Madeira is a haven for outdoor activity enthusiasts. Lying about 1000 kilometres away from Portugal‘s mainland, the archipelago has adopted unique fauna and flora that’s thriving and whose existence has warranted the protection of two thirds of its area.
That means that it remains pretty much unspoiled, and there’s a lot to do here for adventure seekers – from canyoning to cycling through the lush mountain peaks and skirting around the dramatic coast. There’s an abundance of wildlife and you could even spot the odd whale or turtle, and many areas are so remote and inaccessible, the only way to discover them is by four-wheel drive.
First on our list is canyoning, and, although it can be done pretty much anywhere there are mountains and, well, canyons, what makes it special in Madeira is the beautiful locations like Laurissilva Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage site blanketed in lush greenery.
With Madeira Adventure Kingdom, a highly rated and successful outdoor activity company, you can do three hours of it, including rapelling down a waterfall, for €60. Just remember to bring a change of clothes because there is a slight possibility that you’ll get wet.
If getting wet doesn’t bother you at all, try diving in the waters surrounding the islands, which boast great visibility throughout the year and temperatures that range from 19°C to a balmy 24°C. The majority of great diving spots are dotted around the shores of Funchal, so if you fancy it, check out Scuba Madeira. If you’ve never dived before, you can get an introduction for €69, and they also offer certification courses for those with more experience.
You’re back on land now careering down mountainous paths. The wind skims the surface of your waxed helmet and you inhale the thick scent of hibiscus and African Tulip, your hands firmly grasping the handlebars of your Hardtail mountain bike. If this is something you aspire towards, head down to Freeride Madeira, who offer bike tours from €69. You’ll be transferred from your hotel and get a guide to show you around various trails. All that’s recommended is comfy clothing, refreshments and, most importantly, “good vibes”.
Alternatively you can rent a bike and go on your own self-led tour, like the maverick you are. Prices start from €25 for one day.
Horseriding will be pretty similar to going on a bike tour, but instead of on a bike, you’ll be doing it on the back of a magestic, four-legged beast, all the while sporting very en vogue riding gear. Quinta do Riacho riding stables are right next to the Madeira Natural Park, so you’re pretty much guaranteed amazing views during your ride.
Speaking of great views, sometimes you have to work a bit harder to get them. Making your way along the craggy and ever changing coastline requires a certain degree courage and plenty of safety equipment. If you happen to have those things, there’s nothing stopping you from clambering, rappelling and swimming around the coast on an epic, adrenaline-inducing journey that could have you quite literally stumbling across some of the islands’ most beautiful spots. Two of these are Ponta de São Lourenço, with its conspicuous volcanic formations and Prainha, a lovely black-sand beach. Madeira Outdoor run excursions daily (except Mondays).
As an alternative to coasteering, you could discover caves and bays throughout the coast without breaking a sweat – in a kayak! When your muscles start to ache you can just bob around and admire the scenery. Portugal Sport and Adventure offer trips for kayakers of all levels with experienced guides or, again, you can go at it alone and just hire one.
For an off-road experience, opt for a jeep tour, because many of the best parts of the islands are inaccessible to most other vehicles. With Madeira Jeep Safari you can try a whole day tour with a three-course lunch included. Or opt for a half day that will take you to the Nuns Valley, which owes its remoteness to the steep mountain peaks guarding it, so prepare yourself for a bumpy ride!
If you go on a trip with Rota dos Cetaceos, they’ll make sure you see some whales or dolphins, and if you don’t, it’s not even a big deal, because you’ll get a second trip for free. And if that wasn’t enough, they’ll let you swim with the creatures. The islands are known for attracting blue, pilot and sperm whales along with many others and bottle-nose dolphins. Now that’s an experience that’s hard to beat.