Last Updated on September 4, 2023
While in Madeira we booked two 4×4 jeep tours with Safari Madeira. One was the Madeira East Island tour and the second was the West Island. Safari Madeira has over 30 years of experience! But if you only have time to do one tour, which one is best? I share the stops that we went to on our Madeira day trips including tips and opinions for which tour I enjoyed more!
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Madeira East Tour
- Pico do Arieiro
- Vereda dos Balcoes (Levada da Serra do Faial)
- Cascata da Aguage (surprise stop)
- Miradouro do Guindaste
- North Mills Distillery – Rum Tasting
- Miradouro do Canical
💻Tour details here: Madeira East Tour
Pico do Arieiro
The first stop on the Madeira East Tour was Pico do Arieiro, the 3rd highest point on the island at 1810m. The hike from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo is one of the most popular hikes on the island. We had a short stop to walk to one of the viewpoints at the summit.
Like a lot of day tours, we did only have 30 minutes here. So it was just enough time to take some photos and use the toilets (€0.50). People were lining up to get a picture with the summit marker, but the view is just as good from the path that circles it. There was also a gift shop and a cafe.
When you book a tour with Safari Madeira you get to see parts of the island that tour buses can’t reach. They have open tops and genuinely go complete off-road. And it’s GREAT. Our driver, Gabriel was awesome (we ended up requesting to have him for our second tour)!
Vereda dos Balcoes (Levada da Serra do Faial)
Madeira is covered in Levadas, a network of channels that transports water around the island. Many of them have walks alongside them. There are some that start in Funchal (such as Levada Dos Piornais) but the majority are more rural.
The Madeira East tour included a 1.5km walk from Ribeiro Frio to Vereda dos Balcoes along the Levada da Serra do Faial. We had around 45 minutes to complete the walk, being dropped off at one end and then collected further along the route.
For the most part, it’s a flat dirt track route through the woods. It does pass by a small gift shop with snacks. (To get back to the road though, you do have to go down a lot of steps.)
The Levada leads to a viewpoint overlooking the Laurissilva Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The viewpoint is known for being able to hand feed the chaffinches, the smallest bird in Madeira. But being a popular tourist route, if you get there later in the day they are likely to be full up!
On the way to Santana, Gabriel stopped at a random tree and let us try a banana passion fruit. It looks like a banana, but when split open, the inside is similar to typical passion fruit seeds. There are lots of passion fruit flavoured food and drinks in Madeira!
Santana is famous for its triangle houses that have a straw roof. They date back to the 1500s but are now more of a tourist attraction and have shops inside. Casa das Flores is a cute one to take a photo of!
This was technically our lunch stop, so went to Restaurante Bragado’s for a drink and some chips. I had Weiss Banana, a banana wheat beer, which was an interesting taste…definitely banana tasting.
(For an additional cost, Safari Madeira can organise a set 3 course meal with beer or wine and several choices of meat/fish). There are public toilets but we just used the ones in the restaurant we went in.
Miradouro do Guindaste
We had a surprise stop at Cascata da Aguage waterfall, just outside of Santana, before heading to Miradouro do Guindaste.
This was just a quick stop, but it has a couple of glass bottom viewing platforms that stick out from the cliff edge. They are free to go on and for the most part were completely empty during my visit.
Ironically, the best view at Miradouro do Guindaste is the view in the opposite direction from the one that the glass ledges look out at. But they are still worth walking out on!
North Mills Distillery – Rum Tasting
The next stop was at North Mills Distillery (Engenhos do Norte), which produces sugar cane rum. We got to try the 60% fire rum and then a darker one that sits in a barrel for 3 years. I preferred the sweeter darker one as the fire rum is a bit stronger and has a taste similar to vodka. The tasting was included as part of our tour and we were given molasses biscuits too.
The factory wasn’t actually ‘working’ during my visit, as it’s seasonal, so only runs for a few months of the year. However it was still open as a museum so we could see the equipment used in the rum making process.
Miradouro do Canical
The last stop was at Miradouro do Canical, the eastern most point on the island. There was an ice cream van there and a couple of gift shops. From there it was then back to my hotel pick up point in Funchal.
Madeira West Tour
- Camara de Lobos
- Cabo Girao Skywalk
- Porto Moniz
- Bar Rochao – Poncha Bar
💻Tour details here: Madeira West Tour
Camara de Lobos
First stop on the Madeira West Tour was at the fishing village of Camara de Lobos. They were having a festival for a few days during June and lots of streets had decorations up. The decorations were made from recycled materials by the local schools. It looked really cool!
We only had around 30 minutes to do a quick loop of the village. Outside the Pestana Churchill Bay hotel is a statue of Winston Churchill. He used to stay in Camara de Lobos and would paint the views. The harbour was full of colourful fishing boats, it reminded me a bit of Marsaxlokk in Malta.
