5x adventurous Madeira with kids: from canyoning to jeep safari

Madeira is an island full of natural beauty that is ideal to impress your children. Because despite its compact size, Madeira is a paradise for young adventurers with an enormous diversity of activities that are still affordable. That’s why we give you five tips for an unforgettable holiday.

Text: Angelique van Os | Photo: Henk Bothof / Angelique van Os

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One of the many beautiful viewpoints of Madeira, near Santana. | Photo: H.Bothof

1. Water safari Madeira: kayaking, snorkeling and dolphin spotting

Real water lovers can enjoy themselves for hours on Madeira. Madeira covers several beautiful places where it is possible to kayak and snorkel, even with kids. We are going out with outdoor specialist Lokoloko, which is run by the enthusiastic and originally German Sittika Maier and her team. Lokolo offers numerous activities on Madeira, from hiking, mountain biking, SUPing, buggy tours, diving to surfing. And older daredevils can also go paragliding.

Garajau Nature Reserve

We are located in the middle of the famous Garajau Nature Reserve, just outside the village of Ganiço de Baixo. You can kayak here for miles along high cliffs and the raw volcanic coastline. With a nine-year-old, one and a half to two hours of paddling is already quite an effort, but my son receives good instructions and support from the enthusiastic Lokoloko guide who happens to be Dutch. If he gets tired, he can recover for a while and the guide takes over.

A moment of rest on the waves

During a moment of rest, I doze off to the sound of the waves, but this is rudely interrupted by a hard splash next to me. With a big grin my son says: “Mommy, come in too, the water is nice and warm!” However, I can already imagine having to struggle back into the kayak in all kinds of uncomfortable positions in my tight bathing suit, so I make up an excuse that someone has to take pictures.   

I try to imagine what the rich underwater world just a few meters below us must look like, full of colorful fish of all shapes and sizes. Garajau is a beloved diving spot, with several interesting locations. For example, think of Baixa da Cruz, Arena and Mamas. The latter consists of two rock formations that rise from the seabed at a height of 30 meters and a depth of 13 meters.

Snorkeling among the fish

For us it remains snorkeling because children are only allowed to dive under professional supervision from the age of 10. When we have paddled back and moored at the Galo Hotel Resort, we exchange the kayak for snorkeling gear. After a brief explanation from our guide, we slide into the water and I hear my son squealing: “Wow, look what a fish! Only soon there will be a crab hanging in my finger!” All kinds of colorful fish pass by between our legs and our son is worried about crabs that are scurrying around on the rocks. However, he soon forgets the crabs, looking for fish.

Dolphins off Madeira

The photic zone – the upper layer of the ocean – is so rich here because the archipelago is a corridor for migratory fish species. Mammals such as dolphins, seals and whales also migrate in large numbers around the waters of Madeira. This is noticeable when we go on a water safari in search of dolphins. We will go out for three hours on a large catamaran ship from VMT Madeira. The boat departs from the port of Funchal, where several other providers can also be found. There is even a real pirate ship; fun for the little ones.

Keep your distance

The VMT ship has a hanging net close to the water; an ideal place to spot dolphins and laze around. But the upper deck also beckons with a distant view of the ocean. After twenty minutes of sailing, the first dolphins have already been spotted. However, we have to keep our distance, because they are circling two kayakers and we don’t want to endanger them.

swimming and jumping

The captain assures us that there will be more opportunities, because the waters around Madeira are home to many dolphin and whale species, such as the bottlenose dolphin, the Atlantic spotted dolphin, the pilot whale, the broadside whale and the sperm whale. The captain is soon proven right: curious spotted dolphins swim and jump at a high pace next to the boat. Together with my son I am also hanging in the nets and see four dolphins darting from left to right, as if they were playing tag. “Look mom, I see one there. And there! Did you see how high he jumped?!” my son whispers. More of their kind emerge from the side of the boat, which is not surprising, because dolphins often live in large groups. They skim over the water at a high pace.

