Solo Travel in Madeira

Types of Girl about the Globe (GatG) – Hiking GatG, Nature GatG, Ocean GatG, Wine GatG

Madeira is a stunning island to visit. If you are planning a trip to Madeira, this solo guide covers the recommended things to do and see in Madeira, where to stay, how to get around and recommended tour companies to use. I hope that this article inspires you to solo travel Madeira. 

N.b. By booking through this page for your Madeira solo travel you are helping to improve the lives of vulnerable girls about the globe. Thanks for helping.

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solo travel in Madeira

Solo Travel in Madeira

I love Madeira and spent 4 weeks here solo. Madeira is really safe for solo female travellers, that's why I've given it 5 out of 5 stars. Even the locals are proud of how clean and safe their island is. You can walk around Funchal (the capital) at night and I also walked home at the early hours of the morning in Ponta do Sol.

There are no dangerous wild animals on the island but you do need to be careful with the terrain, especially if you decide to go hiking solo. Madeira has many hiking routes including 1800 km of levadas; water irrigation channels that have been made into footpaths. 

These scenic pathways weave around the island begin at 300 metres up to 1100 metres high with levels of 600 metres and 800 metres in-between. If you don’t like heights you may want to stick with the routes at the lowest altitude. Although some of them have handrails to hold onto, some of them don’t so you need to be careful hiking alone here.

One of the most known levadas is Levada Norte in the north which stretches over 60 km but the longest Levada on the island is 110 km. There are companies on the island that offer day hikes where you can join a group if you feel more comfortable with company for exploring. If you do go solo be sure to download the AllTrails app before you set off.

You also need to be careful in the sea here. Due to strong currents in the north of the island, it’s advisable not to swim in the sea. Instead, there are natural swimming pools that you can use.

There is a digital nomad community on the island that regularly hold events on how to start your own business or work remotely. This link is for their Mexico retreats but click on the home page to see their events in Madeira. 

Overall, Madeira is a great destination for solos. Portuguese is the local language but you can get by in English (better in Spanish) and it’s a safe, tropical island with many different areas to explore. There is so much to see here that this article just touches on the main sights of this gorgeous island. 

Currently, you need to register with Madeira Safe (written in Jan 2022) to enter the island. Register through here, add the details of your trip and they issue you a QR code. 

solo travel in Madeira

Places To Visit in Madeira

If you haven’t heard of Madeira, the Madeira Islands are a volcanic archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean. Although they are Portuguese and belong to Portugal, they’re closer to Africa than the mainland of Portugal and are easy to reach from the Canary Islands with Binter Canarias Airlines. 

There are five islands in total, of which Madeira is the largest. Three of the islands are deserted but you can visit one of the other islands called Porto Santo which has a different landscape to Madeira. 

Madeira is known for its spectacular scenery and its hiking trails. There are 1800kms of levadas on the island, all at different levels from 300 metres to 1100 metres high so you’ll never tire of new routes to explore. 

Being a volcanic island, Madeira has black sand beaches and spectacular mountains. The island’s highest point is 1868 metres and the west side is the plateau. The north of the island is denser with forests but venture into the interior and the landscapes feel more like Asia.

There are so many places to see in Madeira so to make it easier, I've listed the destinations starting from Funchal in the south of the island moving around the island clockwise to west, north and east. 

Funchal

Funchal

Funchal is the capital and has the traditional cobbled stones and small pebbles that you find in Lisbon, Portugal’s capital city. It’s small with pretty architecture and is definitely walkable. One of the most-known landmarks here is the Funchal Cathedral which has a wooden carved ceiling. The cathedral is the heart of the city and where you can see al fresco in a cafe in the streets around it and enjoy a Portuguese pastry. 

One of the things to do in Funchal is taking the cable car on a 20-minute ride up to the Monte Palace. The gardens here are stunning and the cable car costs €16 return. But you may prefer to take a more unusual route on the way back and toboggan your way down in a wicker basket, enjoying an exhilarating ride down the steep hill steered by old local men. Cruising at 30 km an hour, you can’t get more authentic than that!

Along the promenade in Funchal

Madeira is known for its winemaking and one place to taste the wines in the city is D'Oliviero. The wine tasting here is free. In the evenings, dine al fresco or watch a cultural performance at the Teatre Municipal Baltazar. 