*We ended up returning to Camara de Lobos on a different day, walking along the coastal path from Sao Martinho in Funchal. That way we had longer to look at all the art work and stop for a drink in one of the cafes.
Cabo Girao Skywalk
Next up was the Cabo Girao Skywalk, which has a glass walkway 580m above sea level, overhanging the edge of a cliff. It’s supposedly one of the highest in Europe! There was an entrance fee of €2 and it was of course VERY busy and crowded. It’s then another €0.50 to go to the toilet. You’ll also find a gift shop and a cafe. In all honesty, I didn’t think the views were that impressive unfortunately.
We drove through the mountains to the village of Seixal, which has a black sand beach with a waterfall going on to it. Madeira is often called the Hawaii of Europe, but Seixal was the first place where I could see some sort of resemblance to Hawaii. (Hawaii is one of my favourite places, so I had high expectations!).
It was a bit cloudy and chilly but loads of people were on the beach and swimming. Apparently the north side of the island does tend to be more cloudy than the south. We had a little bit of time to walk along the beach and there were some free toilets we could use where we were dropped off.
I really liked Seixal, I wish we could have had a bit longer there and had it as our swimming spot rather than Porto Moniz.
Had 1 hour 45 at the town of Porto Moniz. This was the main lunch spot and just like the East Tour, Safari Madeira could arrange a 3 course lunch again (same food options). We decided to skip lunch and use the time to explore instead.
I paid €3 to go swimming in the Porto Moniz Natural Pools. When you see images of Madeira, no doubt the Porto Moniz pools will come up, but I think they were a bit overrated. I preferred the Doca do Cavacas Natural Pools in Funchal.
The Porto Moniz pools reminded me a bit of the Blue Lagoon in Iceland…just colder! There are changing rooms, toilets, lockers and somewhere to buy drinks and snacks. As it was still quite cold I only stayed for 30 minutes, just to try them out. They just felt like a giant swimming pool, rather than a natural pool.
Alternatively, if you head along the coast path, there are another set of natural pools (Piscinas Naturais Velhas) which are more like rock pools and are free to enter. I completely forgot about them while I was there, but I think I would have preferred them to the main pools.
There are lots of different restaurants and cafes in Porto Moniz. We ended up stopping at Olhos D’Agua snack bar, which has a large selection of drinks, snacks and meals. There is another viewpoint, at the Oceana Rooftop restaurant, that had a nice quote about why being near the sea is good for you. It reads:
“What we need to feel good is it already present in nature. The sea and the oceans contain beneficial elements that propagate in the air thanks for the spray of the waves. In the sea spray (an ally for our immune system), there are natural elements that have powerful beneficial effects on our body it is a proven and documented fact that the tiny sea water drops that we breathe when we are by the sea have a significant role in the prevention of lung cancer and on the level of cholesterol, working also as a great antidepressant, purifying your skin and releasing your respiratory tract. For all these reasons, we invite you to relax in our Seaview rooftop and enjoy the curative powers of sea air.”
One of the reasons we requested to have Gabriel again, was that he had said that the off-roading was better on the West tour, but not all the drivers go along the ‘good’ route. It did not disappoint, it was CRAZY.
Because I was in the back of the jeep, we were told it would be better if we stood up with our heads out of the roof. If not, we would smack our heads on the roll cage. It was like jeep surfing! Luckily the 3 other travellers that were in the back with me were up for it too. At the end, they said that they had lucked out joining our jeep! It was awesome (even though I was a little bruised afterwards)!
Although the off-roading took us through a foggy forest, the tour then followed the main road parallel to the Fanal Forest (another popular must-see), rather than through it. We stopped at a couple of viewpoints, including one where we were above the clouds! We also passed the starting point of the 25 Fontes Levada walk.
Bar Rochao – Poncha Bar
The last stop on the Madeira West Tour was at Bar Rochão, a tiny little bar in what felt like the middle of nowhere! Most of us had a little glass of Poncha (a traditional drink) for €3, and in my opinion was the best that I tried in Madeira! From there it was then back to Funchal.
Madeira East or West Tour?
So Madeira East or West Tour? Which jeep tour was best?
Both cost the same price and both were a similar duration (pick up around 9am, drop off between 4.30pm-5pm).
Personally I think I preferred the Madeira West Tour. Even though it had more driving, I liked seeing the landscape that was similar to Hawaii, with waterfalls alongside the road, the black sand beach, the crazy off-roading through the forest etc.
Don’t get me wrong, the Madeira East Tour is still well worth doing and had a more relaxed feel. Comparing the two glass observation platforms, I enjoyed Miradouro do Guindaste on the East tour more than the Cabo Girao Skywalk on the West. Reasons being: less (no) people, free, nicer cliff views.