When Is the Best Time
Madeira is a hiker's paradise where you can climb mountains, the Levadas, and waterfalls. Its unique landscape, with dramatic cliffs and mountainous topography, is breathtaking. Already the arrival at the main airport in Funchal is an experience because of the extreme wind gusts. Pilots need additional training before they are allowed to land on this island in the Atlantic Ocean.
Madeira is the most beautiful and fascinating place in Europe. IMO one of the 10 MUST-SEE places in the world. This island can even compete with Kauai, Hawaii. The north is lush green, the south sunny and dry, and the heart is mountainous. The sunrises and sunsets are breathtaking, all different. You never get bored here. The sea is crystal blue and clear. The residents are lovely and attentive, and life is affordable in Madeira. On our second visit, we spent more than a month on this exceptional island, and even this was not enough.
Madeira is a popular holiday destination, with an estimated 1.5 million visitors annually. The driest season is the busiest season, from May to September. Read my seven guides and get every question answered for Madeira. Find the best Instagram Spots, Levada Hikes, Beaches, and Natural Pools. A Table of Content is added below to find what you are looking for easily.
I took all pictures of this Madeira Guide. If you wish to use any, please, contact me, but I will take action against picture theft.
Madeira Climate North and South
Madeira is situated north of the Canary Islands. It is always a few degrees colder here. The climate is similar; the north experiences more clouds, mist, and rain than the south because of the primarily existing northeasterly winds. These winds cause a high swell in the north, the reason for natural and human-made pools. However, the north is rich in lush vegetation, old grown trees on steep hills which were not burnt down by the first settlers. We love the dramatic wild coast of the north with its sheer cliffs; it reminds me of Kauai, a Hawaiian Island. The south is drier and even more pleasant in the winter.
It is a pleasantly mild climate throughout the year, close to the coast, and it rarely gets hot here. During winter, snow occurs on the highest mountains like Pico Ruivo, the highest mountain, and Pico do Arieiro, the third-highest, with more than 1800m elevations. Overall, Madeira experiences a microclimate almost everywhere. Our house was at 600m elevation, therefore cooler than at sea level in Calheta.
It is a little colder in higher elevations, sometimes cloudier; even the wind is different compared to the coast. I read in several guides that Funchal is the driest place on this island because of the high mountain range. I can't entirely agree. After two long-term stays in Madeira, I can definitely say the sunniest area lies southwest of Ribeira Brava to Paul do Mar. Nevertheless, Madeira is rich in water; therefore, always bring a rain jacket or an umbrella to explore the inland.
Best Time to Visit Madeira
The best time to visit Madeira regarding crowds, weather, and accommodation prices are spring and fall, from March to June and September to November. Sea temperatures are fine from May until at least November if you wish to swim and sunbathe. However in April 2023 the sea alteady had a temperature of 20°C. Winter is the quietest time, often dry along the south coast and rainier inland.
Madeira Swimming - Sea Temperature
The sea is a bit colder for swimming in spring and end of winter, around 18°C, pleasant in summer and autumn, ranging between 22°C and 25°C. So bring your goggles for snorkelling the sea is full of big and colourful fish.
Madeira Weather and Crowds
There are slight differences in the temperature in spring ranging from 16-21°C during the day. April is one of the wettest months, but it rarely rains for days. It also depends on the area you are in. March and April are less busy except Eastern. The sea temperature in March and April is between 18-19°C and reaches 20°C in May. The entire island is in bloom in the mountains until June. The yellow gorse and the “Proud of Madeira” are beautiful on the slopes.
Summer is the peak season, especially in July and August, like elsewhere, due to the school holidays. Temperatures range from 22-27°C throughout the summer and can top 30°C with easterly winds along the south coast. 2021 was one of the warmest summers ever, with temps above 30°C in August and September.
These winds transport the heat and sand from the Sahara. This Sahara sand causes such spectacular sunsets, as you can see above. Usually, it is dry, but rain can still occur in the mountains. However, the weather is unpredictable; we experienced rain showers and rainbows in mid-June. First rain showers occur mid to end of September. The sea is pleasant, on average around 23°C, but I assume this summer 2023 it'll be warmer.
