When we decided on Madeira as our destination to spend the bank holiday weekend, we honestly gave it very little thought. Flights were cheap so I pushed Maggie to make an impulsive decision and more or less wing it. As our time to leave for Madeira drew near, we got more and more excited as we learned more about Madeira’s inherent beauty. A quick Google search will show you insane mountain tops, sheer cliffs, banana plantations galore, crystal blue waters and waterfalls. We set our sights on the Portuguese island and even though we built up a lot of expectations, we were not let down in the slightest.
Typically, expectations are the mother of all frustration. Let me assure you, there is nothing frustrating about Madeira. The food and drink are cheap and delicious, the weather was perfect and the activities were endless. There is so much left to do on the island—it’s hard to see it all in 3 days. What’s even crazier to me is the fact that most Brits associate Madeira as the “pensioners’ island.” With so much activity abound, I found it hilarious that it’s somehow synonymous with old folks.
As we descended upon Madeira, we quickly spotted a part of the island that looked too good to ignore. Right after hiring our rental car, we set off to explore what we witnessed from the sky—about a 30-minute drive from the airport. The walk had a “Path of the Gods” vibe (Amalfi) mixed with hints of Scotland and Mars. The volcanic rocks jetting out of the water stand like stoic warriors transported from another dimension. I felt like, at any second, I would see Danaeryus’ dragons come howling out of the clouds and descend upon us like we were white walkers at Kings Landing.
The top 3 activities we did were:
Cable car to wicker toboggan ride. Where else in the world can you bomb down the hills of a city with “escorts” guiding you so that you avoid a fatal demise via car splatter? CNN has listed this toboggan ride as one of the world’s top 7 commutes and it’s no surprise whatsoever.
Dolphin/Whale Watching. The waters off Madeira play host to some of the best channels for dolphin and whale migration in the world. The outfit we chose to go with has a 99% success rate of spotting whales or dolphins. We saw both! Bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales were seen during our trip and the guide took us for an amusement-style ride in the rib boat to close it out. Seeing the island from the water gave us such an appreciation of just how uninhabitable the island would be if it weren’t for modern technology. An elaborate system of tunnels helps you navigate your way around the island. The way the houses are carved into the volcanic terrain is reminiscent of the islands of Greece but instead of seeing white and blue homes, you see Hermes-orange terra cotta roofs.
Hiking Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo. This was a bum burner—we burned 1,886 calories on this 4.5-hour hike. The 8.6-mile journey was worth it but it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. If you’re scared of heights, feel free to pass this up. Although most sections of the walk are safe-guarded with cables for guidance, there are some sections where one slipup could easily lead to a steep and painful death. This hike is a photographer’s dream as you’re constantly surrounded with iridescent and endless beauty.
If we had more time, we would have liked to have seen the waterfalls hidden deep in the jungle-like forests on a levada walk, the skywalk with a glass floor dangling over the ocean at Cabo Girao, and the north side of the island which boasts some of the best surf in Europe.
If you need a first-class restaurant for dinner, make your way over to Armazem do Sal which is jaw-droppingly delicious.
The island has so much character, whether it’s the Coral lager beer, the Poncha drink (Madeira’s signature cocktail), or the Bolo do caco (Madeiran garlic bread), you’ll be sure to have the trip of a lifetime taking it all in. The people are super friendly and will undoubtedly welcome you with open arms. Exceeding expectations, I’m very much looking forward to going back again!