By Bo, co-founder of SeaBookings, working from Lisbon:
From all sea experiences that we provide on SeaBookings, swimming with dolphins has always been the one that fascinated me most. In Portugal, you can only swim with wild dolphins on the islands of the Azores and Madeira. The first time I was onMadeira, I did not have the chance to make this dream come true. Fortunately, the second time, I made my dream to swim with dolphins in Madeira come true. And it totally exceeded my expectations.
This is what you’ll see. Yes, they come that close!
For me, regarding all tours involving cetaceans, like the whale and dolphin watching and swimming with dolphins tours, it’s very important to be sure that they’re done with respect for nature. At SeaBookings, we try to select the tour operators that are truly involved with the species’ welfare. In Madeira, we have a great partner regarding this aspect.
During the briefing before the tour, we were informed about what the tour would be like and what we could expect. We also learned about the different species of dolphins and whales that can be found around Madeira, some resident and some migratory. And we also learned that to respect the animals, we can only spend limited time next to each pod, to not bother them too much. Besides, they are not fed, so they are truly wild! Being truly wild animals means that these tours are always a real adventure. You never know what species of dolphins and/or whales you’ll find in the open water of the middle of the Atlantic, if any!
The experience to swim with dolphins in Madeira takes place on the same speed boats and schedules as the dolphin and whale watching tours. This is great because if you go with a group and not everybody wants to swim, you can still go on the same tour. To swim with the dolphins, a few conditions are a must: the dolphins should be of the species Common Dolphins (Delphinus), they should not be feeding, not have calves and be calm. Only then, you can calmly get into the water and swim with dolphins in Madeira.
You’ll be holding on to the boat with a rope
It was with the second pod of dolphins we found that all criteria to be able to swim were satisfied. Oh damn, I was so excited. Was I really going to make the dream to swim with wild dolphins come true? Yes, the skipper and the marine biologist onboard, gave me and two other “swimmers” (on a boat with 12 guests) an “OK” to calmly get into the water.
1, 2, 3, here I come, dolphins! The water was warm, 22ºC and I was wearing a bikini and lycra and a snorkel mask. With one hand, I was holding a rope that was tight to the boat. The boat was moving, but very very slowly. The dolphins were all around me. All around. They’d look at me, come closer, and swim away. They were super curious. I could hear them talk, their noises are so cute! And loud! They are big! Common Dolphins can reach up to 2,5m and that’s very big if you’re swimming next to them!
Wow, here I was in the middle of the Atlantic, at a depth of more than 2000 m, surrounded by 15-20 friendly and curious dolphins. What an amazing feeling. While writing this, I can still feel the excitement!
While holding on tight to the boat, I was going above and under the surface of the sea. And when above, I was telling the people on the boat how amazing this was! I needed to share my excitement! I’m not sure for how long I was in the water, probably only for 5 minutes, but this was more than enough. I will never ever forget these unique moments underwater, these indescribable encounters with such a magical species!
We were lucky enough to spot several species
I feel extremely grateful for this experience swimming with dolphins in their natural habitat and I strongly recommend it to all nature lovers out there. To swim with dolphins in Madeira was with no doubt one of the most remarkable experiences of my life! Feel free to contact me per email if you’ve got any questions about this experience 🙂
Madeira is a perfect holiday destination the whole year round. We’ll share the some tips to take the most out of your holidays on the island and enjoy the best things to do on Madeira.
Madeira is one of the archipelagos of Portugal. The archipelago is composed by two inhabited islands, Madeira and Porto Santo, and a few islands where no people live on. The capital of this autonomous region is Funchal.
The islands of Madeira and Porto Santo are characterized by a warm subtropical climate all year round. Madeira is very popular for active travellers who like outdoor experiences like hiking or running in the mountains, playing golf or water activities like surf, SUP, kayak and boat tours.
We went to visit the Portuguese island to check out the best things to do on Madeira and share them with you.
Reaching Madeira is very easy and affordable. The airport has only one terminal and you can easily find your way to the public transport or rent-a-cars.
Flights are very affordable. From Portugal, TAP has been doing some great discounts. Flights by TAP from Lisbon or Porto to Funchal start at €47. If you’re flying from the UK, for example, there are several airlines that operate to Madeira: easyJet, British Airways, Thomas Cook Airlines and Thomson Airways. Return flights from the UK from December to March will only cost you 65£ to 74£, while from June to September these fares can double.
At your arrival you can either chose to use public transport or rent a car. We decided to rent a car. We believe this is in fact the best way to explore the island. It allows you to be more flexible and to enjoy the best things to do on Madeira.
There are several rent-a-cars and prices start at about €15 per day. We used rentalcars.com and paid €76 for five days. It’s definitely worth it to hire a car.
We do recommend you to hire a car with some power. Madeira is very hilly and the least powerful cars may not be able to climb up the highest peak of the island when they are full. Be careful when signing the rental contract and make sure you’ve got the right insurance for your needs. Our contract was to give in the car with an empty deposit. During the five days, where we used the car a lot, we used a full deposit.
