• Menu
  • Menu

Madeira, Portugal in 5 Days

Map tips: each color represents a different day. Click a marker to learn more about the spot, and click the star in the map header to save the entire map under Your Places in Google Maps.

Day 1

  • Miradouro da Ponta do Rosta
  • Miradouro do Abismo
  • Miradouro de Sao Lourenco
  • Enotel Lido

We landed on Madeira, which is a Portuguese island off the coast of Morocco, at 9:30 am. Picked up our rental car from Avis. One of the best areas on the island of Madeira is the far northeast peninsula, which is only about 20 minutes from the airport. If the weather was decent when we arrived, which it was, we planned on heading there first thing since we were close and didn’t have anything else we really wanted to see in that general area.

PR8 Vereda da Ponta de Sao Lourenco is the famous trail that goes the whole way along the peninsula, but we didn’t care to do it all (just under 5 miles RT). Instead, we drove to Ponta do Rosta, where there are a few small areas for cars to park. It’s only a few minutes away from the parking lot for PR8, but on the opposite (north) side of the peninsula.

Ponta do Rosta viewpoint on Madeira, Portugal
The view from Ponta do Rosta in the morning. Lighting is not great. The fenced-off station referenced below is not in the photo, but is to the right of this vantage point.

From Ponta do Rosta, you’ll see a fenced-off station that looks impassable. However, you can curl around it counter-clockwise (heading inland) and go straight for the high point on the other side. I think that’s the best view on the entire peninsula, and it’s labeled “Miradouro do Abismo” on Google Maps. While there isn’t an official trail to the summit, there is a concrete structure at the top that sticks out and it’s pretty obvious where you need to go.

A family standing in front of a rugged coastline at Sao Lourenco on Madeira, Portugal
The view from Miradouro do Abismo

From the top, we descended along the cliffside to catch up with the PR8 trail that leads to Miradouro de Sao Lourenco (miradouro = viewpoint). There were tons of people on the main trail, so if you’re planning on parking at the main lot I’d suggest going early or late in the day.

After getting to the viewpoint, we retraced our steps back to Ponta do Rosta. The lighting was much better on the way back. Ponta do Rosta and the walk along the cliffs are probably better in the afternoon/evening.

Drove about 45 minutes to the Enotel Lido hotel in Funchal, the capital and largest city on Madeira. Went swimming and spent the rest of the day there.

Day 2

  • Fanal Forest
  • Levada do Alecrim
  • Pisao waterfall

Our daughter came down with a fever in the evening on day 1, unfortunately. It was raining all morning, so we slept in and then I went with our son to Fanal Forest and a levada walk. Both are good rainy-day activities.

Fanal Forest is an hour from Funchal and has a large parking area called “Parque de Merendas do Fanal” on Google Maps. The drive was not fun at all – narrow and winding roads, crazy inclines most of the way, and very low visibility in the rain. I was pretty nervous about having to go down in that weather and hoped it got better as the day went on.

You can spend hours in the forest, but it was raining steadily and our main goal was to find the tree that reminds me of the Grinch (bottom photo). Luckily, it was relatively easy to find and close to the lot. The tree is no more than a few minutes to the left of the lot and looks especially awesome in the fog. We spent about 20 minutes walking through the trees and taking pictures.

Levadas are narrow channels that allow water to go from one place to another. They are all over Madeira and lots of walks and hikes follow the water for the trail. I chose Levada do Alecrim because it’s close to Fanal Forest (15 minutes back towards Funchal), flat, not as popular, and has some neat features along the way. There is a waterfall you can swim in at the end, but we didn’t plan on going the whole way (about 4.3 miles RT) since we didn’t want to leave the girls all afternoon.

We drove to “Levada do Alecrim parking lot” and got a spot. There are lots of other popular hikes in this immediate area (Risco waterfall and 25 Fontes are the most popular) so you may need to park nearby and walk to the trailhead. It stopped raining right when we parked and the clouds lifted completely. The views, which were completely hidden, were great. Since there are many other trails that start here, make sure you follow signs for “Levada do Alecrim.” There are other trails with the word “Alecrim” in them.

The best word I can think of to describe the trail is delightful. We only saw a couple other people the whole time and it was a very easy walk. I wanted to get to the area where the levada carries the water down a hill right next to a staircase and turn around there. It ended up being about 25 minutes from the lot and there were a few small waterfalls and open views along the way. Felt like we chose the perfect levada trail for the time we had.

