The best independent guide to Madeira
The best independent guide to Madeira
Porto Moniz is a charming little town that perches on the dramatic northwestern tip of Madeira. This is a region comprised of towering mountains, rugged scenery and is dominated by the powerful Atlantic Ocean.
The geography of the region historically isolated Porto Moniz from the rest of Madeira, and the town specialised in whaling, a practice which continued as late as the 1980s.
Today, the main draw of Porto Moniz are the unique lava pools, which are filled by the rising tide and provide warm and safe waters for bathing. Close to Porto Moniz is the Levada da Ribeira da Janela, one of the finest walks of Madeira, along with two shorter hikes to stunning viewpoints high above the town.
Porto Moniz is a great base from which to explore the wild and remote far western side of the island, but a car will be needed. The only slight disappointment with Porto Moniz is that much of the historic village has been taken over by bland modern buildings, with only the Forte de São João Baptista reflecting the towns extensive history.
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The seawater lava pools that are naturally filled by the ocean’s high tide, and offer a dramatic setting for swimming or paddling in. (A full guide to the pools is found later in the article).
The relaxed ambience of Porto Moniz - once the tours have departed!
The scenic roads, either following the ER101 as it snakes up into the hills or the VE2 as it follows the rugged coastline.
The Miradouro da Santa, with its wonderful views over the town.
The spectacular views from the Miradouro da Santa, just a 40 minute steep walk....
Porto Moniz is a relatively small town, and all of the sights can be easily seen in a couple of hours of sightseeing. A half-day could be spent exploring the harbour and fort, and then relaxing in the lava pool complex.
With a car, you could drive up to the Miradouro da Santa viewpoint, or along the beautiful coastal road towards Seixal.
The day trip could be extended by visiting Achadas da Cruz, an abandoned village at the far western point of Madeira and is only accessible by cable car. There is a second great viewpoint at Miradouro dos Pombais (just past the village of Santa Maria Madalena).
If you are visiting Porto Moniz as part of an organised tour, expect only a brief stop in the town. This will provide time for a few photos and time to see the castle and harbour but not enough time to swim in the lava pools or hike up to the viewpoints.
Tourists often race through Porto Moniz on an organised tour or coach trip, and miss the real appeal of the town; it’s calm atmosphere and remote setting. This is a destination to allow the bracing winds to clear your mind and allow you to embrace the untamed natural beauty of one of the most isolated towns in Europe.
To get the most from Porto Moniz a car is needed, but with one there are empty hiking trails, remote headlands and unspoilt wild countryside to explore. Excursions from Porto Moniz could include; the pretty town of Seixal, the caves of São Vicente, the cable car of Achadas da Cruz, and the pebble beach of Ribeira da Janela.
Insight: The coach tours arrive between 11:00 and 15:00, and outside of this time, the town is calm and personable.
The fishing harbour of Porto Moniz
Madeira contains many designer hotels with beautiful swimming pool complexes, but nature has trumped all of these to create the finest location to swim on the island.
These black basalt pools, were created from the lava flow of the now extinct volcanoes, and today are pounded by huge Atlantic waves. These pools are rightly regarded as the best attraction of Porto Moniz and they are fascinating for visitors of all ages. The pools can be swum in, explored for aquatic life, clambered over, sunbathed on or simply admired.
The Piscinas Naturais do Porto Moniz maybe developed but are still beautiful
There are two sets of lava pools in Porto Moniz: the natural pools that overlook the Ilheu Mole island and the western pools, that have been converted into a Lido pool complex.
The Lido pools (Piscinas Naturais do Porto Moniz) are a much safer location for swimming, especially when visiting with children, as there are no sharp rocks and there is lifeguard supervision. The entrance fee to the Piscinas Naturais is €1.50, and they open every day from 9:00-19:00 (9:00-17:00 during winter). The facilities are modern and clean and the complex is well run.
The pools close to the Ilheu Mole are completely unaltered, which means they are naturally stunning but also dangerous. The black basalt rocks of the pools are sharp, slippery and unforgiving if you trip. The common injury is bashing toes while swimming or slipping while clambering out.
Our advice: Take a picture of the natural pools and then spend the day at the Piscinas Naturais do Porto Moniz.
The natural, but dangerous pools.....
The Achadas da Cruz cable car is certainly worth the 20min drive from Porto Moniz. This very steep cable car descends the massive cliffs (430m high) to the abandoned village of Fajã da Quebrada Nova, which sits on a spit of land enclosed by the cliffs and the ocean.
The ride down is scary, as even on the calmest of days the carriage is buffeted by strong winds. At the base of the cliffs are coastal walks, wild natural scenery and a feeling of complete isolation. The Achadas da Cruz cable car costs €3.
Advice: At low season the cable car stops running for 2 hours at lunch time, before heading down make sure you know the time of the return rides.
Riding the cable car down to the village
The Levada da Ribeira da Janela is one of the best long hiking trails on the northern side of Madeira. The path follows the Janela river valley as it climbs into the steep hills south of Porto Moniz and provides dense forests, waterfalls and lush scenery.
The route is 13km (each way) and starts from the small village Ribeira da Janela, just to the east of Porto Moniz. After the initial uphill climb to from the village, it is relatively flat, but there is a 1km long tunnel (and a torch is a must).
Porto Moniz is surrounded by massive hills and these offer wonderful viewpoints over the town and coastline. One of the best viewpoints is from the Miradouro da Santa, which is on the old road (ER101) south from Porto Moniz. The route follows the switch back roads, but the view is worth the effort.
The small Aquario da Madeira aquarium is housed within the Forte de São João Baptista de Porto Moniz, a fort constructed from the local basalt rocks. The entrance fee to the aquarium is €7.00/€4 .00 (adult/child) and is open from 10:00 to 18:00 every day. The aquarium’s highlight are the sharks but as it is relatively small it gets mixed reviews from visitors.
Public transport to Porto Moniz is very limited, and all bus services are provided by the Rodoeste bus company. There are two routes to Porto Moniz from Funchal, the number 80 service and the 139 service. The latest timetables can be seen on the Rodoeste website: