Unforgettable Adventures: The 5 Must-Do Activities on Your Next Trip to Madeira, Portugal
Updated: Mar 24, 2023
Have you ever had a day so jam-packed with adventure that it felt like a week? That's exactly what my recent trip to Madeira, Portugal was like. I had the incredible opportunity to participate in a hosted trip with the Portugal Tourism Board, and I got to experience so many things this beautiful island has to offer, from the history of the wicker sled toboggan to the stunning views atop Cabo Girao.
Wicker Sled Toboggan - Carreiros do Monte
My day started off with a thrill ride on the famous wicker sled toboggan. This unique form of transportation has been around since the early 19th century and was initially used by locals to get from their homes in the mountains down to the city. The wicker sleds are powered by drivers called, Carreiros. They use rubber-soled boots (made from the same rubber as car tires) so they are able to stop the sled when necessary, which are replaced every two months.
Nowadays, it's a must-do activity for any tourist visiting Madeira. It's easy to see why - zipping down the narrow, winding streets at breakneck speed while being steered by experienced Carreiros is an unforgettable experience.
PRO TIP: Arrive early to beat the crowds and avoid waiting in line for this popular activity. By getting a head start on the day, you'll have plenty of time to enjoy every moment without the stress of long lines.
Camara de Lobos
After that rush of adrenaline, I took some time to explore the fishing village of Camara de Lobos. This charming town was a favorite of Winston Churchill, who famously painted several scenes of the village during his visits. Walking through the cobblestone streets and admiring the colorful boats bobbing in the harbor, it's easy to see why Churchill was so drawn to this place.
Next up was Cabo Girao, one of the highest cliffs in the world at 1932 ft tall, a sheer cliff that drops 580 meters straight down into the Atlantic Ocean. Standing on the glass platform at the edge of the cliff is not for the faint of heart, but the views are absolutely breathtaking. You can see all the way to Funchal, the capital of Madeira, and beyond.
Quinta Grande Cable Car - Faja dos Padres Restaurant
From there, I hopped on the cable car at Quinta Grande and descended down 300 meters, to the beach for a delicious lunch. The views from the cable car are just as stunning as those from Cabo Girao, and the ride itself is a fun experience. Once I reached the beach, I sampled some of the local cuisines at Faja dos Padres - fresh fish, of course - and soaked up the sun for a bit before heading back up the mountain.
The day was far from over! Next was a jeep tour of the mountain villages, complete with off-roading and stops at local bars for the popular local drink, poncha. This sweet and tangy cocktail is made with rum, honey, lemon juice, and sugar cane juice - it's the perfect pick-me-up after a long day of adventure.
PRO TIP: In Madeira, it is possible to experience multiple climates in one day. Thanks to its diverse topography, you can start your morning soaking up the sun on a gorgeous beach in Funchal with temperatures in the mid 70’s. As you venture into the mountains, the weather can quickly change to cooler and more humid, with the possibility of rain. That's why it's crucial to pack layers and plan ahead so you can fully embrace all the different climates Madeira has to offer.
Finally, it was time for dinner, and I couldn't wait to taste the traditional flavors of Madeira. I opted for a typical Madeiran meal of espetada, a dish that features succulent chunks of beef skewered and cooked over an open flame. The meat was so tender and juicy that it practically melted in my mouth, and the flavors were perfectly balanced with just the right amount of seasoning. As I savored each bite, I couldn't help but reflect on the incredible day of excitement and exploration that had led me to this delicious meal. It was the perfect way to cap off a truly unforgettable adventure in Madeira. (Several rounds of Poncha may have also been involved.)
Overall, my day in Madeira was one for the books. From the history of the wicker sled toboggan to the rush of standing on Cabo Girao to the delicious local food and drink, I got to experience the best of what this incredible island has to offer. If you're ready to plan a trip to Madeira, be sure to add these activities to your itinerary - you won't regret it!