Spend time walking along the promenade and take a stroll to the Design Centre Nini Andrade Silva. The restaurant at the top is stunning with sea views to match. If you're a football fan, you may want to see the bronze sculpture of Cristiano Ronaldo located in Sea Square. The football legend was born on the island and the airport is even named after him. 

For the active solo, there’s a path on the coast that you can run or walk along that takes you to a tiny lighthouse. St. Tiago Fortress can also be found here. This yellow-coloured 17th-century fortress was built to protect the city from pirates and you can learn about its history within the museum inside. 

The gardens open to the public at Quinta Vigia

Sao Martinho

Lido in Sao Martinho is a more touristy area and just a 30-minute walk from the city. The main attraction here is the Lido Beach Complex where you can swim in the seawater pools or take a dip in the ocean instead. You don't even need to venture far from your sun lounger as there are restaurants, cafes, pubs and banks on your doorstep. If you do walk into Funchal, you pass by Quinta Vigia, the official residence of the President where you can stroll around the stunning gardens, admire the water fountains and see the views of Funchal bay. Further along, is Belmond Reid's Palace where Winston Churchill is said to have stayed.

Cabo Girao Skywalk

Cabo Girao Skywalk 

If you don’t mind heights, you can try your nerves on the Cabo Girao Skywalk. This glass-floored viewpoint sits at 580 metres and is Europe’s highest cape. The entrance is higher at 589 metres high and from the top, you can see the terraces and gardens on the bottom of the cliff. Introduced to the island in 2011, it is one of Madeira’s biggest attractions so there are always people around to ask them to take your photo. Just don’t be so focused on the view that you miss the steps as you walk around. 

Ponta Do Sol

Ponta Do Sol

This is one of my favourite parts of the island. Literally translated as ‘point of the sun,’ it is the area where the sun sets over the island. This small village has a village feel. There’s a cultural centre where you can work from if you’re remote working or admire the art if you’re not. You can swim in the sea or hike the Pual da Serra plateau. It's also a good starting point for some of the levada walks. 

The scenery here is spectacular and there's no better viewpoint to see it from than at the Estalagem da Ponta do Sol where you can have dinner and drinks at night and watch the sun setting. They host club events on Friday nights that you can join through the Digital Nomads group. It's a great way of meeting others when you're solo. 

Porto Moniz

In the northwest of the island is the gorgeous town of Porto Moniz. This area is stunning with volcanic rock pools and restaurants all with a view. Naturally formed by the volcanic lava, the rugged pools are filled by the ocean making this former fishing port a fantastic place to swim.

You don't even have to take a dip here, you can just stop to take photos of the pools and follow the walking paths for many different angles. Other things to see in Porto Moniz are the small island with a lighthouse (which you can only view from afar) and the Joao Baptista Fort, a replica of a 1730 fort where you can visit the aquarium and swim with sharks and rays!

Sao Vincente

Sao Vincente

There are so many special areas on the island and one of them for me is Sao Vincente. There’s something about the ocean here and the towering mountains that make you feel at one with nature. The valleys of Sao Vincente are beautiful and there are old footpaths you can follow into the mountains. 

The Sao Vicente caves are the biggest attraction here. This underground network of lava tubes are more than 1000 metres long and were formed nearly 900,000 years ago. They remain closed at the moment (January 2022) whilst they are accessing the damage from an earthquake in 2020. 

It’s not advised to swim in the north part of the island due to the strong currents but there are piscinas (swimming pools) in Seixal near Sao Vincente. 

Pico de Areerio

One of the places not to be missed in Madeira is Pico de Areerio. At 1818 metres high it isn't the highest point of the island – that's at Pico Ruivo which is 1862 metres – but it is very accessible. The landscape here looks like something out of the movie Avatar and you are literally above the clouds. The walk from here to Pico Ruivo is meant to be spectacular but be sure to take a fleece or rain jacket with you as the weather is very changeable. For those who just want to see the amazing views and not have to hike, the site is accessible via the road and has a visitors centre. 

Santana

Santana is an area of local heritage. It is home to some of the original small houses on the island. Nowadays these colourful triangular houses have been converted into the tourism office and shops selling traditional arts and local products. 

