Journey to Madeira island and landing in Funchal airport
Madeira, a beautiful little Portuguese island situated in the Atlantic Ocean in a subtropical zone, between Portugal and the Canary Islands. Madeira Island is often referred to as the “Eternal Spring Island” due to its unique climate. As every spring, we decided to go for adventure and travel photography, and Madeira came to us as a clear choice. Even before the arrival, we hoped the landing would go smoothly and on the first try.
On the first day the weather was not very good for us. In addition, landing at the airport itself is technically challenging, and not every pilot is entitled to land at an airport named after the famous football player Christiano Ronaldo.
A planned hiking trail
We divided the seven-day stay into two parts. We set aside for the first four days to cross the mountain range. After it we wanted to spend the last three days in Funchal. We planned to start hike across the mountain range from the northwest, from Porto Moniz. From Porto Moniz continue through the beautiful green mountain landscape, often accompanied by levadas, all the way to the capital.
Moving from Funchal to Porto Moniz
Immediately after landing we moved to the capital city of Funchal. Here we bought a gas cartridge and moved by local transport to Porto Moniz. Traveling by local bus was an experience for us. The bus itself was atypical, and it looked like a wreck. On the other hand, we experienced the local atmosphere somewhat differently 😊
The ride lasted over an hour, but it was worth it! Inland route will show you Madeira in full beauty! The inland is very mountainous and the locals are mainly engaged in wine and banana growing.
TIP: Locals divide roads into two “old” and “new” types. In the case of old roads it is mainly the road over the mountain range with a lot of serpentines. New roads are mainly built using tunnels, which you will find there a lot. If you have a choice, choose “old” one. Don’t rush and enjoy the beautiful views.
Levadas, mountains, forests and landscape photography
The next day we set out from Porto Moniz to Rabaçal. From Porto Moniz we moved along the cliffs to the village of Ribeira de Janela. You will find there a beach with perfect scenery on rocky cliffs and the ocean. Here you can take beautiful landscape photography in conjunction with the Atlantic Ocean.
TIP: It blows a lot, so it is desirable to have a tripod during the landscape and oceanscape photography. What you must have are cleaning kit, incl. a cloth for wiping water drops.
From the village of Ribeira de Janela to Rabaçal Camp, several beautiful hiking trails Levada dos Cedros, Vereda do Fanal, Levada da Rocha Vermelha, pass through the inland mountain forests. These trails stretch through the local subtropical flora, where you literally feel like in the jungle. Green surrounds you all around. In the rainy season, look forward to overfilled levades, flooded sidewalks and countless smaller and larger waterfalls. And if you are not in the cloud all the time, photography will definitely entertain you!
Change of plan
The weather was deteriorating just before Rabaçal. There was no mood for landscape photography at all. It started to rain, the wind was blowing and the temperature dropped to 3 °C. The steep ground paths were transformed into slides, and we were forced to find another way. The weather did not get better, so we wandered along the road for another 2 hours and looking for hitchhike. There are plenty of experiences and it is not easy to describe.
Finally, we arrived at a closed hotel with an open restaurant 😊. Here we met the locals and agreed to take us to the city. After a relatively short conversation and a few glasses of traditional drink Poncha, they offered us to sleep over at their home. Believe me, that after 11 hours of going uphill and downhill, we were grateful for this. We were very lucky!
The third day in Madeira
The weather in the mountains, but also in Madeira in general, could not be predicted. The next day, the dense gray clouds, which were spinning around the mountains buried our plan. That is why we have decided to change our whole travel concept. We have teamed up with other Czech tourists, whom we met at the airport and together we made day trips. In the next section I will describe our travel in detail, so let’s go!
Rabaçal campsite and waterfalls 25 Fontes
Although we did not come here because of bad weather, we arrived here a few days later. The area around the Rabaçal campsite is located in the valley and is known for its large number of waterfalls and levadas. There is a reserved area for camping in the tents (officially you need to ask for permission more info here) and at the same time the campsite offers some rooms in small hotel with a café.
The most famous levada is the Levada des 25 Fontes, where a large waterfall with a lake awaits you at the end of the Levada. To make a photo of a waterfall without a single person is really a tough nut to crack!
An even larger waterfall with a lake and a less frequented place is Lake Lagoa de Vento. Here goes the hiking trail Vereda da Lagoa to Vento. Taking pictures of such large objects without wide-angle lenses is relatively difficult. In addition, you constantly fight with splashing water drops on the lens.
Ponta de São Lourenço Peninsula
Desolate, dry and rocky peninsula Ponta de São Lourenço lies on the eastern part of Madeira. It is undoubtedly the driest area of Madeira. The one-day trip with plenty of beautiful views will impress you! Just hold your hats and cameras, the wind is blowing a bit! I really think it is one of the most interesting and most photogenic locations in Madeira, both for excursion and photography.
Hiking trail Pico de Arieiro – Pico Ruivo
One-day hiking trail from Pico de Arieiro to Pico Ruivo begins at the Pico de Arieiro car parking and continues through the beautiful mountain ridge to the highest peak of Madeira. We, lovers of the mountains, felt here like in the “seventh heaven”. We have experienced the mountain landscape in all ways. From one side, the mountains held clouds that attacked the mountains from the ocean side. In the other side, there was peace and quiet. I took pictures of everything and everywhere. The variability of weather and the magic of inversion played into the hands. I must note that this is definitely one of the most interesting places I have ever visited!