Autumn is much warmer than spring. Day temps range from 19-24°C. Increasing rainfall, especially in November. However, it rarely rains for days, and it is more likely for half a day or a quick shower. The sea temperature is still around 20°C. Autumn is less busy; popular hikes are a bit quieter now.
Temperatures remain pleasant, ranging on average between 16-20°C. The weather is a little more unpredictable, with a higher chance of rain. In our favourite tavern, I got told that the winter can be as lovely as the summer but quieter. Sea temps drop below 20°C—fewer sunshine hours in the winter, roughly from 8 am to 6 pm. The winter is quite popular for visitors from the colder parts of Europe to enjoy the pleasant “eternal spring”.
Where to Stay? My Top Recommendations
The Calheta Beach Resort is excellently located in front of the beach and sea, and within walking distance is a small supermarket Pingo Doce. It is shallow water here and, in combination with the sand beach excellent for children. Swimming is best at high tide, and snorkelling is amazing. Due to the breakwater, the bay and beach are well protected from powerful waves and currents. It is one of the very few sandy beaches in Madeira.
Ponta do Sol
This town is located in the south, and it is one of the sunniest places in Madeira. There is an interesting historic town centre, lovely restaurants, and one of our favourite spots for swimming. The protected bay is well laid out.
There are lots of highly-rated hotels in Ponta do Sol. These hotels (by Stay22 and booking.com) are opposite the awesome sunny bay.
Thanks for booking via my website. With your support, I am able to provide all my guides for free.
Whale and Dolphin Watching Madeira
Madeira is an excellent spot for whale and dolphin watching, and it is almost guaranteed to spot cetaceans on these tours. Usually, you always spot at least one dolphin species and whale with a bit of luck.
The best time to see whales and dolphins around Madeira is from September to January when whales migrate. However, these trips are fantastic throughout the year.
The resident cetaceans, the sperm whale, different dolphin species, and pilot whales are the most common to see. Actually, pilot whales belong to the dolphin family.
Pilot whales are the second biggest dolphin species after the orca whales. They are very social and live in huge pods. One pilot whale, usually a female matriarch, leads the pod swimming in front, and the others follow her. They are 4-8 m long and beautiful to watch. They are nocturnal, diving up to 800 m deep for their preferred prey squid and resting on the surface during the day. The reason pilot whales are frequently spotted.
These dolphins occur close to the coast. As the pilot whales, only half of the brain and one eye is resting while the other part is awake and active to continue breathing. These dolphins have a length of 2-4 m. They live up to 50 years in the wild, while captured dolphins don't live that long.
These whales are most common to spot; all other whale species are rare. There is a resident population in Madeira and also around the Azores. Sperm whales are the most giant-toothed whales with the largest brain. They are easy to spot due to their high blow at the sea's surface.
They just come up for breathing roughly for eight minutes before diving again up to 3000 m deep. They have a long lifespan of up to 80 years. Males are much bigger, up to 20 m and females 12 m.
Best Months to Visit
Location and Tips
Madeira is a volcanic island, the top of a shield volcano located northwest of Africa. It is an autonomous region of Portugal. It takes 1.5 hours to get from Lisbon on a direct flight to the Cristiano Ronaldo Airport (FNC) in Funchal, Madeira.
It was difficult to inhabit and cultivate the island in former times, and you know why after your arrival on this blooming, beautiful, green island. The sheer cliffs made a landing by boat almost impossible. The reason Porto Santo, the little sister island, was inhabited first. Madeira translated means wood, timber which grows here in abundance, especially laurel forests and eucalyptus. However, the entire island was once covered with forests, especially laurel. The first settlers burnt down a huge part in lower elevations. The island is steep up and down, almost not flat. It is fertile soil, the reason for excellent food and wine.