After floating around the dolphins for more than fifteen minutes, we say goodbye; The animals must not be disturbed for longer. And VMT sails a maximum of twice a day with one boat. The captain sails further off the coast of Cabo Girão, where anyone who wants can take a dip themselves. Many visitors take advantage of this and before I know it my son is also jumping off the boat, splashing like a dolphin.

Ecotourism VMT

VMT focuses on ecotourism. They reduce their speed as much as possible when cetaceans and dolphins have been spotted to limit noise pollution. The organization uses quieter and cleaner (electric) motors. Appropriate distance, with no more than two other boats in the area, is also a requirement. They also provide a lot of information about naval life at schools. VMT won theBlue Flag Award for their aforementioned efforts.

If no dolphins or whales are found during a water safari, VMT will take you along for free on your next trip.

The Madeira archipelago consists of four islands and is an autonomous region that belongs to Portugal. Madeira is located near Morocco in the Pacific Atlantic Ocean. Nature is extremely diverse, with exotic flowers and plants, volcanic beaches and the subtropical Laurissilva primeval forest, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999.

Main island Madeira, known for its rich flora, covers 742 km2, is 57 km long and 22 km wide. Two-thirds of the island is a protected nature reserve, making it a true paradise. Apart from the lively capital Funchal and charming fishing villages such as Cãmara de Lobos, Ponta do Sal, Porto Moniz, São Vincente and Santa Cruz, the rest of the island exudes tranquility. For more info look HERE.

 

2. Canyoning

For the real outdoor feeling, in the middle of nature, we undertake a challenging canyoning tour. Once again we go out with Lokoloko, who specialized in canyoning . Our guides have already stood on countless high cliffs – and slid down them safely – so that builds confidence. Due to the heat, it takes quite some effort to put on a tight wetsuit and then walk for half an hour through the hilly area. This is too spicy for my son, but fortunately he perseveres after rest periods. On hot days, Lokolo should only let young kids put on a suit when they arrive at the first cliff.

Slide down

After the briefing the tension increases, because my son is the first to go down. I fully trust the experienced guides – who are insured with ropes on both sides – but still, when your child slides down at a height of thirty meters, it is a bit of a shock. Once down at the waterfall I see a big smile and he can’t wait for the next descent. “This is super cool, mom!” he coos. It is a nice victory after the somewhat difficult start.

Well mastered

For me it takes some searching: bend my knees, hang back a little and let the rope loosen. The cold water washes away the nerves and the second time I have already mastered it quite well. This also applies to my son, who clearly enjoys all the adventure.

We clamber over rocks, splash and swim through rivers and enjoy the pure surroundings. And before we know it we arrive at the last rock. “That beginner’s route was a piece of cake, mom. Next time I want to do the difficult trip!”, my son says determinedly.  

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De prachtige fontein van Monte Palace.| Foto: H. Bothof

3. Cable cars & botanical gardens in Madeira

Madeira is the island of cable cars and is not called the flower island for nothing: there are about 37 different gardens and parks in and around Funchal. In the high-altitude Monte district, two of the most beautiful gardens can be reached via a cable car ride. Keep in mind that you will have to wait in line for a while, but the beautiful view and gardens more than make up for the wait. And it will keep you busy for an afternoon. Monte Palace Tropical Garden and Jardim Botânico are real pearls.

Jardim Botânico

We recommend first starting with Jardim Botânico because it is slightly less spectacular than Monte Palace and then it cannot be disappointing. Jardim Botânico covers eight hectares and was constructed in 1960. The tropical garden is home to more than 2,000 exotic (protected) plants from all continents, such as the bright orange Bird of Paradise plant, the Strelitzia, the symbol of Madeira. The view from the famous ‘shape and mosaic terrace’ is phenomenal and colorful. There is also a herbarium and a museum.

To reach the garden you first have to go to Monte and from there take a second cable car to a slightly lower plateau.

