Madeira, the enchanting Portuguese island located in the Atlantic Ocean, is known for its lush landscapes, beautiful coastline, and rich cultural heritage. However, beyond its more well-known attractions, Madeira hides a treasure trove of quirky, unique and unconventional experiences that are sure to make your visit unforgettable. So, read further as we will uncover ten unique and offbeat things to experience on the island of Madeira.
1. Levada Walking in the Clouds
Madeira is famous for its "levadas", a network of narrow irrigation channels that wind their way through the island's rugged terrain. While hiking along these levadas is a popular activity, a walk through the cloud forests, misty valleys, and awe-inspiring cliffs should be on your list! Choose the challenging Pico do Areeiro to Pico Ruivo walk, linking the highest mountains of Madeira, the Rabaçal and 25 Fountains tour in the UNESCO Laurissilva Forest or the off-beaten Levada do Norte with spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean...
2. Tropical Toboggan Ride in Monte
Monte, a suburb of Funchal, is home to one of Madeira's most iconic and quirky attractions: the Monte Toboggan Run. This unique experience involves being whisked downhill in a wicker toboggan by two 'carreiros' (drivers) dressed in traditional white uniforms and straw hats. It's an exhilarating ride that will have you twisting and turning down the narrow streets of Monte. Don't forget your camera, as you'll want to capture this thrilling adventure.
3. An Adventurous Canyoning journey through Nature's Waterpark
Madeira, with its dramatic landscapes and lush greenery, offers a plethora of outdoor adventures. But perhaps one of the most exciting and memorable experiences on the island is canyoning. With its rugged terrain and numerous waterfalls, Madeira provides the perfect playground for those seeking an adrenaline rush mixed with a dose of natural beauty.
The Ribeira das Cales canyon is located in the heart of the Laurissilva Forest and is known for its breathtaking waterfalls, crystal-clear pools, and green surroundings. Here you'll navigate a series of natural water slides, jumps into deep pools, and abseils down waterfalls. As you make your way through the canyon, be sure to pause and take in the breathtaking natural environment.
4. Take a Cable Car to the Botanical Garden
Madeira's lush botanical gardens are well worth a visit, but for a quirky twist, start your journey with a ride on the Funchal Cable Car. This ride provides breathtaking views of the city and the coastline, ending at the Botanical Garden. Once you've explored the gardens, you can choose to return by cable car or take a leisurely stroll back down the hillside through a beautiful, flower-filled park.
5. Conquering the Cliffs of Ponta de São Lourenço
Ponta de São Lourenço, located on the eastern tip of the Madeira, is a place of rugged beauty, where the land meets the Atlantic. While many come to explore the stunning landscapes on foot, few know that this remote peninsula offers a thrilling opportunity for climbing enthusiasts. The peninsula is characterized by jagged cliffs, dramatic rock formations, and a diverse range of routes that cater to all skill levels, especially for beginners. Climbing at Ponta de São Lourenço is not just about the ascent; it's also about the breathtaking views that reward your efforts. As you gain elevation, you'll witness the stunning landscape of the peninsula unfolding below you. The rugged coastline, the deep blue waters of the Atlantic, and the wild, untouched beauty of this remote corner of Madeira create a surreal backdrop for your climbing adventure.
6. Visit a Traditional Farmer's Market
While the Mercado dos Lavradores in Funchal is a well-known spot for fresh produce and local crafts, there are smaller, lesser-known farmers' markets scattered throughout the island, we recommend the ones in Santa Cruz, Ponta Delgada, and Santo da Serra. These markets offer an authentic glimpse into the daily lives of Madeira's residents and a chance to sample the island's unique fruits and vegetables, including exotic treats like passion fruit, dragon fruit, and the famous Madeira banana.
7. Witness the São Vicente Caves and Volcanism Center
Explore the subterranean world of Madeira by visiting the São Vicente Caves and Volcanism Center. These lava caves, formed by volcanic eruptions, provide a fascinating glimpse into the island's geological history. The interactive museum inside the center offers insight into the island's volcanic past. It's an educational and unusual experience that will leave you with a newfound appreciation for the island's geology.
8. Swimming with Dolphins: An Unforgettable Encounter
Madeira offers a unique opportunity for a magical encounter with dolphins. Madeira's coastal waters are home to several species of dolphins, including common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, and spotted dolphins thanks to their warm temperatures and abundance of fish. This makes it a perfect location for dolphin-watching and, more excitingly, swimming with them.
Your guided dolphin swimming experience usually begins with a boat ride into the open waters of the Atlantic. As you cruise along the island's coastline, keep your eyes open for the sight of fins breaking the surface, or the sound of the playful clicks and whistles of the dolphins.
When a pod of dolphins is spotted, the boat will come to a stop, and you'll have the chance to enter the water. The dolphins are often curious and playful, and if they feel comfortable, they may come close to swimmers. Snorkeling alongside these graceful creatures allows you to observe them in their natural environment, a truly unique and intimate experience.
9. Try a Poncha Cocktail
Madeira is famous for its traditional drink, Poncha, made with 'Aguardiente' (a type of brandy), honey, and fresh citrus juice, usually from oranges or lemons. The cocktail is known for its strong and sweet flavor and is often enjoyed as an aperitif. Many bars and restaurants on the island serve Poncha, so don't miss the chance to try this iconic Madeiran beverage.
10. Explore Madeira's Wild Side: A Jeep Safari Adventure
A Jeep safari on Madeira takes you off the beaten path and into the island's heart, providing access to remote locations that are otherwise difficult to reach. With experienced guides behind the wheel, these rugged 4x4 vehicles transport you through a variety of terrains, from steep mountain roads to forested trails, revealing the island's hidden treasures along the way.
You might visit charming villages, hidden waterfalls, natural pools for a refreshing swim, or viewpoints that offer stunning vistas of the island's coast. Enjoy a culinary break to savor traditional Madeira cuisine. Jeep safaris are family-friendly, well-organized, and safe, ensuring that everyone can enjoy the excitement of the journey.
Madeira is a destination that offers much more than its picturesque landscapes and coastal beauty. It's a place where you can immerse yourself in unique and quirky experiences that add a whole new dimension to your visit. From walking on 'levadas' in the forest to toboggan rides, exploring the seas to sipping Poncha cocktails, this island holds a host of surprises waiting to be discovered. So, the next time you find yourself in Madeira, be sure to add a few of these offbeat adventures to your itinerary and make your trip truly unforgettable.