Porto da Cruz

Porto da Cruz is 30 kms from Funchal. This small fishing town named after the cross on the shore is popular with trail runners so if you’re an active GatG you may want to stay in this area. There’s a large seawater swimming pool and it’s also famous for surfing. Make sure to visit a rum distillery whilst you are here. The Engenho Do Norte in Porto da Cruz is free to enter and look around. Not far from Porto da Cruz, before you reach Faial is a rock formation known as ‘Eagle’s Rock.’ Although there aren't any eagles on the island, you can climb 400 metres to the top to see views of the most eastern point of Madeira. 

Machico

The municipality of Machico has a historic significance. It is said that the discoverers of Madeira first landed here between 1418 and 1420. Nowadays it is known for its golden sandy beach, the only one on the island that was shipped to Madeira from Morocco. Walk along the boardwalk admiring the yellow sands that stand out on a black volcanic island. Admire the views of Porta da Cruz from the lookout at Portela, or visit the Museu da Baleia to learn about the island's whaling past.

Garajau

Ponta do Garajau

Madeira even has its own version of the Christ de Redeemer statue similar to the one in Rio (but on a smaller scale). Called Christ de Rei, it is located in Ponta do Garajau. it is said that its arms are open and facing the one in Brazil. Unfortunately, it was hit by lightning on 26th December 2020 and currently has a protective fence around it. For a better view of the statue and the coastline, walk down the several steps that take you to the tip of the island. Just be prepared for your heart to be pumping on the way back up. Garajau is small but there’s a cafe here and a cable car to transport you down the hillside. 

Madeira is truly a stunning island and this article doesn't even scratch the surface of the places to see here. It's exotic, safe and has area after area to explore. I for one, can't wait to go back.

Madeira Tours

There are so many Madeira tours you can do from levada walks to dolphin and whale watching. Below are my recommended tours for solos. 

Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide uses local companies on the island. Their platform helps you to find top-rated activities and tours in worldwide destinations including Madeira. Choose from a full day skywalk and Porto Moniz, a Nuns Valley half-day tour or a tour of Eastern Madeira. There are several to choose from and it’s really simple to use. Just check the reviews, price and availability then book online.

* Check all prices and day tours in Madeira 

Whale Watching There are several whale and dolphin tours you can do. You can either take a catamaran tour (which is recommended if you get seasick as there is less motion) or cruise on a small boat tour. Apparently, the small boat goes further out and has a better chance of spotting them. I did the catamaran tour and unfortunately didn’t see any but was offered another tour.

* Check prices, dates and availability for whale watching

Green Devil Safari – For day tours, Green Devil Safari are a fun, informative company. I took a jeep safari with them and explored the interior of the island, sampled rum at a rum factory and got to try the island’s poncha, all whilst spending the day with a great group of people. Travelling around the island by jeep also means that you get to go off road and really explore. 

* Check reviews and tours for Green Devil Safari

G Adventures – G Adventures offer a 6-day hiking in Madeira tour from Santana to Funchal. You hike one of the island’s lushest trails, summit one of the island’s tallest peaks and traverse the Cabo Girao skywalk all with company in tow. The group is between 12 to 15 people staying in comfortable accommodations.

* Check price, start dates and itinerary for G Adventures

Where To Stay in Madeira

I’ve personally stayed in all the accommodations listed below and recommend them for solo females, depending on what type of accommodation and budget you are looking for. 

Madeira has a variety of accommodations from hostels to 5-star hotels. You can stay in an aparthotel and have the best of both worlds with your own studio apartment in a hotel complex, an eco-lodge in a national park or rent a villa or casa (a holiday home) with one of the many gorgeous sea views that the island offers. For all accommodations in Madeira, click on the link below. 

* Check all types of accommodations in Madeira

Funchal – 29 Madeira Hostel 

If you’re travelling on a budget and looking to meet others in the capital, this hostel is a great place to do it. It’s small and cosy and even though the building is old with creaky floorboards, you are guaranteed to get to know the other guests. It can be noisy at night as it’s next to the road so take some earplugs. 

Funchal – Mountain Eco Shelter

For those seeking solitude, these mountain shelters are just perfect. The owners are so friendly and welcoming. Situated in Funchal Ecological Park, you feel as though you are in the middle of nowhere. The cabins are stylish and eco and there are hiking trails surrounding you. Not to mention, the resident donkeys whom you can go and stroke. There’s a restaurant and bar down the hill where they have live music on the weekends. You do need a car to get around. It’s only available on Airbnb and there is a two-night minimum stay. 

