I was aching to travel again and since I loved my seven days in Portugal, I was keen to explore more especially the surrounding islands, so I decided to go for five days in Madeira this time.
Why visit Madeira?
Madeira is a beautiful little volcanic island. It is great for outdoor activities with black beaches all around. It is full of view points, walking trails and tropical gardens. Each side of the island is known for something different you can dedicate a day to each side to see every part of the Island if you like. I managed to see the West side and the central part. I attempted to see the East part, but the rain had other plans. The island gets really foggy when there is rain as well, which means that you can't see much. Regardless of the unfortunate weather conditions, I still enjoyed the natural beauty of the Island.
Going to Madeira in November sounded like a good idea when I checked weather websites. According to them, it hardly rains in Madeira in November. Sadly, it rained A LOT. It turns out that their rainy season starts from the last two weeks of November and lasts until February. April is also a rainy month there. It gets really crowded during the summer from June to August.
Recommend months to visit Madeira according to its locals: May and October
Nine amazing things to do in Madeira
#1 Street art around the old town of Funchal
The old part of Funchal was getting neglected, so the artists took part in an initiative to make that part interesting and worth the investment. Artists painted on the old doors and walls. In fact, if you are an artist and interested in adding a little charm to the city, you can contact the city hall of Funchal to get a wall! It was really cool just walking around and seeing the art there.
#2 Cable Cars up to Monte and Tropical Garden
You can get the cable cars from the old city in Funchal to go up to Monte, a little village with a church and two major gardens. It costs £11 each way. If you are not keen on heights, you can get the bus up there instead. Right outside of the cable cars exit is the Tropical garden and Palace museum. I would give this a minimum of two hours. You can even spend the whole day in the two gardens, but I wanted to fit as much as possible in my day, so I only spent the morning there. The garden is made with many tropical trees and flowers as the name suggests. There is also an Oriental garden that is Chinese and Japanese inspired. There is a museum inside for sculptures and gems in there. The display is nice, but you can skip it for more garden time.
When you get out, you can get the popular touristy tobagan carts to the bottom of the road. I found them to be touristy and slightly pointless. When I read about them online, I was tempted, but when I saw them I decided against it. It.s 25 euros for one, 30 of two and 45 for three for 2km then you have to either get a taxi or the bus to get back to Funchal. I just walked for 4 minutes from the garden and waited for the public bus.
#3 Ribera Brava
This beach is relatively closer to the capital and has a rocky black beach. There is a facility with two pools just before the beach as well. It was completely empty in November because it was half raining and the water was super cold, but it gets really full in the summer.
#4 Natural Volcanic Pools - Porto Moniz
Those natural pools are warmer than the usual ocean water and could reach to 24 degrees in the summer. You can access them from the paid entrance that includes showers, lockers and bathrooms or the free entrance that has none of the facilities. The entrance is 1.50 euro for adults or 1 euro for students. Just before I went for a dip, it started raining so, I didn't go in sadly.
#5 Seixal Beach
This is a stunning beach with soft black sand. I liked it the most from the beaches we got to see. I was told that during the summer, that beach is completely filled with people and I can see why! There are few natural sea water pools there as well. That were emptier than the previous ones for some reason.
#6 Fresh produce market
This is the main market in Madeira and it offers a huge range of fruit, vegetables, flowers and fish. If you want to see all the possible fish, make sure you go really early before the fish is sold out. Everything looks really pretty there and it's so photogenic.
Insider tip for the market:
Be aware of the prices there. They don't reflect the real price of the fruit. It might b better to get your fruit from street vendors instead.
You will be offered to sample the fruit, but be aware that some vendors might add sugar to those samples.
#7 Levada walks in Madeira
Levada means a water channel and they were dug out by farmers back in the day. They are now used as a walking trail. They are very popular. There are a number of them all over the Island. You can either go on your own following a route mentioned in the Madeira walks book (below), or you can get a tour guide that will walk with you there. It might be a good idea to go for this option just in case because it could get a little dangerous. I was planning to do the 25 waterfalls Levada walk, but I couldn't because of the very rainy and foggy November weather. It is also worth mentioning that many of the tourists companies have specific Levada walks for each day of the week, so do check when you are planning your trip.
