In march we travelled to this fascinating island and were accordingly – fascinated.
The first thing while landing, the landscape reminds of a piece of aluminum foil when it gets crumpled, that’s how up and down it is. I mean, anyone can see photos on the internet and search through google maps, but in no world can one ever imagine that, untill actually there. Madeira is purely of volcanic origin, so the base is basalt rock, tuff on some places, thus all the rocks are colored brown to black (but they’re actually not that visible, as every square cm is covered with greenery).
I mentioned landing – if you haven’t been yet and are planning on going, just a hearty advice – do not watch the videos of planes landing on Madeira. Okay?
It’s a small island, so a week is enough to see everything one wants to see and at least drive through just about all the larger towns and villages. I’ll mostly let the photos do the talking and make comments along with them. I recommend seeing all the listed places, unless stated otherwise. As a biologist, I was mostly concentrated on geology, flora and fauna, as you will see in the photos, not so much on history and culture. But not at all saying these aspects are not interesting, because they are!
A walk through the capital – Funchal.
All the pavements are paved with beautiful tiles of black and white with different patterns on every pavement. It’s a part of the Portuguese culture and history. Very enjoyable art with every step – literally.
Santa Catarina park, Funchal.
Cristóvão Colombo (Christopher Columbus) ship – replica of the Santa María.
Always lively and colorful marketplace in Funchal.
A gondola takes you to Monte above Funchal, quite scenic, where you can visit the botanical gardens.
From sunny coastal area to cloudy Monte.
Banana plantations; a resident told us they eat more bananas than monkeys. 🙂
The famous sled. We didn’t try it as it seems a bit hazardous and more so, we just weren’t into it. Though the men who run and manage these sleds are very experienced, so I dare say there’s no need to fear. People say it’s quite enjoyable.
Cycas sp. in Monte palace gardens; they hold 70 species of Cycads of 306 described species.
Monte palace gardens. Like paradise.
View from our hotel room. Not bad at all! Ilhas desertas in the distance, a natural park, home to various birds, invertebrates, which include some indigenous species and also to Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus). No people allowed, except to a couple of marine biologists a few times a year. Admirable. Would love to have a chance to visit as a researcher.
Strelitzia reginae, a beautiful flower that can be seen everywhere across the island, not indigenous though, but typical.
Pico do Areiro, the third highest mountain on Madeira islands, in fog. It’s the only mountain accessible by car, so expect a number of tourists. If you’re into hiking, I recommend hiking to one of the other peaks. Make sure to check the weather first, as you can see. 🙂
Balcões, a short, easy, scenic and beautiful levada walk. With an amazing view at the end.
Fringilla coelebs maderensis, male, indigenous.
Santana houses represent the island’s early history, culture and the way of living. I would only recommend this if you have a day to spare, otherwise rather go see a(nother) levada or go whale watching. The reason is, while Santana is a pretty village, there’s nothing else to see here. Aparat from the view, if you’re lucky with the weather.
Rum distillery in a beautiful bay of Porto da Cruz. The tour includes a degustation in case you were wondering. 😉
The far east. Originally this part (along with the whole island) was overgrown with forests (laurisilva), which after being burned down by the first newcomers, never recovered because of the constant winds and, consequently, strong erosion. It remains a dry and very windy landscape. Interesting to see nonetheless, it’s like a Martian or lunar landscape. It’s also interesting to see from the botanical point of view, as there are some plants that don’t grow on the other parts of the island.
The whole island does not have enough flat surfaces, even for a football field (in words of a resident, yet they managed that perfectly ;)), how to place an airport there then? Answer: the whole thing is on columns… Ilhas desertas in the distance.
Cabo Girao, a cliff 560 m above sea level. Be there before 9 am because it is a specific tourst point. Definately a place to experience, a must see.
Porto Moniz, the famous lava pools. Beautiful, another must see!
Lacertas sunbathing. Can you spot them?
Sun here (Porto Moniz), rain there (Sao Vicente). Pretty much the usual weather, specially on the northern side of the island.
Opuntia sp. garden.
Camara de Lobos. Named after Lobo de mar, which is a Portugese name for Mediterranean monk seal. These seals used to dwell on the beach here but were driven away (to Ilhas desertas) by the first settlers.
Visiting the village of Curral das freiras is quite time consuming. Also it’s really nothing special apart from being a hardly accessible village among high hills. I understand why the nuns would live there but what I don’t get is how people still live there. It’s fascinating.
Unless you really like flowers, you can leave out the Palheiro gardens. They’re nice, but that’s all. Not nearly as fascinating as the Monte Palace gardens. This is, of course, a very personal opinion, some like these gardens more than the previously mentioned. Depends on what you’re into.
Erithacus rubecula in Palheiro gardens.
Does anyone want a plant of Mostera deliciosa? Grows like weed on Madeira! Not indigenous.
Semprevivum sp. I think? Please, correct me if I am mistaken.
Danaus plexippus, male, in Funchal.
Lacerta dugesii, indigenous.
Ceiba petandra or Kapok, also named cotton tree because of its seeds that have fibres which help them spread. They look like fluffy balls of cotton. Not indigenous though, but I was very fascinated by them (and their fluffy seeds :)). They can also be quite dangerous, when these seeds get released from the fruit (which at first sight looks similar to avocado – by color and size). At that time the thick seed pods fall to the floor – and potentially on someone’s head – it nearly missed us once, quite an interesting experience. When they fall, the pods crack open and release the seeds. Try and feel them, they’re so fluffy!
A word about the weather – as a friend said: it is predictable in its unpredictability. It is also said that on Madeira you are either with your head in the sun and feet in the fog or the other way around. That’s how it pretty much always is. The climate is perfect though, spring throughout the whole year, never too hot, hardly too cold, but always at least a bit windy.
When is the best time to visit? Climate wise you’re good anytime, crowd wise… the main season is from april till about october, so I wouldn’t recommend going then if you mind the crowds. The prices at that time go up as well. Same goes for december. So the best time to go is in november and then from january to march. That’s what a frequent visitor said, he also works as a tour guide there and is quite the expert so I guess we can trust his words.
Overall we had a lovely trip, couldn’t have imagined it any better. Madeira is beautiful, utterly fascinating and I definately recommed visiting!
If you have any questions, you’re wellcome to meet me in the comments!
To all the wanderers, BSL