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Monday, February 8, 2016

VIDEO and Travel Guide to Madeira (Portugal)

The island of Madeira is well known among the European tourists.  
Not so much with Americans.  

You will most like be one of few (if the only) American traveling around the Island of Madeira.  Everyone I talked to about Madeira really had no idea about the island but a little bit about the wine.  If you are looking for a European island getaway to Madeira, then this guide is for you.  I have included some important information, our day by day itinerary including GPS locations, and important information.  This guide also includes links to all my posts about our various trips around the island.   

If you want a more extensive booklet to carry with you around the island, I highly recommend the Living Planet Pocket Guide to Madeira found here that I brought everywhere with me on this trip.  If you want an excellent on-line resource to see what to do beyond my one week on the island , and a place where you can book all your tours and activities head to Madeira.Best

Quick Before You Go: The language on the island is Portuguese. Almost everywhere English is spoken, and often German and French as well. You can find the menu printed in several languages (always English as well) in all of the restaurants.  You can book airport transfers, or a minibus for any destinations you need here.  You will need a 2 round pin European adapter as voltage is 220V/50Hz.

If you want to see as much of the island as possible the best way is to break it up into geographic sections.  The map below shows all of the spots we visited around the island. I also broke it down into a day by day itinerary. 

East Madeira - East Funchal - West Funchal - West Madeira - Mountains of the Interior - Mid Island to North Coast
  • Fly from Boston to Azores, quick layover and plane change from Azores to Madeira
  • Land in Madeira (Santa Cruz) grab a rental car at the Airport
    • See note at the end about renting a car on the island 
  • Check into Melia Madeira Mare in Sao Martinho
    • gorgeous 5 star hotel, breakfast included
  • Walk around Sao Martinho
    • very busy and popular hotel district, restaurants, shops, hotels, grocery stores 
  • East Funchal and Mercado dos Lavradores 
    • Check out the local farmers market (get there early to see the fish)
  • Jardim Botanicos da Madeira ( N 32.661478, W -16.895638)
    • the large botanical garden on the island 
  • Zonha Velha “Old Zone” and seafront
    • walk around and have lunch
  • Fortaleza de Santiago (N 32d 38' 54.24", W 16d 53' 42")
    • old fort on the coast 
  • Monte- East Funchal- Cable Cars and Toboggan Rides (32.676777, -16.899000)
  • little town where the cable cars and toboggan rides are 
  • FOOD:  Gaviao Novo- top seafood restaurant in the area
  • Pico do Arieiro (3rd highest peak)  (N 32.734869 W -16.928699)
    • cafe, Portuguese Air Force radar station
    • good for the sunrise
    • start of a hike to the other peaks including the highest peak 
  • Riberio Frio (Trout Farm) (N 32.733 W -16.883)
    • Possibly the worlds most visited trout farm.  Hundreds of trout in tanks filled with cold levied water.  Free admission 24 hours 
  • Curral das Freiras (Valley of the Nuns) (N 32.710209 W -16.96261)
    • Large basin with towering mountains on all sides
    • FOOD:  Vale das Freiras 5-15 euors, 8am to 10pm 
  • Encumeada- mountain pass before highway (N 32.7522, W 17.0277)
    • Sits between two deep-cleft valleys (1083m) you can see both coastlines and this is also a starting point for many trails. A tunnel means that all traffic can bypass the climb and cut right through the mountain
  • Sao Vincente (N 32.803680, W -17.046018)
    • small coastal town with great restaurants and a cute waterfall 
  • Grutas de Sao Vicente- caves 1996 (N 32.797498, W -17.042220)
    • The first part of this trip is a guided tour through 900,000 year old lava tubes studied by English geologist James Johnson in the 1850s.  The second part of this stop is a movie and walk through “Centro do vulcanismo, including a 3D movie on how Madeira island was formed, and about volcanoes in general
    • 8/6 euros, 10am to 7pm 
  • Scuba Diving - with Scuba Madeira 42 euros for 1 dive 
  • Visit Downtown Funchal 

  • Cabo Girao (580m) (N 32d 39'25.1", W 17d 00' 16.7")
    • 3km west of Camara de Lobos, Madeiras highest sea cliffs. 
    • panorama viewing platform, glass floor over a cliff 
      • 24 hours, free admission but bathrooms are .50 euros 
  • Camaro de Lobos- fishing valley (N 32d 38' 53.4", W 16d 58'26.7")
    • Center of Madeiras traditional fishing industry 
    • Colorful boats in the harbor, bars and cafe 
  • Paul do Mar - Surf Capital - (N 32.759070, W -17.23049)
    • surfing capitol of Madeira 
  • Porto Moniz-  (N 32.86795, W -17.170521)
    • pools, aquarium, and museums 
  • Levada hike-  southern edge of Paul Das Freiras, Rabacal starting point 
    • Rabacal - Levada do Risco and Levada das 25 Fontes - off the ER110 road (no busses) 
      • Trail PR 6 (Levada das 25 fontes) Trail PR 6.1 (Levada do Risco) starts at 1064m 
      • first, you hike to the intersection and take the turn to hike to the Levada do Risco, 10 minute hike to a waterfall 100m into a lagoon. 
      • second, you go back to the intersection, and take the route to Levada das 25 Fontes, a pool fed by numerous waterfalls, but we don’t think 25.  “Legend has it that anyone who submerges themselves in the lagoon will never resurface”.  Water from these lavenders make its way to the hydroelectric power station in Calheta.   
      • FOOD:  Frango da Guiia 

