Madeira’s Wild Side: Adventure Awaits In This Untamed Island Paradise
Madeira's Wild Side: Adventure Awaits In This Untamed Island Paradise - Rugged Cliffs and Raging Waves
Madeira's rugged coastline is famous for its towering cliffs and crashing waves. The island's exposed position in the Atlantic Ocean means it bears the full brunt of the sea's force. Exploring Madeira's dramatic shores by foot, boat, or kayak offers an adrenaline-filled adventure.
The cliffs at Cabo Girão are among the highest sea cliffs in the world, plunging vertically 1960 feet down to the ocean. Standing atop the glass viewing platform jutting out over the precipice is not for the faint of heart! But the vistas are magnificent, especially on clear days when Porto Santo island is visible 50 miles across the sea. Hardy hikers can follow the narrow paths down to the pebble beach tucked below the cliffs. Bring your bathing suit for an exhilarating swim surrounded by towering walls of rock.
Venturing out by boat brings you up close to Madeira's rugged coastline. Zodiac tours departing from Funchal weave through sea caves carved into the island's cliffsides, ducking under arches and nudging into narrow passages. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, whales, and loggerhead turtles often spotted in Madeira's rich waters. As the boat bounces over the swell, the power of the Atlantic is palpable. For an even wetter ride, take a jetboat that deliberately speeds into the crashing waves, guaranteeing an adrenaline rush.
Kayaking the coast allows you to chart your own course, exploring smaller coves and beaches accessible only from the sea. Paddle quietly into Ponta de São Lourenço’s sea caves to discover hidden grottos festooned with stalactites. Along the shore, watch terns and gannets plunge-dive for fish while eerie Zino’s petrels circle overhead. With towering peaks overhead and the ocean swelling below, kayaking encapsulates the primal thrill of Madeira’s rugged shores.
What else is in this post?
- Madeira's Wild Side: Adventure Awaits In This Untamed Island Paradise - Rugged Cliffs and Raging Waves
- Madeira's Wild Side: Adventure Awaits In This Untamed Island Paradise - Scaling Madeira's Lofty Mountains
- Madeira's Wild Side: Adventure Awaits In This Untamed Island Paradise - Kayaking Through Dramatic Sea Caves
- Madeira's Wild Side: Adventure Awaits In This Untamed Island Paradise - Venturing into Madeira's Lush Laurel Forests
- Madeira's Wild Side: Adventure Awaits In This Untamed Island Paradise - Spotting Exotic Birds Along Coastal Cliffs
- Madeira's Wild Side: Adventure Awaits In This Untamed Island Paradise - Hiking the Levada Trails Past Waterfalls
- Madeira's Wild Side: Adventure Awaits In This Untamed Island Paradise - Camping Under Starry Skies in Madeira's Wild Interior
- Madeira's Wild Side: Adventure Awaits In This Untamed Island Paradise - Discovering Hidden Grottos and Secluded Beaches
Madeira's Wild Side: Adventure Awaits In This Untamed Island Paradise - Scaling Madeira's Lofty Mountains
Madeira's volcanic peaks offer adventurous hikers breathtaking vistas and the thrill of scaling lofty summits. The island's mountainous spine forms a giant natural playground for trekkers seeking beautiful trails with rewarding payoffs in scenery. Lace up your boots and grab your walking stick to experience the joy of climbing Madeira's inspiring high places.
The view from Pico Ruivo, Madeira's highest point at 6,106 feet, is well worth the challenging hike to the summit. The panoramic vista encompasses the entire island as well as Porto Santo and Desertas Islands. Look closely and on clear days you can even see the distant peak of Tenerife. The trail to the top traverses boulder fields and steep scree slopes, traversing narrow ridges with slopes dropping sharply on both sides. The path requires sure footing, but grasping metal handrails aids your climb through rockier sections. Standing on Pico Ruivo's lofty perch feels like being on top of the world.
For a slightly easier but equally scenic trek, climb Pico do Arieiro, third highest peak on Madeira at 5,896 feet. Walk through valleys of heather and bilberry, admiring endemic flowers like golden floxplants. Peer down awe-inspiring rock faces and watch clouds drift through the forested gorge below. The downhill return follows a winding path called the Nuns Valley, traversing mountain pastures grazed by cattle with sweeping vistas at every turn.
