Of all the regions I’ve visited in Portugal, Madeira is, by far, the best for experiences. I know that’s a big claim, but it really does have it all. As someone who is a sucker for unique experiences, spending two weeks in Madeira was just like being a kid in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Dramatic landscapes, epic driving, mouth watering food, waterfalls, wine and wonder. Ladies and gentlemen… welcome to Madeira!
Planning a trip to Madeira? Then you’ll want to head to >> The Complete Madeira Guide.
BEST EXPERIENCES & ADVENTURES IN MADEIRA
Madeira is so special that the original Madeira travel guide was overflowing with experiences so I wrote a specific experience guide. This island is made for adventure so buckle up, here is my personal run down of Madeira’s best experiences.
HIKE TO MADEIRA’S HIGHEST POINT – THE BREATHTAKING PICO RUIVO
At 1861m Pico Ruivo is Madeira ‘s highest peak and a part of the island’s most spectacular hike. There are several ways to reach Ruivo. The easiest is the PR1.2 route from Achada do Teixeira. This fairly easy hike takes around an hour and has you above the clouds almost immediately. The most famous hike is the longer, more challenging PR1 route which links the 3 highest peaks together Pico Arieiro, Pico das Torres and Pico Ruivo. This 23 km route delivers a challenging but breathtaking hike with views you won’t forget in a hurry. If hikings not your jam but you don’t want to miss out on the views you’re in luck. There is a car park a very short walk from the peak of Arieiro which delivers the most incredible sunrise and sunset. Arrive early (before sunrise) if you want to guarantee a space at the top car park and grab a space at the lookout.
SWIM AND FROLIC IN THE PORTO MONIZ NATURAL POOLS
Porto Moniz is one of the more ‘touristy’ places in Madeira but with good reason. The town is on the most western point and looks across to Seixal and the most stunning cliffs plunging into the ocean. Another big draw is the natural pools. Usually I am completely put off by crowded places but I really enjoyed swimming at the pools here. Even during the busiest time of day there is space to find your own rock.
STAY IN A REAL MOUNTAIN SHELTER
This is one of the coolest experiences I had in Madeira. Not many people know you can stay in the mountain shelter at Pico Ruivo, in fact I read blogs specifically telling people you can’t. I’m here to tell you can, and it’s brilliant! Casa Do Abrigo is just 10 minutes down from the peak. It’s extremely basic and there is no electricity but for €18 you’ll get a bed with warm bedding and access to the toilets and showers (cold water only). One thing to note – there is no hot food available, only snacks but there is a bbq area if you want to bring your own to cook. Alternatively if you are on PR1.2 you can fill up at Achada do Teixeira mountain spot cafe before you arrive (about a 1 hour hike from Casa Abrigo).
I recommend booking in advance >> here.
GO WILD CAMPING (LEGALLY!)
This is one of the best ways to get close to nature in Madeira and the island is completely set up for it. Wild camping is illegal in Portugal but Madeira has around 12 designated areas spread across the island where it’s allowed. The only rule is you must apply for a camping permit first. The process is free and very easy – visit here to apply.
EMBARK ON A DRIVING ADVENTURE RIGHT THROUGH THE MIDDLE OF THE ISLAND
Madeira is Made for driving! It is the only way to really experience the island. I spent two weeks navigating my way up and down, round and round the island; my jaw was constantly at my feet. There is a great road between São Vincente and Porto do Sol that takes you from the coast up to almost the highest point and back down through the valley to the other coast. The scenery is breathtaking the entire way and I can confidently say the roads are some of the most scenic I’ve ever driven on. One thing to keep in mind, some roads (especially sections of the ring road) may be closed due to weather/other dangers. Please respect these closures for your own and other’s safety, and for the protection of this beautiful island.
You’ll notice I mention Zest in many of my guides. That’s because I’ve used them for my car hire all over Portugal including Madeira. I highly recommend them for their easy-to-use website and excellent customer service.
STAND ON THE EDGE OF THE WORLD AT PONTA DO PARGO
If you’re looking for a real remote feeling, drive out to Ponta do Pargo and walk the windswept cliffs. This was one of the most remote feeling places I drove and it’s guaranteed to make you feel small. Don’t forget to stop off at Gato Legal for coffee.
GET A FREE CAR WASH AND SHOWER
It may not be Madeira’s best kept secret but Cascata dos Anjos has to be one of the most unique experiences on the island.This dramatic waterfall lands right onto the road making the most exciting car wash of your life; or if you’re up for it, the most exciting shower of your life.
TAKE PART IN A WINE TASTING WITH A VIEW
I’m sure you’ve already heard of and probably even tasted the island’s famous ‘Madeira’ wine but did you know the island also has some stunning table wines and some spectacular places to drink them. I’ve been lucky enough to take part in wine tastings all over Portugal and Quinta do Barbusano winery based in São Vicente is one of, if not, the most beautiful.
TAKE A CABLE CAR RIDE TO A HIDDEN PARADISE
Achadas da Cruz is a remote village in a hidden corner of Madeira. The only access is via boat or a steep cable car. For €5 you can ride down to the secluded beach and village. Walk the stone path and admire the towering cliffs plunging down to the ocean. Natural beauty at its finest.
Booked your stay yet? If not I recommend splitting your time and staying in a few different places. My personal favourites are Madalena do Mar (hidden gem!) and São Vicente. You can use the search box below to find accommodation.
BATHE AT A BLACK SAND BEACH
Madeira isn’t known for sandy beaches. Although there are some jaw dropping beaches to explore there are only two (black) sand beaches on the island, the rest are stoney. These black beauties may not be the typical beach you think of when you think of Portugal but they do offer a unique beach experience. Pack your bathers and a towel and head to Seixal for a day on this black sand beach.
If you’re looking for sandy beaches and more chances to sunbathe it’s worth mentioning Porto Santo (a short ferry or flight away) has some gorgeous white sand beaches to enjoy.
I could go on and on but part of the magic of Madeira is getting out and finding your own experiences so…off you go! Have fun! If (when) you find other cool experiences let me know so I can add them to my next trip itinerary!
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