I’ll have to be honest – there seem to a lot of misconceptions about the Portuguese island of Madeira. Many say its a destination for the retired – a small, peaceful island with an abundance of wine and cake. “Oh you’re going to Madeira? Lovely island but you’re a bit young to be holidaying there aren’t you?” “You’ll both get bored.”
This is partially true – it is a popular destination with the elderly generation and the island is responsible for some seriously good wine (and cake) but it has SO much to offer. Incredible hiking, dolphin and whale watching, scuba diving, delicious seafood, markets, beaches – the list goes on.
After spending just over a week exploring this incredible island, I fell in love. It really is so insanely beautiful, its difficult to put into words. If you’re toying with the idea of getting on a plane to explore this slice of paradise, I’ve put together a few ‘must dos’. Our aim was to come home feeling like we had explored every inch of Madeira, so that we did.
Hire a car
Couldn’t recommend this enough. We read a lot of blogs stating hiring a car is a bit hairy – the roads are very steep and very windy (you’ll be flat out in first gear up the hills a lot of the time) but with miles of epic coastline to explore, it is more than worth it. We went for Futuro Rent-a-car to the west of Funchal town centre. It was super easy and no deposit was needed (a good sign). We hired a car for two days and got around the entire island.
Day 1 with the car: We drove through the centre of island straight to a place called São Vicente. A charming little village with just one strip of shops/restaurants opposite the beach. The views here are fantastic so its well worth getting out of the car and exploring around.
Next we headed to Porto Moniz – the north-west point of the island. Here we found natural salt water pools made up of volcanic rock – a beautiful spot. There’s plenty of restaurants right by the sea to choose from and an aquarium.
Paul do Mar was the next destination – a little fishing village and also a famous surf spot. We grabbed a coffee here at Sal’s House Bar – a friendly pub right by the ocean. This area feels very remote and until the 1960s it was only accessible via boat! Our final stop for the day was Calheta – a lovely town with two man-made sandy beaches. We had a chill hear and stocked up on snacks from the local supermarket.
Day 2 with the car: This day we made it our mission to explore the East side of the island. We stopped off at Ponta Delgada to dribble over the views. The road is noticeably a little more sketchy this side of the island…
We saw plenty of roads that were no more.. trailing off into nothing and blocked off by barriers. They had been built so close to the edge. landslides had literally crumbled them away! After passing through plenty of tunnels, we came across Arco de São Jorge lookout point. Another mind-blowing view – my pictures don’t do it justice but it might give you some sort of idea. From here we headed to Santana – a small village with some traditional, rural homes – complete with pretty, sloping triangular roofs. It’s worth stopping by if you are heading through but I wouldn’t say it was our favourite spot. Very touristy with tons of building work going on. Last stop was the lovely Machico, a town at the eastern most part of the island. We had a stroll around the quay and had a much needed coffee.
Madeira isn’t necessarily always thought of as a diving destination but we decided to give it a go. After completing our Advanced Open Water certificates last year, we try and use any opportunity to explore the big blue! It was definitely worth it – we chose a company called Explora Madeira who were awesome. As conditions weren’t suitable to go to the national park area, we went to a dive spot just off Funchal bay. Saw some beautiful fish and even came across a very friendly octopus who took a shining to our guides torch, wrapping his tentacles around.
Hike to Pico Ruivo
By far the highlight of the trip. Pico Ruivo is the highest peak in Madeira, towering at an impressive 1861 metres. As we’re not hardened hikers, we decided to go with a group and chose Madeira Explorers -we didn’t fancy taking a wrong turn or a stumble down the cliff.
Our guide was great and super informative. The entire hike took around 5 1/2 hours there and back but believe me, its worth every step. The entire way we struggled not to stop at every corner – the views are ridiculous. It is quite hard going in places and we did break into a sweat tackling some of the steeper parts. In our group there was man who looked about 70 or so years old who practically jogged up the steps – he put me to shame! We were so lucky with the weather and landed a clear, sunny day with perfect visibility (somehow!).. After reaching the top we were above cloud level, surrounded by stunning panoramic views of the mountains. Just perfect.
Other highlights of the trip include: the Funchal cable car (amazing views of Funchal), the Holy Trinity Church and the views around Ponta de São Lourenço.
Are you planning a Madeira visit? If so, I highly recommend joining the ‘Madeira Island’ Facebook group. Here you can ask questions, share photos, videos and get great tips! Click this link and request to join: https://www.facebook.com/groups/madeiraislandgroup/
Check out Visit Madeira for more information on this wonderful island.