The hike to Pico do Cedro, second highest peak on Madeira, rewards perseverance with far-reaching views from its 5,789 foot summit. Looking north, take in Madeira's green mountainous terrain while southward views extend all the way to the golden cliffs of Ponta de São Lourenço. Prepare for changeable weather on this strenuous route - you may hike in sunshine, clouds, and even snowfall all in the same day.
Balcony Walk on the sea cliffs of Rabaçal give hikers a new angle on Madeira's peaks. This walkway clings to nearly vertical cliffs 650 feet above the ocean, affording dizzying downward views through protective fencing. Gaze upwards to see Pico Ruivo and the Three Brothers Peaks from this unique coastal vantage surrounded by heather. Drink in the vistas before descending to the 25 Waters Springs, watching waterfalls cascade down Madeira's mountainous slopes.
Madeira's Wild Side: Adventure Awaits In This Untamed Island Paradise - Kayaking Through Dramatic Sea Caves
Slipping through the swell in a sleek kayak brings you up close and personal with Madeira’s rugged sea caves. Paddling into the rocky grottoes and arches carved by centuries of crashing waves feels like venturing into hidden worlds. It’s a memorable way to experience the primal forces that shaped this volcanic island.
Kayaking beneath Madeira's towering cliffs amplifies their drama and scale. Look up and it seems the rock faces lean out overhead, ready to topple down. The swells feel bigger when your paddle is the only thing keeping you from getting smashed into the rocks. But ducking through a sea cave arch as waves crash around you gives an exhilarating rush of excitement.
Venture around Ponta de São Lourenço on the eastern tip and you’ll discover sea caves adorned with magical arrays of stalactites. Paddle through larger openings into hidden inner grottoes illuminated by sunbeams. Look for cave pools filled with crystal clear seawater. The limestone formations and skylights make you feel like you’re in an underground cathedral.
Some caves contain secluded pebble beaches inaccessible from land. Pull your kayak up onto the smooth stones and claim your own secret shore. Wade into pools ringed by rock walls stretching hundreds of feet above. Cliff diving here is for the brave of heart! Pack a picnic and dine on fresh fish while you have an entire cave to yourself.
Kayaking into ravines like Curral das Freiras provides new perspectives on Madeira’s high peaks. Paddle up rivers wending through the mountains and look up to see Pico Ruivo’s summit high above. Listen to waterfalls spilling down from the cliffs as kayakers make their way upstream into cool green gorges. It’s the perfect vantage point to appreciate Madeira's majestic natural landscape from below.
Madeira's Wild Side: Adventure Awaits In This Untamed Island Paradise - Venturing into Madeira's Lush Laurel Forests
Walking beneath the leafy green canopy of Madeira's laurel forests transports you to a magical natural wonderland. These protected old-growth forests, which are found on the north-facing slopes of Madeira's central mountains, create their own miniature ecosystems shrouded in mist. Luxuriant trees draped in mosses and lichens form a living cathedral overhead. The scenery looks straight out of a fairy tale.
The easy Levada do Caldeirão Verde trail immerses you in the beauty of Madeira's laurel forests. Follow the narrow irrigation channel through mossy glades filled with delicate indigenous flowers. Watch sunlight filter through the branches to dapple the forest floor. Inhale the rich scent of damp earth, leaf litter, and aromatic sap. Listen for the chirping of unique birds like the Madeiran firecrest, found nowhere else on earth. It's an enchanting forest walk accessible to hikers of all abilities.
For a longer and hillier trek, the Vereda da Gestosa winds deeper into the primeval foliage along cascading streams. This levada trail exemplifies the biosphere reserves designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Pass massive til trees cloaked in velvety green mosses that cling to every surface. Peer at fascinating plants like canopy-dwelling angel's tears and parasitic dwarf elder. Try and spot one of the indigenous woodland birds that flit through the trees. Following this ancient water channel feels like journeying through the dawn of time.