Drove back to the hotel in much better weather, thankfully, and got some food. Our daughter seemed a little better and I wanted to salvage the day with something fun for them if possible. I read about a very short waterfall walk that was about 25 minutes away and figured it would take about an hour and a half total. So we all headed out to find Pisao waterfall. Google Maps took us to a wrong area, so we drove higher and further than we needed to. Should have white-flagged it and headed back to the hotel.

But no, I wanted there to be something neat we all did as a family that day. If you, too, stubbornly want to find Pisao waterfall, the best directions I can give are to head to “Casa Artur” and park as close to the end of the road called Caminho da Levada dos Tornos. The end of the road turns into a dirt path and it’s very easy to follow to the waterfall. Even though the waterflows were crazy along the levada walk, Pisao was barely a trickle. I’d say don’t bother with it; my biggest fail of our time on Madeira.

A very thin but tall Pisao waterfall on Madeira
I don’t even want to post this picture of Pisao “waterfall” but here you go

Went back to the hotel, played cards and called it a night.

Day 3

  • Miradouro Pica da Murta
  • Cascata Agua d’Alto
  • Miradouro do Veu da Noiva
  • Natural Pools of Seixal
  • Ilheus da Ribeira da Janela
  • Natural Pools of Porto Moniz
  • Teleferico das Achadas da Cruz
  • Miradouro da Garganta Funda
  • Cascata dos Anjos

Fever returned through the night, so we slept in a bit and she seemed a little better towards the late morning. We headed out for a long loop drive around the western side of the island, but knew we might have to cut it short at any point.

First stop on the drive to the north central coast was Miradouro Pica da Murta, which I’ve also seen called Pousada Dos Vinhaticos. This is a short uphill walk that leads to an elevated view of the “matterhorn” of Madeira.

On the way up, just before you get to the small parking area/building for Pica da Murta, there is a pulloff (labeled simply “viewpoint” or “miradouro” on Google Maps) that is also worth stopping at. I’ve seen that one referred to as the Terra Grande viewpoint, but I didn’t see signage for either viewpoint. Lighting is best for Pica da Murta in the morning but pretty harsh for the other one. Some of my favorite views on the island regardless.

I really wanted to see the Miradouro de Sao Cristovao, and maybe fit in the short waterfall hike to Rabo do Burro. We’d have to head east for about 10 minutes after getting to the north coast for those 2 stops and then backtrack to go west, so I cut them out of the itinerary since we got a later start. Maybe next time.

Cascata Agua d’Alto is quite a sight when driving west along the north coast. That’s the first picture below. While you wouldn’t see it when coming from the opposite side, the view when exiting that tunnel is unbelievable. There’s this giant mountain right against the sea that fills your entire view. If you pass Cascata Agua d’Alto heading west, I highly recommend turning around and driving back through the tunnel going east. The back and forth is worth it. Note that there is another Cascata Agua d’Alto on the island, near the towns of Faial and Santana.

A few minutes after the waterfall is a pulloff for Miradouro do Veu da Noiva. The viewpoint is mere steps from the parking area and this is a must-see. The waterfall goes straight into the ocean from a huge cliff and you don’t need more than 5-10 minutes here.

Continuing west for another few minutes, the next stop was the Natural Pools of Seixal. Parking can be a little tricky but there are a few pulloffs on the main road above the coast. You can also go down a very, very steep hill to find a parking lot much closer to the pools. It was so steep that I didn’t think it was worth it, and walked down instead.

The pools were one of the highlights of the trip and maybe our favorite thing on the island. There are several pools and entrances to the water. We spent hours wading in the water and checking out the whole area. There are bathrooms and a café so you could spend the better part of an entire day here.  

Just a few minutes past Seixal is Ilheus da Ribeira da Janela. This is a rocky beach with neat sea stacks close to the shore. I don’t know if this is a must-see, but it is very cool. As you approach the large rock outcropping, towards the beach, make sure to take the unmarked stairs for an elevated view. Could spend as little as 10 minutes here or much longer, depending on how much of the beach you want to stroll.

I figured the Natural Pools of Porto Moniz, which were about 10 minutes from Ilheus da Ribeira da Janela, were where we would spend a good part of the day. However, we liked Seixal so much; the Porto Moniz pools cost money; and it was crazy packed so we just took a picture, got some ice cream, and continued on our driving loop.