Cristo Rei and Cabo Girão Outlooks
In general, the coast of Madeira island is very ragged and rocky. You will find there a large number of different cliffs and beautiful outlooks. One of the most famous are the Cristo Rei and Cabo Girão outlooks. On the east of Funchal, there is a Cristo Rei outlook. Here you will find a statue of Christ to protect fishermen. The statue is illuminated at night and has a similar function as lighthouse that serves for better orientation.
Cabo Girão is another well-known outlook. It is located on west side of Funchal. For some people, the outlook with glass floor, could be an adrenaline experience. From the outlook is offers a beautiful view throughout Funchal including the mountain landscape in the background.
Although a lot of travel guides and articles promote these places a lot, compared to what Madeira has to offer, I think this is the poorest experience. However, if you drive around, stop here and make your own opinion 😉
In the relatively quiet town of Calheta there is a museum and a well-known rum factory. There is a lot of sugar cane on Madeira, which is harvested in the spring and then is being processed. Several types of rum are produced from sugar cane, which you can taste or buy inside the factory. You can also taste traditional sweets such as honey cake, chocolate or local biscuits. I highly recommend to taste some of it!
If you get drunk and do not want to do anything, you can visit one of the few sandy beaches in Madeira with a beautiful view of the rocky landscape.
Porto Moniz is known for its natural volcanic swimming pools. Some part of these pools is specially adapted for more comfortable swimming. During the day, expect a larger number of tourists coming here from all over the island. Landscape and architecture photography is the best here in the afternoon, thanks to illuminating the entire area by sun.
Personally, I was more impressed by the view of Porto Moniz and its surroundings from the local outlook. Here you can see a unique view combining local architecture with the natural beauty of this island. A wide-angle lens will definitely be useful for taking a photo, and if you do not have one, do not be afraid to take pictures in panorama mode.
I took some interesting photos of Porto Moniz, and I think this place will offer a lot of possibilities for making travel photography. So it does not matter whether you focus on architecture photography, streetphoto or landscape.
Quite big city, built on a variety of mountainous terrain, at first glance it seem ordinary. Lovers of monuments will probably disappoint, from the architectural point of view you will not find many interesting buildings in Funchal. On the other hand, narrow streets and small houses have their charm.
Jardim Botanico da Madeira Botanical Garden
In addition to walking through the city center or the main promenade along the ocean coast, Jardim Botanico da Madeira is definitely worth visiting. Do not connect the Funchal Botanical Garden with the Greenhouse! In the botanical garden you will see local ornamental plants, trees and crops that are characteristic not only in Madeira but also elsewhere in the subtropical and tropical climate. Photographers with a focus on floristry and macro photography enjoy taking photography the most.
Central market in Funchal
Do you want something local? On the central market you will find the most amazing, tropical and subtropical fruits of various shapes under one roof. Furthermore, you will find spices, fish, vegetables, cork products and others. Fruit prices are very high in the central market in Funchal. Therefore, I recommend to first check out the nearby fruit shops or supermarkets.
Street art in Santa Maria street
Other attractions we have randomly found is the Santa Maria street. The street is located in the old town, and along the whole street you can find restaurants, bars, cafes and souvenir shops. Calm down, this is not about promoting local gastronomy, but about the street themselves. The street with a character and a special atmosphere will brighten the eyes of all street art and street photography lovers.
A summary of the trip and photography in Madeira
Madeira, the island of “eternal spring”, is the perfect place for an active holiday. Anyone who likes to discover new places, likes to roam in nature and take love to take photo of all kind, is a good choice to travel to Madeira Island. Madeira is a large botanical garden. Photographers with a focus on landscape and nature photography and, in some part on streetphoto, will certainly not be disappointed.
May be useful
Flight to Madeira
Direct flights from Prague to Madeira can be purchased from about 9 thousand CZK. A cheaper option may be purchasing flights with a transfer.
Communication on Madeira
Is an advantage to speak Portuguese, but you can speak English in Madeira.
Accommodation in Madeira
Local transport in Madeira
There are yellow buses in Funchal, operated in the city. The colour of intercity bus lines are purple-white. In case of intercity trips, it is necessary to buy a ticket in the Rodoeste stand (local carrier – map here, more information can be found on the official website of the carrier). The price of the ticket is up to 10 EUR, depending on the destination.
You can get to/from the airport by local bus line or by Aerobus. The price of a one-way ticket is up to 5 Eur.
Local meals and drinks
Prices of meals in restaurants are started from EUR 8, depending on the location and type of food. Market goods prices are similar to ours in Czech Republic. You can taste the traditional Madeira wine (similar to Port wine) and the traditional Poncha drink. Based on information from locals, you must consume Poncha fresh. So never buy Poncha packaged in a bottle, and certainly not as a gift to your friends! Reportedly the best Poncha is located in Formiga bar. From our own experience we can confirm that it was the best Poncha we tasted in Madeira.
Camping and camping
In general, camping in the wild is prohibited in Madeira. There are several campsites, but you need to apply for official permission. More information about individual campsites and online application is available on this site.
Purchase of gas cartridge in Funchal
Screw gas cartridges are available for purchase in outdoor shop here. Price is started from 15 EUR.
The best season for exploring Madeira
Winter is generally quite rainy, so the ideal time for hiking is the end of spring. During the spring there should be less rainfall and at the same time enough water in the levadas and waterfalls. In the autumn in general is a dry season.