The observation platform of Balcões offers panoramic views over Madeira's verdant laurel forest. Standing atop this lofty viewpoint, you gain new appreciation for the vast swathes of undisturbed forest blanketing Madeira's slopes. Watch clouds roll through the treetops in the valley below and listen to leaves rustling in the breeze. Majestic old Madeiran chestnut trees spread their twisting branches all around. It's humbling to witness the laurel forests' timeless beauty and scale from this breathtaking vantage.
Madeira's Wild Side: Adventure Awaits In This Untamed Island Paradise - Spotting Exotic Birds Along Coastal Cliffs
Madeira's rugged cliffs and rocky outcrops along the coast create the perfect habitat for many rare and exotic seabirds. As you hike along the edge of Cabo Girão's towering 1960-foot precipice, keep your eyes peeled for Madeira's avian treasures. Here you can spot endemic species found nowhere else on earth taking flight below you.
One iconic Madeiran bird is Zino's petrel, one of Europe's rarest seabirds. With a population of just 70-80 breeding pairs, this endangered petrel is only found in the desertas Islands and remote sea cliffs off Madeira's coast. Its eerie nocturnal cries belie the Zino petrel’s graceful flight patterns as it wheeled over the ocean hunting for squid. Rise early to catch sight of these sleek grey-and-white seabirds headed home to their cliffside burrows after a night of foraging.
Madeira is also home to the world’s rarest storm petrel species - Monteiro’s storm petrel. Fewer than 10 breeding pairs remain on the islands. Watching this critically endangered seabird flutter along cliff faces feeding its single chick is an unforgettable privilege. Its unique musky odor helps give away the locations of its well-hidden nest sites deep in rock crevices.
Band-rumped storm petrels are more numerous but equally captivating to spot swooping over the waves. Listen for their distinctive purring calls as they court and forage. These plump grey-and-white storm petrels breed in colonies hidden in cliffs and lava fields across Madeira, Desertas and Porto Santo islands. Seeing them patter across the water using their feet for propulsion is a charming sight.
Speckled yellow Berthelot’s pipits also frequent Madeira’s coastal cliffs and offshore islets. Watch them teeter on cliff edges and flit between the scrubby vegetation. The crunchy electric buzz of their song carries on the wind. But keep an eye skyward as well - massive yellow-legged gulls and Cory’s shearwaters often soar overhead. With luck, you may even glimpse a soft-plumaged petrel or rare Fea’s petrel passing by.
Madeira's Wild Side: Adventure Awaits In This Untamed Island Paradise - Hiking the Levada Trails Past Waterfalls
Madeira's ingenious levada irrigation system channels water from the rainy interior mountains out to the drier coastal farms. Following these hand-built aqueducts on foot provides hikers with flat, scenic trails winding past tumbling cascades. It's a unique way to experience the confluence of nature and human engineering while soaking up gorgeous scenery.
The Levada do Norte trail follows a narrow water channel burrowing through lofty peaks and ridges. The levada snakes past sheer rock faces with the valley floor far below, affording goosebump-inducing vistas of Madeira's high mountainous peaks. Further along, the levada crosses the face of Rabacal Falls, treating hikers to river views as the powerful cascade spills over a rocky lip into the gorge. Lesser-known cascades like the Veil of the Princess tumble into pools right beside the levada too.
On the Levada Caldeirao Verde route, the levada trail literally disappears INTO a waterfall at one point as you hike behind the liquid veil of Cascata do Inferno. Prepare to get pleasantly misted as you traverse this unique spot - just be sure to protect cameras and electronics! Farther along, the trail tunnels behind small hidden waterfalls and crosses bridge overlooks with views of spectacular cascades spilling down the cliffs across the gorge.
Levada do Alecrim wanders through the Parque Florestal das Queimadas, offering hikers a forested trail with views over multiple falls. Cascata da Caldeira da Ribeira da Janela plunges 330 feet over a sheer cliff, its power magnified after heavy rains. The trail’s end overlooks two-tiered Cascata do Risco, tumbling down a rocky slope surrounded by verdant forest.
Hiking to Balcões’ lofty lookout shows how levadas harness water power. From this viewpoint, you can see multiple levadas traversing the mountain slopes, directing waterflows to prevent flooding and soil erosion. Watch the levadas divert cascades left and right, segmenting one mega-waterfall into separate tumbling tiers. It's a fascinating look into the integral role levadas play on the island.
