I thought I would share his Tripadvisor review that I read. From a couple who holidayed in Madeira March last year, and full of useful information for first time visitors, and an example of how much you can do in a week on the island.
Wanted to share our experience, hoping it helps someone in the future! We had a fabulous 2nd Honeymoon. We were first time visitors to Madeira Island and we are from the United States. Here are our thoughts on all aspects of our trip:
Rental Car –
We rented a car through Triple A which booked us with Avis/Budget. We rented an automatic Citron Cactus, a small car but it worked all the hills just fine. Most cars are very small on the island. We felt entirely safe with the size of the car and it was much easier on the narrow roads. We purchased insurance and it was much more expensive then we were originally quoted through Triple A (they said it would be $400ish and it came to $700ish). We were upset but once you are there after a long flight, the last thing you want to do is have to go through a hassle so we let it go. I am glad we had insurance. Nothing happened but it provided peace of mind. Plan on 30 minutes (or more!) at the airport to go through the paperwork at the rental company.
Where to stay:
Many people like to stay in Funchal. Funchal has lots of hotels, night life, restaurants, shops, markets, museums, etc. and most tours leave from Funchal. Also, if you stay there, you probably won’t need a car. We chose to stay in rental properties because we wanted to explore more of the island ourselves and did not care about night life etc. We chose a beautiful apartment for the first 3 nights in Machico and then a gorgeous house in Arco da Calheta for the last 4 nights. Machico is only about 30 mins from Funchal and the drive is very easy (nice highway/rapida). We had never stayed in an Air B&B before but we did for this trip and were very pleased. The hotels looked very nice though too and we would have been very happy in a hotel probably.
Our Favourite Spots / What We Did:
Sao Lourenco Peninsula – very close to Machico. We drove out here and took pictures. It was beautiful!! We came back another day to hike it but the road was closed off for a bike race. Would highly recommend coming here and hiking (or just looking at the incredible views).
Funchal Hop On Hop Off Yellow Bus Tour – We did this one day when it was chilly and a little drizzly. We sat up top and had a great time. Everyone got ear buds and we could listen to the narrator in English (they had every language you would want). It was a 90 minute ride if you didn’t get off. We didn’t get off because we were just taking it all in and the weather wasn’t very nice.
Farmer’s Market – This was fun to visit. We did not get there in time to see the fish part and would like to have seen that but maybe another time! Beautiful fruits, veggies and fresh flowers.
Military Fort Museum in Funchal – Can’t remember the exact name but we stumbled upon it while walking around. It was only $2 euros and we enjoyed it. Each exhibit inside had papers in whatever language you needed so we understood what we were looking at. Great for history buffs.
Restaurant Recommendation – We went to “The Piano” restaurant. It was on a cobblestone road with many other restaurants. The staff standing outside were so warm and friendly and not overbearing and that is how we made our decision. They had good “specials” listed and the meal was very good! Excellent vegetable soup (pureed and amazing) for an appetizer and the best chicken I think I’ve ever had! Passionfruit pudding for dessert which was soooo good.
Full Day East Coast Tour – We had read so many good reviews for Up Madeira tour company so we gave them a try and they didn’t disappoint! Excellent tour guide with off road travels in a jeep. I normally get car sick and sometimes vertigo so I was a little nervous but I was fine. I did take a dramamine pill after a few hours but I was never sick or scared of the heights. It was SO nice to let someone else do the driving and we certainly went places that a bus could not get to.
Cabo Girao – Definitely a must see. Man-made area but worth a stop. You can even take a tour here. We went on our own. Nice little cafe and shop there. You can stay as long as you want. We stayed less than 30 minutes.
Porto Moniz – Must see! Another time, if the temperature was warmer, I think I would stay here overnight, at least for part of our trip. It is just so beautiful and the lava pools are so incredible. A few brave souls were swimming but way too cold for us.
Cave Tour in Sao Vicente – We did one in the north and it was nice. Not a must see unless you are really into that. Good history of how the island was formed. 1 hour.