#8 Nuns Valley in Madeira
This was offered as a half day trip and it sounded really tempting. It was really interesting to see the valley surrounded by the majestic mountains. We stopped for two view points on the way there, which was nice, but you can get similar views from a lot of the view points. When we arrived to the Nun's valley, we stayed there for half an hour and were taken to a cafe that offered chestnut flavoured desserts that weren't impressive. That cafe was a complete tourist trap. I went with DG tours and the lady who drove us was nice, but it was really boring spending all that time on a mini bus.
#9 Cabo Girão View point
Thankfully we went before the paid entrances has started. It is getting built and soon there will be a charge to go in. It was a fun half day. The view point is popular because of the glass floor on top of the ocean. It was nice to see and take photos there. We had lunch in the close by cafe that is named after the view point, Cabo Girão Restaurant. I had a yummy large grilled fish. This spot is good for meat eaters too because they serve them on skewers.
Hotels in Madeira
I would advice that you search what you want to do before you head there and you can decide where to stay based on that. I wasn't sure what to do, so I picked a very central location near the old town of Funchal in Residencial Mariazinha by Petit Hotels. The food choices around it were a little touristy, but the location was great in terms of seeing a lot and most tour pick up points are walkable from there.
Look for other hotel options in Madeira:
Are Jeep tours worth it in Madeira?
I think they are a great way to see the island with a small group. If the weather is good, Make sure you request an open Jeep, especially if you want to do some filming along the way. The problem with these tours is the seating and the timed periods.
The person who sits in the front has the most room, but the back seat is too tight for three and the two back seats are too squashed. The timed period in each place you visit can be really short. The tour is a good way to see the spots you want to come visit later, but not to actually fully explore the place.
Insider Madeira tips:
People love it when you make an effort to say a few words in Portuguese. All I said was thank you (obrigada) and it made everyone SMILE! I loved it.
The banana and fish combination is not really traditional. I spoke to a few locals who denied that dish is traditional and admitted that they never tried it.
How much money is needed for five days in Madeira?
Return Flight from London Stansted to Madeira: £70
Hotel for four nights: £162 (shared the room with a friend so I paid half of that)
A full day Jeep tour to West of the Island 45 euros each
Cable Cars 11 euros each way, so took the bus for 2 euros on the way back
Tropical garden entrance 12.50 euros with no student discount available
A half day mini bus tour to Nun's Valley 19 euros each
Food: 15 euros maximum for dinner and light sandwiches for lunch like 5 euros.
What are the Public Transports like in Madeira?
During the trip, I got on a few public buses. The routes were suggested by google maps and were accurate. Each bus ticket is 1.95, but you can get a bus card to scan depending on the location and the length of your stay. I only used the bus twice in five days, so two on/off tickets worked well for me. The further you go from the capital, the longer you have to wait for the buses. Some only come once or twice an hour.
Is it worth renting a car in Madeira?
Renting a car in the island is relatively cheap. The petrol prices are not too bad either, but you have to be aware that their roads can be very steep and extremely narrow. Not to mention that some off roads can be very dangerous.
Are there Muslims in Madeira?
According to a quick Google search there are about 1000 of them, and according to the tour guide, 25 Syrian refuges came to stay there as well until they wanted to go back home. People there were very friendly with me and I was treated well.
Halal food in Madeira:
There was one halal takeaway restaurant, but I didn't try it. The people of the island eat a lot of meat. Meat skewers are very popular in restaurants. Thankfully, many restaurants offer lots of sea food choices. Their popular local fish is black scabbard fish.
You can also find tuna, salmon and cod. There are many places offering mussels, octopus and other sea creatures that I don't eat. Their prawns are overpriced. Some cafes, offer a mix seafood sandwich, but since I only the fish mentioned above I did not try it.
A good meal of a sufficient main and a drink should not be more than 15 euros. If it is more then you are getting an over priced meal. I don't think you can survive as a vegan in Madeira unless you are happy with having potatoes, salad and garlic bread.
Bakeries have a great selection of pastries, but most of the savoury options are made with bacon, ham, chorizo or chicken. You can however ask for bread, butter and cheese if you would like a very cheap meal (0.80).
I really liked the cakes are the sweet pastries there. I went to Confeitaria and was very impressed with their desserts. The cakes, biscuits and the sandwiches were all to die for! The pastel de nata there wasn't as good as Lisbon, so just try the other desserts they have there.