Madeira's Wild Side: Adventure Awaits In This Untamed Island Paradise - Camping Under Starry Skies in Madeira's Wild Interior
Madeira's mountainous interior makes an ideal spot for stargazing, with limited light pollution under sweeping night skies. Camping on the island brings you closer to nature and gives you front row seats when Madeira's twinkling heavens put on their dazzling show.
Pitch your tent at Madeira's Paul da Serra plateau, a vast open grassland 1500 meters above sea level. This tableland provides panoramic views unobstructed by trees or buildings. The immense vault of the sky stretches out above you, unpolluted by city lights. At night, upwards of 3000 stars are visible to the naked eye, crowded thick with constellations. Local astronomers say the clarity of vision rivals Hawaii's mountaintops.
Lie back on the grass and watch for shooting stars blazing across the inky heavens as the Milky Way arches overhead. Feel dwarfed staring up at millions of galaxies light years away. Listen for nocturnal seabirds calling in the darkness. With no ambient light, wait for eyes to adjust and watch the celestial sphere appear in vibrant detail.
Early risers can wake before dawn to watch night yield to day, with the sky shifting through indigo, violet, pink, and orange. Photographers flock here to capture magnificent sunrises and sunsets. As the first rays of light hit the mountain peaks, mist rises from the valleys for an ethereal scene.
Campers should come prepared with warm layers as nights get chilly at these high elevations. Windproof tents and sleeping bags rated to near-freezing are a must. Alternatively, consider renting a camper van and sleeping in comfort while still enjoying the night sky through wide panoramic windows.
Beyond Paul da Serra, other areas ideal for stargazing include Achada do Teixeira, Pico do Cidrão, and Portela. Each provides ideal conditions: high elevation, lack of light pollution, and panoramic sight lines. Download apps to identify constellations or take a guided astronomy tour to maximize the experience.
Madeira's Wild Side: Adventure Awaits In This Untamed Island Paradise - Discovering Hidden Grottos and Secluded Beaches
Madeira’s rugged shoreline harbors all sorts of secret nooks and crannies for intrepid explorers to uncover. Poking your kayak into hidden coves and slipping through narrow cave openings rewards you with access to the island’s most secluded beaches and magical grotto hideaways.
Gliding your paddle into shadowy fissures in the cliff face whisks you into secret caves invisible from land or sea. Let your eyes adjust to the dark interior and shapes emerge from the gloom - captivating rock formations, glimmering tidal pools, even miniature beaches of smooth pebbles. These are caves never touched by the crowds. Their isolation creates a sense of discovery, like you’re the first to set foot on these stones for centuries. I prefer to travel off-peak when I can have these beauties all to myself.
Around Ponta de São Lourenço you can find sea caverns adorned in an astonishing array of stalactites and limestone columns. Paddle through the cathedral-like chambers and you’ll swear the rock formations take on human or animal shapes, like Mother Nature’s own sculptures. My favorite is the Grotto of the Nativity, named for the manger scene the formations resemble. Lit by rays of sunshine, it’s a sacred space that leaves me speechless. Even longtime locals haven’t explored every hidden cave here - there are new discoveries waiting.
Then there are the truly hidden beaches reachable only by boat, where your footprints are the only ones in the sand. I prefer to pack a picnic in my kayak rather than share shore lunches with big noisy tour groups. Shoreline indentations conceal pebble and boulder beaches you’d never know were there from land. Around Baía D’Abra I floated right into an abandoned fishing hamlet with a crescent of stone beach all to myself! Fajã dos Padres took some scouting to find, but the secret cove lined by 200-foot cliffs was worth it. The beaches feel like my own private island getaways.
For a real Robinson Crusoe feeling, look for hidden grottos with freshwater pools for a swim. Early Portuguese settlers used these as bathing spots, but now many lie abandoned and overgrown. Being first to dive into the crystalline water in an empty grotto is an unforgettable thrill. Take a leap from boulders into deep pools surrounded by towering walls of volcanic rock swathed in ferns and mosses. These lush oases feel worlds apart rather than mere miles from Funchal and Madeira’s resort crowds. With younger kids we’ll pack pool noodles and water toys to enhance the adventure.