Our travel tips for a short trip to Madeira

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.

You’ll be impressed by such a pure nature

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.

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.

Madeira’s green mountains

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. 

Renting a car in Madeira is a great idea

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).

SUP is a very peaceful way to explore the coast of Madeira
SUP is a very peaceful way to explore the coast of Madeira

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:

Whales are usually a bit shyer than dolphins but some come really close by
Whales are usually a bit shyer than dolphins but some come really close by

Dolphin and whale watching in Madeira

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 wild dolphins is a very special experience that we recommend to all you sea-lovers!
Swimming with wild dolphins is a very special experience that we recommend to all you sea-lovers!

Swimming with dolphins in Madeira

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 tour in Madeira
Join a fun SUP tour in Garajau

SUP tour in Madeira

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.

A GoPro is a fun idea for some unique sea-selfies!

Coasteering on Madeira

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).

It's hard to take pictures of the immense beauty!
It’s hard to take pictures of the immense beauty!

Canyoning in Madeira

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.

Lapas, Espetadas and Bolo do Caco

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!

Welcome to Taberna da Serra

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!

Maktub at Paúl do Mar

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! 

Fábio, the friendly owner of “Maktub”

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 😉

Whale watching is a very remarkable experience on Madeira
To see such a huge animal as a whale in the wild is a unique experience

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!

We hope these tips will inspire you to book your trip to Madeira! Feel free to share any further tips or to let ask us any questions. Enjoy Madeira!

Canyoning in Madeira

Coasteering and Canyoning in Madeira – the full island experience

By Bo, co-founder of SeaBookings, working from Lisbon:

We had such a great time on our 3-day trip to Madeira Island this Spring! We did the trip to explore some of the best things to do on Madeira and then to share our experience with you. Well, if you love nature and some adventure, this pack that combines coasteering and canyoning in Madeira is a must. If you relate to the following, please read further! Adrenaline, nature, sea, mountains, cliff jumping, climbing, challenge, fun… 

Imagine doing rappel on this 28m waterfall!

Imagine doing rappel on this 28m waterfall!

Both experiences should be done in separate days, first because you’ll be tired after each of them and second because the canyoning can take quite some hours, depending on the level you choose. Our coasteering experience took about 2 hours while the canyoning in Madeira took almost 5 hours, excluding transport to and from the meeting points. 

The coasteering in Madeira usually takes place on the road to the famous Ponta de São Lourenço. The canyoning tour we did started and ended near Pico da Urze, where the Levada do Alecrim starts. You can meet the guides at the starting point of each experience or they’ll pick you up and drop you off after the experience. Let me tell you how our experience was:

Coasteering in Madeira

As soon as we landed on Madeira Island, the guides, Fabrício, André and Francisco, came to pick us up at the airport to head to the best spot for coasteering in Madeira. With only 3 days on the island, we had no time to lose!

Coasteering Madeira

The gear is rather hot, but after your 1st jump, you won’t feel it anymore 😉

The gear you use for coasteering is very similar to that for canyoning, except that for canyoning you’ll also use a harness. Besides, you’ll wear a special wetsuit, shoes (I recommend to request one size above your usual size), life vest and a helmet. All the gear is provided, so you only need to bring sunscreen, swimsuit and a towel.

Once we were fully equipped, we walked for a few minutes to reach the shore. These few minutes were enough to feel the heat in our wetsuits. The first cliff jump into the Atlantic felt amazing! You immediately forget about the uncomfortable hot gear (the same applies for the first jump with the canyoning). 

We spent about 90min having fun while climbing, swimming, cliff jumping and exploring dark caves. Time flew by. Coasteering is a truly amazing experience as you feel a very strong connection to nature, to the sea.

Just don't think to much! And JUMP!

Just don’t think too much! And JUMP!

After a small hike up the cliffs, the van was there with Francisco, waiting for us. Damn, that was a great welcome to the island! We had a blast, we even commented that only for this coasteering experience in Madeira, it was worth it to fly from Lisbon for just one day! We were lucky enough to have two more days and the next one would be for canyoning!

The canyoning adventure started with a nice hike in the mountains

The canyoning adventure started with a nice hike in the mountains

Canyoning in Madeira

Canyoning in Madeira is what coasteering is to the sea, but for the mountain: a very strong connection. So, the combination of these two experiences, sea and mountain gives you a full immersion into Madeira’s stunning and pure nature!

For the canyoning, we drove to the meeting point with our own rental car. From there, we met the canyoning guides, Peter and André, and got geared up with the same gear as the day before plus the harness. This experience was done in a group, with a few more adventurous travelers. 

The hike on Levada do Alecrim was very pretty!

The hike on Levada do Alecrim was very pretty but tough, especially the way back!

For canyoning in Madeira, there are several levels. The levels are based on your level of experience, fitness and love for adrenaline. As we already had some coasteering experience, we joined a level 2 canyoning experience. It was rather tough and I’d say we’re above the general level of fitness. So, if you’ve got no experience and are not very active in your day to day life, you want to start with a level 1.

You'll be impressesed by such a pure nature

You’ll be impressed by such a pure nature

The main difference between our coasteering and canyoning experiences? The water in the mountain is waaaay colder! It was about 10-12ºC! Fortunately, the suits keep you warm but your hands will feel it! Another big difference was the jumping technique that is more “bomb-like” as the water is more shallow. Ah, and the highlight of the canyoning was definitely the rappel we did for about 28m along an impressive waterfall! And the highest jump we did was about 14 m high!

It's hard to take pictures of the immense beauty!

The guides will take some epic pictures!

On both experiences, we had a great time! We live in Portugal and had no idea that Madeira had these amazing experiences to offer. We feel like we lived the island, both the mountains AND the sea to the fullest. The next time we visit Madeira, we’ll surely do both experiences again, maybe at another location. So, if you’re an active-nature-loving person looking for the best things to do on Madeira, trust us: try coasteering and canyoning in Madeira!

It's hard to take pictures of the immense beauty!

It’s hard to take pictures of the immense beauty!

If you accept our suggestion, and you’re booking coasteering and canyoning in Madeira, don’t forget: request one shoe size above the usual and, even though a cereal bar is included, you might want to bring another one to keep your energy levels up (for the canyoning). Enjoy!