This travel itinerary will present to you our 8 days road trip of Madeira island. The most amazing photography spots, “drive-through” locations, hikes and experiences you should not miss. Additionally, there is some information about the island, accommodation, weather and flight possibilities. Get ready to receive all the information you need to have an amazing vacation on Madeira.
On this trip I met some fellow photographers and content creators go and check them out:
Chris Alfthan @chrisalfthan – currently living the cabin lifestyle in Finland
Sarah Green @sarahinthegreen – an amazing travel blogger from Denmark, you can find her photography blog right here.
Hannah @alltagsinput – my go-to co-traveler
I got interested in Madeira Island because many Social Media Influencers started to post amazing content from this island. Especially photos of people standing above the clouds, the mountains and coast, as well as pools directly at the coast convinced me to look deeper into this location. I found out that Madeira has been nominated several times as the best island in world, actually in 2018 the 4th time in a row! Impressive. Madeira is not only a hiking destination but also a place for the adventurous traveler and outdoor lover.
Where is Madeira?
Madeira is located in the Atlantic Ocean and is the largest and most populous of the Madeira Archipelago. It is around 1000km away from the coastline of Portugal and forms together with the Azores, Gran Canaria (Spain) and Cape Verde (Africa) the area called Macaronesia.
How to get around?
The easiest way to get around is with a rental car, especially if you are aiming to experience some sunrises and sunsets and be above the clouds at least once I recommend booking a rental car. Renting a car in Madeira is relatively affordable. You can get a good deal and pay less than 200 Euros for 8 days. We booked our car with AutoEurope and got a midsized vehicle for less than 200 bugs. Now here comes the fun part, driving in Madeira is not particularly easy as the streets might get super windy and narrow. Of course, if you stick to the main roads, no worries, but in some towns, you will have quite some excitement driving up the steep hills. If you are lucky – there might be a stop sign at the end of the ascent and you can show off with your skills on the clutch of a manual car ;)..
Attractions and things to do?
This is a full guide of Madeira for an 8 days trip and all interesting locations. If you want to have an overview of the 10 must-see locations on Madeira island, follow the link.
Day 1: Explore Santana: discover the hidden waterfall or the and enjoy the views from the top of the island
We arrived in the late afternoon at our accommodation in Santana got greeted by our host with some traditional self-made Madeira wine, a fortified wine made on the island as well as some cookies. After a good night sleep, we are starting into our first day on Madeira. As a morning hike, we decided to visit Caldeirao Verde a rather unknown location including waterfall and levada (an irrigation channel), which can be reached from Santana within a 15 minutes’ drive. The starting location is called “parque forestal das queimadas”. There is a parking lot, and you can purchase tickets in the little white house at the trailhead. The hike is relatively easy as it is just a slow ascent, however, one way will take a good hiker around 1 hour and 30 minutes. We enjoyed this hike a lot. Right in the beginning we took photos of some traditional houses, started the incredible hike following the levada all the way until we reached a majestic waterfall. There are some breathtaking cliffs and drops on the way, but no worries, the path is secure and there are fences on the side. We walked through the lush greens and could discover some amazing flora and fauna. The path also took us through 4 tunnels, it is recommended to bring a flashlight or headlamp, otherwise, the light on the phone should do. Once we reached the waterfall we also decided to hike up on the left side to take a chance and get the whole waterfall into the frame – but watch out there are some sketchy rocks. The hike will lead you all the way back to your parking spot.
After recharging our batteries and a power nap in our Airbnb we took our chances to see if we can make it up to Pico Ruivo, the highest mountain with 1952m as one of our primary goals was to be above the clouds at least once. Even though we have seen many photos on Instagram, we were not sure, what was the best time to see this phenomenon. It was just the first try on the first day of our journey and we were already lucky. When we drove up the street towards the parking lot at Pico Ruivo, we realized: “We are above the clouds”.
The parking lot is situated at “mad Achada do Teixeira” and can be reached from Santana in 20 minutes. This is also where the trailhead is located. After a short hike of around 1,5 hours, we reached the top and thus were “the highest people on the islands” – or the people located at the highest altitude? ;). The sunset was breathtaking with a stunning red light above the clouds.
The path up to Pico Ruivo splits at some point and from here you could also hike to Pico Arieiro. However, this hike is recommended to start in the morning, it is a stunning trail connecting Madeira’s two highest peaks, but it is also challenging and will take around 4 hours one way. We didn’t do this hike, but when going back to Madeira the next time I would for sure do it.
