I didn’t know what to expect from Madeira. I knew it’s not your ordinary beach holiday, with long stretches of golden beach and calm seas. I also knew the Pearl of the Atlantic lures in outdoor enthusiasts from all over the world, due to its lush mountain trails and famous Levada walks. Windy, cloudy and cold on the Northern side, but sunny and relaxing on the Southern part, it’s hard to decide how to properly pack your suitcase for a perfect trip to Madeira. Having spent a week driving around the island, exploring its secluded most corners, as well as visiting its pebbly volcanic beaches during sunset, I decided to create a list with the absolute essentials you will need, in order to fully make the most of your travels to Madeira.
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Hire a Car in Madeira
In order to access the most remote and secluded parts of Madeira, I rented a car from Funchal cars. I wanted to venture out into the mountains, and drive on the most challenging roads Madeira has to offer. That’s exactly why I invested a little more in getting a good car with great engine and horsepower. Most roads in Madeira are rather narrow and very curvy. Having serious clutch skills is an absolute must, otherwise, for your safety, you should really stick to the main roads/motorways.
The moment I decided to rent a car in Madeira, I knew I will have to bring my satnav with me. I find it so much easier to navigate around the island without the need to continuously stop and double check the maps on my phone. Make sure you have an up to date software on your satnav, as Madeira opened new roads and created new roundabouts throughout the island.
Data sim card in Madeira
I always need a phone with working internet when abroad, purely due to the nature of my work. When I travel, I like to still keep on top of my e-mails, blog and social media. I got my sim card from a local company called MEO. I paid 10 euros for the sim card and topped it up with another 15 euros for 15 GB of data, valid for 15 days. Amazing deal and excellent price, it definitely beats the roaming charges.
I found that for the duration of my stay, I needed my glasses pretty much every day. When the sun is at its strongest point, around 12 pm, its gets pretty hot and proper bright. I used my Ray-Bans with a polarized lens to avoid glare and reflection. This is highly recommended, especially during driving on the motorways and up in the mountains. Make sure you remove your sunglasses when entering a tunnel on the motorway.
I wish I had a hat with me when I hiked towards the Pico Ruivo. To get to the trail, I drove for about 20 minutes on a winding mountain road, through the cloud and rain. Once I got to the car park, I was literally above the clouds. Sure, the view was amazing, but so was the strength of the sun. I embarked on a 3-hour adventure, going up the hill with absolutely no sunscreen nor hat to protect myself from a potential sunstroke. Luckily, I had plenty of water with me, but, since I learned my lesson, I would be keen to help you avoid making the same mistake. Wear sunscreen and always bring a hat with you.
When I hiked in Santana, I had to trail through the cold, wind and cloud. It looked incredibly eerie, like a scene from a good version of the Blair Witch Project. Although I could have easily hiked in shorts and my mountain boots, I would have probably not enjoyed my hike as much, without the aid of my waterproof. I brought The North Face shell with me, as I knew I won’t need it for warmth, but just to keep any moisture at bay. I visited Madeira in June, which is the driest month, but during winter times, even if the temperature stays around 20 degrees, the rainfall levels increase significantly.
Dress and Shorts
Hikes aside, there will be times when you will want to admire the sunset on the beach, walk around the fishing villages or have dinner in Funchal’s old town. The temperatures can easily go over 25 degrees and that’s when I felt the need to ditch my walking boots and waterproofs, and change into a nice summery dress. During the summer months, you can very well hike in your shorts, as the high temperatures are predominant even deep in the mountains.
Nicknamed the Spring Island, Madeira rarely gets cold, however, as with every evening during Springtime, once the sun goes down, the temperatures can get a little cool, whereby a sweater or a light cardigan may be needed. I packed a warm jumbo sweater just in case, and I found myself needing it in my last evening in Madeira, during which I photographed the ocean during the sunset.
Whether you are travelling to Madeira as part of your work or to enjoy a well deserved relaxing holiday, you cannot miss all the beautiful photographic opportunities this island has to offer. I found myself setting up my tripod in the most unexpected places, and took so many impressive pictures. There are parts of the island which made me think of Bali and Borneo. Other places reminded me of rugged Scottish Cliffs, whereby certain drives in the mountains carried my thoughts right to Vietnam. Madeira is a wonderful (still wild) island with a lot more to offer than meets the eye.
I am going to admit, the tripod is more or less optional. I know I said I’m going to only list the absolute essentials, but to me, a tripod really is a must when I travel. Although you won’t need to carry it with you always, I strongly recommend having it handy when you photograph rivers, waterfalls and the ocean during sunset/sunrise. Without a tripod, there is no way to create the dreamy landscape photography we all love to marvel at. The best approach is to put it in your car boot and leave it there. This way, you always have it with you, but only take it out when you absolutely need it.
When I hiked towards Pico Ruivo from Ilha, I had to go uphill for the most of the journey. The most demanding part was in fact on the way back, going downhill. Having a hiking stick in those situations makes the hike easier, more pleasant and safe. For the untrained, a hiking stick is also a brilliant idea for when going uphill.
After hiking up and down, I find it difficult to drive on winding mountains roads wearing the same boots. I bring a pair of Sanuk sandals with me and always change before the drive. I stopped buying any other sandals because these are made of yoga mat, are very comfortable (feels like walking on pillows), they look good with shorts, jeans and dresses, and are brilliant for driving purposes. I used them for driving all around New Zealand and I wouldn’t buy any other type of sandals ever again.
I knew Madeira is not a beach holiday, and no matter how cold the Ocean may be, there are plenty of resorts around the island with amazing swimming pools and epic sun bathing facilities. I visited the natural swimming pools in Porto Moniz (1.5 euro entry fee per adult), as well as Calheta, a golden beach with soft sand imported from the Sahara desert.
Pen and paper
Although not everyone is a travel writer, I always recommend bringing a pen and paper whilst going on a journey. I like to take notes, write how places make me feel and connect with my surroundings via writing. I found myself spending a few hours just overlooking the ocean from the high cliffs of Ponta Do Pargo, the westernmost point of Madeira.
What are your travelling essentials when visiting an island? Do you pack more for the beach or for the mountain trails? Let me know in the comments section below.