Don't be surprised if Madeira leaves you speechless. You expect an island similar to Portugal in vegetation, views and environment, but you will be surprised how different it is. Madeira impresses with laurisilva forest mists in the high mountains, green hiking trails full of moss and lichen or dark black rocks proudly rising from the blue water.
We have handpicked the top 5 things to do in Madeira for you. With your auto rent a car hire in Funchal Madeira Island, you can get around quickly and easily as the roads are good and well signposted. There are no traffic jams, just avoid Funchal during peak hours.
Ponta de São Lourenço
If you want to start your holiday with one of the best views from the cliffs, we recommend you take the path on Ponta de São Lourenço. It is the easternmost part of Madeira Island. If you visit it in autumn and drive with your car hire Madeira to the end of the ER109 road, where you can park your car, you will be able to see the cape in beautiful red, brown, black and golden colours. The terrain is full of rocks and the stretch to the high peak of Pico do Furado takes about an hour, depending on your hiking condition. We recommend you bring plenty of water as there is no shade along the way and the sun can be very strong. During the hike, you can enjoy the breathtaking views from the cliffs, the waves on the sea and the fauna, i.e. birds, insects and many small lizards. You can even make your way down to the sea and take a dip in the Atlantic Ocean.
Serra de Agua panoramic road
After the sunny walk in the west, the next thing to do in Madeira is to take a drive in your rental car along the panoramic Serra de Agua road. Drive up to Vereda de Areeiro, where the most beautiful hiking trail to the second highest peak Pico de Areeiro to the highest peak in Madeira, Pico Ruivo, begins. The hike takes about 3.3 hours (one way) and the trail is not one of the easiest on the island, but most say it is one of the most beautiful. Breathtaking views, the trail, which includes tunnels, steep climbs and descents, and fabulous views of the surrounding mountains, is well worth the effort. If that's too much for you, you can enjoy the views from Pico de Areeiro and turn right onto the road to Cural das Freiras on the way back. The road is new and well maintained but drives slowly as it is very narrow so two cars may meet. As you drive east you will have great views of the mountains, Funchal and the ocean. There are many places where you can stop the car to take the perfect Instagram photo. The road ends in Cural das Freiras and you drive to Funchal to enjoy your evening.
Pico Ruivo – the highest peak of the Island of Madeira (1862m)
For those with less hiking experience, there is another option to visit the highest peak Pico Ruivo. The third best option in Madeira is to drive your car hire from Funchal to Achada do Teixeira, where you can start the 2.8km or about 1.30h (one way) hike. You will ascend 300m. The trail runs along the ridge that separates the cliffs of Faial and those of Santana, giving you excellent views to the left of the valley Ribeira Seca and Pico do Areeiro in the background.
Nonetheless, this is the easiest route to the island's summit. Dress warmly and take an anorak or wind stopper as the winds can be strong and the weather can change quickly. If the summit is covered with a sea of clouds, it may be good to wait sometime in one of the shelters as the climate can change suddenly. This area is part of the European network of important sites - Natura 2000 - and is known as a central mountain massif, characterized by herbaceous and bushy vegetation, well adapted to the great variations in temperature.
To relax your feet a little, take your Funchal car hire to the Cabo Girão Skywalk. There is a large car park next to the skywalk. If you walk another 500m from the car park, you can also visit the Santuario de Nossa Senhora de Fatima (Fatima Shrine). Although the Skywalk is always open, be aware that it gets very busy during the high tourist season. If possible, we suggest visiting it during the quieter months to catch the sunset. Below the skywalk, you can see the terraced fields of farmers on the narrow shore below the cliffs. There are a couple of local cable cars that descend to the shore if you want to see the rugged shore up close.
Levada Ribeira da Janela
Madeira is full of levadas that offer a unique and unforgettable experience in exceptionally pure nature. A levada is an irrigation channel and there is 222km of levadas in Madeira. They were created to bring water from the humid northern part of the island to the dry south. Nowadays you can explore Madeira on long walks along the levadas in the Laurissilva forest. One of the most beautiful - but also for experienced hikers - is in our opinion the Levada Ribeira da Janela. It starts in Porto Monis and leads through the valley of the Riberia da Janela. As you walk back the same way (13 km there and back), you will need about 4-5 hours for the hike, although the path is flat. You will cross tunnels that can be slippery (so make sure you have good walking shoes and a headlamp), but offer another different experience and enjoy fantastic views of waterfalls.
Madeira is a small island, but full of green, lush nature, and if you want to enjoy it the most, a week is not enough. We suggest you return more often, as there are always undiscovered trails and nature walks waiting for you. Don't forget to bring your sunscreen and walking shoes and take your rental car for the entire island.