Day 2: Discover Ribeiro Frio and the Northern Coast of the Island
On the next day, we discovered Ribeiro Frio in the morning, which is also close to Santana, as we were still waiting for our other two travel companions for the rest of the trip. Parque Natural do Ribeiro Frio is around a 25 minutes’ drive from Santana. You will pass stunning mountain villages to reach this location. In fact, Ribeiro Frio is almost in the middle of the street ER103 that connects Funchal with Santana and gives access to the highways on the coast in the South and North. This area offers a lot of nice places to spend a great morning. We first checked out the Balcões Viewpoint (Vereda dos Balcoes), which can be easily reached after a short hike of 10-15 minutes. Park your car at the Faisca snack bar and walk-up following the Levada on Caminho do Ribeiro Frio. You will be rewarded with a terrific view all over the valley, the mountains to the left and the sea to the right.
On your walk down don’t forget to check out the abandoned houses, which are especially cool if you are lucky enough to get some fog.
Most likely you have the chance to get these conditions in the early morning. This will also help you to avoid crowds, as the Balcões Viewpoint is a popular point for bus tourists as well.
On your way up the hill towards Funchal, there are several cool spots to check out. The little traditional houses on the right-hand sight when driving towards Chão Das Feiteiras as well as a stunning road that leads up towards the mountains again. Chão Das Feiteiras might be cool to check out as well, we just strolled through the area for a while playing cat and mouse with some sheep’s but eventually didn’t get any cool photos. There is a super cool U-shaped curve directly after the Chão Das Feiteiras which is a sick location for droning. We got super lucky with the conditions and some fog was rolling in at the exact same moment when we arrived.
After that, we grabbed some lunch in the supermarket in Santana and headed off to base for the next few days: Seixal. We follow the coastal road in the North which we thought was breathtaking. There are several stops on the way that give you amazing views over the shoreline. You can watch the waves crashing in from the ocean from high above.
Finally, we arrive in Seixal, where we have booked an apartment on Airbnb. For a very affordable price, we stayed in a huge house with jacuzzi, pool table, and a huge dinner table to back up all our photos. We decided to have a base location where we can place all our things and from there do the day trips around the Island. Actually, it only takes around 1 hour and 30 minutes to drive all the way from the west to the east and if you take the highway and tunnel from Funchal to Seixal it only takes you 45 minutes. So that his how close everything is on the island. If you want to be located in a small town with an amazing coastline and you like to hear the bells of the church tower ring in the morning, then Seixal is the place to be. When we were there at the beginning of March we found that there was a very little amount of tourists in the village. Seixal offers an outdoor swimming area similar to the famous “Porto Moniz Natural Pools” called “Piscine Naturali di Seixal” which was in our opinion a smaller and less crowded alternative to the other pools. Actually, the other pools were closed during our entire stay due to high waves, whereas the once in Seixal weren’t. Of course, you need to use your own judgment – if you see high waves crashing into the main pools maybe you shouldn’t swim on that day.
In the evening we picked up our friends at the airport, as it is only a 1-hour drive we could even make it for sunset to Ponta de São Lourenço all the way in the east of the island. Ponta de São Lourenço is a terrain made up of rocks and herbaceous vegetation. There are several cool rock formations that you can explore from the shoreline or with a drone. This location is usually extremely windy. On another day I almost lost my drone there, so you have to consider the conditions. Also, check the flight schedule of arriving aircraft on the airport website so you are not flying in a period where aircrafts are landing. This is serious so fly with caution and with an adequate distance. On Ponta de São Lourenço you can walk all the way the viewpoint of Ponta do Furado overlooking the last bit of the island called Ilheu da Cevada, which I highly recommend.
Day 3: Discover the majestic rock formation, Madeira’s mountains in the west and enjoy traditional food for dinner on a beach close to Funchal
On this day we decided to start off with a sunset shooting at the majestic rock formation Ilheus da Janela / da Rib. We spend a couple of hours there chasing the first morning light, which was indeed successful. The sun is rising behind the mountains in the east and will speedily light up the area and the rocks. This location is especially stunning for scaling shots and long exposure photography. The rocks are actually huge!
We continued to Porto Moniz to check out the Porto Moniz Natural Pools, which were unfortunately closed the entire week. We strolled around the town and continued our journey onto the ER110, a road that leads all over the western mountain part of the island. Even though we did not find many photo locations here, we found this drive particularly enjoyable and the views towards the North and South of the island are stunning. The weather can change pretty quickly on Madeira, with its several microclimates – which is why we experienced blue skies and on other parts thick fog on this ride. We eventually pass the trailhead PR6 of Levada das 25 Fontes / Levada do Risco. Which we will hike on our last day. We just enjoy the views up in the mountains and continue our journey South.