Monte Palace Tropical Garden

Monte Palace is a real must see. You can spend hours wandering through the immense garden of 70,000 m2 and be surprised by the many water-rich terraces, romantic seating areas, stately statues, ‘secret’ courtyards, lush exotic plants and picturesque views of the city. Slurping from a pineapple cocktail is also a must do, but don’t be shocked by the price.   

Public garden

The later Monte Palace consisted of a large estate in the 18th century. It was bought by one Alfredo Guilherme Rodrigues who built an imposing palace surrounded by lush vegetation. The estate underwent several transformations after his death, until José Manuel Rodrigues Berardo turned it into a public botanical garden in the 1980s, partly inspired by Asian culture. There is also African sculpture and a mineral museum.

Lunch tip: for a delicious lunch it is nice to stay in the beautiful garden house, Greenhouse Coffee Roaster and for delicious pastries with specialty coffee with a view you have to go to Local Shop.

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viewpoint-Cabo-Girãu. | Foto: H.Bothof

Fajã dos Padres Cable Car

Less known and only accessible by boat or cable car is Fajã dos Padres . It is worth looking for the starting point of this hidden piece of paradise, where many locals stay with their families. The cable car goes down steeply in a few minutes. Once on the ground, a strong smell of manure hits our noses. The owners have been growing their own organic food here for years and you can smell that healthy farm air. They also bottle the famous Portuguese Malmsey wine on a small scale, which was introduced 150 years ago by priests who lived there at the time. On request it is possible to have a tasting in the wine cellar.

Oasis of tropical fruits and vegetables

We walk past an oasis of tropical fruit and vegetables. There are bananas, avocados, mangoes, papayas, passion fruit and pineapples everywhere. The garden leads to the sea, followed by a restaurant where you can taste all these delicacies. It is wonderful to spend time here on the water with its own pier, where older children can easily entertain themselves. The current is too strong and there are too many rocks for the little ones.

If you want to spend the night on the estate, that is also possible, because there are eight villas and a rustic bungalow. The disadvantage is that you are far from everywhere, but for a few night(s) it is a beautiful place.

Cable car info

The Fajã dos Padres cable car is expensive: €12 p.p. (children under 11 free), but you can stay there until 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. in summer.

A visit can easily be combined with a short visit to the busy Cabo Girãu, the highest cliff with a glass platform. Price: €2 p.p.

Extra tip: On the southeast side of Funchal, next to the Cristo do Rei viewpoint, you can take the cable car (only €4/€2 p.p.) to a small, pleasant bay where you can have lunch and swim. Also accessible by car or bicycle.

4. Natural pools & beaches on Madeira

Madeira may not have extensive sandy beaches – with the exception of the compact Prainha -, but there are several cultivated natural pools such as in the northern villages of Seixal and >Porto Moniz. The paid Porto Moniz Natural Swimming Pools is a bit touristy, but for kids it is a safe water festival without an open sea connection that still flows together due to the rocky environment. On the other side of the village is the free natural swimming pool Piscinas Naturais do Aquáriowhich is surrounded by lava rocks. Many locals come to swim here. Keep an eye on the weather forecast, because it can sometimes be a bit rougher due to stronger currents on the North Coast.

Porto Santo

For a day of enjoying golden beaches, the smaller island is Porto Santohighly recommended. From Funchal a ferry goes there several times a day in two hours. We have yet to discover Porto Santo ourselves, but the island is famous for its beauty. In 2022, Porto Santo was named the most beautiful European beach by European Best Destinations. In addition, Porto Santo was awarded the title of Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO for its efforts to preserve biodiversity.

Dining tip: Oceana Rooftop is located right above the Porto Moniz swimming pool. This restaurant has great views over the coastline and the mainly Asian food (sushi and fish) is very good here.  

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5. Jeep tour Madeira

Madeira is a beautiful walking island par excellence and its name is appropriate, because it means wood. When the island was discovered by chance in 1419 it was covered in forest. Unfortunately, not every child is equally enthusiastic about putting on their walking shoes. To stretch our legs and see a number of highlights in a short time, we set off with < strong>Green Devil Safari 4×4 tours. That is also nice and adventurous, because we can drive off-road with the jeep and thus deviate from the beaten track.

