The best independent guide to Madeira
The best independent guide to Madeira
Madeira is an outstanding destination for an exciting and varied weeklong holiday. The island combines a stunning coastline, a dramatic mountainous interior and bountiful Portuguese charm, to create a fantastic holiday destination.
A holiday to Madeira can be relaxing, but if you choose, there is an abundance of sights, activities and culture to discover. This article will suggest a series of 1-week itineraries to give you inspiration for your holiday to this magical island.
Madeira is a hiker's paradise – this is the PR1 hiking route connecting Pico do Arieiro to the Pico Ruivo, the highest point of Madeira
The spectacular scenery near Seixal, and along the northern coastline
The majority of visitors to Madeira are based in Funchal, the largest city on the island, and take day trips to explore the island. An alternative approach for a weeklong holiday, is to be based in three or four different towns.
This article will provide three 1-week itineraries, and are:
• A 1-week holiday based in Funchal that explores Madeira via organised tours
• A 1-week holiday based in Funchal but explores the island independently using a rental car or public transport.
• A 1-week touring holiday of Madeira, based in four different towns.
The lava pools at Porto Moniz
This suggested 7-day itinerary is ideal if you plan to be based in or near Funchal, and wish to discover the island using the convenience of organised tours.
Organised tours are a great way to explore, and remove the hassle of public transport or the need for a rental car. These tours have the added benefit of a knowledgeable local guide and provide the chance to meet fellow visitors.
There are lots of different tour companies in Funchal offering very similar tours, and the three standard tours are; the east of Madeira, the west of Madeira and a half-day to Curral Das Freiras. Tours can be booked from your hotel (often more expensive) or one of the numerous ticket agencies in Funchal.
The suggested 1-week itinerary is:
Day 1 – Funchal and Monte. Explore the Old Town and Funchal harbour front, then ride the cable car up to Monte and wiz downhill in a toboggan. This day can be easily done independently, and for a suggested 1-day tour of please see this guide.
Day 2 – An organised full-day tour of the west of Madeira. Typical tours visit; Câmara De Lobos, the Cabo Girão cliffs, Encumeada viewpoint, Porto Moniz and Sao Vicente. A long but fun day!
Day 3 – An organised half-day tour to the hidden village of Curral Das Freiras, which was historically a refuge during pirate raids.
Day 4 – An organised full-day tour of the east of Madeira, which includes; Camacha, Pico do Arieiro, Ribeiro Frio, Santana, Faial, and Machico
Day 5 – Day trip to the island of Porto Santo. The arid island of Porto Santo is two hours by ferry from Funchal and has the best beach of the Madeira archipelago. For a guide to day trip to Porto Santo, please click here.
Day 6 – An organised hike along one of the scenic Levada trails. These paths followed the waterways which were constructed to directed water from the wetter northern side of the island to the drier south-eastern side.
Day 7 – A boat tour from Funchal, either a tour of the Ilhas Desertas islands or dolphin watching boat trip.
Insider tip - The size of the tour vehicle depends on the popularity of the tour and season visiting. If you specifically want a small group tour (8-12 people) always check that this is what you are purchasing when booking.
Advice – The tour companies provide weekly schedules for the Levada hikes, with a different walk per day of the week. At the beginning of your holiday see the schedule (and weather!) and book yourself on to the walk most suitable for you.
A traditional Madeira house in Santana
The beautiful sandy coastline of Porto Santo
This suggested 7-day itinerary is designed for the more independent traveller who wishes to be free from the constraints of a coach tour. Public transport in Madeira is inexpensive and the cost of each of the day trips will be significantly less than the organised tours. Public transport is limited on certain routes and may require planning on the Rodoeste bus website (https://www.rodoeste.com.pt/). An alternative is a hire a rental car.
An interactive map of the suggested tour is shown below
The suggested route is:
Day 1 – Explore Funchal and Monte – Similar to the previous tour, and for a suggested 1-day tour of Funchal, please click here.
Day 2 – Day trip to Câmara De Lobos and Cabo Girão Cliffs. Câmara De Lobos is a traditional fishing town where colourful fishing boats are pulled onto the stony beaches. The Cabo Girão are some of Europe’s highest cliffs, with a drop of 590m, and a glass-floored skywalk extends out over the top.
Day 3 – Day trip to Porto Moniz. Porto Moniz is famed for its saltwater lava pools, where you can swim in the sun-warmed seawater while waves crash against the black basalt rocks. Porto Moniz guide.
Day 4 - Hike between Pico do Arieiro and Pico Ruivo, this beautiful mountain route connects the third highest peak with the highest peak in Madeira and passes through stunning scenery.
Day 5 - Day trip to Porto Santo island. Porto Santo is not just for lounging on the beach, there are challenging hiking trails, delightful villages and demanding off-road cycling routes. Guide to a day trip to Porto Santo.
Day 5 alternative (with a rental car) explore the Parque Natural do Ribeiro Frio and then later in the day drive through the towns of Santana, Porto da Cruz and Machico.
Day 6 - Day trip to Curral Das Freiras. This little town is hidden within a deep in a valley and is very scenic.
Day 7 - Day trip to Sao Vicente, Sao Vicente caves and Encumeada viewpoint (car needed). Sao Vicente is a charming town set amidst a steep valley, further inland is the largest cave network of Madeira. On the way back to Funchal, if you have a rental car head up to the viewpoint at the top of Encumaeda.
Câmara De Lobos is a traditional Madeira fishing town
The view from the summit of Pico do Arieiro
This tour explores all of the regions of Madeira and is based within four different locations; Funchal, Ribeira Brava, Porto Moniz and Machico. To get the most from this route, a rental car is recommended as there is very limited public transport between the smaller towns.
Day 1 - Explore Funchal and Monte (night in Funchal) - similar start to the holiday as with the previous tours.
Day 2- A day trip to Câmara De Lobos and Cabo Girão Cliffs from Funchal (night in Funchal). Similar to day 2 in the previous tour.
Day 3 - Ribeira Brava (night in Ribeira Brava based) –
Ribeira Brava is a likeable resort town which provides easy access to the interior of the island, and the beautiful hiking trails around the village of Rabacal.
Day 4 - Porto Moniz (night in Porto Moniz)
Porto Moniz is on the north-western tip of Madeira and this side of the island is dominated by massive jagged mountains, steep cliffs and lush vegetations. The small town of Porto Moniz is famed for the amazing lava pools which are filled with seawater and are set amongst beautiful rock formations.
Day 5 –São Vicente or Ponta do Pargo (night in Porto Moniz)
Ponta do Pargo is the most westerly point of Madeira and is a region of stunning natural landscapes, which makes for a pleasant day trip from Porto Moniz. São Vicente is peaceful coastal town, and is close to the Grutas de São Vicente lava caves.
Day 6 – Santana, Porto da Cruz and end in Machico (based in Machico)
Santana is the setting of the traditional and quaint thatched houses, and the town is a UNESCO world heritage site. Further down the coast is Porto da Cruz, and this region provides some of the most spectacular scenery of Madeira. The day ends in Machico.
Day 7 – Machico (based in Machico)
Machico was the original settlement on the island, and today the relaxed town boasts the best (and only!) sandy beach in Madeira. A pleasant excursion from Machico is to the sleepy town of Santa Cruz where there is a traditional sugar cane factory. An alternative hike is along the Ponta de São Lourenço headland.
Machico is conveniently close to the airport for your return flight.
The interior of Madeira offers stunning natural scenery, and this is the VE4 (Via Expresso) the main north-south road, cutting the through the mountains south of São Vicente
The lush valley where Machico is situated