From paragliding high above majestic valleys to hiking through lush forests, it’s all possible in Madeira
Madeira is one of Europe’s favourite destinations for adventure lovers. Whether it’s scuba diving among the incredible marine life or tobogganing down a mountain in a wicker basket, the small island really packs a punch. Here are some of our favourites.
Life under the ocean waves of Madeira is full of fascinating fauna and flora. Keen divers can swim with giant pods of dolphins that frolic off the island’s coast, as well as the whales (sperm, pilot and fin whales all call these waters home). The island has several eco marine parks where you can spot species including giant groupers, moray eels, barracudas, monkfish, sting rays and sometimes manta rays.
Paragliding is one of the best ways to see the beautiful landscapes of this rugged island – not to mention getting a birds’ eye view for a spot of whale watching. There are dozens of take-off spots dotted around the island that allow paragliders the perfect opportunity to soar with the island’s varied birdlife. Areas such as Porto da Cruz, on the southeast of the island, are among the most heart-racing spots to take to the skies where gliders soar by the towering rocky mountain.
In Funchal, visitors can enjoy one of the island’s more unusual – but probably most famous – pastimes: tobogganing. Take the Monte Cable Car from Funchal to Monte, and then the short walk up to the Nossa Senhora do Monte Church. From there, couples sit in wicker baskets and are tobogganed down the mountain by men in straw boaters that can hit speeds of up to 30km per hour. The Madeira sled ride has been around since the 1850s, when it was primarily used as public transportation in Funchal.
Madeira is a hiker’s paradise, with routes to suit all experiences and age levels. The most popular routes take hikers along the famous irrigation channels – levadas – such as PR 6 and PR 6.1 which take walkers to Risco waterfalls and a lagoon of 25 springs. Arguably the island’s most beautiful hike is PR 1, which connects two of the highest peaks in Madeira, Pico do Arieiro and Pico Ruivo. The trail takes hikers above the clouds, walking along the mountain peaks. However, taking between six and eight hours, it’s not for the faint-hearted.