Secludedly positioned in the extensive waters of the Atlantic Ocean - at about 1.000 km from Portugal's mainland - Madeira is an absolute hidden gem! It is still relatively unknown among tourists, yet, this small island has everything you need for an active holiday, from stunning landscapes and a vast array of sportive adventures to attractive beaches, charming villages, and a great piece of culture.
A short introduction
Madeira is a volcanic island tucked away in the Atlantic Ocean. It belongs technically to Portugal, even though it is closer to Africa than Europe. The island has a kind of horizontal oval shape and is 57 km long and 22 km wide. It only takes 1h30 to drive from the westernmost to the easternmost corner of the island.
Madeira means wood in Portuguese because forests coated the island when navigators first settled its shores in the 15th century. However, Madeira has a variety of incredible landscapes with a dramatic coastline, secluded bays, tropical rainforests, and majestic mountains, which have been appreciated internationally. The island has won six consecutive years (2016-2021) the title: "World's Leading Island Destination".
So let's explore further what makes this island so unique!
First, it has great adventure potential with countless activities to go for.
1. Discover Madeira's hiking trails
Countless trails throughout the island get you to the most remarkable places.
Besides, Madeira counts 2.000 kilometers of "levadas." These are artificial irrigation channels built hundreds of years ago to transport water from the island's north to the south, which gets less rain. Even though the "levadas" are still in operation, many of them have turned into walking trails that allow you to reach some spectacular spots with gorgeous views over the mountains.
2. Go whale watching or swim with dolphins
Madeira is a great island to observe whales in their natural habitats. The ocean surrounding the island is surprisingly deep, so there's a fair chance of seeing these beautiful creatures up close. If you are looking for more excitement, there is even the possibility of swimming with dolphins, so you are 100% ensured to meet these lovely sea animals.
3. Go Surfing and Diving
Madeira also is a good destination for diving and surfing. There are plenty of surfing spots on the northern and southern coasts where you can enjoy the waves all year round. In addition, beginners can follow surfing classes at one of the surf schools on the island.
4. Try out some canyoning
Due to its volcanic origins, Madeira is a perfect destination to practice canyoning. Heading down the canyon, you will explore it by swimming, sliding on naturally carved water slides, and even rappeling down impressive waterfalls…. Just for the adventurous hearts.
Yet, Madeira is not just outdoor activities. You will also find a good dose of culture, history, and culinary delights to try.
For that, go to the vibrant capital of Madeira, Funchal. The old town is a perfect place to take a morning stroll while learning about Madeira's history and culture in its museums, art galleries, and sites of historical interest.
For an authentic island experience, you will find some charming villages dotted over the island (like the village of Santana with its characteristic "palheiros" houses), inviting fishing towns, and many traditional folk festivals with lots of music, dance, and local delicacies to try.
Madeira's cuisine will surprise you! You will find hearty meat dishes, fresh seafood (based on local ingredients from the land and sea), an incredible diversity of tropical fruits, refreshing drinks, and Madeira's own wines. Stronger than typical wines, it is known for its distinct taste and makes for a fine aperitif! Give it a try.
Did we mention Madeira's beach life? Yes, Madeira has some fantastic beaches as well. You won't find kilometer-long stretches of golden sand, most are pebble beaches, but you can find them in the most stunning locations (don't miss out on Praia do Porto do Seixal).
Madeira is also a perfect family destination. It is calm, peaceful, compact (so little driving), and has activities for young and old.
Fun Facts about Madeira
Madeira has the world's largest fireworks display on New Year's Eve
It is home to Europe's tallest sea cliff- more than 1,900 feet above the sea- Cabo Girão, which has a spectacular suspended viewpoint of glass
Madeira Day is celebrated every year on July 1st.
When to go?
Because of its geographic location, Madeira enjoys a pleasantly mild climate throughout the year. This makes Madeira a perfect year-round destination. Of course, not all seasons are the same, but most attractions will be available regardless of the month, with the advantage that you can be flexible and pick the best time to travel.
How to get there?
Various airline companies from Europe's main countries fly directly to the airport of Madeira in Funchal. Alternatively, you can fly to Lisbon and take a flight with the national airline, Tap Portugal. If you prefer to go overseas by boat, you can take a ferry from Lisbon. The trip to Madeira takes about 23 hours.
Getting around on the island
If you plan on traveling around Madeira, it is commended to renting a car. And driving around is an experience in itself. There are many fabulous viewpoints along the roads, so you will never get bored.
Madeira offers a varied mix of leisurely activities, hikes, adventure sports, incredible scenery, and fabulous cuisine that will keep most seasoned travelers engaged. So, whether you're an outdoor family, an adventurist, or a nature lover, Madeira needs to be on your bucket list!