Activities in Madeira

Madeira by jeep, mini-bus, foot, sea, cable car and toboggan

The island of Madeira, at 35 miles by 14 miles, certainly packs a punch in terms of holiday destination as it was voted Europe’s Leading Island Destination and World’s Leading Island Destination in the World Travel Awards from 2013 to 2019!

Cabo Girao viewpointTo visit Madeira’s interior, we took a half-day, private 4-wheel drive tour with Mountain Expedition. Although it’s billed as a jeep ‘safari’, the only animals you’re likely to spot are dogs and cats (and I don’t mean the big variety). However, Louis, our knowledgeable driver, provided a running commentary about the varied scenery with small, terraced vineyards, banana plantations and forests of eucalyptus and laurel whilst blue and white wild agapanthus flowers lined the roadsides. First stop was the view point at Boca da Corrida for views of Madeira’s craggy mountains and the Nuns Valley, geographically isolated from other communities by the surrounding cliffs and peaks. Off-road and on dirt tracks, Louis encouraged us to stand up and admire the views through the open roof. It was certainly exhilarating due to the rutted, bumpy terrain which provided a ‘free back massage’. Following a glass of poncha, a lethal alcoholic drink, at a rustic local bar, unsurprisingly our screams were louder as we went off-road again. At the next stop, I faced my worst nightmare: standing on a glass walkway 580 meters above sea level at Miradouro Cabo Girao.  

View from Pico do AreeiroAfter the 4-wheel drive experience, we took a rather more sedate minibus to Madeira’s northern coastline, first of all climbing on narrow roads through the clouds to Pico do Areeiro, the island’s third-highest peak (1818m) with its ‘golf ball’ Air Defence Radar Station. Here walkers were setting off northwards to the highest peak Pico Ruivo (1862m) only accessible by foot. Madeira is noted for walking, particularly on the Levadas or irrigation channels. There are around 20 well-marked routes of differing length, degree of difficulty and gradient so something for all and for those with physical disabilities, Queimadas is an easy 45-minute route. Our eventual destination was Santana, with their traditional thatched A-frame houses in distinctive bright white, blue and red and on return to Funchal, we stopped again for terrific views at Pico do Facho.

View from Pico do FachoThe next trip was by boat with Rota dos Cetaceos who arrange whale and dolphin watching experiences and the opportunity to swim with the dolphins. It was fabulous to see the mammals leaping around our boat but, rather than end up with lots of ‘just missed them’ photographs, I simply watched mesmerised by their antics and the clear water. However, we had no time to swim as we were heading to Fajã dos Padres often described as an island within an island as originally it was only accessible by sea although a cable car has replaced the rather precarious glass-sided lift running down the cliff face. This has made it much more accessible and many people visit the pebbled beach and enjoy lunch whilst listening to the crashing waves.

Monte toboggan rideFinally, no visit to Madeira would be complete without experiencing the two-kilometer, toboggan ride in a wicker basket (built for two or three) from the heights of Monte. Our basket was steered and pushed from behind by two white-clad guys wearing straw boaters down the shiny, cobbled road. Although I’d done it 10 years ago, it was still as exhilarating, particularly when we neared the edge of the gullies running down the side of the narrow road or turned sideways across the road. An orange-vested marshal stopped either the toboggan or traffic at a junction before we continued to the end, where I bought a photograph taken during our run. There was also an option where you could e-mail a code and ask for an electronic version as well, which is something I’m not sure you could have done 10 years ago!

Whichever way you choose to get around the Island, there’s sure to be a mode of transport to suit.

For more information on Madeira Visit Madeira.

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Sunvil for holidays to Madeira.

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Helen Jackson

Traveller & writer

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