Madeira travel guide

Cristiano Ronaldo is Madeira’s most famous son, and despite his supersonic football career, he’s never forgotten his roots. Mind you, given how jaw-droppingly beautiful Madeira is, that’s hardly surprising. Lying southwest of Portugal (it’s officially an autonomous region of Portugal) and above the Canary Islands, this volcanic, subtropical island is ringed with reefs, and carved through with jagged mountains, valleys and ravines draped in lush vegetation.
Madeira is a joy to wander through, dotted with isolated villages, fishing communities and stunning natural features, many connected by water courses you can walk along.
Madeira vacations usually begin in the picturesque capital, Funchal, where you can join a boat cruise out to seek whales and dolphins or dive into the wine and coffee culture, before heading further afield around the dramatic coastline and into the interior. This is an exceptional place for walking, and with superb snorkelling, sea kayaking and biking, families will also find it easy to fall for this island. Read on in our Madeira travel guide.

Madeira is…

crisscrossed with levadas, aqueducts that provide water and hydroelectricity to mountain communities and farms. They double up as very scenic walking paths.

Madeira isn’t…

just for grown ups. The island is a paradise of adventurous activities for kids, from sea kayaking to canyoning and exploring volcanic caves.

Madeira map & highlights

Madeira has long been a favoured mooring for giant cruise ships, which disgorge thousands of people every day in summer but do little for the local economy. We don't support this type of irresponsible cruising anywhere in the world, and in Madeira, there is far more to this idyllic island than its port. Walk the ancient network of levadas carved into the mountains to magnificent waterfalls and clifftop miradouros; venture into atmospheric volcanic caves; soak in miniature saltwater lagoons formed by volcanic lava, or snorkel with a pod of dolphins in the azure Atlantic waters off the coast; just don't limit yourself to the (admittedly charming) Funchal.
Caldeirão Verde

1. Caldeirão Verde

Perhaps Madeira’s most famous levada route, this walk from the Queimadas Nature Reserve takes you through UNESCO protected laurel forest and a few tunnels (you’ll need a torch) before reaching the Caldeirão Verde, a spectacular waterfall that tumbles into a lagoon. This natural amphitheatre is a magical spot for a picnic and a very refreshing swim.
Dolphin & whale watching

2. Dolphin & whale watching

Between April and October it’s possible to find around 20 different species of whales and dolphins in the waters off Madeira. Cruises out to see them are among the most popular activities here, and if the conditions are right you may find yourself snorkelling alongside a pod of up to 100 dolphins – naturally an unforgettable moment for every member of the family.
Pico Ruivo

3. Pico Ruivo

The walk from Achada do Teixeira to Pico Ruivo, the highest peak on Madeira, is widely regarded as one of the island’s most beautiful routes. It takes around 90 minutes to reach the summit, and although it can be fairly challenging in places it’s the coast to coast panoramas that will take your breath away. This walk is often combined with the nearby São Vicente lava tubes.
Porto Moniz

4. Porto Moniz

Porto Moniz is an attractive little town on Madeira’s northern coast, once a whaling port but now well-known for the black basalt lava pools here which fill up at high tide, making for a stunning place to swim or paddle. The best time to visit is early morning or late afternoon before the crowds arrive, and rubber-soled shoes are recommended as the rocks can be sharp.

5. Santana

A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve with many excellent walking trails including the Caldeirão Verde levada, the Santana region is famous for its little stone houses thatched with straw, which now serve mainly as shops where you can pick up traditional souvenirs. There is a Madeira Theme Park nearby that traces the island’s history, culture and traditions, and features fun stuff for the kids, including a maze and rowing lake.
São Lourenco Peninsula

6. São Lourenco Peninsula

There is a classic walk to be found here at Madeira’s easternmost point. Quite distinctive from the rest of the island which is characterised by its verdant foliage, the São Lourenco Peninsula has been shaped by a harsher climate, with steep sea cliffs where many birds nest – kestrels can sometimes be seen hovering for prey. The route gently undulates over the stark scenery, the views unfailingly impressive.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Madeira or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Allie_Caulfield] [Is/Isn't: Jörg Schmalenberger] [Caldeirão Verde : andrea] [Dolphin and whale watching: Ricardo Liberato] [Pico Ruivo: cat_collector] [Porto Moniz: José Antonio Cartelle] [Santana: José Antonio Cartelle] [São Lourenco Peninsula: José Antonio Cartelle]