The infrastructure, especially the tunnel constructions, are amazing. On my first visit to this island, getting from Funchal to the south or west took much more time. Nowadays you can always drive straight forward through many tunnels reaching all places between half an hour and an hour. In the picture above are the old R101, and in the back, the new road with kilometres of long tunnels.
I never saw this sign before. During good weather conditions, it allows driving 10 km/h faster than the existing speed limit.
Most fascinating are the “Levadas”, an irrigation system spread across the entire island with more than 800km. The water runs in a gentle flow with a slight incline from the mountains and sources down to the residents. According to UNESCO, this system was introduced by the first settlers in the first quarter of the 15th century.
With the Levada system, the farmers could cultivate the land, which is terraced until today. In former times Madeira became the capital for sugar cane in Europe. Sugar cane plantations still exist, and sugar influences the culture of Madeira. It is used for the national drink “Poncha”.
Madeira is most famous for the many walks along these so-called “Levadas”. Most of these trails are on higher elevations leading through lush forests rather a jungle.
Due to the high elevation and the proximity to the mountains, it frequently rains. I added five of my favourite “Levada Hikes” and the location in this article. Our wonderful house here in Madeira was our home from home, which we still miss.
5 Fantastic Levada Hikes and Waterfalls
The vegetation along the Levadas on higher elevations in the National Park of Madeira are remnant laurel forests or laurisilva. These forests have a huge impact on the entire ecosystem. Most of the laurel in Madeira is primary forest, and 20 % of Madeira are covered with this 20 million years old subtropical rainforest which is the largest concentration worldwide, the reason for its protection by UNESCO. There are different types of laurel trees. You can find such forests only in Madeira, the Azores, and the Canary Islands.
1 Levada das 25 Fontes PR6 & Levada do Risco PR6.1
Return hike 10km – 4h included lunch break – roughly 500m altitude difference.
This is the most popular hike on Madeira, located in the Paul da Serra. I agree these two water channel hikes are breathtaking. Start early latest at 9.30, to enjoy the trail, especially the 25 sources in the end and the spectacular scenery for yourselves or with very few people.
I arrived shortly after 9 am. My car was the fifth in the parking area. When I returned, roughly one hundred cars, busses, taxis, and shuttles were standing there.
The beginning of the trail is a bit boring; a paved road is leading down to Casa Rabacal for roughly 25 minutes. Here starts the real trailhead. Both Levada tracks are well-marked with signs. The lichens at the trees are evidence of the occurring mist, clouds, and rain.
The waterfall at the end of Levada do Risco is just another 1.2 km hike one way. In former times the Levada trail continued leading behind the waterfall. You can see the former path to the left. Nowadays, the trail is closed with a grid. This Levada path is wide and easy to walk, even with a buggy.
The descent continues on steps to the 25 sources. It takes 2.5 km to get to the stunning highlight. The trail narrows, lots of sources and streams are leading into this Levada. It is a mystic atmosphere walking through the thick forest.
When you reach the end of this track, you see an incredible pool and dripping water from everywhere. None of my pictures can show the real magic and beauty of this place.
Overall it is a moderate hike with several staircases. Also, children can walk this trail, and they will love all the water everywhere on this track. For people with health issues or a lower fitness level, there is a shuttle offered from the parking down to Casa Rabacal, the trailhead of the Levadas. Return price 3€ and one shuttle service 2€. This means one hour less walking.
Parking for Levada 25 Fontes and Risco Google Maps Link
2 Levada dos Cedros PR 14
One way 7 km – 2h – 250m altitude difference
It is a breathtaking Levada trail leading through fascinating nature, lush forest with trees full of lichens. Lichens are the first sign of a high amount of mist and rain. We started the trail at the highest point on 1.090 m elevation. First, the trail leads down for more than a kilometre, mostly on steps. When we reached the Levada, a waterfall to the left in the distance got my attention.
Of course, I wanted a closer look and started climbing over wet and slippery rocks. My left foot with hiking boot ended up in the water. This was the beginning of an exceptional wet day. From now on, the Levada makes a slight incline only, and the trail is easy to walk. However, some parts are exposed, nothing for people with vertigo. After half of the trail, it started raining and later pouring. I can’t remember; I was that much soaked from the rain in my entire life before. Nevertheless, we enjoyed this fantastic hike and the spectacular nature.
Parking on higher elevation: Fanal (Google Maps Link)
Parking on lower elevation: Curral Falso (Google Maps Link)
You like to experience at least one fantastic Levada, but you can't manage the longer return hikes? An alternative is to organize a taxi shuttle, park your car at the end of the Levada and take a taxi to the beginning.
One of the safety fences was damaged at an exposed part of the trail. However, we saw several hikers on this Levada trail.
3 Levada do Caldeirao Verde PR 9 + Caldeirao do Inferno
Return hike to Caldeirao waterfall 13 km plus Inferno 17.5 km - 3.5-4h/5-6h - 4+7tunnels torch essential!
I highly recommend this Levada Hike, and the Caldeirao do Inferno, especially when staying in the north. It took me 1.20 hours from Arco do Calheta to get here. This is definitely a wet day hike with 11 tunnels, plenty of waterfalls, spectacular views, a real adventure. It starts in the Queimadas Forst Park, which is already worth visiting with its ancient huge trees.
Read my entire trail description of the most beautiful Levada and Waterfall Hike in Madeira.
4 Levada do Rei PR 18
Return Hike 10.5 km - 3 h - no elevation gain
This is an easy hike through the gorgeous lush forest. The entire trail offers beautiful wild scenery with fern rees at the beginning. The walk is almost flat, just some steps to reach the Levada suitable for families with children.
The dense vegetation provides lots of shade and spectacular views of the tree-covered hills. Laurel trees grow next to the Levada. The scent of laurel and eucalyptus is in the air.
Some parts of the Levada are exposed therefore equipped with safety fences. It is a small track, but luckily remote located, not overrun even during Sundays. The trail is wet and muddy in sections. In December 2020 rain caused landslides and destruction. However, the Levada is accessible again.
After roughly three kilometres, there is a little overgrown trail to the right, some 200 m long This not marked and maintained track requires climbing to get to the hidden waterfall.
This short detour is great fun but a bit challenging. You definitely get dirty during the climb. Soon after reaching the Levada again, a short tunnel appears. A torch is not needed.
Shortly before you reach the endpoint Ribeiro Bonito you come across this waterfall. A rain jacket or umbrella and waterproof shoes are essential to pass this stunning part of the track. Overall a fantastic Levada hike in fascinating nature, which you share with few other people even during weekends. Levada do Rei parking Google Maps
5 Levada do Moinho to Levada Nova PR 7
Circular Trail - 9 km - 2.5 h - 230m altitude difference - tunnel 205m
This is more a beginner tour very easy to walk. It took us just 2 hours in the evening. If you have plenty of time available or the forecast for the island of Madeira is rainy, this circular trail is an alternative located in the drier south between Ponta do Sol and Ribeira Brava.
We combined these two Levadas, but we liked the landscape of Levada Nova on higher elevation much more. We chose Levada Moinho in Lombada for our start. It is a flat, mostly open track with a little shade only, for almost one hour. Shortly before the staircase, the trail changes to more wilderness.
The steep steps to the right lead up to Levada Nova. This Levada part is a little wetter and more spectacular. The circular Levada trail leads through thick laurel forest, especially on the way back.
The laurel cent accompanies you on this hike. Despite the poor weather forecast for Madeira, we had pleasant weather. Some parts are fenced for safety reasons like here, but some aren't.
As on most of the Levada trails, you have to deal with exposed and narrow parts. Shortly after the curve, we already reached Lombada village on a higher elevation. Attached is a map from the circular trail at the end of my article. There isn't any hiking map or information board provided at the trailheads.
Levadas for Farmers
All houses and gardens are connected to the Levada channel next to each house. I loved the sound of the thundering water on our steep street along our rental house. One of the neighbours explained they all grow their own veggies and potatoes.