Laurissilva forest

We leave early in the morning with our enthusiastic guide Nuno Perire towards Ribeiro Frio, the green heart of the Laurissilva (laurel) forest that has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999. Nuno explains in detail about the origins of this forest, which dates back 20 million years ago. It is a remnant of a vast area that covered southern Europe to the Mediterranean Sea. The forest still plays an important role in the hydrological balance of the island. The guide regularly stops his jeep at the side of the road to tell you all about specific shrubs, trees and flowers. Even though my son does not understand everything that Nuno explains, he is intrigued by his enthusiasm and playfully involves him in his stories.

Strong forest surveillance

The higher we climb the mountains, the more intense the smoke of fresh forest and flower scents greets us. When Nuno takes a dirt path and drives deeper into the forest, we see how clean and unspoiled the area is, which covers 22 thousand hectares. The forest was close to being lost due to a serious fire in 2016. Since then, there has been strict and intensive supervision by the government and UNESCO and wild camping is no longer allowed. There are plenty of places where you can barbecue in specially created stone grill ovens. The residents and authorities are also doing everything they can to keep the island as sustainable and clean as possible by, for example, 100 wind turbines and recycling companies and is therefore a role model for other destinations.

Natural disasters Madeira

And Madeira had to come a long way, because in February 2010 there was enormous damage and 51 people died due to violent flooding due to extreme rainfall. Funchal was badly hit, as was the infrastructure, but Nuno says the resilient islanders supported each other and worked together to ensure that Madeira recovered quickly and measures were taken to prevent another disaster.

Island of Levadas

Unfortunately we cannot make this trip, but of course we will take a walk along the famous levadas. There are numerous hiking trails (approx. 1400 km!) along these irrigation canals that former inhabitants built throughout the island and in some cases extend all the way down to the coast. The advantage of this is that you walk in the middle of the mountains, but you don’t have to climb much. Ideal with children, such as Vereda dos Balcões, where after a kilometer and a half we are rewarded with a beautiful view over a valley.

Farm country roads

We leave the tourist paths and continue off-road by jeep; deep into the forest, ending at narrow paths where beautiful views await us. We drive along remote farmland roads where the locals live self-sufficiently thanks to the rich growth of tropical fruit and vegetables.  The cultivated terraces are clearly visible here; and these are the most common on the island but are often ‘hidden’ by the lush vegetation.

Extra walking tip: Moinhos Levada Nova Ponta do Sol

If you want to walk more, there are dozens of routes to walk. One of the best known – and most visited – is 25 Fontes (25 waterfalls), which can be combined with Rabaçal. Nuno takes us to the lesser known levado route Moinhos Nova Ponta do Sol.

This route is suitable with older teenagers or without kids. It is located at an altitude of about a hundred meters and meanders through the mountains over narrow paths. So be careful where you put your feet. Along the way you walk under a waterfall and anyone who is afraid of the dark should turn around, because you have to walk a few hundred meters through a tunnel. After some time you will then have a beautiful view over the bay of Ponta do Sol. You can continue to the coast, but then you will lose half a day.

Classic hotel Quinta do Furão

For a late lunch we can go to Quinta do Furão, a classic hotel near the northeastern village of Santana. The hotel, surrounded by vineyards, is located on the Achada do Gramacho cliff, which gives it an amazing view over the coastline and in the distance you can see Porto Santo on a clear day. The restaurant serves classic local dishes, such as tomato soup with egg and onion, but the new pizzeria is also popular. After a delicious lunch we get a tour, while my son has fun in the indoor pool. I personally think the outdoor bath looks attractive, because it is located in the middle of the vineyards with a view of the mountains.

Own vineyard

The hotel was renovated and updated in 2020 and has a total of 65 rooms, which exude a classic and rural appearance. The estate consists of five hectares, and the own vineyard has three hectares. The self-picked grapes are processed in one of the local wineries into the famous, slightly sweet Madeira wine and bottled there. In September, guests can help pick the grapes during a traditional Harvest Festival. Nice for the kids is that – just like in the past – they can crush the grapes with bare feet.   