Next stop was Achadas da Cruz cable car, which is one of the steepest in Europe. At the bottom is a village along the beautiful coast with massive cliffs, so it feels like you are in a secret place. The cable car station is down a very unassuming local road but there were tons of cars when we arrived.

We got there around 4:20 and saw a sign that they stop selling tickets at 4:30. However, we were told they already had multiple car’s worth of people waiting so they weren’t selling any more. We were quite bummed, but then someone said to look at the line of people waiting to come back up. The cars are very small and only carry a handful of people. Judging by the line at the bottom, there was at least an hour’s wait. Longer if we would have gone down after the other people who already had tickets and were waiting to descend. A blessing in disguise, because that would have made an already long day so much longer.

Next (yep, 2 more stops) was Miradouro da Garganta Funda. This is a lookout to a massive waterfall and I’m so glad we had time to stop here. If we did Achadas da Cruz, we wouldn’t have. It took less than 5 minutes to walk to the viewpoint, so maybe 15 minutes total. Even though it’s kind of out of the way (unless you’re doing a long loop like us), it was such an awesome payoff for little time and effort.

Last stop was the Cascata dos Anjos, which is the waterfall that falls directly on the road along the coast. That section of the road is supposed to be locals-only, so we parked a bit away and walked. That didn’t stop others from driving through it, so there were people dodging cars and cars dodging people. I can’t really say it was worth it.

Got back to the hotel around 6:30 and had dinner. We had booked transportation for the PR1 hike the next morning at sunrise, as it’s most easily done as a one-way hike with an hour’s drive between the start and finish. However, our daughter wasn’t feeling well again, unfortunately. So, we got to bed early and planned on having Amanda and our son do the hike while I stayed back with our daughter. This was the only way both Amanda and I could both do the hike, as I would drive up by myself and do an out-and-back as soon as they returned.

Day 4: PR1 hike to Pico Ruivo

We booked the transportation through Pico Transfers, who picked them up at 6:15 am at the hotel. It takes about 45 minutes to get to Pico do Arieiro. This is where the hike starts and is a destination of its own. It is the third-highest point on the island and fully accessible, so anyone can enjoy the view at the top. There is a webcam at the top, but I don’t know how useful it would be as the weather changes quite rapidly.

I’ll be doing a full Hike Guide for this one, but it can be done 2 different ways. The main feature of the hike is summiting Pico Ruivo, which is the highest point on the island at 6,108 feet. The hike from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo is 3.35 miles with 1,869 feet elevation gain, but also 1,903 feet of elevation loss. You can return the same way, but it’s longer and harder with all that elevation loss and re-gain.

The easier and shorter way from Pico Ruivo is a downhill stroll to Achada do Teixeira. That stretch from Pico Ruivo to Achada do Teixeira is only 1.7 miles, with most of it being a gradual descent of 1,200 feet. The downside of going that route is figuring out transportation, but Pico Transfers can take care of that.

No matter where you end, the first part from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo is one of the most picturesque and fun hikes I’ve ever done. There’s a consistent descent initially, aggressive at times, with many sections of stairs. Next is a series of tunnels with more ascending and descending. The last mile is mostly uphill to gain all the elevation you lost, with a good number of stairs again. There is a hut with snacks, drinks, and a bathroom (small charge) about 0.4 miles from the summit. Good place to take a break before the last stretch to the top. Amazing views the whole time, and I think the scenery is way better between the peaks than from the summit.

Amanda and Isaac had 5 hours to do the hike and did it in about 4. Pico Transfers picked them up at Achada do Teixeira and dropped them back off at the hotel shortly after 2. I drove up to Pico do Arieiro and hiked to Pico Ruivo and back. Was back at the hotel in time for dinner and story swapping.

Day 5

  • Dolphin boat tour
  • CR7 Museum

Our daughter slept well and felt a bit better in the morning. The forecast showed rain for most of the day all over Madeira. We booked a dolphin and whale watching tour at 9:30 am with Rota dos Cetaceos. We were hoping to do that earlier in the week because it was a surprise for her, but had to wait to see if she would feel up for it. I know the tours sell out in high season/good weather, so I think there was last-minute availability only because of the weather.

There are a lot of tour companies that leave from Funchal. Others leave from different parts of the island though, so make sure you know where they are located when booking. Some have catamarans (longer tours, slower boats) and others have speed boats (shorter tours with faster boats that mean you can get to the animals quicker when spotters relay where they are). We did a speed boat for that reason, and so we’d be spending less time in the rain.

