Madeira: the Hawaii of the Atlantic

We asked Pearl, a retired teacher, about her favourite holiday moment of last year. Could this inspire your summer holiday in 2019?

Madeira is a Portuguese island in the Atlantic, near the Canaries. A friend told me Madeira was always sunny and the water always warm (he may have exaggerated a little!) Although it is pretty warm year-round, from 16C to 23C (61F to 73F), getting into the sea even in June is a lot like England. Having said that, it didn’t disappoint.

I started by seeing the island. Although many tourists rent cars, I took a local bus instead up to Porto Moniz to see the natural seawater swimming pools. The hotel I found overlooked the pools and cliffs, so I was able to hear the sea crashing at night.

Levadas – unique to Madeira
Travelling on the buses gives you a close-up view of the mountain forests and flowers, which definitely made me feel like I was in Hawaii. There are walks you can take along what they call the levadas: woodland areas alongside channels of water. These are unique to Madeira, and as you’ll see if you look them up online, they can be very beautiful. However, as my ankle wasn’t up to it, and as they warn you not to go alone, I was glad of the bus. 

The lighthouse
My next stop was Ponta do Pargo to visit the lighthouse, where my room was a little scary: when the mists came in it was like I was at the edge of the world! In the morning my host made me one of the best breakfasts of my stay, and even drove me to the bus stop.

Luckily I hadn’t decided on where to stay in Funchal, so even though I was tempted by a cheap apartment rental I chose a Pestana hotel instead for a soft bed.

Seeing dolphins
I’d heard you can see dolphins on the cruise to Porto Santo, a nearby island with an incredibly long beach. Although I didn’t see any dolphins there I did enjoy my day trip, although the water was still pretty cold. The best part was seeing the young children playing football on the beach barefoot. I felt like I was in Rio, but perhaps a little bit safer and a whole lot cooler!

On my last day I wandered the harbour. I’d never been on a catamaran before, so thought I’d try a whale and dolphin spotting trip on one. I took my seat on the net right at the front, even though the crew warned I might get splashed!

The captain explained they don’t recommend trying to swim with wild dolphins, simply because as soon as you get in the water they swim away! Before long we found a pod of spotted dolphins with their young. They swam right underneath us, jumping under the raised front of the boat. The captain was right, this was so much better than swimming with dolphins; this was like flying with them!

Sadly our few minutes were up and legally we had to leave the pod, even though they seemed to be enjoying our company. Then we spotted grey dolphins. The crew warned us that greys are not as friendly, but they were just as happy to bring their young dolphins right up to swim with us and once again, we were the ones who had to leave.

It was one of the best days of my life, even though, as I was warned, I got completely soaked on the way back!

Editor’s note: The author travelled independently, and it sounds like she had a great time!