Millions of years ago, laurel forests were common in parts of Europe and North Africa. Nowadays, many laurel forests have disappeared due to the ice age and other climate changes. You can only admire these special forests in Madeira, the Azores, Canary Islands and the archipelago of Cape Verde.
Special flora and fauna
The trees in Fanal Forest seem out of this world. They all have different shapes and the branches are covered with layers of moss. Because of the twisted branches it sometimes seems as if the trees are dancing.
In the forest you will not only encounter special flora. Be careful, because of the dense fog curious cows and birds can suddenly emerge from the fog.
Best time to visit Fanal Forest
Fanal Forest is located high in the mountains, so there is a good chance that it is often covered with a layer of fog. We definitely recommend visiting the forest on a cloudy and rainy day. Even on a rainy day the fog is unpredictable. There are moments where you can see 5 meters further and in a minute all the fog is gone. That makes this area even more adventurous. When fog rolls over this landscape, it creates fairytale scenes. The views looks like scenes that come straight out of a movie. Fanal Forest is super photogenic with fog and moody vibes and you won’t stop making content here.
It is difficult to predict when it will be foggy here, but early in the morning you have the greatest chance of fog. The south coast of the island is often sunny, if it is already rainy or cloudy here, there is a good chance that it will be foggy in Fanal Forest.
Hiking in Fanal Forest
In the area of Fanal Forest you will find several hikes, including the walking route PR13 Vereda do Fanal. This route of about 20 kilometers takes you through the forest in about 4 hours.
Don’t want to take such a long walk? Then there are several points where you can park the car and discover a part of the forest. We liked it the most to just walk around from the parking lot and get lost in the forest. We certainly spent the whole morning in Fanal Forest. You will not get bored here.
How to get to Fanal Forest
The easiest way to visit Fanal Forest is by car. It is an hour’s drive from Funchal. Unfortunately you cannot get there by public transport. So if you don’t have a rental car, the only option to see Fanal Forest is by booking a tour.
On Madeira you will find more than 3000 kilometers of levadas and together they form the impressive irrigation system of Madeira. The ancient levadas were built in the 16th century to transport condensation water and rainwater from the humid north via the mountains to the dry south. The paths next to the winding levadas were intended to be able to maintain the levadas. Today, these are popular hiking trails that make it possible to discover Madeira’s rugged inland.
PR9 Levada do Caldeirão Verde is 13 kilometers in total and takes about 4 to 5 hours. The hike incline over the entire hike is only 100 meters. The walk is flat and is therefore a perfect hike for beginners. It is a point-to-point hike, so you walk the same way back.
Near the parking lot you will find a small house where you can eat or drink something. There are no facilities during the hike. So make sure you bring enough water and food. There are also toilets only at the starting point of the hike, for which you pay € 0.50 (cash only).
Handy to take with you / clothing advice
It can often rain in this part of Madeira. During the hike you will also walk right past several waterfalls. That is why we recommend bringing a raincoat and a waterproof cover for your bag so that your gear and other valuables don’t get wet. The trails are often wet and slippery, so it is important to wear (hiking) shoes with extra grip.
Walk with us
The hike starts at the typical Madeiran cottage with a thatched roof and red accents, where you can eat or drink something before or after the hike.
Discover the dense jungle of Madeira
In the first few kilometers of the hike you are completely surrounded by the greenery of ferns, tropical trees, colorful flowers and moss-covered rock walls. You will be in the middle of the lush jungle of Madeira for a while. Along the way you will come across some beautiful waterfalls and you will walk over bridges and narrow paths along the levada.
Tunnels during the hike
Halfway through the hike you will come across four tunnels. They are carved out of the rocks by hand. These tunnels differ in length and height. Watch your head in the tunnels because at some parts they can be very low. You definitely need a headlamp in the tunnels. Of course you can always use the flashlight of your phone, just make sure your phone is charged enough.
Breathtaking views and drop-offs
On the last part towards the largest waterfall of this hike you have the best views over the stunning São Jorge valley and the surrounding mountains. The views are getting more and more impressive, but the abysses are getting deeper and deeper. The levada flows along a the cliff at the last part, this can be challenging if you are afraid of heights. But luckily the trail is well maintained and the drop-off sections have fences to make the trail safe. Abel is afraid of heights and has walked the entire hike. If he can do it, so do you!
