Rock pool dips and cable car trips: get active in Madeira

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Basket Case: Gravity-Assisted Transport

Monte, a picturesque hilltop town located 550 meters above sea level, offers a unique form of gravity-assisted transport. At the Church of Our Lady of Monte, you may come across a gathering of gentlemen who appear ready for a boating or cricket outing. However, they are actually practitioners of an ancient and efficient mode of transportation.

Known as the “carro de cesto,” this exotic conveyance originated from the same lineage as the toboggan over two centuries ago. It consists of a large wicker basket attached to a pair of wooden runners, capable of carrying up to three passengers. Initially designed to transport produce downhill to Funchal more safely than wheeled vehicles due to the steep gradients, it now caters to tourists seeking the exhilaration of speeding down steep hills using public roads. Similar to jet airliners, two pilots guide the craft during its descent. These pilots, known as Carreiros do Monte, attest that their passengers often experience a mix of excitement and silence throughout the ride.

For those interested in experiencing this thrilling mode of transportation, it is recommended to take the cable car from Funchal to Monte. From there, the carros are only a short walk away. Solo travelers can save on costs by teaming up with another passenger. More information can be found at

Higher and Higher: Discover Ancient Forest and Thrilling Trails

Despite its compact size, Madeira boasts impressive heights, with roads and tracks navigating the island at over 1,000 meters. To explore the scenic highlights, a 4×4 tour with companies like Discovery Island is highly recommended. Experienced drivers like Gil Pestana can take you to remote places reachable only by robust vehicles.

Madeira emerged from the depths of the Atlantic about 20 million years ago through volcanic eruptions, resulting in a forest-covered island. Today, remnants of this pristine nature can be explored on centuries-old tracks. Gil advises visitors to enjoy the mountains and forest, promising breathtaking photos and memories that will last a lifetime.

Discovery Island is one of several providers offering off-road adventures by 4×4. While a typical half-day tour explores the north and west of Madeira, other itineraries are available.

Above Par: When Golf Came to Madeira

For many visitors, Madeira immediately brings to mind its renowned golf courses. Combining year-round warm weather with dramatic landscapes, the island provides an ideal destination for golf enthusiasts. One golfer described it as “playing in Jurassic Park,” complete with perfectly manicured greens and, presumably, fewer dinosaurs.

The sport arrived on the island in February 1937 with the inauguration of the first golf course in Santo da Serra, located high above the ocean in eastern Madeira. Eminent golfers, including former world number one Severiano Balasteros, have played on this prestigious course. Regardless of one’s golfing skills, Santo da Serra offers equally rewarding experiences due to its stunning surroundings.

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Ocean Going: Taking the Plunge from Your Own Private Vessel

While admiring the beauty of the Atlantic Ocean is one thing, sailing across a slice of it adds a whole new dimension to the experience. “Happy Hour,” a delightful yacht, offers the opportunity to set sail and explore the ocean firsthand. The skipper, Luis, departs from Funchal’s marina, allowing guests to enjoy a couple of blissful hours at sea.

Originally owned by a Madeiran named Duarte, the good ship “Happy Hour” became the inspiration for a family-run company after his passing. Numerous tourist boats sail from Funchal, providing unforgettable experiences. However, having a private vessel adds a touch of exclusivity. Guests can choose from a wide range of options, from sunrise and sunset cruises to full-day excursions along the island’s south coast. These voyages provide the chance to spot cetaceans and visit private beaches accessible only by sea. Alternatively, one can simply seek out their own slice of Atlantic paradise.

The water’s mild temperature, maintained year-round due to Madeira’s nine-degree position from the Equator, allows for a refreshing swim in the world’s second-largest ocean. It’s no wonder whales and dolphins are so drawn to this part of the planet.

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Nature’s Spa: Splashing Around in the Volcanic Rock Pools

Having fun under the sun is a common theme in Madeira, especially at the volcanic rock pools in Porto Moniz, located in the far northwest of the island. These pools are formed from solidified lava and offer a natural water park experience.

As you float through these enticing pools at sea level, you can feel the buoyancy provided by the saltwater. The fun is enhanced by the spray of Atlantic breakers meeting land after traveling 3,000 miles from North America.

Buses 80 and 139 provide transportation from Funchal to Porto Moniz, with a journey time of approximately three hours. Entry to the volcanic rock pools is free for all to enjoy.

In conclusion, Madeira is a destination that offers a plethora of unique experiences. From the thrill of the gravity-assisted transport in Monte to exploring ancient forests and thrilling trails through 4×4 tours, there is something for every adventurer. Golf enthusiasts can indulge in a round of golf in the majestic scenery of Santo da Serra, while sailing enthusiasts can charter their private vessel to explore the vast Atlantic Ocean. Finally, the volcanic rock pools in Porto Moniz provide an unforgettable natural spa experience in the midst of raw nature. Madeira truly showcases the beauty and diversity of the island’s offerings.

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