Madeira facts and travel tips
Madeira is an island 650 km west of Morocco. The landscape remembers its volcanic origin, but don't worry - volcanic activity has ceased. Madeira is but 57 km long and 22 km broad. Small!
Population, language and economy
Madeira has ca. 270.000 inhabitants, of which the majority lives in and around the main city Funchal. The language is Portuguese, but as a tourist you get along fine with English.
In 1999 ca. 700.000 tourists visited the island, and tourism is the main source of income. Other important industries are fishing and agriculture (winemaking).
Off hand you'd think that fishing would be lucrative on an island like Madeira, but because of the volcanic origin the water gets very deep not far from land, and there aren't that many species.
If you like fish do try the island's speciality, Espada, which is a deep-sea fish caught only here and in Japan. Fresh tuna and swordfish are other delicacies.
Madeira's fortified wine is famous, and if you want to know more follow some of the links. You don't see or taste locally produced table wine - in supermarkets and at restaurants the table wine is Portuguese.
The weather in Madeira
Because of its pleasant subtropical climate Madeira has been a tourist attraction for many years now. It is mild during winter, and during summer it never gets very hot (rarely above 30°C) like in the Mediterranean, because there's a cool breeze from the Atlantic, where a branch of the Gulf Stream ensures stabile temperatures all year round.
The predominant wind comes from the North, and most of the rain falls on the island's North side, when the winds meet the mountains. The Southern side basks in the sun and a cool breeze is sucked in from the sea when the heated air rises.
There are airports on the main island and Porto Santo. From the airport on Madeira it is a 20 minutes drive to Funchal.
There are no railways in Madeira, but you can go by bus. If you stay in Funchal, you can buy a ticket, Passe turistico, valid for a week. You can buy it on Avenida do Mar by the harbour. In 2003 it cost Euro 15.
If you rent a car you can get around and enjoy the beauty of this island, but be prepared for mountain driving!
Where to stay?
In Funchal most hotels and apartment hotels are concentrated in a district west of the city. However it is easy to get to the city centre by bus, and some hotels offer shuttle service. There are also hotels in or near the city centre.
In Funchal the best restaurants are in the old town, Zona Velha, a bit east of the city centre. There are also restaurants by the marina, but when you walk past, "fishermen" outside are pretty aggressive trying to lure customers, and I for one don't like that. In my travelogue you can read about the restaurants we visited.
Tips are expected by persons who service you. At restaurants about 10 %, the maid about Euro 5 etc.
Tap water is clorinated and doesn't taste good. It is ok for brushing your teeth, but for drinking bottled water is recommended.
The greatest sight in Madeira is the island's wonderful nature. Funchal has some museums, the botanical graden and the market hall with vegetables and fish. You can also visit wine houses and taste Madeira wine and learn how it is made. Going to Monte is a worthwhile trip. You can go by cable car and enjoy the view, but it is much cheaper to go by bus.
Banks & money
In Funchal there is no lack of banks and ATMs where you can get cash with international plastic cards like e.g. VISA.
Levada walks and trekking
If you like to walk, Madeira's levadas offers a magnificent way to enjoy an otherwise inaccessible landscape. Levadas are mini-canals for distributing water from the mountains to the lower areas. The rugged terrain is ideal for trekking.
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Updated 25th August 2007