Admire one of the highest waterfalls on Madeira
The goal of the hike is to walk to one of the highest waterfalls on Madeira. This waterfall is powerful and the water falls from a height of 100 meters into an ice-cold natural pool. This is the perfect spot to have lunch, enjoy the beautiful nature and relax before walking back up the trail.
Good to know
A few meters before you arrive at the waterfall you will come across a sign that says that it is forbidden to get close to the waterfall and the Caldeirão Verde lagoon area. We thought this was a pity, because the sign can only be found at the end point. The area has been closed off due to a landslide and rockfall here in 2019. So it is risky and can be dangerous to get close to the waterfall.
Tip for extra impressive waterfalls
Do you want to see this spectacular waterfalls in the best conditions? Then go in the seasons when it rains more often on Madeira. Then there will be more water pouring down the waterfall. We were on Madeira in March. The island is not yet fully in bloom as it is later in the spring, but the waterfalls were very powerful and extra impressive.
How to get to the trailhead
PR9 Levada do Caldeirão Verde starts in the north of Madeira, near the village of Santana. You can get to the starting point of the hike in different ways.
The easiest way to get to the starting point of the hike is with a rental car. It is a 45-minute drive from Funchal. Navigate to Levada da Silveira first, from there Google Maps will direct you to the correct parking place Queimadas Parking Lot. It is a paid parking lot where you pay about €1 per hour, with a maximum of €3 per day (these were the prices in the low season in early 2022).
With a guided tour
Don’t have a car and don’t want to be dependent on public transport? Then it is possible to do this walk with an experienced guide who will pick you up and drop you off at your hotel or apartment. An advantage is that you also learn a lot about Madeira during a tour.
By public transport
Would you rather walk by yourself, but don’t have a car? Then you can also take public transport to the starting point of the hike. Keep in mind that you will be on the road for a long time by public transport and this hike is not easy to reach. From Funchal, take bus line 56, 103 or 138 of the bus company Horários do Funchal towards Santana and from there travel the last part by taxi. Pay attention to the times when the bus will leave again and make sure you are at the stop on time. The buses only run a limited number of times a day. If you miss the bus, there is a chance that there will be no more buses driving that day.
Rota da Banana consists of three short walks: RB1, RB2 and RB3. In total it is an exotic walk of 1.5 km, where you walk directly through the densely vegetated banana plantations. The walk is easy and fun and takes you in about half an hour along narrow paths, levadas and lots of banana plants.
Along the way you have beautiful views over kilometers of banana plants, the surrounding cliffs, the authentic village of Madalena do Mar and the ocean. If you like tropical places, you will love it here.
If you just want to walk one short hike, we recommend to walk RB1. This one was our favorite and has the most variety. It was the only route where you can follow a levada, which are the winding irrigation channels of Madeira.
The locals often work on the plantations. This gives you a unique insight into the entire process of the banana production. You see bunches with pistils, which are manually removed at the right time and when the bananas are ripe enough, they are cut manually.
Although the banana production seems huge, the production is only intended for Madeira and a small part goes to mainland Portugal and some parts of Spain. Madeira once exported bananas throughout Europe. Until the bananas were declined at auctions because, according to the European Union, they must meet a certain length and curvature. Such a pity! Because the bananas have a great soft and sweet taste.
🍌 Madeira’s annual banana production is equal to what Europe consumes in 1 day.
🍌 Up to 200 bananas can grow on one truss.
🍌 A banana plant only produces one bunch of bananas, then the plant is partially cut down so that a new bunch of bananas can grow.
🍌 A typical dish on Madeira is Espada com banana. This is a surprising combination of the Madeiran banana with black swordfish, which is fished from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean.
There is an option to go from Funchal to Madalena do Mar by public transport. Take bus line 80 of the bus company Rodoeste towards Porto Moniz, the ride takes about an hour. Sometimes it can be a bit chaotic when traveling by public transport on Madeira. So keep the following things in mind and you will be fine:
🚌 You will be dropped off at a bus shelter in Madalena do Mar, right at the start of one of the trails of the Rota da Banana hike. If you are done hiking walk back to the bus shelter. There is no bus stop or bus shelter for the way back. Just wait on the other side of the road, opposite the bus shelter to be picked up.