He was so kindly brought us salad, veggies, potatoes, and eggs from his garden. What they do not need gets sold on the farmers market in Prazeres and elsewhere on weekends. Opposite our house was an apple tree plantation. The farmer explained their watering technique in detail.
The local community takes care of each Levada. Twice a month, the retired farmer waters his plantation; the annual fee is 20€, which is a fair price he mentioned.
Madeira is not a dry island like Gran Canaria. Water is everywhere, so it is not surprising to find many waterfalls on the island. Some of these waterfalls exist in the wetter season between October to May only. Of course, there are more than these six waterfalls. All my described Levada hikes offer breathtaking views of beautiful waterfalls either during the hike or they are the highlight at the end of the trail.
1 Vereda do Pesqueiro
When exploring the island by car, try to stop at the viewpoints; “Miradouro”. Usually, you get a spectacular view. Our first outlook was the “Miradouro do Fio” close to the lighthouse at Ponta do Pargo in the west of Madeira. The view from here to the sheer cliffs is breathtaking.
We saw a waterfall in the distance, and after a delicious lunch at the restaurant next to the “miradouro”, I hiked down to the bottom. This hike is not busy, also not during weekends. The waterfall occurs in the wetter season, just now in spring. The track to the beach and the bottom of the waterfall is called “Vereda do Pesqueiro”.
The return trail is roughly 4 km long. It took me 1.15h down and just 45 minutes up. Shortly before I reached the beach, I became wet from the spray. Water is dropping down the entire cliff.
If you prefer circular trails, you can start nearby the outlook Miradouro do Fio to get down to the beach and waterfall. When you reach the beach, walk to the east (left). Shortly before the waterfall, the trail led up. This trail is exposed and not suitable for people with vertigo in some sections. We always use Locus Map Pro for hiking. More about this mapping app in my tips and gear section.
There are caves at the beach, and it seems some guys are living in this secluded place.
2 Garganta Funda
This waterfall is just a 5 minutes drive north of Miradouro do Fio or Ponta do Pargo Lighthouse in the western part. The parking can be found easily with signs indicating how to get there. The car park is a small maximum space for three cars. From here, it is a nice short walk, less than 10 minutes, to the outlook.
3 Anjos Ponta do Sol
This is a famous Instagram spot and car wash for the locals on the old R101 in the south. It gets crazy here during the day; people are queuing for their best shot in a bikini or short trousers under the waterfall.
However, for your perfect shot, visit Anjos, which means Angel Waterfall, after midday for the perfect sunlight. The waterfall is in the shade in the morning. Google Maps Link Anjos
4 Cascata da Agua D'Alto
Actually, an old Levada hike that does not exist officially any longer. It is a short return hike of 3 km, almost without incline. At the end of this little overgrown path, plunges one of the most stunning waterfalls down to your feet.
This is one of the hidden gems and not much frequented in the north close to Santana.
We parked our car to the right and walked for roughly 200m around one curve until we reached this house. Walk down the steps and turn right.
You immediately reach the old path and Levada. Follow the path next to the water channel. Only once, there is a short descent and ascent.
The trail is a bit muddy in some parts and a bit exposed, but overall easy to hike.
The vegetation and forest along the trail with huge fern trees are amazing. Also, fruits grow here along the trail from the gardens.
We were already fascinated when we first saw this tall waterfall. At the bottom of the fall is a pool that is great for a bath. Usually, the waterfall exists in the wetter season only. Parking in the remote village (Google Maps Links)
5 Agua D'Alto and the old R101 in the north
This waterfall has the same name as the one before but is less spectacular. Many cars stop here coming from Sao Vicente. I mention this waterfall because of the old R101 to the right in the back of the picture. This old R101 is not accessible for cars any longer because of rockfalls. I don't want to encourage you to walk here. It is at your own risk! We couldn't resist getting a glimpse of the wild coast.
The road leads through several tunnels. Because of the dripping water everywhere, the vegetation in the tunnels is fascinating, also on the rock walls outside. Colourful epiphytes are spread on the rocks.
