After so much hype in the media this year, Laura is talking about her recent trip to Madeira, and telling you everything you need to know to decide if it’s worth the hype.
Madeira – the newest hotspot – but is it worth the hype?
In this blog, I will be sharing my own personal experiences and thoughts about the island – the good and the bad. Without being negative, I want to give you a true account so you can make your own decision about whether you would like to visit.
Is it worth the hype?
Is it busy? Yes. Is it beautiful? Also yes. Is it worth visiting? Well, that’s for you to decide.
Unfortunately, with modern day social media, it is impossible for anywhere to stay a secret for long. Anywhere worth seeing is plastered all over the internet for everyone to see. For me, I felt as though I had visited Madeira before I even arrived as I had seen every spot photographed several times.
The internet can also paint a picture which is not always reflective of everyday life. I knew that many of the photos I’d seen of Madeira would be edited and that the weather conditions were not guaranteed so I was worried about being disappointed.
If you have read my previous blogs, you will know that I am not a fan of flying! You may have heard that Madeira is one of the worst airports in Europe – it is a small island in the middle of the ocean so it can get pretty windy and the direction of the wind/runway also means that they experience crosswinds during takeoff and landing.
Weirdly, I actually hadn’t thought about this much prior to the trip – I just thought that perhaps this was just in bad weather conditions but I think it is actually pretty common. I won’t say too much but it was one of those landings when the whole plane claps when you land on the ground. However, apparently the pilots have extra training for landing there so I felt in safe hands.
The views really are the selling point of Madeira. The dramatic coastline and mountainous scenery was unlike anywhere I have ever seen before and in itself is a good enough reason to visit Madeira. Even just driving around the island in a car makes you go ‘Wow!’.
When we first stepped off the plane, there was a very strong gust of wind. I wondered whether it was just a windy day or if this was common in Madeira. Unfortunately, this continued throughout our trip. A local told me that it was a tropical island so they do experience quite severe weather but that the weather for the past week and the next few weeks to come was forecast as particularly windy.
Throughout our stay, we noticed that most of the time, from the ground, it was cloudy. I’m not sure if this is common in Madeira or if it was just due to the weather during the week that we visited but I assume that this is why Madeira is prone to cloud inversions.
The island is very mountainous and some of the mountain tops sit high enough that they are above the clouds so while you can experience a beautiful cloud inversion if you get above the clouds, it can be cloudy from the ground or you may even find yourself within the clouds. We quickly realised that we would have to plan our days according to the weather.
When the sun does poke its head through, it is pretty special.
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Experiencing a Cloud Inversion
If you’re not familiar with it, a cloud inversion is when you are above instead of below the clouds – a bit like what you would see from a plane. When you see photographs of Madeira online, you will often see photographs of the sunrise above the clouds and it looks magical.
Many people visit Madeira hoping to experience a sunrise like this but are disappointed when they realise that it is not guaranteed. However, they are more common in Madeira so if you know what to look for or are just very lucky, you have a chance of seeing one! To experience a cloud inversion, you have to have a very particular set of conditions, including:
high air pressure;
lots of low cloud and no middle cloud;
very low winds.
The high air pressure is what pushes the cloud down so if you go on a day where there is low air pressure, the clouds will be scattered and will not create a low bank of cloud. The most likely time to experience a cloud inversion is in the morning so if you want to experience a cloud inversion in Madeira, you should go out for sunrise in the mountains. Remember to make sure that you check the weather conditions in advance. There are also live webcams online that will show you what the cloud looks like.
During the week that we visited Madeira, we checked the weather conditions and were very fortunate to find one day where there was a cloud inversion and it really was spectacular. We felt so grateful to experience this – especially when we realised that not everyone got to.
What to Do If It’s Rainy/Cloudy
The weather in Madeira was a bit crazy! You could be down on the ground where there was some scattered cloud in the sky and within a few minutes of driving, you can be at an altitude when you are in the clouds and you can’t see a few meters in front of the car! At first, we were a little disappointed but we realised that there are some things to see or do which are actually way better in the rain/cloud!
You may have heard of Fanal Forest. It is well known for being particularly foggy but it isn’t always like this. The reason that it appears so foggy is because it sits within the clouds. If you go on a cloudy day, you will get to experience it in its full glory. It really does look magical in the fog.
A levada is a man-made channel designed to carry water. On the levada walks, you will often walk alongside the water channel and end up at the source of the water – a waterfall.
Of course, if you visit a levada when it is raining, there will be more water, making the waterfall look more impressive.
There is also something very magical about walking through the rainforests in the rain! Although they can be long, most of the levada walks are pretty flat and accessible to most people. Just make sure to take your phone or a flashlight to walk through the tunnels, as well as some waterproofs.
Get Above the Clouds
As previously mentioned, many of the peaks in Madeira will sit above the cloud level – especially in the morning so if you want some sunshine on a cloudy day, you could consider getting up high above the clouds!
Where to Stay
Where to stay will depend on what type of holiday you are hoping for. Most blogs that I read prior to my trip recommended staying in Funchal but this wasn’t really for me! If you want a sun holiday, Funchal does get more sun and experiences less wind than other areas because it is on the south coast and is shielded by the mountains. It is also the closest to the airport.
However, if you are looking for an adventure-filled holiday or you want to see more rustic Madeira, I would recommend staying on the North of the Island. You may experience more clouds and wind but it really is beautiful.
Madeira has become popular for adventure holidays so you may be considering camping. We had romanticized the idea of camping with sea views and beautiful sunsets so we decided to book a 4×4 with a roof tent for the first four nights of our trip. Unfortunately, with the weather, camping was less than ideal. The winds were so strong that the tent ended up collapsing on us on the first night and it was really hard to sleep in the strong winds so we tried to find sheltered areas to camp.
In Madeira, wild camping is legal so while it may seem like a great idea, you will need to consider the weather. While it may be possible to camp in the mountains, it may not make for a very comfortable sleep and some nights it would be too dangerous in the wind.
Around the island, there are designated camp spots with running water and fire pits for you to make your own food so there are plenty of spots for a safer and more comfortable night sleep if it is windy.
What we didn’t know about the island before visiting is that is has SO many off road tracks. We felt like hiring a 4×4 for our trip gave us a unique experience. Not only was it super fun but we also got to explore some roads and spots that you can only get to by off road tracks. These were literally empty so we got the most beautiful unspoilt landscapes all to ourselves. If you are looking to explore some of the islands quieter and more hidden gems, consider hiring a 4×4 or booking yourself onto a 4×4 experience.
Into hiking and outdoors? Read more from Laura…
All in all, I am glad that I got to experience Madeira. Some of the views really were spectacular and experiencing a sunrise cloud inversion at Pico Aereiro is a once in a lifetime experience. Here is a summary of my pros and cons:
Amazing hikes and activities
Epic cloud inversion
Temperamental weather – if you book in advance, you may not get the idyllic weather conditions that you are hoping for
A lot of the island has eroded and some of the roads are closed – the popular road waterfall that everyone visits is actually closed but tourists ignore the sign and visit anyway
My honest review is that Madeira is a beautiful island with some magnificent landscapes and I can see why people want to visit. If you love hiking, photography or adventure, I’m sure you will have a great time. However, during the summer, it is very busy. If I visited again, I would consider booking out of season or planning to visit in a few years when a new place becomes popular and Madeira becomes a little less touristy. Also, try not to set your expectations too high. I know a few people who have visited and have been disappointed that they did not get the dreamy sunsets and cloud inversions. If you have a sense of adventure, realistic expectations and don’t mind a little wind or rain, I’m sure you will love it!