🚌 Always give a signal or wave if you want to take that bus.
🚌 Pay attention to the departure times, because the bus only runs a limited number of times a day.
Stroll through the streets and city parks of Funchal
The city center of Funchal has many cozy streets, beautiful squares and special architecture. Visit the Sé Cathedral, stroll through the wide streets lined with purple trees and relax in one of Funchal’s parks. Our favorite parks are Parque de Santa Catarina and Jardim Municipal do Funchal.
Discover the vibrant vibes in Zona Velha, the old town of Funchal
The Old Zone, known as Zona Velha, is the historical and authentic part of Funchal. In the past this part of Funchal was dilapidated and it wasn’t a place for tourists to visit, but today it is the exact opposite. Through an art project and the many restaurants and bars, this part is lively and upcoming again.
Through the art project Arte de Portas Abertas, local and foreign artists have transformed the old part of the city into an open-air gallery. Be sure to stroll through the street of Rua de Santa Maria and its side streets, where the doors of the old houses are decorated with the most colorful works of art.
In Zona Velha you will find one of the oldest buildings in Madeira, the Corpo Santo chapel, built in the 15th century. A little further there is the outstanding yellow fortress of São Tiago, which protected Funchal from pirates and hijackers. You can visit the fortress for free. Note! The fortress is closed on Saturdays and Sundays.
Dolphin and Whale Watching from Funchal Harbor
Madeira is located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and this is an ideal and safe habitat for many cetaceans. More than 25 species of dolphins and whales have been spotted around Madeira. All year round you have the opportunity to see these special animals in their natural environment, but it depends on the season which species you encounter.
Several trips depart daily from the port of Funchal to discover the wildlife of Madeira. In our opinion, this is an activity that should definitely be on your bucket list. Do you want to know what to expect from such an amazing trip, how your experience will be unforgettable and when is the best time to spot the dolphins and whales? Then read our extensive blog about dolphin and whale watching in the waters around Madeira.
Visit Monte by cable car and enjoy the beautiful views of Funchal
From sea level, the cable car takes you over the valley of João Gomes Ribeira to Monte, the higher part of Funchal. During the 10-15-minute ride you will enjoy the panoramic views of Funchal. Because of the many green city parks, terracotta-colored roofs and the deep blue Atlantic Ocean, the views are very colorful. You can buy your cable car tickets in advance to skip the line of the cash desk.
With the cable car you can make two stops, the first stop is at Monte Palace Tropical Garden. The second stop is at Jardim Botanico Madeira.
Get lost in the tropical gardens of Monte Palace
The end of the cable car to Monte, is the entrance to the tropical gardens of Monte Palace. On an area of 80,000 m2, you will find 2500 different plant species, various African stone exhibits and beautiful Japanese and Chinese influences such as bridges, flowing streams and stone sculptures. You can easily get lost in the gardens for a few hours! Check here the current opening times and ticket prices of the tropical gardens of Monte Palace.
There are several options to get back to Funchal from Monte, such as by cable car, by bus or by taxi. But you can also go down a part by a very special transport. Namely with a rush basket, also known as a toboggan. A toboggan is a traditional sled that is pushed by two carreiros. The sled can go up to 48 kilometers per hour and the carreiros wear special shoes with which they can steer and brake the sled. In the past, the sled was used to bring local products from higher places to Funchal. At first this was done by horse and cart, but this method was too slow as it was very heavy and the roads were steep.
Nowadays it is a fun attraction. A ride costs €25 per person, €30 per two persons and €40 per three persons. Note! The toboggan takes you down 2 kilometers in 10 minutes. After this it is a 25 minute walk to the center. Or you can continue by bus or taxi.
Drink Poncha! The traditional drink of Madeira
Poncha is probably the tastiest drink from Madeira. The original cocktails are made from lemon or orange juice, honey, sugar water and rum. These ingredients are mixed with a mexelote, a special kitchen utensil to mix the juice well. The end result is a deliciously sweet drink that you will probably like a little too much. The cutest bar to drink the tastiest Ponchas is at Rei Da Poncha in Funchal. Every Poncha is homemade and you can choose from different flavors. Saúde!