For dinner, we went to a restaurant in the Southern part called Beach Bar Restaurante O Mero. We came here as we wanted to catch the sunset at Cristo Rei, a popular viewpoint in the Southern part. Unfortunately, the path we thought was very photogenic was closed and we couldn’t walk down all the way. However, the Cristo Rei statue was impressive itself. We took the street down coming from the parking lot on the left-hand side and drove down a curvy road to the beach. Watch out this is a oneway street, you might need to reverse all the way if another car comes. The restaurant was quite decent with some Madeiran Classics as well as other comfort food. The beach is amazing to catch the last light.
Day 4: Sunrise on Pico Arieiro and disovering the town Sao Vincente
The next day we got up quite early again. Well, sunrise is only at 7:30 am in February but we needed to drive to the top of the island for sunrise. From Seixal to Pico Arieiro we drove around 1 hour and 50 minutes. The drive to Funchal is quite quick, but the mountain road up to Pico Arieiro will take quite some time. From the parking lot at Pico Arieiro we made our way to another amazing balcony which you can reach after around 30 minutes. From there we had breathtaking views over the entire island. We looked to our right and even saw Ponta de São Lourenço and the ocean.
We spend a good while enjoying the sunrise and discovering the path toward Pico Ruivo. If you are eager enough you can do the entire hike from Pico Arieiro to Pico Ruivo – remember it will take you around 4 hours one way – so make sure to bring enough snacks and water. We just took some drone footage and followed the path for a good while and afterward went back to Funchal for some lunch. We found that in the morning there were no clouds surrounding us as the weather was expected to be warm and the sky clear. It might be different from other weather conditions but we recognized that if you want to be above the clouds the best time would be around sunset.
In the afternoon we decided to check out the little mountain town São Vicente. São Vicente is located west of Santana and Machico and east of Porto Moniz, linked by roadway to Santana and the western part of the island. With the tunnel, you can reach Funchal in around 40 minutes. While this place is popular for the “São Vicente Caves”, we came here because of the little mountain church which is peaking out on top of the hill. It is called “Capelinha N. S. Fátima” and is surrounded by lush greens. We thought that the mountains around São Vicente were impressive and that the little chapel is located on a perfect spot giving a cool contrast with its white exterior. It is impressive how the clouds are tangling around the mountain peaks in the background.
Enjoy your evening with some swimming in the natural pools, your own pool or chase the sunset at another location.
Day 5: Explore the magic forest Fanal, the Bridal Veil waterfall and enjoy the coast at Porto Moniz
Another day where we woke up quite early. This time our mission was to reach Posto Florestal Fanal. This magic and often foggy area is situated within a small volcanic crator and perfect to take moody pictures or just stroll around in a moody atmosphere. The area is so beautiful because of the laurel trees. Some of them might still be around since the discovery of the island (1419). We already checked out this location the days before in the afternoon but realized that the best time to see the location must be in the morning. But as you know with its many microclimates, weather is quite unpredictable in Madeira and you can be lucky or not so lucky depending on season and time of the day, so sometimes you have to come back to a location twice. There might be cows walking over the place and pop up at certain spots which makes this place even eerier. Find your favorite tree and start shooting! We spend some 3-4 hours at this location and literally got lost in the forest. Even if you are in a summer temperature mood, maybe you should bring a rain jacket and long pants to this location as it can get extremely windy.
For lunch, we went to a place in Porto Moniz called Bar Conchinha, which I really do recommend. We were sitting on the rooftop and had some nice views of the ocean. For lunch we had some traditional bread from Madeira: Balo de Caco, which is basically a potato-based bread, it is served as a kind of sandwich which homemade chips – perfect to get some energy in after hiking around Fanal.
After lunch, we discovered Porto Moniz a little further. The weather got quite moody and we took a couple of long exposure photos of the pools. Unfortunately, the weather was not good enough for a dip in them and they were closed during the period, but take my advice and check out the pools in Seixal.
After all we drove off to “Véu da Noiva” waterfall, the English translation is Bridal Veil. This place is easy to reach the parking lot is directly next to the street and the viewpoint right there. We decided to visit this location several times and waited for the best conditions, as it was just very close to our base location in Seixal, we could just reach it within 5 minutes.
Day 6: Enjoy the sunrise at Miradouro de ponta rosta and discover Ponta de São Lourenço a second time & discover Pico Ruivo with fog
The suggestions in the post always depend on the current weather and you might need to change your plans during the travels but as the island is small this will not be a problem for you.