Seixel – Very pretty area. Similar to Porto Moniz.
My personal favourites …
Fanal – A few locals didn’t understand why we wanted to go there. Not sure why because this area is AMAZING!!! If I was a movie producer, I would find something to film here. It was surreal and magical. Greener than I’ve ever seen! We got there around 5PM and one car was leaving. We were entirely alone except for about 5 free-roaming cows and all of the old trees and cliffs. It was gorgeous! I could have gone back here another day but we didn’t have time. This was not like the typical coastal areas – something completely different than the rest of the island.
Rabacal – We drove to this area to do the 25 Fountains Levada walk. To be honest, I liked the area where we parked even better than walking down into the valley for the walk … but both were incredible and in my opinion, must see areas! I think the walk would get pretty crowded during a busy time of year. There were quite a few people there for us and that was end of March. At the top by the parking area, if you cross the road, you will see a trail. I wish we had time to go back and explore that. We took incredible pictures up there. It felt like we were above the clouds. Again, roaming cows. 🙂
Ponta do Pargo – It is so hard to narrow down my favorite spot. This is in the top 3 for sure. There is a lighthouse here and it is far west side of the island. I didn’t really care about the lighthouse but the VIEWS are just amazing. Scary that you can basically stand on the edge of the cliff with no guardrails
but seriously it is incredible for photography or just super romantic to sit there and watch the sun start to go down. I would go early evening but if you went another time, I’m sure it would still be nice. If you like cats, there are a lot of strays in the area. 🙂 We went to a nice restaurant right there too and thought it was quite good. Casual outdoor seating or a little nicer inside. Great dinner – great service – waitress knew English! 🙂
Pico do Arieiro – This place has amazing views and you really can get some great pictures. Clouds floating around, short walks, several different viewpoints. Only got to spend about 30 minutes here because we were with a tour and that is all they allowed. Could have spent much longer. If you go with a tour, check first if this is one of the spots you really want to spend time at. Maybe they will stay longer if you ask.
Madalena da Mar – We weren’t even planning to stop here but we did and it ended up becoming one of our favorite spots! There is a walkway along the coast and the waves come close. Beautiful as you walk. Restaurants and snack areas all along the coast. Maybe a hotel? Can’t remember. Gorgeous area for photos. Amazing pier at the one end where you can walk out and look at the waves closeup. Beware – we had one sneak up on us and drench us and ruin my phone/camera and I lost a whole week’s worth of photos. :(((( But we laughed hard and it was really beautiful.
Calheta – This area has a sandy beach (imported white sand). The beach area is small but it was still nice. Several hotels in this area and a great grocery store. Be careful of parking. We actually got 2 tickets in the same day for visiting this grocery store. We thought we understood the signs but apparently did not. Thankfully the tickets were not very much money. The store was really good though with items we didn’t see in other grocery stores. OMG you must try the rolls that are in a shape of a croissant but have some kind of mango filling!!!
Weather (March 22-30):
Chilly at the beginning (low 60s F). Beautiful at the end (low 80s F).
We decided to rent a car even though 50% of people recommended not driving. We were glad we did but it really isn’t for everyone. I myself could not have driven but my husband is much braver. We definitely got to see more of the island since we rented a car. The highways are very easy, it’s the smaller roads up the mountains and the ones into the villages that would have scared me. But again, we were very glad we had our own car. That said, we took a few tours and very much enjoyed having someone else drive. We needed the car for where we chose to stay and it worked out well.
Might have nothing to do with the water but we started out drinking water from the sink and we both had slight stomach issues for the rest of the week. Looking back, I think we should have only had bottled water.
Small Travel Dictionary – I wish we had brought one. It would have been helpful since Wi-Fi wasn’t always available.
Maps – We used Google Maps and also purchased a road map of Madeira in one of the souvenir shops.
Cell Phone – We have Sprint as our carrier and we had great service throughout the island. 75% of our text messages went through and we were happy with that.