Look around at the local market Mercado dos Lavradores
Mercado dos Lavradores is the best place to discover the local specialties of Madeira. At the market, scents and colors come together and tourists mingle with the locals. Walk past the stalls full of exotic fruits and vegetables and admire the beautiful flowers of the island at the flower stalls. There is also a separate fish department.
If you want to buy something at the market, know that the products here are much (!) more expensive than at other local shops in Funchal.
How much time do I need to explore Funchal?
Funchal can be explored in 2-3 days. But the capital is certainly a nice base for your entire trip on Madeira. The island is not that big and Funchal has a central location. From here you can easily discover the beautiful places all over the island. Funchal is also the ideal place to stay if you want to travel a lot by public transport. Many buses depart from Funchal.
Another reason why we loved staying in Funchal is because of the many restaurants and bars and the bustling vibes in Funchal. If you have been out in nature all day, it is nice to be in a bustling place again.
Our favorite food and drink spots in Funchal
💛 At Casa do Bolo do Caco you can choose from several variations of the traditional bread Bolo do Caco. Originally it is eaten with herb butter and parsley. 💛 We ate the tastiest vegan quesadillas at Art food corner. It is also a super nice spot to bring your laptop to work here for a day. 💛 Prima Caju serves fruit bowls, scrambled eggs, pancakes, poke bowls, salads, wraps, toasts and more! 💛 For a delicious lunch go toBrunch Club Madeira. 💛 A Confeitaria, (location: na. Travessa) has plenty of vegan options for lunch. 💛 From Monday to Saturday, MadCuba-Villa Marista has happy hour with the best cocktails! You can also eat delicious Cuban meals here. 💛 Drink the tastiest traditional Ponchas at Rei da Poncha. 💛 Flair Spot Bar has an extensive cocktail list and plenty of typical Madeira drinks that you can try here. The bar is located in a cute street in Zona Velha.
Poncha is perhaps the tastiest drink in Madeira. The original cocktails are made from lemon or orange juice, honey, sugar water and rum. These ingredients are mixed with a mexelote, a special kitchen instrument to mix the juice. The end result is a deliciously sweet drink that you will probably find just a little too tasty.
The famous Poncha can be ordered at almost every bar or restaurant. Nowadays you can choose from different variants of this traditional drink. We have tasted different flavors of Ponchas ourselves at Rei Da Poncha in Funchal, where the Ponchas are freshly prepared for you. We tasted the variant lemon, orange, passion fruit, strawberry and absinthe.
2. Discover the rich history of Madeira wine
Madeira wine is a local dessert wine. Characteristic of this wine is the sweet taste and the stronger alcohol percentage (between 16% and 22%). According to etiquette, it is not a wine for the main course, but the drier varieties are sometimes served with an aperitif. The sweeter varieties are actually only served as dessert wine.
You can buy Madeira wine in every supermarket, but it is a wine with an interesting history. So how great is it to learn more about that through a wine tour. In collaboration with Madeira Atlantic Tours we went on the Private Madeira Halfday Tour. Through this tour, we not only learned more about the Madeira wine, its production and its different variations, but also learned a lot more about the island.
You will be picked up in Funchal by your guide. The wine tasting takes place in the Henriques & Henriques tasting room in the village of Câmara de Lobos. Along the way you will stop at a beautiful viewpoint, where the guide will tell you everything about the region and the vineyards. The grapes used for the Madeira wine are grown by local families. Therefore, the whole island works on these fantastic wines. Most of the vineyards are located in the north of the island, where the conditions for growing the grapes are more favorable.
At Henriques & Henriques you get a tour of the beautiful winery. You will get insight of the entire process and see how the wine was made in the past. There are old tools with which they manually crushed the grapes and filtered the juice, large barrels where they kept the wine and carriers with which the wine was transported from place A to place B by foot (!).
Madeira wine is different from other wines. This is mainly due to the different ripening process, which was discovered ‘accidentally’ at sea. Portuguese sailors took wine with them on long ship journeys to get extra vitamin C. After the long journey the wine left over tasted very different. This was because they kept the barrels on the ships in warm areas. This change was so popular that it was the beginning of the unique Madeira wine. From that moment, skippers took extra barrels with them to sell the wine after they returned. They later found out that repeatedly heating the wine produced the unique caramel and nutty flavor. So they invented other methods to get the same taste. Such as storing the barrels in warm lofts and in warm sheds, or by just letting the wine warm up in the sun.