  • Canical-  Whaling Museum GPS N 32d44’9” W 16d44’26”
    • 1030-1800 Tuesday to Sunday Canical 
  • Ponte de Sao Lorence
  • Machico 
  • Airport N 32.6942d W 16.7781d
DAY 8: Overnight Layover- Ponta Delgada Azores Ponta Delgada, Azores to Logan Airport, Boston MA
Need to know about visiting Europe
There are so many differences between Europe and the States.  From bathroom fixtures to currency, a few hours across the pond and the world slows down and changes.  I wanted to put together some helpful and interesting facts you should know before traveling to the island of Madeira, or similar European countries

  • Bidets everywhere.  I see a bidet in every single hotel room in Europe and it always makes me laugh.  Do Europeans come to America and think we are filthy for not having these in our rooms? It just isn’t something you see in the states
  • Euros.  Of course, Europe doesn’t use dollars, and they use euros.  Going back and forth between the two is relatively simple as the numbers are close.  Also be aware that the smallest bill is a five, and there are 1$ and 2$ coins.  Get used to carrying change everywhere you go.
  • Units. Unfortunately, the US never took to the metric system.  Everything will be in the metric system from your speedometer to the pressure gauge on your scuba tank.  Memorize a few shortcuts, (feet is about 3x meters).  
  • Time Changes.  obviously when you travel far distances, you have to deal with the time changes.  We had a red eye (zero sleep) on top of a 7 hour time change that makes for a rough first few days.  You will be in the Western European time zone.  Drink lots of water and try to adapt to the new time as soon as possible, even if it means staying awake that entire day 
  • Slooooow.  Everything in Europe is slow. So so slow.  From the way people work, to waiting for a meal at a restaurant.  Any meal is a two hour process.  And champagne for breakfast and wine every other meal is totally acceptable. Lunch is a slow go where everyone relaxes over a bottle of wine and a ton of food. 
  • Lagnuage barriers.  Be aware of where you are traveling, and what language is being spoken.  Thankfully most countries speak english, and somewhere as popular with European tourists as Madeira, means nearly everyone speaks english.  However, it is good to have a few words under your belt, especially when you are bartering a deal and don’t want to come off as a dumb tourist.  Cerveja is a good one to know.  
  • Rental cars.  If you chose to rent a car in Europe, give it a lot of thought first.  The cars are small, the parking spaces impossibly tiny, the roads ridiculously small and the people basically drive like maniacs.  ALSO: They are aggressive and crazy behind the wheel.  There is also a rotary at every four way intersection, and barely any traffic lights anywhere on the island.  The rotaries can feel like a death trap when trying to get back to your hotel during rush hour.  If you do rent a car, also be hyper aware of the rental companies and insurance.  Check to see if your credit card provides insurance for a car rental in that company so you don’t have to pay for additional insurance.  The rental companies in Madeira looked over our car with a fine toothed comb.  Any scratch or dent, and you will be paying.  Lastly, be aware of all the one way streets.  They are everywhere and sometimes the marking is not as clear as you would hope
  • Garages.  If you do rent a car and find a parking garage to park in, be aware of when they close.  Unlike the states, they close at a certain time (say midnight) and you cannot get your car out until the next day when the gates are unlocked. 
  • Fish.  Fish on an island like Madeira is absolutely delicious.  But be warned, because a majority of the dishes are filled with tiny fish bones.  Ask your waiter for your fish to be filleted if your fish comes whole and you are concerned.  If you have issues with whole fish or bones, clarify with your waiter before ordering. 
  • Food.  The food is going to be different.  And I can’t speak for all of Europe, but I can speak for the Portuguese mainland and island.  The Portuguese overcook EVERYTHING.  The veggies will be boiled until they are brown and the meat and fish tends to be well well well done (more so in the Azores than Madeira). Variety is not the spice of life in this culture.
  • Tipping:  Tipping is not a common practice in a lot of Europe.  From what I read, tipping is not expected but you can round up to the dollar.  Tipping is nothing near 20 percent like the US. We always tipped a few dollars wherever we went, but normally, it is done only for exceptional service.  
  • Crime.  According to the travel books I have read and the people I have talked to, Madeira is one of the safest places on the planet when it comes to crime.  You don't need one of those crazy fanny packs for your money and documents.  Just don't. 
  • Water.  public water is not a thing. Every drop of water you drink will have to be purchased.  You will not find a water fountain at the airport, or anywhere else in the island.  And there is no such thing as tap water at restaurants.  All water is purchased from a bottle.   I recommend grabbing a few bottles from the grocery store for your car and the room.  
Must try (f0od and beverage):  
Poncha, Madeiran wine, Espada (local eel like fish), chestnuts  

Not seen but worth it if you have time:
  • On the North coast; A frame houses, aquarium
  • Any of West Fuchal including Renaldo statue/museum
  • Island of Porto Santo (ferry or flight, sandy beaches)
  • Camacho Wicker Factory
  • Northeast coast points
  • Walk out to the eastern edge of the island, 8km to Ponta de Sao Lourenco
  • Hike from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruvio (8.6 km, 1862m)

If you have any questions about visiting the Island of Madeira, feel free to email me at ! And don't forget the Living Planet Pocket Guide to Madeira found here (used and new on Amazon from $6.99 to $13.99)

And now, the best part.  

Recapping the trip with a video.

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