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When preparing a trip to Madeira, it helps if you consider the following points:

» Is it a strictly birding tour or a combined holiday trip with your partner or the whole family?
» What is the main priority (seawatching, seeing the endemic species/subspecies or both)?
» Do you intend to undertake a pelagic tour (Desertas) or ferry trip (Porto Santo) during your visit?
» Will you hire a car for a day or more?
» Do you intend to walk any of the levadas?
» Are you taking a package holiday staying in Funchal or a flight only and booking the accommodation yourself?
» If you try to listen to seabirds at night, make sure you have a good pre-booked guide if the Zino's is the main target!

OK, have you made up your mind?

Seawatching from the hot spot Porto Moniz, 2005.
Photo: Stina Grönberg, Sweden.

First of all, if you are staying in Funchal (which is a very pleasant easy going city!), and have a hire car the time it takes to get to many good birding spots is short. It's possible to see all the endemics and specialities within one days driving, but to be sure budget for two days, or more if you want to seawatch at Porto Moniz. Remember, even with luck you will only reach 40 bird species on a week long tour so even when driving around on the island looking for the endemics there will be time for seawatching particularly along the northern coastline (Porto da Cruz–Seixal–Porto Moniz).
   If the main priority is seawatching (e.g. Porto Moniz) you will have time to take a break at mid day because of heat haze. Many good land birding sites (Ponta do Pargo,
Rabaçal and Vale da Ribeira da Janela) are not far away prime seawatching sites so you will have time for both.
   If you are primarily searching for the landbirds the converse is true and good seawatching sites will not be far away. For example in the Riberio Frio area (Trocaz Pigeon and other species) and other areas in the eastern part of the island, you always have time to seawatch early in the morning (Ponta da Cruz) and the evening (Ponta da Cruz or at Porto da Cruz).
   Also, walking a few of the shorter levadas (including the one from Ribeiro Frio to Balcões) will produce many good views of such species as Robin, Blackbird, Madeiran Firecrest, Chaffinch, Blackcap, Plain Swift and even the Trocaz Pigeon with patience.
   Madeira is a perfect destination for a combined birding and family holiday if your companions are interested in nature and culture. On Madeira there is no need for hardcore birding (unless you are seawatcher), if you take it slowly and search for new areas you will see more than if you are in hurry. However, if you love sandy beaches, loads of familys with children and night life you would be better served at another destination.

Onboard "Ventura do Mar" in September 2004.
Photo: Niklas Holmström, Sweden.

At last, but most importantly, if you plan to visit Desertas on a day long trip then book a place on 'Ventura do Mar' about two weeks before you arrive on Madeira! See the 'Pelagic trips' section for further information with contact addresses, departures and where to find the boats in the Funchal marina. Furthermore try to take this trip early on in your visit and leave seawatching from the ferry to Porto Santo (and birding on the island) to the very end of your stay. This allows you to make an informed decision about the value of the journey to Porto Santo from the birding and economic point of view. You may have seen the majority of the sea and land birds on Madeira in the first four to five days, then its easier to consider whether its worth the money or not to take the rather expensive (54-64 Euro for a return ticket) ferry to Porto Santo. The reason for going to Porto Santo for a one day visit should always be the combination of seawatching from the ferry and birding on the island (e.g. Tanque pond).

When to go
June to September is probably the best time for a birdwatching holiday to the archipelago. This will give you the greatest possibility of seeing all the resident landbirds, endemics and seabird specialties which are breeding. The ultimate time for true seawatchers is doubtless the end of August and the first half of September. During this time all seabirds breeding in the archipelago are present and the chances to experiencing a great day with migrating Great and Manx Shearwaters passing by in an endless stream with a few Sooty and Balearic Shearwaters included is at it highest. Seawatching at Porto Moniz can be productive even during the winter with species such as Kittiwake, Sabine's Gull, Gannet, Fea's/Zino's Petrel, Little and Manx Shearwater being possible. There is also a lesser chance of seeing Sooty and Cory's Shearwater.
   No matter what time of year Madeira is visited, it is possible to find something unexpected and the endemic species can be seen at any time of year.
   Remember (especially for Scandinavian birders), that you always will find a cheap (low cost charter) package holiday to Madeira for one or two weeks in May or from mid August to mid September.