In addition, various workshops can be followed every day at the hotel, such as wine tastings, yoga classes, pilates, pizza baking, slow cooking and Portuguese lessons.    

Oldest house Santana

We pay a short visit to the oldest house (1778) in Madeira in the village of Santana. “Is this the whole house, Mom?!” My son asks in surprise. The rooms are small and low; this is how people used to live. The white house is still fully furnished and authentic and the friendly former resident likes to show photos of her family.  

Amazing vantage points

We conclude this fantastic jeep tour at amazing viewpoints around Ponta do Rosto, Ponta de São Lourenço, Ensedada Abra and Quinta do Furão, where the volcanic landscape is clearly visible. Nuno told us a lot about the natural beauty and rich culture of Madeira in a short time and showed us so many beautiful places that we reluctantly leave the island and my son exclaims as soon as we get on the plane: “Next year I want to go to Madeira again.” !”

Madeira met kids praktisch

Getting there

Subtropical Madeira is about a four-hour flight from the Netherlands. The climate is pleasant all year round, varying between 17 and 28 degrees. The sea water is also very pleasant, especially in summer. Best flowering period: April – June. In the mountains there may be snow in the winter months and there is a greater chance of rain.  Despite the fact that the capital Funchal is attracting more and more inhabitants (120,000), the people are relaxed and friendly. Eating out is still affordable here, as are taking day trips and excursions. Flight tickets vary considerably; From 400 euros you already have a return ticket. It is becoming increasingly busy on the island; in 2022, 8 million people visited Madeira. So if you want to discover the island in peace and quiet, travel outside the high season.

Length of stay

If you are looking forward to an active trip, as described above, you will need more than a week to do everything in Madeira. If you want to relax a little more or are ready for even more adventure, you will need at least two weeks. It is also possible to make excursions to the uninhabited and protected island groups Desertas and Selvagens. Rare reptiles, rodents, monk seals and birds live here. There are various providers for this.

Stay : Casas Do Miradouro

A perfect place to stay for the whole family or a group of friends, are the new apartments from Casas Do Miradouro. We had a luxurious and stylishly furnished 6-person apartment (no.4) on two floors at our disposal with a large balcony, air conditioning, private garage, two bathrooms and a shared swimming pool. In addition, the extensive kitchen is equipped with extensive and modern appliances and a washing machine is available. The apartments are located on a somewhat busy road, but with beautiful views over the city and the sea. And within a ten-minute walk you are in the heart of Funchal.

Thanks to Visitmadeira.com and Interface Tourism

Meer familietips

Madeira Festival Island

Throughout the year, Madeira hosts various festivals focusing on culture, folklore and nature, from the famous Flower Festival, Carnival to Jazz Festival and nature festival. The colorful and exuberant carnival period – from < strong>7 to 18 February 2024– and the Flower Festival, which heralds spring on a large scale with parades, special markets and sculptures. Children often participate in this with their own projects.

Jazz & walking tours

The Funchal Jazz Festival – early July – is attractive for families because it takes place in the Municipal Garden and Santa Catarina Park where families like to picnic.

For nature and hiking enthusiasts, there are activities in October and a 5-day hike at the beginning of the year.

CR7 Museum Funchal

Football fans can indulge themselves at the CR7 museum, which is full of kits, cups, golden shoes and personal attributes of Cristiano Ronaldo. The world-famous striker was born and raised in Madeira.

Ponta do Sol & Angel Waterfall

A nice combination is to drive early to the fishing village of Ponta do Sol and enjoy a number of beautiful viewpoints there. Then you drive out of the town in a westerly direction. Those who arrive before half past nine have a chance to drive alone under the Angel Waterval, which flows over the road.

Funchal food tip

For a pleasant culinary experience in Funchal you can go to Restaurante Cidade Velha, which is located in the old part of the city. The menu is diverse (including vegetarian) and the dishes are mainly inspired by the island.

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