A paradise for hikers… I did hike but only from the car park to the viewpoint ;P But jokes aside, I went to Madeira to check it out and definitely would like to go back for a proper hike.
Indoor or outdoor?
I was thinking about going to Madeira many times but somehow there was a flight promotion to a different place. December 2022 it finally happened, I went to the volcanic island lying in the Atlantic. First impression – windy and hilly. I rented a car so I could move around the island easier. Let’s be frank I wanted to see the beautiful views from the mountain tops without much effort 😀 Most of all I was curious about the island itself… like snif snif here, snif snif there to get an opinion. Have to say there are many things to do in Madeira during sunny and rainy weather. For starters if the weather doesn’t spoil you with sunshine you can take a Madeira wine tour. I took mine at the Blandy’s winery – https://www.blandys.com/en/home/ In the high season (summer) you should book your tour in advance. I just walked in and asked if I could join a tour but that was low season. Always thought that Madeira wine is incredibly sweet, like the Canadian ice wine. I was very much mistaken. Madeira wine can be all / sweet, semi dry, or dry. What’s interesting, Madeira wine doesn’t age in a cellar… it ages in a warm room like an attic. On the tour you will learn how the wine is produced, which grapes are used and how it’s distributed… at the end there is of course a tasting 😀 Fun fact… when you want to buy some bottles after the tour you can, and you don’t have to worry if you run out of space in your check luggage. You can buy the wine and pick it up at the airport at the duty-free zone. You just need to provide your name and flight number at the cashiers and presto. Now that’s a very very good idea… very pragmatic. Well… I did purchase some bottles 😀
When you are spoiled with sunshine you can enjoy your time at one of many Madeira beaches. As I don’t sunbathe anymore, I was enjoying the view of waves crashing against the rocks. Just be careful when you plan to take the cable car from the city centre Funchal to Monte. Monte is higher in the mountain and then the mountain tops are covered in clouds. Leave it as you will get wet when you reach Monte. I didn’t observe the weather conditions, so it wasn’t very pleasant walking around the beautiful gardens in the fog.
Also, the town of Funchal is very picturesque so it’s super lovely just to walk around it. What I found really cool was the door alley. There are doors along a street which look like pieces of art… just have a look yourself. I also enjoyed walking around the main promenade in Funchal. Although packed with tourists from big cruise ships it had its funny charm. Generally, you can’t get lost in Funchal and it’s also very safe and colourful.
My personal highlight, two actually – first was the Lisbon Duck Store… Of course I bought a rubber duck. Second, a weird fruit that was called banana-pineapple. It tasted odd but very delicious. Literally like a banana would make love to a pineapple. Sorry, there is a third thing… the sunsets!
Diving and other activities
Come on, you seriously thought I would skip the chance of diving in the Atlantic Ocean… no way. There are not many diving spots in Madeira. The two main ones are Garajau Marine Reserve and the Afonso wreck. If it was summer, I would probably book a 10 dive pack but as it was December I limited myself to two dives. Have to say those weren’t easy dives. Firstly, it was cold. Water temperature around 18 degrees. Still divealbe in a 5 mm wetsuit. Secondly, visibility wasn’t very great. I was diving not deeper than 20 metres, but it felt like 40 metres. Don’t get me wrong the dives were incredible but not for the faint hearted. The Atlantic is not a very easy diving place. However, seeing the wreck and the big cod fish was very rewarding. Booked the trip with Azul Diving https://www.azuldiving.com Very professional centre, good equipped with very friendly staff. After the first dive when I said that I was freezing they gave me an additional 2mm short wetsuit to put over the 5mm long wetsuit I was already wearing. It made things better, but I was still cold after the second dive. The dive guides always explained the dive route, the procedures and what we will be seeing underwater. My favourite dive guide was Rafael… fantastic sense of humour even underwater – yap he’s the one in the pic on the wreck playing with the cannon. You can follow him on IG @rafazaccari if you wanna see some cool underwater pictures and fun underwater stuff.
Another mind-blowing activity was whale and dolphin watching. You can think, yeah probably think that the boats use some kind of bait to attract the animals… nope they don’t. The boats sail out to find the animals, but they keep in touch with the spotters who have a lookout for the animals. So, as you can see, it’s all natural. I didn’t hope for much because this is the ocean and not a zoo so I was very surprised when we saw a big family of dolphins and three sperm whales. Yes, whales… whales! I would never expect that it’s able to see dolphins and whales in their natural habitat not so far away from the shore. Just mind blowing! In case you ever visit Madeira don’t hesitate to go on a whale watching tour. Only attention don’t go on a catamaran style boat. Pick the company that has rubber dinghy as it’s better to admire the animals from a smaller boat. Just don’t forget to pack your sunscreen, seasickness pills and a waterproof bag 😉
After driving around Tenerife and the narrow roads of Masca valley I was terrified of what the mountain roads in Madeira would be like. To my surprise it wasn’t as bad as I expected. In some parts the roads were narrow but there was always enough space for two cars to pass by. I encountered spaghetti shaped road parts, but it wasn’t very scary to drive on them. Driving in the city was also quite normal, nothing out of the ordinary. So, for those of you who don’t consider themselves good drivers, don’t panic, you will be fine. The only drawback is finding a parking space. Drop every hope to find a free spot on the street. It’s better to go to an underground parking lot and leave the car there. For the whole day I paid like 7 Euros, which compared to Cadiz – 15 Euros for four hours was a bargain. Must admit I was lazy when it comes to hiking… next time I’ll do it the proper way and hike up the peaks. This time I was just curious how it looks… and it looks stunning! You can drive up to most of the peaks and there always is a large parking place to leave your car and enjoy the views. Pico de Arieiro was incredible and Levada dos Balcoes was very peaceful. Really next time I’ll go there on foot. I won’t be blabbering much here… just at those amazing views.
Summarising very much thumbs up! Madeira doesn’t disappoint. Good food, great wine, decent prices, places to see, things to do… there is something for everyone – the active and the less active ones.