Few places in the world have the variety of scenery and activities as Madeira Island. Funchal, its capital, is the perfect place to stay and tour the island, as most tour companies offer tours to visit the most interesting areas.
If you still haven't decided what to do and see in Madeira, here are some of the best tours and walks you can do to explore the island and its surroundings from Funchal.
1. Whale and dolphin watching tours
Madeira Island is a privileged place for dolphin and whale watching. This is because not only do many of them live here, but throughout the year it receives migrations of species from all over the world.
This allows this type of activity to observe these marine animals can be done during the 4 seasons.
If you visit Madeira, this is one of the best tours you can choose. Most tour companies offer boat, catamaran, sailboat or yacht tours. This wide variety is very interesting, as it adapts to any budget.
Keep in mind that none of them guarantee dolphin or whale watching, as they are wild animals in their natural habitat. But some companies offer an "insurance", which consists of an extra free ride if you do not get to see any species.
Anyway, although whale watching can be difficult, there are plenty of dolphin species throughout the year that you will be able to see easily. In addition, the drivers of the boats usually communicate where they have sighted a species, which makes the tour a success.
The prices of this type of tours vary according to the amenities, services and activities you choose. The good thing about these tours is that they offer parallel activities such as diving, snorkeling, trips to the islands of the archipelago, as well as swimming with dolphins or sea turtles. Funchal is a perfect place to dive in Madeira because of its crystal clear and warm waters.
The tours usually have a duration of 2 to 3 hours, so you should take into account the services offered to fit your comfort.
All tours can be compared and booked online, but I recommend not to book them for the same day you arrive to the island, as Madeira is famous for having strong winds and often some flights are delayed or postponed.
Advantages of the catamaran
- Larger boat = More freedom: While the boat captain will guide the boat so you can watch the show from all angles, having ample mobility can be an advantage.
- Seating comfort: Tours usually last between 2 to 3 hours, and if you tend to suffer from back pain, more lumbar comfort can be helpful.
- Restrooms: Catamarans have restrooms on board, something that on extended tours is a fundamental advantage.
- Accessibility and space: Another point in favor of the catamaran is the accessibility and space for everyone to enjoy the sightseeing. Some tours also offer refreshments and snacks.
- Price: The price of the tours is usually lower on catamarans, since they have a larger capacity than a boat. It is important to take into account that sometimes the amount of people makes us have to wait to take a picture.
Advantages of the boat
- Speed: The speedboat offers something that the catamaran does not, and that is speed. Speedboats can easily visit several places, thus increasing the probability of seeing cetaceans. Many people enjoy the speed and the waves in this type of boats.
- Smaller size: Another favorable point of the motorboat has to do with its size. By having a shallower draft, it allows the boat to easily access caves or beaches.
- Duration: 2 and a half to 3 hours
- Route: From Marina do Funchal along the coast to Cabo Girão.
- Approximate price: From 25 euros
2. 4x4 Jeep Tours
Madeira has a lot of tours that go around the island while admiring its beautiful scenery. If you decide not to rent a vehicle, or the vehicle you rented does not have 4-wheel drive, I recommend you choose one of the many 4X4 Jeep tours and safaris from Funchal.
Most of these tours offer different routes to tour the island from all points. The shortest tours last between 4 and 5 hours, while the full day tours usually cover between 8 and 10 hours.
Madeira Island has great cliffs, mountains, vineyards, forests and charming villages to visit. By doing it with a 4x4 you will not only have the experience and knowledge of the guides, but you will also be able to get into all types of terrain, regardless of the weather.
If you decide to go on a trip among many people or you manage to agree with other tourists, some tours offer VIP tours where you choose what you want to see of the island. Although it is not the cheapest option and availability may be reduced, it is an excellent option if you want to see many things on the island that are not linked to the tour.
- Duration: 7 or 8 hours
- Departure time: 10:30 am
- Route: Departure from Funchal. There are excursions that take you through Ribeira Brava, Porto Moniz, Miradouro do Veu da Noiva and other spectacular places.
- Approximate price: From 44€.
3. Tour to the lava pools of Porto Moniz
One of the most requested tours to do on the island corresponds to the lava pools of Porto Moniz, which are located in the northwest of Madeira.
One of the advantages of this tour is that you will have to cross the entire island, so many tours decide to include other tourist spots along the way.
To cross it, some tours go into the island on roads with little traffic, where the main protagonist is the jeep. On this tour you will see how any obstacle in the terrain is part of the entertainment while enjoying what **Madeira'**s nature has to offer.
The center of Madeira Island is very wooded, in fact the name of the island derives from the word Madera, thanks to the abundant resource offered by the Laurissilva forest.
On the way some tours take the opportunity to visit the highest points of the island where you can see incredible panoramic views. Pico Ruivo, Pico do Areeiro or Pico das Torres, are the most interesting sites that you can witness on the way.
The lava pools of Porto Moniz are the perfect place to rest after the trip, as you can dive into its warm waters.
When you arrive at Porto Moniz, you will see two types of pools: the natural pools, which overlook the Ilehu Mole, an islet in front of Porto Moniz, and the western pools, which are natural pools that have been modified for the comfort of tourists.
Both are pools formed from volcanic lava and molded by the waves of the Atlantic Ocean over hundreds of years. The difference is that the ones in front of Ilehu Mole can be a bit dangerous because the black basalt rocks are sharp and slippery. Slipping or tripping could mean a potential risk.
I recommend you visit these pools to take pictures and approach with caution, and head to the Natural Pools of Porto Moriz.
Useful facts about the pools
about the pools
- Opening hours every day from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm
- Address Rotunda Das Piscinas and Rua Dos Emigrantes
- The place has: Parking, changing rooms, place to store personal belongings, bar(Open only in summer) and umbrella rental.
