Sitting in the Atlantic Ocean southwest of Portugal, the
island of Madeira is a paradise for outdoor lovers, thanks to its unusual
sub-tropical forests, rich volcanic soil, and pristine coastal waters. See
below for your outdoor adventure options.
The rugged, volcanic beauty of Madeira is best seen on foot, and walking routes cover the island, from windy walks along the clifftops at Cabo Girão to challenging treks up the highest peaks. The island's laurisilva forest is traversed with irrigation channels called levadas, which make perfect pathways for hikers. If stomping through the undergrowth is not for you, admire the exotic blaze of color at the Monte Palace Tropical Garden or Funchal's Botanical Gardens instead.
Sailing and Dolphin Spotting
The three-island archipelago of Desertas lies off Madeira's southeast coast and is still little marked by mass tourism. Travelers can really get back to nature with a day's return sail to Desertas and get the chance to spot dolphins, whales, and thousands of seabirds along the way. Other boating options for seadogs around Madeira include private yacht charters, sunset cruises from Funchal marina, and eco-friendly boat trips out to look for the more than 20 species of dolphin and whale that have been sighted in the Atlantic waters around Madeira. You're most likely to see curious bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales between April and October.
Widely considered one of the best spots in Europe for canyoning thanks to its lush rivers and canyons formed by volcanic activity, Madeira's mountainous Funchal Ecological Park (Parque Ecológico do Funchal) offers kid-friendly canyoning with gentle abseils for beginners, as well as challenging tests of mettle leading downriver over a severe waterfalls and rapids. Safety gear and full instruction are provided.
Open-top Jeep safaris head off across Madeira for trips to isolated inland villages such as Curral das Freiras or to viewpoints high up on Pico Arieiro for panoramic views. Other routes take in the natural rock pools at Porto Moniz on the northern coast or wind through the Ribeiro Frio Natural Park (Parque Natural do Ribeiro Frio) and vineyards to the fishing settlement of Machico, Madeira's former capital and home of the island's oldest church.