We drove to the center of Funchal, parked in a garage (paid), and walked to the tour company’s office. Had a great experience – liked the crew and got to see a few different pods of dolphins. The rain picked up about halfway through and it was cut a little short, but we had already seen quite a bit so it worked out great.

We walked to the CR7 museum, which is dedicated to the soccer star Christiano Ronaldo. He was born in Funchal and the museum has trophies, apparel, and artifacts from his life and career. Our son loves soccer so he really enjoyed it. Only need 30-45 minutes to see the museum.

Did a little shopping before returning to the hotel for a late lunch. We were finally able to take advantage of the kids club at the hotel, where they have games, crafts, movies, and more for kids. That gave us adults some time to exercise and pack everything up for our flight to Lisbon the next morning. Here is my separate Trip Report for the days we spent there.

We loved our time on Madeira and I could see us making a return trip.

More info on Madeira

  • Currency: Euro
  • Language: Portuguese (English was widely spoken)
  • Time: 5 hours ahead of NY/EST, 8 hours ahead of California/PST
  • Best time of year: Madeira is a year-round destination with a pleasant climate all the time. Summer months (June-August) are busiest and warmest, and there is little more rain between November and February.

This is the first time we’ve ever stayed at an all-inclusive resort, and it actually happened by accident. I’m trying to stay away from AirBnB because of what it does to local communities (Lisbon, Portugal has been hit especially hard) and found Enotel Lido when searching for hotels. The location was great, it had fantastic reviews, the price was reasonable, and it had free parking. I was blown away when I learned the price, under $300 per night for all 4 of us, included all food and drinks (including alcohol). Madeira is generally an affordable place, and while all-inclusives aren’t really our thing, I’d at least consider it.

Staying in Funchal worked out well. There is so much to see all over the island that there isn’t really a perfect location. Since it’s the capital city, it’s well connected. You can get to anywhere on the island in about an hour or less. You could stay in multiple places but we were glad we stayed in Funchal to be flexible.

Getting around Madeira

We rented a car and I’m very glad we did. They have plenty of bus options and tour companies that will take you pretty much anywhere on the island. However, I’ll almost always prefer the freedom that having our own mode of transportation gives.

However, this was one of the most challenging places I’ve driven. The roads are the steepest I’ve ever been on and there is not a lot of room on many of them. I read that you don’t want a large rental car and I’m glad I heeded that advice (booked a manual economy).

I was enticed to switch to an automatic, as that would have made it easier driving up the inclines. But I drove a manual for over 10 years in a flat city, so how difficult could it be? Every day there were several stretches where I couldn’t do anything but ride out first gear for minutes at a time, not daring to shift and hoping the incline would just end. Each time I thought, ha, I saved $75 for these adventures.

I would at least consider getting an automatic. They drive on the right side, same as USA.

Additional things to see on Madeira

When researching, it quickly became apparent that there was a lot to see and do on the island. I needed to prioritize what I thought were going to be the best things and see as many of them as possible. Here is a list of things that I was interested in, or were popular but we decided to skip:

  • Vereda dos Balcoes – short, easy hike to nice viewpoint near the center of the island.
  • Miradoura Eida de Serrado – short detour to a viewpoint on the way up to Pico do Arieiro.
  • Miradouro Sao Cristovao – viewpoint right along the road on the north coast. Really wanted to see this one.
  • Rocha do Navio – nice coastal viewpoint, can hike down to village from there.
  • Cascata Aguage – short, easy hike to waterfall.
  • Cascata do Rabo do Burro – short, easy hike to waterfall (can keep going to see more waterfalls).
  • Levada Novo – relatively easy levada hike to a waterfall
  • Cabo Girao – crazy high coastal cliff overlook. Skipped on purpose, wasn’t that interested.
  • Levada do Caldeirao Verde (PR9) – awesome levada hike to a huge waterfall. Longer though, over 7 miles RT and ruled it out. Know we would like it.
  • 25 Fontes (PR6) – super popular levada hike to what I thought wasn’t a very impressive waterfall. Skipped on purpose.
  • Risco waterfall – very popular, can be combined with 25 Fontes and other nearby hikes including Levada do Alecrim.

Traveled in April 2024

Discover More

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *