When preparing a trip
to Madeira, it helps if you consider the following points:
it a strictly birding tour or a combined holiday trip with your partner
or the whole family?
is the main priority (seawatching, seeing the endemic species/subspecies
you intend to undertake a pelagic tour (Desertas) or ferry trip (Porto
Santo) during your visit?
you hire a car for a day or more?
you intend to walk any of the levadas?
you taking a package holiday staying in Funchal or a flight only and
booking the accommodation yourself?
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?
from the hot spot Porto Moniz, 2005.
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 CruzSeixalPorto 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.
"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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
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
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:
Residencial in Funchal.
|The terrace of Calhau at Porto Moniz. Photos:
Gordon Residencial (three star hotel)
Rua do Quebra Costas, 34, in central Funchal
Phone: + 351 291 742366 /7 /8, Fax: + 351 291 743948
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
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
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!
(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
(three star apartment)
Rua da Casa Branca, 21, Funchal (located near Lido at the western part
Phone: + 351 291 706200, Fax: + 351 291 706209
Price: A double from 53 Euro (its possible for three persons to stay in
Advantage: Kitchen. About 15 minute walk to the seawatching spot Ponta
Sítio das Poças, Porto Moniz (in the western part near the
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
(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.
There are one official camping sites on the Madeiran archipelago, located
on Porto Santo, in the town of Vila Baleira.
Offices in the Funchal area
Avenida Arriaga nº16
Tel: 291 211902
Open from Monday to Friday from 9:00 to 20:00hrs, Saturday and Sunday
from 9:00 to 20:00hrs.
Estrada Monumental, 284
Tel: 291 775254
Open from Monday to Friday from 09:00 to 20:00hrs, Saturday from 09:00
of the Airport
Santa Catarina de Baixo
9100 Santa Cruz
Tel: 291 524933
Open from 09:00 to 24:00hrs
guide for levada walks and other activites
Madeira Island Essential holiday information in English, German
and Portuguese language
Official tourism website In English, German and Portuguese