A hiking trail leading up to Encuemeda was not maintained any longer. However, lots of rocks of all sizes laid around.
6 Miradouro Veu da Noiva
In former times the old R101 led behind the waterfall. Nowadays, the road is closed for safety reasons, and a tunnel was built instead. There is plenty of parking just 100 m up, a snack bar, and restrooms. It is a picturesque stop on the road in the north. Depending on the season, it is a trickle in the summer and much bigger in the winter.
7 Must Things to Do and Instagram Spots in Madeira
There is so much to see and do on this exceptional island; a couple of weeks are needed to get an idea of the beauty. My "7 Must-Do and See Places" in Madeira are easily visited in one week. All these 7 spots can be visited for free. No entrance fee or parking is charged.
- Sunset on Pico Arieiro
Pico Arieiro to Pico Ruivo Hike (details see above), and the icing on the cake is the sunset above the clouds.
Stairway to Heaven - PR1 Vereda do Arieiro (Google Maps)
Pico Arieiro is a Must-Do place in Madeira. The weather is changeable in this high elevation, and it is usually much colder. My top tip for this famous spot is just half an hour's walk from the parking; check out the webcam before you drive all the way up to the top. You never know how the weather and cloud situation will be. For the perfect light of such a shot, the afternoon sun is the best time of the day. Webcam Pico Arieiro
Ruins of St. George (Google Maps)
Ruinas de Sao Jorge is another picturesque spot not much visited in the north of Madeira. A hike leads along the exposed coastline to Ponta de Sao Jorge.
Praia da Ribeira da Janela (Google Maps)
It is a rocky beach and utterly fascinating. Behind me is a huge and impressive rock formation showing an interesting pattern of the volcanic explosion millions of years ago.
Breathtaking Sunrise from Bica da Cana (Google Maps Parking)
This sunrise is worth getting up early. However, I recommend this one if you stay in the south of Madeira. You are almost alone when watching this unique sunrise. I was touched when I watched the sun rise above the clouds in utter quietness. It is rare to experience such a stunning moment with very few other early risers. The five of us were blown away by this spectacle of mother nature.
- Anjos Ponta do Sol (Google Maps)
It gets crazy at this waterfall, and people are queuing for their Instagram shots. On the other hand, cars pass by on this old narrow road to get their car washed or to drive through this unique waterfall—definitely, a spot you shouldn't miss on your vacation. Avoid weekends which are the worst. You get the best light for unforgettable shots after midday - early afternoon.
- Piscinas Natural in Seixal (Google Maps)
These are three pools in an outstanding location. You can watch the untamed ocean while swimming safely in one of the pools. We drove to the pools several times for swimming, and it always looked like in this picture never crowded. Parking on top in Seixal and a five minutes walk to the pools. Nevertheless, don't get too close to the edge, especially at high tide. Waves can crash with enormous power against the pool wall.
Rental Cars on Narrow Streets or Taxi Service
Our house was further up, but parking in front meant driving up to the end before you can turn the car. My rental car was a Fiat Panda; excellent to drive through the narrow, winding roads. Driving was challenging the first day, but I quickly adjusted to the steep roads, often more than a 30% incline. Now it is really fun to speed up to get to the top. Overall I drove almost 3.000 km in five weeks.
For a more relaxed vacation, choose a location where restaurants and the sea are within walking distance. Many taxis are available in Madeira, offering all sights and locations in a round trip for fixed prices. I met several couples on my hikes who used the taxi service during their stay. You frequently find taxi business cards at the end of a hiking trail. To get an idea, I added a picture below to see all available places and prices from Calheta. I recommend choosing one service for the entire time to negotiate a better price for your holidays.
Where to Stay - Rental Houses
If you prefer a greener, wilder coast which is less busy, stay in the north. The south is drier, warmer, and sunnier but not as spectacular. We chose the south for swimming in the evening on our workcation.
We rented a house in Arco da Calheta 600 m above sea level for more than a month. The sunsets from this elevation are breathtaking almost every evening.
For a better understanding, I added descriptions for all pictures below.