Ponta do Sol – Enotel Sunset Bay 

The location of this 4-star hotel is absolutely stunning. It’s right by a black volcanic beach with restaurants nearby and is a 3-minute walk to the picturesque village. Make sure to watch the sunset from the restaurant. 

Sao Martinho – Florasol Residence Hotel: Dorisol Hotels

If you prefer to stay in the touristy area on the island, this aparthotel is right where it’s at. Just a 30 minute walk into Funchal, the Florasol is a hotel with a restaurant and an outdoor pool and sun loungers. The apartment has a kitchenette and a balcony but there are restaurants on your doorstep and you’re a 5-minute walk to the Lido, the natural swimming pool with a promenade and restaurants. Walking along here at sunrise is just gorgeous. It is a bit touristy but it’s like having the best of both worlds – an apartment and a hotel. 

Sao Vincente – Estalagem do Mar

If you’re looking for relaxation in a beautiful location with the roar of the ocean in the background, you can’t get better than here. Located in the north of the island, this 3-star hotel is gorgeous. You can opt for half board or go to one of the restaurants just a 5-minute walk away. There’s an indoor swimming pool and sauna and an outdoor pool (which is cold).

Getting Around Madeira

Travelling around Madeira can be difficult if you don’t have a car. I stayed in different locations without a car and took tours and taxis but if you plan to stay in just one place on the island, it is easier to rent a car. Most roads are in good condition and smooth.

Madeira has several tunnels so be prepared if you do hire a car. One of the longest being 3.1 km from Funchal to the north. Once you exit the tunnel you’re on the north side of the island. 

The public transport is very limited, especially if you stay in areas such as Ponta do Sol. From Sao Vincente, there is a bus to Funchal that takes 1 hour 15 minutes. It leaves at 1 pm from the town and costs €4.50 one way.

There is Bolt on the island which is similar to Uber. If you are in rural areas it doesn’t operate all hours so you may not be able to request a driver in the late evenings.

* Check prices and vehicles for car hire 

Best Time To Visit Madeira

You can visit Madeira at any time of the year depending on what you’re looking for for your trip. For hiking, Spring and Autumn are good seasons to go or you may prefer to visit during the summer months (June to September) to make the most of the beach time. 

The weather in the north is cloudier than the rest of the island whereas Funchal and the Southwest are protected and hardly have any wind. Ponta Do Sol is said to be the warmest part of the island with the longest amounts of sunlight.

If you are planning to come to Madeira for hiking, just be prepared for cooler temperatures at the higher altitudes. During March and April, there’s the possibility of snow for a week or so that settles on the mountains. I visited in October when the weather was still warm enough to sunbathe in the day. In the evenings there was a fresh breeze but the weather was still pleasant and I didn’t need a coat. Below is the annual weather forecast for Funchal from January to December.

From Madeira Airport

The international airport in Madeira is named after the famous Portuguese football player, Cristiano Ronaldo who was born on the island. The airport actually starts in Santa Cruz and ends in the village of Machico and arriving here is definitely an adventure as the runway juts out along the island to the sea. 

A taxi from Cristiano Ronaldo International Airport to Funchal costs approximately €25 or there are various bus companies which cost from €5 to €15 and take 35 minutes into the city. Find bus schedules here. If you are staying on another side of the island and aren’t renting a car, you can take a taxi from the airport or pre-arrange a transfer with your accommodation. 

Feel more confident with someone waiting for you at the airport when you pre-book a transfer with Hoppa, a reliable and safe service for solo females.

FAQs

  • Can I drink the water? Yes but in some areas, you can taste the chlorine so you may prefer to take a filtered water bottle with you instead or buy water. 
  • Is tipping expected? Tipping isn't expected in Madeira but it is welcomed especially as wages are low. If you enjoyed the service tip at least 10%. 
  • Fixed price or barter? Fixed price.
  • Any ATMs? Yes, lots especially within Funchal and Lido.
  • Which side of the road do they drive? The right-hand side.
  • Good for vegetarians? You’ll find several restaurants offering vegan and vegetarian options, especially in the capital. 
  • Any Seven Wonders of the World? No, but the island’s scenery is spectacular.

Map of Madeira

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