With a nickname like “The Island of Eternal Spring”, it comes as no surprise that Portugal's Madeira Island is the ideal vacation destination to be enjoyed year-round. Whether you are arriving to the island’s sparkling shores in summer, spring, winter or autumn, you will find a fun, exciting, and unique experience to awe and inspire you.
Much of this is due to the archipelago’s mild and sunny, Mediterranean-like climate, which makes getting out and experiencing an adventure always enjoyable, no matter the season. Although this is by no means an exhaustive list — as Madeira has so much to do and see — we have gathered some of the absolute experiences that are not to be missed on your next visit.
Pico do Arieiro
It is no secret that hiking is among the favorite activities to be enjoyed in Madeira. Among the most popular treks is Pico do Arieiro, Madeira Island’s third highest peak towering at 1,818 meters high. In fact, one of the best day hikes you may ever take in your life is the route that connects Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo. When you arrive at the viewpoint, you will surely be rendered speechless, and on a clear day, you will even be able to spot the neighboring island of Porto Santo.
While we are on the subject of hiking, other nature treks that are specifically unique to Madeira are the numerous levada walks. For those unfamiliar with the term, levadas are irrigation channels that were “carved” out by early islanders in order to help carry rainfall waters from upland areas to the more dry regions. Lucky for avid hikers, these ingenious agricultural phenomenons also make quite lovely areas for a nature walk. One of the best routes is the Levada dos 25 Fontes, which winds its way through lovely terrain to the wondrous Risco Waterfall. Also not to be missed is the Levada do Caldeirão Verde.
This stunning viewpoint exists on a 580-meter-high cliff on Madeira’s south coast and offers a breathtaking view over the Rancho and Cabo Girão fajãs. A suspended glass platform, known as the “skywalk”, has been installed, allowing for an amazing and awe-inspiring vantage point. While this may not be the ideal choice for visitors with a fear of heights, if you are looking for an absolutely unbeatable vista, Cabo Girão takes the cake.
Monte Palace Tropical Garden
Even more beauty in nature can be found at the Monte Palace Tropical Garden, located on the scenic slopes of what was once the island’s beloved and wildly popular Monte Palace Hotel. Among the incredible flora you will discover here includes medicinal plants, herbs, cacti, European azaleas, and much more. There is even an aesthetically pleasing Japanese garden that is the epitome of zen and even features a pretty pagoda and pond filled with koi carp. Be sure to pay special attention when visiting this particular garden area, as 166 iconic azulejos (decorative tiles) can be seen here, collectively sharing the historical tale of the Portuguese in Japan.
Funchal Cable Car
Many choose to arrive at the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens via the famed Funchal cable car, which follows an old steam railway line route to whisk you up a scenic hillside to Madeira’s elevated suburb of Monte. The ride itself takes about 15 minutes to reach the top, but it will go by in a blink as the entire time you will be distracted with epic views of majestic mountains and ocean blue as far as the eye can see. As well as transporting you to the gardens, the cable car also deposits you at yet another famous and not to be missed adventure: the popular Madeira basket toboggan ride.
Traditional Toboggan Ride
A Madeira tradition that is nothing short of magical (and extremely fun, by the way) is the toboggan ride that sees visitors hopping in traditional basket sledges and then careening down the hillside toward the very center of Funchal. This epic tradition first began all the way back in the early 19th century, when this ingenious and thrilling mode of transport was used by local island residents in order to quickly get from the village of Monte down to Funchal’s city proper. Not surprisingly, the fact that this is such a unique and exhilarating activity has made the Funchal toboggan ride one of visitors’ most memorable experiences, and one they return to do again and again. What can you expect, specifically? You will hop in a toboggan in Monte, then be “driven” (more like pushed) by two runners who are clad in white and the traditional hats known as “straw boaters” for an entire 2 kilometers (roughly a 10-minute ride) that will end up in Livramento. The best part, besides the amazing views en route? You will actually reach a speed of upwards of 30 kilometers per hour!
Madeira Spirits: Local Wine and Poncha
Not just a playground of natural beauty, Madeira also boasts its fair share of epic gastronomy. While the food is amazing, this must-experience item focuses on the spirits of Madeira, particularly the Madeira wine and poncha. Madeira’s wine is unique in its flavor, and you will love not only tasting it, but also learning about its unique origins and harvesting process from local islanders. As for the poncha, this delicious drink is actually the most traditional libation of Madeira and typically is made with Aguardente de cana (distilled alcohol made from sugar cane juice), honey, sugar, lemon rind and different fruit juices according to your personal preference (most often you will see lemon juice used).
Exotic Island Fruits
Not to be outshone by the island’s spirits, the local exotic fruits of Madeira are equally appealing. Among the most incredible local gems to be discovered and enjoyed include: Annona, guava, “Prata” banana, passion fruit and Brazilian cherry.
Banana Plantation Visit
Speaking of fabulous fruits, one fun outing you can look forward to in Madeira is a visit to an actual working banana plantation, where you can take an interactive tour to get a unclose look at what the growing and harvesting process of Madeira bananas really entails. And it is fascinating! You will also learn all about the various varieties and species of banana grown locally on the island. And if you are really lucky? The banana plantation you choose may even include a yummy tasting of the bananas, most often paired with the island's traditional local favorite sweet: honey cake!
Boating and Whale Watching
Finally, no list of must do experiences in Madeira would be complete without mentioning boating and whale watching. Attesting to the wild popularity of these pastimes is the sheer amount of local companies offering to take you out to enjoy the ocean blue while keeping your eyes peeled for whales and dolphins. With more than 20 different species of dolphins and whales having been recorded in the waters off Madeira, there will be no shortage of exciting possibilities for your perusing pleasure. While you can enjoy a boating adventure in Madeira anytime — and bottlenose and spotted dolphins can be seen year-round — summer is generally the ideal time window to spot pilot whales, sperm whales, and Bryde’s whales in particular.
Now that you have a list of where to start on your must-do and must-see list for Madeira, it's time to get that trip in the books and start packing! We are here to help you every step of the way, working with you to plan your ideal Madeira getaway. Contact us today to get started.