Built 6 kilometres above the ocean floor on a shield volcano (a volcano built by fluid magma flows), are the Madeira Islands. Blessed with year-round summer temperatures and stunning natural beauty, these three islands are located southwest of Portugal and north of Africa. Madeira Island, Porto Santo and Deserta Grande make up the archipelago.
Holidaymakers on Princess Cruises, Costa Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International will find themselves on an island mostly untouched by humans. The capital of Madeira Island is a vibrant city of local street art, telling architecture and colourful sights, sounds and smells.
Madeira Island itself has two ports – one at Caniçal and one at Funchal, with a third on Porto Santo Island. The capital of Funchal is the main port for cruise ships with three docking stations along the road of Avenida Sá Carneiro, and a charming backdrop of terracotta city hills.
A 20-minute walk from the Funchal port will take you into the city centre where you can find shops, restaurants, bars, public toilets and public transport. Some cruise ships may arrange for passengers to be shuttled into the centre of town; otherwise, taxis will be available to take you in from the port.
How to Get Around
Along with taxis, buses are also available; however, clear bus route maps can be hard to find and timetables can be confusing. You can also discover the city using the hop-on hop-off bus.
The rest of Madeira Island is best discovered by car, which can be rented from Madeira Car Hire. Your adventure will take you along Madeira’s coastal roads and hilly landscapes, so make sure your rental is able to handle steep climbs.
Travel times from the port:
It is a 20 minute journey to Rua de Santa Maria – the Old Town of Madeira
It is a 33 minute journey to the Madeira Cable Car
It is a 2 hour and 24 minute journey to the Cabo Girão Skywalk.
It is a 10 minute journey to the Madeira Cable Car
It is a 12 minute journey to the Cabo Girão Skywalk
It is a 30 minute journey to the Balcoes path of the Levadas.
Currency – As part of the European Union, Portugal’s Madeira accepts the Euro. There are eight coin denominations – 1c, 2c, 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, €1 and €2. Banknotes are available in €5, €10, €20, €50, as well as the very uncommon €100, €200 and €500 notes.
Time Zone – Madeira follows the Western European Timezone, which means there is no time difference with the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). Summer’s Daylight Savings pushes the day forward by one hour, from July through to October.
Weather – Madeira’s Mediterranean climate results in a fairly consistent, mild temperature of around 24 degrees Celsius all year-round. Winter’s wet season starts in October and finishes around April with temperatures averaging at 20 degrees Celsius. Rain is limited to short, heavy downpours rather than day-long drizzles.
Walking the Levadas – Enjoy amazing views of Madeira’s natural beauty along the Levadas – an intricate and unique irrigation system that curves down the mountains for a total of 2,500 kilometres. Built in the 1400s, the Levadas supplied water from the northwest to farmland in the southeast, and continues to do so today, along with hydro-electric and wind energy. A network of paths has been built along the channels, allowing access to even the most remote parts of the island, including parts of the impenetrable Laurisilva. While challenging tracks such as the popular Levada do Caldeirão Verde aren’t for the faint hearted, tracks like the path to Balcoes, a 20 minute stretch, make for a more relaxing experience.
Laurisilva of Madeira – Before droughts swept the region, laurel forests could be found across the Mediterranean. Now, one of the largest surviving forests of laurel trees can be found in Madeira. This forest of aromatic, evergreen trees are home to a unique array of flora and fauna, some of which can no longer be found anywhere else in the world. Classified a UNESCO World Heritage site, 90% of the Laurisilva is believed to be primary forest, meaning it has been untouched by human logging with some trees believed to be over 800 years old.
Cabo Girão Skywalk – Step out over Europe's highest ocean cliffs, 589 metres above sea level. The Cabo Girão Skywalk located along the southern coast has a transparent glass-floored viewing platform providing visitors with a unique perspective down the cliffs and over the North Atlantic Ocean.