4. Christopher Columbus' Caravel
If you were interested in the whale watching tour, you will love this one. What better way to tour Madeira Island than with a recreation of the Columbus' caravels?
This tour offers an incredible experience for young and old, as they can embark on an adventure on a replica of the Santa Maria, admiring the beautiful landscapes of Madeira Island. This tour is one of the best activities to do with children on Madeira Island, since in addition to the ride, there are guides who offer a historical tour of the ship.
This boat is an exact replica of the ship with which Columbus arrived in America. Its crew is disguised as real pirates. They even have a friendly parrot!
An extra attraction of this tour is that it is very common to see dolphins, and if you are lucky, whales. In addition, the boat has a wine cellar on board, where adults can taste local wines.
The boat departs from the Marina do Funchal, which is less than 1 kilometer from the historic center. I recommend that you walk there, as it will be a perfect opportunity to border and contemplate the beautiful bay of the city.
Also, if you have a car, remember that it is quite difficult to find parking in this area, so you will probably have to leave it in a paid parking lot.
- Duration: 3 hours
- Departure time: 10.30 am
- Address: Marina do Funchal, 9000-055
- Approximate price: Adults 35€ and children between 3 and 12 years old: 17€.
5. Excursion to the Valley of the Nuns
Also called "Valley of the Freiras" is one of the most beautiful places in Portugal. It is a small village that bears its name after the nuns of the parish of Funchal decided to enter the island after a pirate attack in 1566.
This village, as its name suggests, is located deep in the valley, and besides being very picturesque, retains many historic buildings since its founding. In addition, the tours that make this journey often include tasting of cherry and chestnut liqueur, traditional drink of Freiras.
For a long time this town was quite isolated due to the inaccessibility of its geographical environment, but thanks to the construction of the asphalt road now presents no difficulty to reach.
If you happen to be on the island in late October or early November you should not miss the annual event of the "Chestnut Festival", which is celebrated with traditional dances, local music and lots of wine.
If you are not lucky enough to visit on this date, do not worry, as you can taste the local chestnuts in soups, cakes, liqueurs and puddings made by the locals.
The best place to appreciate the beauty of this valley are the viewpoints of Eira do Serrado and Paredao.
of the tour
- Duration: 3 hours and 30 min approximately
- What's included: Pick up and return to Funchal, professional guide, lunch and tour of Eira do Serrado, Valley of the Nuns and the fishing village Camara De Lobos.
- Approximate price: From 22€.
6. Madeira Kayak Tour
Madeira offers many options to enjoy a kayak tour. Its crystal clear waters, the temperature of the water and the beautiful scenery from the sea are some of the reasons why I recommend this activity.
Some tour companies offer kayaking tours in Punta de San Lorenzo, one of the most popular tourist sites on the island.
Although Punta San Lorenzo is located in the northeast of the island, many tours depart from Funchal to do it, including most of the time picking you up from where you are staying.
This is not only quite comfortable, but also allows you to enjoy the views that the road between Canical and Funchal offers.
The tour of Punta San Lorenzo lasts approximately 2 hours and you can paddle your own kayak following the instructions of the guide. If you have never paddled before, before embarking you will be taught the basics and do a practice paddle.
During the kayak tour you will visit the cliffs of San Lorenzo, the hidden coves of Abra Bay and sea caves.
of the tour
- Duration: 2 hours
- What's included: Round trip boat transfers, snacks, life jackets and kayak guide.
- Approximate price: From 35 euros
7. Desert Islands Tour
Although some tours offer this tour along with whale watching, not all of them include it due to scheduling issues of each tour. I recommend that you consider this option to schedule it in your trip.
You will find companies that offer this tour by schooner, while you go into the Atlantic. The Desertas Islands are composed of 3 islands uninhabited by humans, but full of subtropical marine fauna and flora.
This tour offers something that others do not, which is to see Madeira from the distance offered by the Atlantic Ocean. In addition, you can disembark at Deserta Grande to walk among millenary volcanic formations that are sharpened by the Atlantic winds.
Also, if you are lucky, you will get to observe its seabird sanctuary and the friendly monk seals.
Some tours offer local food during the transfer and many offer the option of snorkeling. It is important to know that many activities such as snorkeling, diving or swimming with dolphins is always linked to weather conditions. I leave you this post to inform you about all the activities that Madeira offers and how to book them.
of the tour
- Duration: 9 hours
- What's included: Depending on the excursion you book it may include a catamaran cruise with transfers from the hotel and snorkeling equipment.
- Approximate price: From 80 euros
8. Tour of the volcanic caves of Sao Vicente
This tour sometimes includes stops at picturesque sites before reaching the north of the island. A frequent stop is the village of Ribeira Brava, where you will appreciate both its panoramic beauty and the possibility of tasting typical local food.
The village of Ribeira Brava has a breathtaking view due to its location on the edge of the cliff. If you like what you see and want to visit it in depth, there are private tours to visit only this village.
Sao Vicente is a village that has the honor of receiving tourists who want to know its famous caves. Discovered in 1885 by local people, these caves were created by magma more than 890,000 years ago.
During the tour, a volcanologist will explain the origin of everything around you, you will learn to recognize different rocks and learn what secrets the center of the earth hides.
Some tours include visits to the Volcanology Museum of Sao Vicente, where you can see in detail the geological origin of Madeira.
Guided visits to this museum not only explain in detail the formations you have just experienced, but also about the origin of space, the planet and geological formations.
about the tour
- Route: Departure from the hotel with a stop in the village of Ribeira Brava and continue the trip to Sao Vicente where you will visit the most important volcanic caves of Madeira.
- Duration of the excursion: About 4 hours
- How to go: Many of these tours include transportation by minibus with pick up and transfer back to the hotel.
- Price: From 25 euros