We decided to drive off to Ponta de São Lourenço another time for sunrise because we wanted to take some additional photos of the shoreline when the sun is rising from the ocean behind the coast. So we had a quite early start again as the drive took around 1 hour from Seixal. This time we didn’t park at the main parking lot but drove directly to Miradouro de Ponta rosta. From here you have a different view over the island and several possibilities to take cool photos. Enjoy the sunrise behind the rocks and take your time exploring. If you haven’t done the hike all the way to the viewpoint Ponta do Furado, now would be a perfect time. As we were quite exhausted from the days before, we decided to take it slow during the day and instead took a long power nap (possibly 3 hours ;).
In the evening we decided to drive up to Pico Ruivo a second time as the other guys haven’t been above the clouds just yet. So, we drove early enough to be there for sunset. Unfortunately, we had to realize when driving up that the entire area was covered in fog. This was possibly due to the fact that it was rather moody and rainy during the day. Instead, we discovered a little wooden path that we found accidentally on the way up to Pico Ruivo. Actually, we were quite lucky with the output and photos we could take on this path. However, the other guys still couldn’t be above the clouds, so our last chance was on the last evening of our trip.
Day 7: Discover the Risco waterfall, go on a whale-watching expedition and try another time to be above the clouds
For our almost last day we tried to squeeze in as much as possible. We were planning to go whale watching already the entire week. Unfortunately, though the conditions were just not right for that and our tour got pushed because of the high waves and the low chances of actually seeing any. But then we got the call that today would be the day and we would be going with a group of other people on a ride on the ocean to look out for some small whales and dolphins.
We started the day with a hike at Risco waterfall. This was around a 1-hour drive from Seixal. We stopped at the main parking lot and made our way down into the valley. First, we followed the street down to the Rabaçal shelter house which will take you approximately 20 minutes. It seems like there is also a shuttle bus running, but we wanted to walk down by our self all the way. From Rabaçal shelter house we follow some steps descending until we reach the Levada do Risco. We are following the PR6.1 Risco sign and do not follow the path to our left, which will lead down to 25 natural springs levada. We are making our way along the path under gorgeous green trees. After approximately 50 minutes we reach a cleared area where we already see the majestic Risco waterfall in front of us, shooting down a high smooth cliff. We spend a good while at the location enjoying the scenery and playing with the local birds. After we are making our way back up to the parking lot.
Next stop is Estreito da Calheta at the South Coast of the island. From the waterfall it took us a good 30 minutes to reach the whale watching booth. We teamed up with Lobosonda a whale watching operator down at the coast in Calheta. It seemed that they did not only do their job with a lot of passion but also were highly committed to the ocean and all its marine biodiversity. Amazingly, they are putting their heart and soul into the whale operation to also solve ocean issues and the protection of it. We found that during our tour the guide was very knowledgeable and did not only give us insides about the animals but was also talking about sustainability and protection, which was an amazing mix of information. We drove out the waters around 30-45 minutes – and yes we got lucky. We could actually witness some pilot whales, – which are among the largest of the dolphine exceeded in size only by the killer whale. We also saw a lot of general dolphins, some of them actually came extremely close to our boat and looked like they are playing with us and jumping on the side of our boat. Overall it was an amazing experience and of course do to the nice weather we also got a bit of a taint the next day.
In the evening we took our last chance and made our way up to Pico Arieiro another time. We were extremely stoked and had the feeling that it will work out, because the weather was really nice the entire day and therefore the conditions have been similar to the first day we were above the clouds. When we drove up our excitement level was rising constantly. Looking out to the ocean, we were certain, today is the day, the clouds were slowly moving in from the ocean towards the island. Just arrived we were the only car on the entire parking lot, – damn what a cool feeling. We made our way down to the balconies again and the sun was slowly going down. The rest can only be described in pictures… I just have to say it was an incredible evening and one of the most terrific sunsets I have seen yet. We stayed all the way until the sun went down, and even with strong wind and some colder temperatures after sunset we did not regret coming up here at all. Our last evening was a complete success.
Day 8: Enjoy some traditional food and take in your last sun rays from the island
There we are on our last day on Madeira. We did not have any further plans for that day so we packed our stuff and made our way down towards the airport. We decided to check out the little town called Canical, which is close to the airport and see if we can get some local lunch. We had lunch at one of the local restaurants – specifically it was a dish called “arroz de marisco” and it is basically seafood rice served in a pot with prawns and muscles. We really enjoyed this dish and soaked in the last sunrays of the day before heading off to the airport to catch out flight.