After the tour it is time to taste the wine. You can taste 7 different types of H&H Madeira wines. Starting with 6 wines from dry to sweet. From this you choose your favorite wine of which you can try the 10-year variant. Each wine has its own story and the degree of sweetness depends on the sugar content in the wine.
Next to the tasting room is a shop where you can buy a bottle of your favorite wine. We liked the medium dry Meio Seco the best. Henriques & Henriques also has a special, expensive collection of very old wines. Some are over 150 years old and the labels look really cool.
3. Try the typical bread Bolo do Caco
A typical Madeiran snack or lunch is the round flat bread Bolo do Caco. This bread has the shape of a cake (bolo) and is heated on a basalt stone plate (caco). Bolo do Caco was originally served with herb butter. But nowadays there are different variations, for example with cheese, avocado and pesto or meat.
These delicious sandwiches are very popular and are therefore on the menu at many restaurants and bars. We ate the cheese variant at Casa do Bolo do Caco and it is definitely recommended!
4. Enjoy the refreshning local beer
On Madeira you can’t miss the Coral beer. It is a drink you see on all terraces and the supermarket shelves are full of it. Coral beer is made by the Coral Lager brand and is brewed on Madeira. The beer has a golden color, soft pure taste and is above all wonderfully refreshing. This perfectly fits the tropical climate of the island.
5. Taste the delicious sweet bananas
Madeira is a major producer of bananas. You will be amazed by the amount of banana plantations on the island. The bananas mainly grow on the south coast of the island because it is the sunniest here. The taste of the bananas is soft and sweet.
Madeira once exported bananas throughout Europe. Until the bananas were refused at auctions because, according to the European Union, they had to meet a certain length and curve. Today the production is used for Madeira, Portugal and parts of Spain.
A typical main course in Madeira is Espada com banana. This is a surprising combination of the Madeiran banana with black swordfish, which is fished from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. According to the locals this seems to be very tasty, but we have not tasted it because we are vegetarians.
6. Stimulate your taste buds with the colorful exotic fruits and vegetables
The climate in Madeira makes it possible to grow tropical fruits. Such as pineapple, mango, banana and avocados. But there are also a lot of exotic fruits and vegetables, native to Central and South America, that you probably haven’t seen and tasted before. Such as the fruto delicioso (banana-pineapple with a fresh taste), anona da Madeira (a fine taste with a vanilla-like smell) and the chayote (family of the cucumber, watermelon and pumpkin and is used in various dishes). The exotic fruits and vegetables are often available in supermarkets or local markets.
In collaboration with Ventura – Nature Emotions we did a Whale and Dolphin Watching tour.
The best time to spot whales and dolphins
More than 25 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises have been spotted in the waters around Madeira. You have the opportunity to see these special animals all year round, but it depends on the season which species you encounter. The chances of spotting whales are the best from April to October. The most commonly spotted whales are Brydes’s whales, pilot whales, sperm whales and fin whales. The chance to spot dolphins is high all year round. There are permanent residents such as bottlenose dolphins, who live around the coast of the island all year round. Other dolphin species that are often spotted are the common and spotted dolphins. Some species are very rare to spot, such as orcas, they only pass Madeira during their transit to other waters. So the chance of seeing them is very small.
How do I find a tour that is ethical and responsible?
The opportunity to see whales and dolphins in the wild is amazing, but we don’t want to participate in activities that have a negative impact on animals! To keep the beautiful wildlife, the rules in Madeira are strict. The boats are monitored from land and warned if they do not follow the rules. If you still want to be sure that you book a tour with an organization that really respects the animals and does not use them for entertainment, make sure that an organization has knowledge about the animals and takes several measures to protect the animals and do not disturb or chase them.
Expertise and experience
We booked our tour with Ventura – Nature Emotions. They organize sustainable tours, guided by an experienced and professional crew. There is a marine biologist on every tour who is very passionate and loves to share her knowledge with you about the different dolphin and whale species. When dolphins or whales are spotted, she will help identify them and provides more information about the species. This is how we learned everything about the species we spotted.