Using the bike to get around the island is not recommendable as there are no paths for bikes and Madeira is super hilly. Biking is one of the best things to do on Madeira if you like sports, so you can go on a biking tour if you wish. But as means of transportation, we truly recommend the car.
The best things to do on Madeira are a bit all over the island. Staying in the capital, Funchal, is nice if you wish to enjoy some more culture or nightlife. If you’re fonder of nature and want to avoid the most touristic places you can also stay at other towns. In the end, everything is nearby by car.
Prices per night at local “hospedarias” in Funchal start at €20 for a twin room. For the luxury lovers, you can stay at a “Quinta” of more than €150 per night. There are places to stay for all budgets.
We stayed at an apartment via AirBnB. It was located at Ribeira Brava. Ribeira Brava is a small coastal town about 20km west from Funchal. From the airport, Ribeira Brava is about 36km. It’s a nice place to stay. Ribeira Brava has got some good restaurants, a beach and supermarket.
Given the size of the island, the best thing to choose the location of your stay is by taking into consideration the things you want to do on Madeira. Another factor is your budget. In fact, you can stay anywhere as the island is not that big and if you’ve got a car you can go from one side of the island to the other within one hour.
Things to do in Madeira
There are many things to do on Madeira Island. There are activities for all tastes and ages. Of course, we are more into water activities like dolphin and whale watching on Madeira. Other people may be more into playing gold or tasting the local culture and wild nature.
For the ocean-lovers, Madeira is a true paradise in terms of activities. Our four favorite things to do on Madeira Island are:
Madeira is home to many species of cetacean (dolphins and whale species) and there are several boat tours to observe them. This is one of the most popular things to do on Madeira as it’s suitable for all ages and can be done all year round.
These trips may take between two and three hours. There are different options regarding the vessel. You can go for a big stable catamaran, a typical Portuguese sailing ship or a fast rigid inflatable boat.
The whale and dolphin watching trips on Madeira are more than just watching. With marina biologists and local skippers on board, you’ll get to know a lot about the wild life and about the Island itself.
Join a small group of watersport lovers or bring your friends and family and learn how to Stand-up Paddle on Madeira! SUP is the new worldwide booming sport. This experience will give you and your friends or family a different perspective of the Madeira Island.
SUP allows you to access the local nature and lush landscape where other vessel types cannot reach. You can enjoy marine reserves where abundant marine life can be appreciated to the fullest. SUP is very dependent on weather conditions. As on the Island of Madeira the weather and ocean conditions vary a lot, there is almost always a good spot to SUP.
Surfing is a very popular activity on Madeira. The lessons are given on the beaches of volcanic sand, usually in the north-eastern part of Madeira. Surf classes are suitable for all levels of experience. Just like SUP, surfing is rather dependent on weather and ocean conditions. The instructor will always search for the best alternative to guarantee the complete enjoyment of the surf activity. On Madeira, the villages of Paul do Mar, Jardim do Mar and Ponta Pequena are the most popular surf spots. Lugar de Baixo and São Vicente are also becoming popular surf spots.
Also for scuba divers Madeira is a paradise. The all year round mild climate and water temperatures of 18 to 23°C make Madeira one of the warmest scuba diving spots of Europe. Scuba divers chose Madeira as a holiday destination because of the crystal clear waters and the chance of encountering species like barracudas, monkfish, dolphins, rays and even mantras. Madeira hosts several diving schools, mainly in Funchal and Caniço de Baixo. Diving on Madeira is suitable for all levels of experience.
In addition to these water-related activities on Madeira, the island is also very popular for walking, hiking and trail running. Madeira is very rich in walking routes. The routes are all very well signaled by the local government. The routes vary from 2 to 12km and the levels of difficulty also very a lot. All the information is explained on the Visit Madeira website.
We highly recommend you to bring good walking or running shoes and to bring some water and food supplies along your walking adventure. We also suggest you to check out the weather forecast to not be surprised by the variable island climate and avoid dangerous situations. If you prefer, you can also join a walking tour.
Things to eat in Madeira
For the food-lovers, there are several things you must do while on Madeira Island. Madeira, as well as the Azores, is very well known for its meat.
We recommend you to enjoy a delicious “Prego em bola do caco”. Prego is veil meat and it’s served on a typical local type of bread. The bread is kind of sweetish and very soft. It makes a delicious combination with the meat. Also, having this “bola do caco” bread as a starter with garlic butter is too delicious to be true.
Another must-eat on Madeira is the “espetada”, a meat skewered. Typically this skewered is served on the stick of bay. The meat is extremely juicy and served with fried corn cubes and salad. We recommend you to ask how big the portions are because sometimes they’re big enough to serve too.
These dishes may very well be accompanied with a local Madeira wine. Be aware that Madeira wine is very different to normal wine. As a desert, order a passion fruit mousse or any local fruit like the bananas and other tropical fruit.
We’re Madeira fans and would be happy to help you to plan your holidays on this beautiful island. Feel free to contact us for other tips, questions or request booking information.