Nestled in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, Madeira often gets forgotten as a destination for people traveling to Portugal, which keeps this magical island relatively off the beaten path.
Against a backdrop of green forests, volcanic peaks, waterfalls, and lagoons, Madeira is the perfect setting for an adventure getaway, whether in two or with the family. With tons of sportive possibilities, panoramic coastal roads, small beaches, and excellent food and wine, you will find something you like on this small island.
We created a 5-day road tour to discover Madeira's natural beauties, starting and ending in Funchal. Enjoy the trip!
Day 1 Arrival in Madeira and exploring Funchal
You will arrive at the airport of Madeira, officially called Cristiano Ronaldo International Airport, which is just 18 km from the capital city of Madeira, Funchal. You can take a car directly from the airport to explore more independently or base yourself in Funchal to explore different directions every day.
Take time to wander down the street Rua Santa Maria, an open-air gallery full of colors and art. Explore the Sé Cathedral and climb the tower of the Igreja de São João Evangelista. You cannot miss taking the cable car to the villa neighborhood Monte to visit the Church of Nossa Senhora do Monte, the botanical gardens, and take the 2-km ride down to Livramento in traditional wicker sleds! This experience is a bit more touristy but still unique. The sleds are 'driven' by two ''carreiros," who use their black rubber boots to brake... Enjoy the adventure.
What is probably most remarkable about Madeira (being a small island) is its excellent cuisine. You will find an incredible diversity of tropical fruits, seasonal vegetables, seafood delights, and hearty meats. In addition, it has many traditional dishes such as the "Espada com banana" (black scabbard fish with banana) that you can still taste at various places on the island. If you like to learn (and try) more about Madeira's cuisine, you should for sure join a food & wine tour.
You will not only visit the local market, Mercado dos Lavradores, with its long history and traditions of tropical fruits, vegetables, and fish but also cook yourself some traditional dishes. End the end of this experience; you will enjoy your self-made dish accompanied by a local Madeira wine.
Day 2 Exploring the hinterland
Today you take your car and start discovering the hinterland of Madeira. The first stop is Camacha, a pretty village in a wooded area northeast of Funchal. This town is famous for its excellent basketry work that you can still witness in its streets.
Later, head on (about 30 minutes) and arrive at Ribeira Primeira Park, a sustainable project in the heart of the forest with various activities for young and old. You may visit the trout farm or enjoy a natural tea or Portuguese coffee at the Tea House, overlooking the park and the magical forest. Now it is just half an hour more to the lovely little village of Porto da Cruz to spend your afternoon and the night.
Despite its small size, Porto da Cruz has some exciting things to do, one of which is a visit to its rum factory. This vintage working factory at Engenhos do Norte makes rum from fresh sugarcane juice. This method is relatively rare as most rum is made from sugarcane molasses or evaporated sugar (from cane or beets).
Wandering around the factory (which is free), you learn about the process of making rum and discover the different machines and equipment that allow making this alcohol. There is also a museum.
Did you know?
The rum made from sugarcane is used in a cocktail that is called Poncha. This is a typical Madeiran drink that is a must-try. The cocktail mixes the local rum with lemon, orange juice, or passion fruit.
If rum is not your thing or you prefer to explore the surroundings, you can make a leisurely walk on the Levada da Referta (2h) along agricultural fields. During the hike, you will be amazed by the beautiful Madeira landscapes. You can also see the Penha d’Águia – a fantastic rock formation that reaches 580 meters in height.
Day 3 Hit the road and enjoy a scenic drive
Today you will make a road trip to enjoy the panoramic roads along the coast of Madeira. Starting from Porto da Cruz, you will pass São Jorge, Ponta Delgada, and Sao Vicente up to Seixal (about an hour's drive). Be ready to stop from time to time, because you will pass many amazing view points that are absolutely worth to visit.
Seixal is a small village famous for its natural pools and black beach. Many describe Seixal's beach - Praia do Porto do Seixal - as the best beach in Madeira! The beach's black sand contrasts with the lush green nature and surrounding mountains. It is definitively a unique place on earth!
Seixal also has two natural pools. Maybe, less famous than the ones in Porto Moniz (here we arrive later); they are just as stunning, though. One of the natural pools you can visit is Poça das Lesmas. It's just a few minutes from the main beach. Here the surroundings are awe-inspiring, with huge cliffs and waves crashing onto the rocks. The pool is very calm as the rocks protect them well and the water is crystal clear!
Porto Moniz is the next stop. It is one of the oldest cities on the Island of Madeira, and for a long time, it was pretty isolated from other parts of Madeira since it was a place that was accessed mainly by sea. The town's highlight - as we mentioned - is the seawater lava pools that are naturally filled by the ocean's high tide and offer a dramatic setting for swimming. Be aware that the pools are popular so you won't be alone here.
If you prefer an off-beaten experience, you can choose to visit the Fanal Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is an indigenous densely-wooded laurel forest with a unique collection of plants and animals. The forest is the oldest type of "Laurisilva" and one of Madeira's natural wonders. It is also commonly referred to as the fog forest, as moisture tends to collect at 1,000 meters above sea level and covers the forest in a white blanket. The Fanel Forest is freely open to visitors.
The trip continues in the direction of Porto do Pargo. You will see its lighthouse standing on a cliff, 300 meters above sea level, at the westernmost point on Madeira Island. The active lighthouse (from 1922) is charming and has a small museum, and the surrounding area offers fantastic views of cliffs.
The last part of your full-day road trip leads to your end destination of today: Calheta, one of the sunniest and warmest places in Madeira on the south coast. Calheta has a beautiful church, Igreja do Estreito da Calheta, with interesting interiors. You can also visit the arts center, Casa das Mudas, in the village.
Day 4 Adventure at Madeira’s South Coast
Today you can explore the Calheta area in two ways. You can start your day with a Whale & Dolphin Watching Tour. The waters surrounding the island of Madeira are home to a large variety of cetaceans that can be seen all year, and on this tour, you can see these unique and intelligent animals up close. Probably the most likely creatures to find are common dolphins, and real adventurists can even swim with these amazing sea animals for an unforgettable holiday experience.
If you prefer to stay on land, there you have the possibility to take a fantastic Levada Walk called "Levada das 25 Fontes". It is one of the most astonishing places to hike on Madeira island. Undoubtedly, the walk between Rabaçal and the 25 fountains allows you to enjoy beautiful valleys, stunning waterfalls, dazzling greenery, and the sounds of nature. The total walking time is about 5 hours.
After your busy morning, you can take a moment to relax on the small Praia da Calheta, an artificial beach with soft golden sand imported from the Sahara desert.
Then it is time to make your way back to Funchal. We recommend stopping at the cute little town Ribeira Brava and enjoying its shops, restaurants, and views over the ocean. It also is home to the Ethnographic Museum, which preserves traditional Madeira culture.
Just 20 minutes further, you find the amazing Cabo Girão Skywalk - the highest cliff skywalk in Europe - set on the top of the 580 meters cliff, Cabo Girão. From the glass bottom skywalk, you have beautiful views of the village of Câmara de Lobos, the ocean, and a part of the South Coast of Madeira.
Continue your drive to Funchal for your last night. Make sure to take yourself to a nice restaurant, have some good (traditional) food and then walk around the town at night.
Day 5 Departure
Today ends your road trip, and you head back to the airport. In this short but intensive getaway, you got a glimpse of the diversity of Madeira island: its unbeatable nature, incredible food, charming villages, and, last but not least, its outdoor adventures.
There is much more to do on the island for hikers, bikers, or water lovers. So be sure to keep Madeira in mind for your upcoming holidays.