Welcome, dear travelers, today we set foot on the magnificent island of Madeira, a sometimes forgotten corner of the Portugal, nestled in the heart of the Atlantic Ocean. Located approximately 500 kilometers off the northwest coast of Africa and 850 kilometers southwest of the Portuguese mainland, Madeira is an autonomous region of Portugal. Its strategic position places it in the heart of the Atlantic Ocean, earning it the nickname “Pearl of the Atlantic”. The archipelago made up of the islands of Madeira and Porto Santo is a popular destination, attracting more than 2 million visitors each year.
The Island Formed by Volcanoes
Millions of years ago, Madeira was born through volcanic activity, and its majestic volcanic mountains, such as Pico Ruivo, offer breathtaking panoramas. Reaching Madeira is easiest by air, with Funchal Airport being the main gateway to the island. You can also explore ferry options from mainland Portugal or neighboring islands. Funchal is the capital and largest city of Madeira. With its 110,000 inhabitants, the city ranks as the sixth largest city in Portugal. Funchal is one of Portugal's flagship tourist destinations and the leading Portuguese port for docking cruise ships, due to its significant historical and cultural value.
Historical Wealth of Funchal
The town takes its name from a pleasantly fragrant wild plant, traditionally called fennel, which was widespread in the region during the founding of the community. Funchal was founded in 1421 by the Portuguese navigator João Gonçalves Zarco, but it was also briefly under Spanish and British control. The old quarter of Funchal is distinguished by its historic architecture and colonial buildings, the most notable of which are the Funchal Cathedral and the Church of Saint Peter. Rua de Santa Maria is the pedestrian-friendly main street in the old quarter, and it is famous for its unique painted doors.
The Legacy of Cristiano Ronaldo and the Splendor of Funchal
Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the greatest athletes of all time, is the town's tallest son. Not only is Funchal Airport named after him, but there is also a museum dedicated to his distinguished career. Through images, films, interactive features and more than a hundred individual and collective awards, the CR7 Museum offers visitors the opportunity to relive the most important moments in the life of Cristiano Ronaldo. The Funchal Cable Car is very popular with tourists and allows you to rise into the air for incredible views of the city and ocean. Designed to transport passengers from the lower station, located near the old town of Funchal, to the lofty heights of Monte, an elevated neighborhood 560 meters above sea level, the 15-minute flight in cabins specially designed offers 360° views of Funchal and the surrounding mountains.
The Botanical Gardens of Madeira
One of Madeira's main tourist destinations is the Botanical Gardens, located about 4 kilometers northeast of Funchal. The garden, which extends over the hills of the Quinta do Bom Sucesso estate, attracts with its vast and varied subtropical vegetation. There are thousands of native plants, trees and flowers, as well as many exotic species from around the world. The Botanical Garden is about 10 minutes drive from Funchal, but you can also take the cable car to get there.
The Natural Wonders of Cabo Girão
Dominating the southern coast of Madeira, Cabo Girão is the highest cliff in Europe and the second highest in the world, standing at an impressive 580 meters high. The island of Madeira itself is of volcanic origin, and the Cabo Girão formation is the result of ancient lava flows. Upon arrival, a breathtaking panoramic view of Camara de Lobos, Funchal, the south coast of the island and the Atlantic Ocean welcomes you. The distance from Funchal is only 20 minutes. It is recommended to park in the parking lot at the top of the cliff if you have chosen a multi-stop tour.
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Exploring the Pico Ruivo Trails
Pico Ruivo stands proudly as the highest peak in Madeira. With an imposing height of 1862 meters above sea level, it offers a breathtaking viewpoint that attracts tourists and hikers from all over the world. Pico Ruivo is famous for some of the best hiking trails in Europe. The challenging but extremely rewarding Pico Ruivo Trail, passing through beautiful meadows and rugged terrain, is perhaps the most popular route, offering spectacular views of the island. The summit itself has a lookout point offering a 360° panorama, allowing visitors to enjoy the beauty of the landscape from all angles.
The Magic of Madeira Levadas
The levadas are a network of aqueducts in Madeira, some of which date back to the 15th century. Levadas are essential for supplying local farmers with water for their crops. Taking one of the many hiking routes along these levadas is one of the best ways to experience Madeira. The wetter parts of the north and the drier parts of the south offer levada rides that will take you through this network of open canals. Don't miss the famous walk along the Rabacal levada if you're in the area. This 10-kilometer excursion traverses three levadas and offers views of more than two dozen waterfalls.
Hidden Treasures of Machico and Porto Santo
Machico is strategically positioned at the mouth of a valley leading into the interior of the island's mountains. Its proximity to Madeira International Airport makes it an attractive entry point for travelers. Machico was the first landing point for Portuguese explorers in the 15th century. The picturesque town square, dominated by the historic Capela dos Milagres, offers a glimpse into Machico's past. The city's lively seaside, dotted with cafes and restaurants, invites visitors to sample regional cuisine. The waters around Machico are an excellent place to watch whales and dolphins. Tour operators offer boat trips to admire these magnificent creatures in their natural environment.
The Natural Swimming Pools of Porto Moniz
The Moniz Natural Pools are a huge tourist attraction in the charming village of Porto Moniz. These pools are a harmonious blend of volcanic rock formations and the powerful waves of the Atlantic Ocean. While natural pools provide a calm and safe swimming experience, they also provide a captivating spectacle of the power of the ocean. The tides create a natural rhythm, filling and emptying the pools with each cycle. Over the years, the swimming pools have been carefully adapted to ensure their safety and accessibility. The artificial structures blend perfectly into the natural setting. With an average temperature of 21°C throughout the year, the water temperature in the lava pools is constant, allowing you to visit them at any time.
Exploring Ponta de Sao Lourenco
Ponta de Sao Lourenco is an idyllic peninsula on the eastern tip of Madeira, now a protected nature reserve. Unlike the rest of the island, this area is dry and windy, with breathtaking volcanic rock formations. The low vegetation and absence of trees here contrast with the rest of Madeira. If stunning natural landscapes fascinate you, this is the place to explore. Hiking is the best way to get around, and there are many trails to discover. Opt for a full-day tour that takes you up and down stone stairs, to lookout points with views of the Atlantic Ocean, then down to the black sand beach of Prainha.
The Enchanted Island of Porto Santo
About 40 kilometers northeast of Madeira, Porto Santo is the easternmost island of the Madeira archipelago. With an area of approximately 42 square kilometers, it is a compact but beautiful destination. Christopher Columbus is said to have lived on Porto Santo for a time. He married a local woman, Filipa Moniz Perestrelo, whose family had ties to the island. The island's landscape is characterized by rolling hills, volcanic rock formations and a semi-arid climate, providing a contrast to the lushness of Madeira. Porto Santo's stunning beaches are considered among the best in the world. Praia de Porto Santo, the island's largest beach, stretches nine kilometers along the southern coast. Due to its high mineral content, the beach's extraordinarily smooth and golden sand is believed to have therapeutic benefits.
An Inviting Conclusion
Beyond the beaches, tourists can also explore the charming town of Vila Baleira, the island's capital, which features magnificent traditional Portuguese architecture. A round of golf at Porto Santo Golfe, an 18-hole course, offers breathtaking views of the coast and adds a sporty touch to your vacation.
Have you ever visited Madeira? Let us know in the comments.