With its outstanding mix of stunning natural beauty, quaint historic towns and inviting year-round climate, the lovely Portuguese island of Madeira is an ideal destination for lovers of nature and outdoor activities.
The archipelago, which technically comprises Madeira, Porto Santo and the nature-protected Desertas Islands, lies splendidly isolated in the Atlantic Ocean, somewhere 1000 km from the European mainland and 520 km from the coast of Africa.
1 – Take a Levada Walk
Madeira is especially famous for its spectacular Levada walks, and for good reason. These old waterways that dot the island winding their way past remote waterfalls, bloom-filled meadows, banana farms and ancient laurel forests, make for some truly amazing walking paths.
Moreover, Madeira boasts over 2000 km of channels, offering visitors the opportunity to follow them through both quaint countryside and remote areas. Whatever itinerary you choose, walking along Madeira’s elaborate Levadas is an excellent way to explore this volcanic island, its natural wonders and breathtaking landscapes.
Don’t miss the The Laurisilva of Madeira in the north of the island, which is the largest surviving laurel forest in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Natural Site.
2 – Seal, Dolphin and Whale Watching – 8 Things To Do in Madeira
Due to its unique location and climate, Madeira is a paradise for marine wildlife spotting. About 5 km away from its beautiful shores, the warm and deep Atlantic waters are an ideal place to see migrating whales and to swim and play with the dolphins. For a one of a kind experience, however, head to the nearby Desertas Islands, where a great number of monk seals reside. According to researchers and biologists, from around 500 monk seals remained in the world these days, 40 of them can be found here.
3 – Visit the CR7 Museum in Funchal – 8 Things To Do in Madeira
Opened in December 2013, the CR7 Museum is no doubt the latest attraction in Funchal, Madeira. Dedicated to the city’s most famous son, the museum houses more than 125 awards that Cristiano Ronaldo won during his career, from its first cup as a top scorer for Andorinha to the highly coveted 2013 Fifa Ballon d’Or. Other attractions in the museum include a life-size wax statue of the Real Madrid star, an interactive video wall where visitors can play against a virtual Ronaldo, and a gift shop selling everything from branded souvenirs to Ronaldo’s CR7 clothing range. The museum is located on Rua Princesa Dona Amelia.
More info: Cristiano Ronaldo Museum in Madeira Island
4 – Explore the Parks and Gardens
From fabulous flower gardens to unique theme parks, Madeira offers a tremendous variety of recreational opportunities. Some easily accessible sites include the Santa Catarina Park and the Municipal Garden, both situated in the heart of Funchal.
Nevertheless, for some truly spectacular plant life, go visit the 35 000 m² Botanical Gardens at Quinta do Bom Successo. Perched on a hillside somewhere 3 km from the city center, these outstanding gardens offer not only breathtaking views of Funchal, but also an amazing variety of indigenous and foreign plant species, as well as a very special area with 300 rare birds. Close to Madeira Botanical Garden lies the lovely Jardim Orquidea, an orchid garden and research center filled with over 7500 varieties from all over the world.
Equally alluring is the 18th century Monte Palace Tropical Garden, which, in addition to its luxuriant mix of tropical and native plants, also plays host to the world’s largest collection of cycads. The gardens can be accessed via a scenic cable car ride from Funchal Old Town.
Stretching over 17 acres, the one-of-a-kind Madeira Theme Park in the northern town of Santana is an extraordinary place to have fun and learn about the history, culture and traditions of this exquisitely beautiful and rich Portuguese island.
5 – Indulge in local delicacies
Apart from its world-famous Madeira wine, this Floating Garden in the Atlantic Ocean prides itself with a unique cuisine, based mainly on age-old cooking techniques and fresh local ingredients. Among the most renowned regional specialties are: bolo do caco – a delicious variety of bread with parsley and garlic butter; espetada – marinated chunks of beef grilled on a skewer and served with butter and bay leaves; carne de vinho e alhos – a mouthwatering meat dish consisting of small pieces of pork marinated in garlic and wine vinegar and then cooked in the same sauce, and bolo de mel – Madeira’s traditional honey cake.
With its long established fishing tradition, it’s no wonder fish and seafood play an important role in the local gastronomy. Prepared in many different ways, bacalhau (codfish), tuna, espada (black swordfish) or gaiado can be found in the menus of any Madeiran restaurant.
In addition to the rich varieties of Madeira wines, there’s also a great range of other typical drinks, such as: nikita – a refreshing beverage originated in the fishermen’s village of Camara de Lobos and made of beer, pineapple and vanilla ice; and poncha – a strong mixture of aguardente, sugar cane honey and fresh lemon juice.
6 – Water sports
Besides its breathtaking scenery and fantastic trekking opportunities, Madeira offers a wealth of water sports, from sailing and leisure boating to thrilling canoeing to fabulous scuba diving. Its year-round mild climate and crystal clear waters rich in marine life attract more and more divers on the island each year, especially to the spectacular Garajau’s Nature Reserve on Funchal’s southeastern coast.
Another hugely popular ocean activity in Madeira is fishing in all its forms, from sport, bottom and deep sea fishing to unparalleled big game fishing.
7 – Visit Porto Santo
The island of Porto Santo, Madeira’s smaller and lesser known neighbor is a tranquil heaven of golden sands, rugged mountains and pristine valleys. Due to its natural beauty, relaxed atmosphere and lack of development, it has often been named “the last paradise island in Europe”.
Porto Santo’s major attractions are its gorgeous, almost pristine 9 km beach renowned for its curative powers, Christopher Columbus Museum, the delightful capital town of Vila Baleira and the world-class Porto Santo Golf Club and Course, designed by Spanish professional golfer and champion Severiano Ballesteros.
8 – Experience the Festivals
Madeira’s festivals are an excellent opportunity to discover the community’s unique cultural heritage, gastronomy and traditions. And luckily, the lush Portuguese island prides itself with a calendar chock-full of exciting local events.
Most famous comprise the annual Carnival of Madeira with its flamboyant parades and vibrant atmosphere that evokes the energy and cheerful spirit of Rio Carnival (40 days before Easter); the spectacular Festa da Flor (Flower Festival) held each year after Easter in Funchal; the Festival of the Atlantic (June); Madeira Wine Festival (September); the Columbus Festival in Porto Santo (September); the Festival of Nature (October); and the New Year’s Eve celebrations known worldwide for the magical fireworks display, which has been included in the Guinness Book of Records as the biggest in the world.