A little volcanic island off the coast of northern Africa might warrant some explanations to some regarding its viability as a tourist destination. Madeira, however, requires no explanation. Before arriving, you can feel something slightly different regarding this Portuguese island situated just over 400 miles west of Morocco.

The fact that one’s first experience of the island is a hair raising approach into its only airport- which sports over 3000 feet’s worth of runway built on concrete pillars- very much sets the scene for Madeira. There is little doubting that humans have had to adapt to the challenging environment of the island, and there is little doubting that in some places, engineers have had to think slightly outside the metaphorical box.

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Downwind to land at Madeira – note the runway on stilts 2 miles off the starboard wing as we fly at only 1000 ft

The island itself feels almost like a model railway set, with everything seemingly exaggerated beyond reasonable proportion. There are endless tunnels cutting through the landscape, to the extent where on certain stretches of road, you come out of one tunnel, go around a roundabout, and within another 50 yards, you’re back in a tunnel. The reason for these tunnels is, however, relatively clear, particularly when confronted with some of the topography. Madeira, is, for example, the home of the tallest sea cliff in Europe (second tallest in the world). This cliff, Cabo Girão, is described as a “lofty” sea cliff on Wikipedia, and at 580m, they’re not joking either!

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At 1900 feet, Cabo Girão is not small in the slightest. This is taken from the viewing platform looking down towards Camara de Lobos and Funchal

Being volcanic, there is a large drop off quite close to the island, and so the sea is very deep relatively close to shore. At a distance of only 3 miles out from shore, the sea reaches depths of around 3000m. In turn, this makes the island perfect for whales and dolphins, as we found out to our delight.

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Two dolphins breaking the surface of the water
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This Loggerhead Turtle popped its head up at us as we returned to Funchal

The twisting and turning bends forced by the island’s topography can make for some interesting driving up small roads. It also creates the perfect backdrop for some incredibly picturesque rallying. The island is home to several major rallies, and although these are not in mid July (1-3 August 2019 is next), there are smaller ones held throughout the year. Having received a tipoff on Facebook regarding one of these, we went to a smaller one being held on the island.

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The rally saw several nice cars including the Ford Escort Cosworth
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And three Porsche 911s, however, with the spotlights on the front, this was by far my favourite
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The island is not just home to rallies and dolphins, but natural rock pools such as this one in Porto Moniz, with the sea clearly visible behind the rocks

The island has a unique set of irrigation streams, known as Levadas. These are also popular walking trails and the easiest and best way to see some stunning scenery. Some are quite certainly not worth taking a camera on as the terrain is not always overly friendly, however, these are made up for by those where not taking a camera is borderline stupid!

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The Levada Nova, looking south towards the sea

I did manage to get to the airport a couple of times to take some photos, and there’s no doubting that when there actually is traffic, it is definitely worth a visit. Traffic is intermittent so I’d suggest checking Flightradar or the airport website before heading off, but this does not make the airport any less spectacular.

I saw the following aircraft whilst on my trip:


(G-GATN was my aircraft there and G-GATP the way back)

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TAP Portugal has frequent flights to Lisbon
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It doesn’t rain all that often in Madeira, but when it does, it rains properly! Fortunately it only rained once, and this was as we were leaving for home
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The airport’s position gives a unique vantage point allowing aircraft to be photographed whilst beneath you
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One comment


  1. Hi Adam, I thought your blog today was a tour de force. Congratulations. Can’t wait to hear all about it first-hand. xxx

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