Getting there
One can reach the islands of Madeira and Porto Santo by air or sea. There are two airports: 'Madeira International Airport' on Madeira, and Porto Santo Airport, on the island of Porto Santo.
   Because the ports of Funchal and Porto Santo are often visited by cruise ships, they serve as gateways to the other islands, as well as departure points to other destinations. Connections between Madeira and Porto Santo are either by air or ferryboat, which also transports cars.
   Since 2003 there are also flight connections between Madeira and the Azores, which make it possible to bird both archipelagos on a two week adventure!

An "endless" road at Paúl da Serra.
Photo: Raphael Jordan, France.

Travelling on the island by car
Surface transport on the islands is trouble-free thanks to the modern road structure, which has been significantly improved in recent years (by EU contributions). For example there is now a long tunnel through the mountains from Funchal via Ribeira Brava to Sao Vicente, which makes it easy to get to Porto Moniz, if you are staying in Funchal.
   A lot of reports and books talk of the Madeirans being crazy drivers who overtake recklessly. This is not true. Overtaking is not simple on the mountainous roads but if it is not done in a positive manner and at every reasonable opportunity there would be huge traffic jams everywhere. The rules seem to be read the road ahead, do it fast in a low gear and use your horn to let people know where you are. If you are being overtaken or are part of the oncoming traffic make it as easy as possible for the overtaking car.
   On the relatively small roads up in the mountains you will rarely drive in a gear higher than second and at a speed around 50 km per hours. A traffic accident is more likely to happen down in Funchal's congested roads not up in the mountains.

Car hire
There are lot of companies at the Airport and in Funchal. Compare prices between a few companies before you make a final decision. If you are staying in the western part of Funchal (often the case when buying a package holiday) you will find many car hire companies at Estrada Monumental near Lido. Remember that your travel agent often has an agreement with car hire companies at advantageous rates.

If you do not intend to hire a care it's always possible to use the bus network. If you intend to walk the levadas near Funchal its actually easier to take a bus (or taxi) to where the walk starts and after the walk take a bus back to Funchal.
   If your main goal is to seawatch from Porto Moniz you can take a cheap bus (4-5 Euro) from Funchal (or Estrada Monumental in the western part) twice a day on weekdays.

Ferries and boat trips
The ferry to Porto Santo runs only once a day. It leaves Funchal at 08:00 in the morning and returns to Funchal at 19:00, which means you have lot of time birding on Porto Santo, especially the Tanque area which is close to the city Vila Baleira. If the main reason for going is to watch seabirds the sailing boats that goes to Desertas and along Madeira's south coast are a better option. The boat 'Ventura do Mar' offer better views of many seabirds compared to the Porto Santo ferry. It's also possible to hire 'Ventura' for exclusive pelagics if you are a group of birdwatchers. For further information see the section 'Pelagic trips'.
   You will find prices, time table and further information on Porto Santo Line's web site (also in Portuguese and German language).

The nice levada at Ribeiro Frio.
Photo: Stina Grönberg, Sweden.

All over Madeira there are many Levadas which are walkable with varying degrees of difficulty. As time is important for birders, its better to chose one near Funchal, which is reachable by bus or taxi. The bus tickets are cheap all over Madeira, so don't buy an arranged (and comparatively expensive) levada walking tour through an agency, especially not if the levada is located near Funchal.
   Without any doubt you should visit Ribeiro Frio (='The cold river') and do the walk to Balcões in search of the most wanted Trocaz Pigeon. This wonderful walk through the woods takes about 30 minutes and is well suited for the whole family, including children, as the path is both broad and safe. The view from Balcões is outstanding and if the valley is free from fog and clouds you are able to see the sea in the far north!
   Another splendid Levada is the one through the valley of Ribeira da Janela in the northwestern part. You can start the walk from either Rabaçal or ten minutes from Porto Moniz, the latter walk is 24 kilometres long and safe.

