We went on a 3-day trip to Madeira, a Portuguese island in the middle of the Atlantic. Well, not exactly in the middle, as it’s less than a 2-hour flight from Lisbon, but it feels like the middle of the Atlantic 🙂 We did this trip to get to know the island a bit better and check out the best sea experiences for you!
Madeira‘s truly a natural gem. It’s the ideal holiday destination if you need some contact with nature in its purest state. On Madeira, you’ll find very steep and green mountains but also a very impressive coastline. The weather in Madeira is very pleasant all year round and the water temperatures are way nicer than on the Portuguese mainland, being around 20ºC.
Here’s a little guide for if you’re planning a short trip to Madeira and like active and more radical experiences, like we do.
When is the best time to Madeira Island, Portugal:
We did our trip to Madeira in June. We had great weather and very good sea conditions. However, it was already rather crowded with tourists. As some of the locals, we met told us, as the weather on Madeira is good all year round, you might want to book offseason. From October to April, you’ll find fewer people, better prices for your accommodation and flights and friendlier locals!
As long as you’re not looking to spend the whole holidays enjoying the sun while relaxing by the pool and the beach, you might prefer to risk some cloudier days and book offseason. Not convinced yet? Read this article we wrote with 9 reasons why you should visit Madeira in the Fall or Winter season.
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How to get to Madeira Island, Portugal:
You can get to Madeira from the main airports in Europe. Frequent low-cost flights to Madeira are operated by EasyJet, Smartwings, Binter Canarias, TAP and British Airways are only a few of them. You can fly from Lisbon, Paris, Prague, London, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Gran Canaria, and others. Of season, from November to April, you can find return flights from Lisbon to Madeira from 35€ per person.
You can also get to Madeira from the Algarve, the South of Portugal, by ferry. The ferry from Portimão to Madeira runs from July to September and is part of the Poritmão – Canaries route. Portimão-Funchal runs on Tuesdays at 14h30 and arrives by 14h30 on Wednesday. Prices for the ferry from Portimão to Funchal start at 85€ per person. You can find all the details here.
Where to stay on Madeira Island, Portugal:
On our trip, we stayed at Hotel Alto Lido, near the city of Funchal. It’s a nice place to stay if you look for a central location with some nice beaches at walking distance and many restaurants nearby. To get from this hotel to Funchal, there’s a free shuttle service.
If you prefer a more urban experience, staying in Funchal, Madeira’s capital city is a good idea. Here, you can find many hotels, hostels and AirBnBs for all budgets.
Personally, I’d recommend staying a bit “off the beaten track” and look for an Airbnb in a town besides Funchal, like Camara de Lobos or Porto Moniz for example. But choosing where to stay really depends on the experience you’re looking for.
How to get around on Madeira Island, Portugal:
In our case, we were looking to discover most of the island, on a short holiday, so hiring a car was the best option. We booked a car with Driving Madeira. The whole experience was just perfect. We opted for pick-up and drop-off at the airport. Highly recommended!
But be prepared, the island has very steep mountains, curvy and narrow roads, long tunnels, and sometimes bad visibility due to fog. As such, we only recommend hiring a car if you are an experienced and confident driver. And because of the steep mountains, we recommend hiring a car with some more horsepower.
Taxis around the island are a good option, especially if you are on holiday in a small group (up to 4). You can even rent a taxi for a full day! Daily rates start at 80 € and give you the possibility to stop at any attraction for as long as you want. And the driver can even give you some tips!
Regarding public transport, there are plenty of bus routes around the island, especially on the Southside. Here you can check timetables and routes. There’s no train, tram or metro on Madeira.
Our favorite means of transport on an island is of course by boat. By boat, you can discover the coastline of Madeira. If you would like to discover Porto Santo island and Desertas islands, there are some boat tours on Madeira that take you there or the ferry.
To get to the starting point of the activities on Madeira, like the boat tours, surf lessons and canyoning, you can also opt for a transfer service provided by the tour provided (sometimes even included in the experience price).
Things to do on Madeira Island, Portugal:
We can’t deny, our favorite things to do in Madeira are of course sea experiences. Oh well, also mountain and culinary experiences!
Here are the things to do on Madeira that we recommend for active travelers who can’t sit still and just want to explore as much nature as possible during their holidays:
Dolphin and whale watching in Madeira is an unforgettable experience for the whole family in the middle of the Ocean. We were lucky enough to find 3 different species on one single tour! This boat trip is more than just watching these magical creatures. With the local guides and marine biologists, you’ll get to know a lot about cetaceans (dolphins and whales). You can read about our experience here.
