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Madeira: The rise of active tourism in the archipelago

The island has been undergoing a major transformation in the last decade. Increasingly the more mature demographic of tourists is replaced by younger travellers looking for adrenaline-fuelled adventures.

The island has been undergoing a major transformation in the last decade. Increasingly the more mature demographic of tourists is replaced by younger travellers looking for adrenaline-fuelled adventures. And with such a dramatic landscape there is plenty to offer for those seeking to embrace the great outdoors.


Levada walks in Madeira are one of those unique bucket-list experiences you must try when visiting the island. Levadas are incredible irrigation systems built in the 16th century to ensure water was distributed from the north and wetter side of the island to the south and relatively drier side. There are around 2,500km of levadas crisscrossing the most scenic parts of the island. There are varying levels of difficulty for the tours run by the likes of Madeira Adventure Kingdom. The less adventurous hikers can opt for “Levada dos Maroços”, which trails through the valley in the city of Machico, the second largest town in Madeira. The Pico do Areeiro to Pico Ruivo hike involves a mountain route that links the three highest mountains of Madeira. On the journey, you might come across the Freira da Madeira, an endangered and majestic bird endemic to the island. You’ll walk by the mighty urze trees which predate the discovery of Madeira.

Mountain biking has been growing a loyal following on the island in recent years. With mild temperatures all year round and very few flat areas, this was always going to be a paradise for bikers. You can ride from peaks to sea level, traverse rocky trails and adventure into the tropical rainforest or eucalyptus forest. You can ride all-terrain bikes or motorcycles. There are exciting dirt tracks on both the Madeira and Porto Santo islands. There are growing numbers of tour operators offering biking holidays, which is ideal given they sort out the logistics for you in terms of transfer and matching the right routes for your skill level. There are growing numbers of BTT circuits on the island currently undergoing certification.

With a surfeit of steep inclines and descents, you won’t be surprised to discover climbing and canyoning are hugely popular sports on the island. Climbing on the island started back in the 1940s when it was more about exploration but nowadays, sporting climbing is very much a hobby. With the basaltic nature of the rocks, the mountain cliffs are extremely solid and hence considered very safe for climbers of all skill levels.

Canyoning might seem like the reverse of climbing up a mountain but it also involves abseiling, climbing, jumping and even swimming as you navigate your way down a rapidly flowing mountain stream in a gorge. You get to explore untouched parts of the island that are rarely visited by tourists. The tourism board recommends the northern part of the island in the summertime when the flows are high. Whilst suggesting the southern part of the island in the wintertime when the streams are generally calmer. The sport has been credited as contributing the most to outdoor tourism in Madeira in the last 7 years. If you want to try this sport whilst visiting the island, you can book with the likes of Madeira Adventure Kingdom.

There are more sedate options if you still want to enjoy outdoor tourism. Golf is always popular on the island with two very different courses, Palheiro Golf and the Santo da Serra Golf Club. The former has 18 holes whilst the latter has 27 holes. The Madeira Island Golf Open is always a popular spectacle every year and is part of the Main Tour of the European PGA with many famous sportsmen participating.

If you love sightseeing, then you must consider a jeep safari tour and also chartering a sailing boat cruise around the island. With the former, you get to travel off-road to discover hidden gems on the island. They’ll drive along steep ravines and through Madeira’s ancient laurel forests. You might encounter herds of cows high on the mountain top. With tours run by the likes of Madeira Mountain Expedition, you get to stand up to admire the magical scenery as they operate open-top 4×4 jeeps.

Companies like Happy Hour Madeira Sailing Charter started during the pandemic in 2021 as more and more tourists preferred to travel outdoors rather than stay in crowded all-inclusive resorts. They have sunrise and sunset tours or you can go on a gastronomic cruise where you taste the local cuisine whilst admiring the highest sea cliffs in Europe. They are flexible in terms of the itinerary, so they can pick you up after lunch from Fajã dos Padres and drop you off at Funchal.

Madeira has been very intelligent with its tourism strategy. By broadening their portfolio and increasing their tourist demographic, they are ensuring tourism will play a key role on the island in the decades to come.