Respect for wildlife
You notice in several ways that Ventura – Nature Emotions treats wildlife with respect in their natural environment. If dolphins or whales are spotted, the boat will only stop for a few minutes to admire the animals. The animals experience no stress and can continue their natural behavior. The crew also knows for each species how close they can get or whether they should keep their distance. If a group of animals swims away, they are left alone and certainly not chased, because then they can feel rushed.
RIB boat vs catamaran
If you ask us, a RIB boat tour is the best option to search for whales and dolphins. It is adventurous and definitely gives you an adrenaline rush as you fly over the waves. With a RIB boat you can cover greater distances in a shorter time, so that you can reach a new group of whales or dolphins faster. This increases the chance that you will spot multiple species per trip. You will also come face to face with the animals with this small, lower boat! Another advantage is that you will travel with a smaller group (maximum 18), which in our opinion makes the experience more unique.
Prefer a more relaxed experience? Then choose to go on a catamaran trip. On a catamaran you have several comfortable spots to relax and enjoy. There are often sufficient facilities on board, such as a bar with drinks and snacks, a toilet and snorkeling equipment for when the catamaran drops anchor. Another advantage is that catamaran tours are often cheaper than trips with a RIB boat, but the chance of spotting wildlife is smaller.
What to expect from the boat trip?
The tour starts at the meeting point in Funchal harbor where you will receive a short informative briefing about the wildlife and the boat trip. Then you put on your life jacket and you are ready to go on this adventure! With a RIB boat you sail for 2.5 hours over the open sea. Along the way, you can fully enjoy the views of the island and partly sail along the impressive coastline and see caves, waterfalls and colorful villages from a unique perspective. The boat trip is already a great experience, but the animals you spot make it extra special.
We went out to sea with Ventura – Nature Emotions twice and spotted four different species of whales and dolphins on these tours. For us this felt like a dream and it is pure magic!
Tour 1 – Our first encounter with wild dolphins
After an hour we spotted the first group of about 20 bottlenose dolphins and there were also babies swimming among them. They normally do not swim around the boat for long, but they were calm now and even came very close. The marine biologist told us they were probably resting from lunch. When bottlenose dolphins rest, only one half of the brain rests while the other half remains active. This keeps the dolphin swimming upwards to breathe, preventing them from drowning.
Soon after the meeting with the bottlenose dolphins, we spotted another species, the common dolphin. It was a group of about 10-15 dolphins and a few young dolphins swam among them. The common dolphin is much smaller than the bottlenose dolphin, has a pointed nose and a white belly. They are more playful and curious about the boat. Every now and then they made a jump and they also swam under the boat. So special! The common dolphin leaves in April or May and returns to Madeira around December.
Tour 2 – Watching dolphins and two (!) whales
During the second tour we already spotted the first whale, a sperm whale, after half an hour. Wow, this moment is so magical! He swam right in front of the boat. His fin was sticking out of the water and he occasionally showed his head. After a few minutes he dives under water and shows his tail. Sperm whales can grow between 11 and 18 meters long and weigh up to 57,000 kilos! They can also hold their breath for an hour, so we were very lucky to spot him. And the luck didn’t stop there, because later we spotted another sperm whale.
Right after the whale we spotted another large group of bottlenose dolphins and we were able to enjoy their company for a few minutes. Not much later we came across a group of spotted dolphins. They are normally a lot more playful, but there are many young dolphins swimming among them that they like to protect. The young dolphins are gray and do not get their spots until they are about 3 years old.
Wildlife spotting guaranteed
Because Ventura – Nature Emotions works together with spotters on land, there is a greater chance that you will encounter multiple animal species per trip. The spotters have special binoculars and can monitor a much larger area. The skipper keeps in touch with them throughout the trip. If unfortunately you do not spot any species, you can join again at no extra cost.
How do you prevent seasickness?
Do you know that you quickly suffer from seasickness? Then it is better to sit in the back of the boat. Here you are least bothered by the waves. The crew is involved and checks several times if everyone is feeling well and comfortable.
Tips for a suitable outfit
Wear layers! On a warm and sunny day it can be hot when the boat stops, but during the trip to the whales and dolphins it can be very windy, it is good to have a windbreaker or sweater with you.
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