further away destination in Madeira.
Doca do Cavacas: Also in Funchal, but a little further out of the city and located beside Praia Formosa you will find Doca do Cavacas, another natural tidal pool perfect for taking a dip. Here you will find facilities such as changing rooms, a lifeguard, bar-restaurant and rental service of parasols and sunbeds making it a great place to set up shop for the day.
Funchal Cable Car: The Cable Car in Funchal gives amazing views of the whole city, starting from the waters edge and bringing you right up towards the mountains. Tickets cost €12.50 one way for an adult or €18 return which you can buy online, or at the ticket office. Once you land at the top, there is Land Cafe where you can stop for a coffee or a bite to eat, and across the road you will find the amazing Monte Palace Gardens that displays over 100,000 types of plants from all over the world. Entrance to the gardens are €12.50 but they are honestly worth it in my opinion if you like this kind of thing, as there are various different areas to walk through.
Dolphin & Whale Watching: Madeira is home to a wild array of marine life so what better way to spend a day than on a boat tour to dolphin and whale watch? There are so many tours available so you can browse some of the ones available here.
Madeira Toboggan Ride: I didn’t do this but it looks like really good fun! Reaching speeds of up to 30km/h, take to the hills in Madeira in a wicker sledge and be guided by two Portguese men standing on the sledge behind you! The ride is about 2km and takes roughly 10 minutes. Prices start at €15 per person, with up to three people fitting in a sledge.
Cascata dos Anjos: This is a roadside waterfall and depending on the time of day, it might look like there is a rainbow going through the following water. It is a really unique waterfall *literally* on the road so you can park to get out and walk under, or just drive under if you don’t feel like getting out! Note the road here is in really bad shape so drive slowly and take caution.
I loved Madeira and would love to go back to experience it in warmer temperatures and for a little longer to do some of the lesser known hikes, and to get a few more sunrise and sunset missions in. It’s honestly like another world here and is an amazing place to visit even if you aren’t into hiking and swimming.