All over Madeira there are a vast numbers of hotels, apartments and pensions, especially in the Funchal area. Most birders chose to buy a package holiday with accommodation included, most of which is located in Funchal. However, if you only take a flight or want to spend a few full days seawatching at Porto Moniz there are a few good places to stay. In the second half of August and onwards you don't have to pre-book a room in Porto Moniz and you can easily chose the one that suits you best, such as a room with balcony that faces the sea. Below you will find a few suggestions for accommodation in Funchal, Porto Moniz and Porto Santo:

Gordon Residencial in Funchal.
The terrace of Calhau at Porto Moniz. Photos: Niklas Holmström

Recommended accommodations:
Gordon Residencial (three star hotel)
Rua do Quebra Costas, 34, in central Funchal
Phone: + 351 291 742366 /7 /8, Fax: + 351 291 743948
Email: residencialgordon@netmadeira.com
Price (2004): 40 Euro for a double including breakfast
Advantage: Very nice price with surrounding gardens, silent at night and close to Funchal harbour
Disadvantage: No kitchen

Residencial Calhau
Vila do Porto Moniz (the westernmost hotel, overlooking the natural pools, on the lefthand to the restaurant Orca)
Phone: + 351 291 853104/853704, Fax: + 351 291 853443
Web site: www.residencialcalhau.web.pt
Email: calhau@residencialcalhau.web.pt
Price (2004): 35 Euro for a double including breakfast
Advantage: All their balconys facing the sea and therefore excellent for seawatching (max two persons per balcony) and their terrace if you are a party of 4-5 birders
Disadvantage: No kitchen, but you could always order coffe, tea or a cold beer and sandwiches when seawatching from your balcony or the terrace!

Other accommodations:
Sirius (a two star hotel)
Rua da Hortas, 31/37, Funchal
Phone: + 351 291 226117, Fax: + 351 291 223482
Price: A double from 57 Euro
Advantage: The seawatching spot Ponta da Cruz is not far away.
Disadvantage: No kitchen

Casa Branca (three star apartment)
Rua da Casa Branca, 21, Funchal (located near Lido at the western part of Funchal)
Phone: + 351 291 706200, Fax: + 351 291 706209
Price: A double from 53 Euro (its possible for three persons to stay in one double)
Advantage: Kitchen. About 15 minute walk to the seawatching spot Ponta da Cruz.

Sítio das Poças, Porto Moniz (in the western part near the tourist spot)
Phone: + 351 291 850080, Fax: + 351 291 850089
Price: A double from 30 Euro
Advantage: You can seawatch from the balcony or from the sundeck on the roof. Good food, bar and breakfast.
Disadvantage: No kitchen

Praia Dourada (three star hotel)
Rua Dr. Estêvão de Alencastre, Porto Santo
Phone: + 351 291 982315, Fax: + 351 291 982487
Price: A double from 48 Euro
Disadvantage: No kitchen

Note: The tourist offices in Funchal have hotel guides available or you can get info from their web site, see the heading 'Useful links' below.

Camping Parks
There are one official camping sites on the Madeiran archipelago, located on Porto Santo, in the town of Vila Baleira.

Madeira Tourist Offices in the Funchal area

Tourist Office of Funchal
Avenida Arriaga nº16
9004-519 Funchal
Tel: 291 211902
Open from Monday to Friday from 9:00 to 20:00hrs, Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 to 20:00hrs.

Tourist Office Monumental Lido
C.C.Monumental Lido
Estrada Monumental, 284
9000-100 Funchal
Tel: 291 775254
Open from Monday to Friday from 09:00 to 20:00hrs, Saturday from 09:00 to 14:00hrs.

Tourist Office of the Airport
Santa Catarina de Baixo
9100 Santa Cruz
Tel: 291 524933
Open from 09:00 to 24:00hrs

Useful links
Madeira – guide for levada walks and other activites
Madeira Island
– Essential holiday information in English, German and Portuguese language
Madeira's Official tourism website – In English, German and Portuguese language

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