What to do in Madeira
Far from the coast of Portugal, seemingly adrift in the Atlantic, the lush volcanic island of Madeira acts as an independent hub of activity, and that’s proved by the wealth of options for tourists.
As if specially created for guests, it takes less than two hours to drive from one end of the island to another, meaning everything is in day-trip distance and visitors are only constrained by their interests and stamina.
From gentle levada hikes to knee-trembling rides on cable cars, this tiny island offers more than you’d expect. Here are the Flexicover team's top picks of things to do on your Madeiran adventure.
Take a levada hike
An idiosyncrasy of Madeira is that the south is drier than the north, which made water distribution an issue in the days of yore. Their response was to create canals, or levadas, to send water down to the capital of Funchal and its surrounds. While the water system has since changed, the small canals remain and many of them make easy-to-follow walking routes. Depending on your capabilities it’s possible to take an enjoyable stroll along flat ground or to take on more challenging routes that encounter crumbling waterfalls and steep but rewarding climbs. These walks can be self-guided, but travelling with a local hiker who knows the lay of the land takes the worry out of the day.
Travel in style
One of the many benefits of such a mountainous island is that the transportation system has adapted in smart ways. Notably, there are plenty of cable cars around the country, built mainly to transfer local farmers from the higher planes to the coastal fields. Our favoured ride is the dizzying Teleférico da Rocha do Navio in Santana. Climbing and dropping at a fearful angle, the ride takes farmers and tourists over lush vineyards, exotic banana plantations and the beautiful Rocha do Navio Natural Reserve. While it might sound like a scary fairground ride, the good news is that it takes just five minutes before you’re back on terra firma.
Enjoy the botanical gardens
Another opportunity to take a cable car comes with a visit to the stunning Madeira Botanical Garden, made famous by its incredible views and a diverse range of flowers and plants. Much of its 35,000m² is given over to indigenous botany from Madeira (the park was opened to the public in 1960 to preserve Madeiran plants at risk of extinction). The park hosts 2,000 varieties including orchids, magnolias, azaleas, and cacti, as well as a Natural History Museum exploring the science of nature. Also don’t miss a visit to the ‘Parrot Park’ - a collection of about 300 exotic (and loud) birds. The botanical gardens are open daily and the €5.50 entrance fee is well worth the day out.
Explore the São Vicente caves
When a volcanic eruption changed the shape of Madeira 900 years ago, it wasn’t intended to create an incredible maze of caves – but it did. Now, Grutas de São Vicente is one of the main attractions of the island, especially as they’re the first volcanically-born caves in Portugal. Visitors can explore its eight tunnels that take in naturally-formed lakes, volcanic stalactites and incredible rock patterns worth marvelling over. The caves also have a volcanic museum attached, which sheds light on how they came to be formed, as well as the volcanic history of the island.
Every foodie makes a beeline for the farmers’ markets in a new city, and Funchal’s Mercado dos Lavradores is definitely one to visit. The two-floor covered market is host to a wonderment of fruits, vegetables, groceries, freshly-caught fish and even flowers and knick-knacks for the home. Keep an eye out for the more unusual offerings, like the custard apple: a tasty fruit that’s like a mix between an apple, pineapple and paw paw.
Wherever you plan to head to this year it’s good to know that Flexicover Travel Insuranceis committed to providing you with the highest level of cover to ensure you are safe and secure 24 hours a day when away.