The magical island of Madeira is one of travel’s best kept secrets. This lush, waterfall-filled, volcanic Portuguese isle on Morocco’s Atlantic coast offers epic adventures and friendly people.
With charming towns, plenty of nature, great food, and an abundance of outdoor activities, Madeira has recently begun to attract digital nomads and travelers of all ages (having traditionally been popular with older visitors).
Here are seven reasons Madeira is well worth visiting.
For some countries, it matters what time of year you visit, which can make planning a challenge. However, Madeira’s mild, subtropical climate means it’s an all-year-round destination, remaining in a state of blissful, eternal spring. This doesn’t mean there will be constant sunshine; the island is an amalgamation of weather experiences due to varied elevations and wind exposure. Be sure to pack a rain jacket as the weather can and does change in a second. I got caught out a few times while hiking there.
Personally, I feel most at home in the mountains, disconnected and among the clouds. A true hiker’s paradise, Madeira has hundreds of epic trails for all levels, from beginner to seriously advanced (with more being made all the time) crisscrossing the island offering unbelievable views.
The combination of lush greenery, crashing waves, cliff-side trails, the experience of being up in the clouds… I’m not sure any other place can emulate Madeira’s hiking vibe.
To get a feel for the landscape, check out the Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo trek. The 6.8mi (11km) trail has jaw-dropping landscapes reminiscent of Hawaii. The starting point is also less than an hour from Funchal, Madeira’s capital, making it easily accessible.
If you’re looking for a more off-beat hiking adventure, I recommend the Levada do Plaino Velho trek. At only 5.3mi (8.5km), it might not be the longest or most challenging hike on the island, but will take you through magical forests and past fast-flowing waterfalls. From Funchal, the trailhead takes an hour to reach and begins at Pico Ruivo do Paul.
Madeira might just have some of the best seafood I’ve ever eaten. Freshly caught tuna is perfectly seasoned and the regional favorite of black scabbard is uniquely paired with banana.
Meat lovers will love espetada, another Madeira favorite, where any cut of meat you like is grilled over hot coals. Delicious.
There are several tasty restaurants in Funchal that are either vegan or vegetarian and many more with excellent vegetarian options. For full vegan you can check out the popular spot Mundo Vegan. Bioforma Restaurant is a great all-veg option. Restaurante Olives is also delicious and has a separate menu for vegans and vegetarians.
Due to its subtropical climate and abundance of marine life, as well as a few old shipwrecks, Madeira is a dream diving destination, whether you’re already experienced or looking to get certified.
There are dozens of diving centers in Funchal to choose from, and you can expect to pay about US $48 (€ 40) for a dive with equipment rental and a minimum of US $420 (€ 350) for an Open Water Diver certification – for Europe, this is fairly inexpensive.
Some particularly iconic dives can be found near the Bay of Funchal, where you can dive in the Eco-Marine Park of Funchal, the National Park of Cabo Girão, and Garajau Nature Reserve.
As much as there is to discover, Madeira is quite small, just 500 mi2 (800 km2), so it’s easy to explore by car.
Buses and Uber are an option, but if you want to get acquainted with the island, renting a car in Funchal will allow you to really explore.
As you drive around the so-called “Pearl of the Atlantic” from Funchal, head to the middle of the island for some hiking before moving to the northern side to explore the volcanic caves in Sao Vicente (entrance fee US $10, € 8) and then making your way to Cabo Girão, the second-highest cliff walk in the world.
If you’re into deep-sea fishing, make sure you book a day out on the water. Chartered boats are easy to rent and the reward is well worth the cost.
Think some of the best blue marlin in the world, white marlin, big red snappers, tuna, and more. Fishing licenses (required to do any kind of fishing on the island) are included in the charter price. Prices vary wildly so charters are best split among friends and/or fellow fishing enthusiasts. Fishing in Madeira is heavily regulated, so if you’re catching marlin, it’s catch and release. You can bring back more abundant fish, such as red snappers, for a BBQ on the beach and, damn, they are delicious.
Madeira is also famous for the eponymous fortified wine and another tasty drink – the classic and lethal concoction known as poncha.
This locally made, distilled drink shouldn't be underestimated: this stuff is strong – with an alcohol strength of 50%. You’ll find this delicacy at bars and discotheques throughout the island, to help you get your dance on.
With more of a town atmosphere than a city feel, Funchal’s nightlife still has plenty of hole-in-the-wall bars, more upmarket, visitor-aimed restaurants, traditional poncha-serving locales, and, hidden along the winding cobblestone streets, fish restaurants that have been handed down from generation to generation. It’s safe, chill and friendly. Enjoy!
The quickest and easiest way to get to Madeira is by air. During peak season, numerous 90-minute flights operate daily from Lisbon, and they usually don’t cost more than US $100 (€ 84).
There are flights to Madeira from other European destinations, too. Once you land, the Madeira Airport is about 15-20 minutes away from Funchal, and there are a shuttle bus and taxis standing by.
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