Swimming with dolphins in Madeira is more than just watching them very closely. The swimming with dolphins experience is done during the whale and dolphin watching trip. You’ll come on board on one of our two Rigid Inflatable Passenger Boats (RIB) and be taken out to the dolphins and whales. The swimming is only done with Common Dolphins. We found a very big pod of Common Dolphins that were very curious when we got into the water. This was surely one of the most remarkable experiences of my life. You can read all the details about our experience here.
SUP, or Stand Up Paddle boarding, is a fun way to explore the coastline. We did this SUP tour just before heading back to the airport. SUP is great because you can enjoy the sea quietly and get a different view of the island of Madeira from a sea view perspective. On this guided tour, you’ll enjoy the local beauty and lush landscape of the island, often merely limited to other types of vessel. We did the tour in Garajau Nature Reserve and had a very nice time with Roberto, the guide. You can read about our experience SUPping here.
Never heard of coasteering? Coasteering will boost your adrenaline while exploring the coast of Madeira. Coasteering involves swimming, climbing, cliff-jumping, hiking and A LOT of fun! This was our first activity, as soon as we landed. We were picked up by Francisco and his team and were taken to the most amazing places in a natural reserve near Ponta de São Lourenço. After a brief introduction about what we will do during the tour, we’re ready for a true adventure. You can read about our experience here (by Fábio).
Canyoning is the best activity if you’d like to explore Madeira’s green mountains. We did a full-day experience around “Levada do Alecrim” and never felt so close to nature! Canyoning involves hiking, climbing, and rappelling (abseiling) done on a rope. You’ll discover amazing waterfalls in the mountains of Madeira and jump into crystal-clear waters and slide down fun natural water slides. Be prepared to explore the most hidden places, and be impressed by nature in its purest state! You can read about our experience here.
The best restaurants in Madeira Island, Portugal:
Trying out some local food is also one of our favorite things to do on Madeira. And of course, the more authentic, the better!
Seafood at “Muralhas Bar”, Caniçal
This place was recommended to us by our coasteering guides when we asked for “a local place with good and affordable seafood”. And this is exactly what we got. We had some delicious local “lapas” and octopus. Exactly what we needed after our exciting moments doing coasteering!
Poncha and local sandwiches at “Taberna da Serra”, Ribeira Brava
We had a snack and some drinks after the canyoning experience. We had had a cereal bar during the experience to keep up the energy levels but after 5 hours in the mountains, we were very hungry! The “pork, garlic and wine” sandwich and the passionfruit “poncha” were amazing, as well as the omelette sandwich. And to make it even tastier, the view was incredible!
Craft beer and seafood at “Beerhouse”, Funchal
For you beer-lovers out there, the Beerhouse is a must. You can try many different craft beer here, from Madeira, Portugal mainland and also international ones. You’ll be served by very friendly and knowledgeable waiters while enjoying the local tastes of Madeira and enjoying the view over Funchal. We recommend the “Açorda de Lagosta com Gambas” and the passion fruit mousse!
Sunset and fresh fish at “Maktub”, Paúl do Mar
Maktub was surely our culinary highlight on Madeira. We were welcomed by the owner, Fábio, and drank a delicious Mojito while the sun was peacefully setting in the horizon of the Atlantic Ocean. We were asked if we’d prefer vegan, vegetarian or fish. We opted for fish and were surprised by the “menu do dia”.
Every morning, Fábio drinks coffee with the local fishermen of Paúl do Mar and buys the fish they caught and that is the fish that will be on the menu for the day! We had amazing ceviche and grilled fish in the oven. The desert and wine were also delicious! The environment at Maktub is very easy-going, like a beach bar. We had a great evening and will surely be back the next time we visit Madeira!
Skewers at “O Lagar”, Câmara de Lobos
OK, this might not be the most authentic restaurant on Madeira, but we had very good food and wine. The decoration of “O Lagar” is designed for tourists, the theme is clearly “Madeira”. We sat on the cosy patio and had the traditional skewers. I’m not sure if we prefered the skewers or the amazing Bolo do Caco with garlic butter we had as a starter!
Beef sandwich at “Casa de Pasto das Eiras”, Caniço
This place was recommended to us by Roberto, the guide of our epic SUP Tour. We were looking for a light meal after the tour and before heading to the airport. We had very nice sandwiches with omelette and “prego” – beef, served with fries. Next time we visit the island, we’ll come back to Casa de Pasto to try some of the freshly grilled dishes they serve. It smelled so good! It’s a really basic restaurant, that in Portuguese, we’d call a “tasca”. It’s not about the ambience, but about the quality of the food 😉
We had a great time on this lovely island. We can’t wait to come back with more time, so we can also discover the “Desertas” islands and Porto Santo too! We strongly recommend Madeira as a holiday destination for nature lovers of every age and also families!