Activity holidays in Madeira

Steve Vickers gives ideas for an action-packed holiday in Madeira

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Steve Vickers

Steve Vickers
HomeAway travel expert

Active holidays in MadeiraAlmost 1,000 kilometres southwest of Lisbon and blessed with mild winters, the subtropical island of Madeira has long been a popular retreat for sun-hungry pensioners. The harbour-hugging capital, Funchal, still attracts its fair share of grey hair, but wilder and more remote parts of the island are starting to entice a new breed of young, adventurous and nature-loving tourists.

And it’s easy to see why: Madeira’s remote location in the Atlantic has helped to keep development in check, and the jagged landscape – shaped by ancient volcanic eruptions ­– provides the perfect backdrop for an active holiday. Plunging valleys and misty mountain ridges snake through the interior, where untouched forests await exploration, while swollen waves pound into the island’s rocky coastline, drawing surfers from around the world. So visit Funchal, Santa Cruz and Câmara de Lobos, where it’s said the first Portuguese explorer landed in 1420; but remember that beyond the sunny coastal resorts, there’s plenty to discover.



Five unforgettable activities to try on holidays to Madeira


Paragliding Paragliding in Madeira

Madeira has dozens of spots with paragliding potential, but only a couple have been developed to give first-timers the chance to fly with a qualified instructor. One of the most scenic locations is Canhas, 25 kilometres west of Funchal above the tiny village of Madalena do Mar. From the grassy take-off zone, bald cliffs tumble for 470 metres, passing emerald banana terraces and whitewashed villas on their way down to the sea. Spiralling high above the island on warm thermals allows you to drink in views of forested ravines and the rippling blue Atlantic, which fades hazily into the horizon.


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Swimming with wild dolphins Swimming with wild dolphins in Madeira

Forget cramming into a glass-bottomed boat: the best way to meet the wild bottlenose dolphins that frolic around Madeira’s coastline is to jump right into the water. Ecotourism company Madeira Wind Birds runs guided boat trips from Caniçal twice a week, giving you the chance to spot dolphins and – when the conditions are right – swim with them. If the cetaceans don’t show, you’ll still be able to take a dip at the Ponta de São Lourenço nature reserve, a deserted rocky peninsular on the island’s eastern edge.

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Canyoning  Canyoning in Madeira

Madeira’s steamy laurisilva forest – declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999 – is a place of wild flowers, hidden waterfalls and ancient evergreen trees. At its heart is Ribeiro Frio, a pristine canyon best navigated while wearing a wetsuit and helmet. There are six nerve-jangling abseil descents on the three-and-a-half-hour trip run by Adventure Kingdom, which runs all winter. Along the way you’ll have to swim, negotiate waterfalls and scramble over rocks, with occasional free-fall leaps into cool green pools carved out by the gushing water.

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Surfing Surfing in Madeira

There are two reasons why surfing in Madeira is not to be taken lightly. Firstly, the waves have an enormous fetch, allowing them to pick up huge amounts of energy (and size) on their way across the Atlantic. And when they do eventually break, it’s usually onto solid rock – less forgiving than a nice sandy beach. One of the few places with beginner-friendly waves and a sandy shoreline is Porto da Cruz, on the northeast coast, which has its own surf camp. Lessons are available by the day or week, and crowds are never a problem.

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Walking Walking in Madeira

Madeira’s original active pursuit and still mightily rewarding, levada walking involves following the mossy irrigation channels (or levadas) that guide water from the wet northern reaches of the island to the drier southern settlements. There are trails for all abilities, but the most spectacular deviates from the levadas for a long slog between two of the island’s highest peaks: Pico do Arieiro and Pico Ruivo. The well-trodden path includes steep ascents and a walk through a lightless tunnel, but any effort is more than made up for by the sight of wild flowers, endangered seabirds and – on a clear day – coast-to-coast views of the island.

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Holiday Rentals

Casa Oasis A Beautiful Spanish House In Mountain Village

Our lovely house is about 10 years old built in the traditional moorish style with polished tiles through and Italian marble stairs,but will all mod cons.and big garage. Washing machine etc. Fully equipped kitchen with dish washer , oven and hob, ...

Villa Le Magnolie - Lakefront Bliss in Laglio!

Lakefront bliss in Laglio! With private boat mooring to complement the private lakeside grounds, this serene 4 bed villa (ID 1293) provides the perfect escape for lake lovers. Behind the pretty pale rose painted facade, friends and families will...

Clifden, Galway Beautiful Comfortable Home

We would love to share our holiday home with fellow travellers. This fully equipped house is the essence of luxury and comfort, with a large kitchen with all mod cons and an Aga range for all you foodies! The house has oil fired central heating an...

Villa Barca - A Bountiful Getaway

With its unique lake front setting and sumptuous interior, groups of 8 can easily marvel at the striking beauty of Lake Lugano, at any time of year! The modern private villa (ID 1221) sits in a large sunny garden and offers the last word in luxur...

Charming'Duplex'-open frontal view on the Ocean & mountain-4/5 people

The apartment can very easily be ACCESSED from the highway : direct road ( 3 km) ; no city / village to go through. The NEAR ENVIRONMENT is attractive to people who enjoy diving, parapentes, golf and climbing, VTT. Also easy walk to the not ...
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