This post shows you a road trip to Western Madeira along good Madeira roads and through many tunnels. Madeira’s west is very much worth visiting. It’s a dramatic area with high sea cliffs and terraced banana plantations on mountainsides.
West Madeira is a less touristic area and it has always been hard to reach – until the new Via Rapida and all its tunnels were built.
Driving in Madeira is easy so why not go ahead, rent a car and drive west!
Road trip to Western Madeira, driving through tunnels
We used the new tunnel road but also took smaller byways, first heading to Camara de Lobos and Cabo Girao. We made Calheta the base for our West Madeira road trip which was a good idea. From Calheta we went on to Ponta do Pargo in the far west and Porto Moniz in the far north.
This post will show you our road trip. I will tell you what there is to see and I have also put our West Madeira driving itinerary on the map.
Road Trip to Western Madeira on the Map
We took the old coastal road from Funchal and then followed the coast all around the western part of the flower island. We also saw half of the north coast, returning south straight though the island using the new Encumeada tunnel.
Map of our West Madeira road trip
From Ribeira Brava in the south we once more returned to our base Calheta but the Encumeada tunnel also is the straightest road back to Funchal from Madeira’s north. Yet, if your time allows, you can also take the old Encumeada pass road in stead of the tunnel – and you will see even more of the island.
We spent a few days on this trip, driving slowly, stopping a lot and walking in between. But you can make this trip as a day trip from Funchal as well.
So our first stop was Camara de Lobos which is just a short drive from Funchal.
Camara de Lobos
Road trip to Western Madeira: Camara de Lobos
This is Camara de Lobos, a pretty fishing village just a short drive from Funchal.
The many brightly painted fishing boats drawn up on the pebbles tell that Camara de Lobos is a real, living fishing village. It really is that as most of Madeira’s 800 fishermen live and work in Camara de Lobos.
Camara de Lobos fishing boats, Madeira
Each night they leave their harbourside houses and work all night to catch espada. Espada is scabbard fish in English and appears on every restaurant menu on Madeira. Espada is a boneless fish and mostly eaten with good local bananas.
The bananas, too, come from this same area. Bananas are grown on terraced fields all over the south coast of Madeira. Here you can see Camara de Lobos banana plantations and hillside homes.
Camara de Lobos homes and banana plantations
And this is the view when entering Camara de Lobos along the old coastal road. Bananas again, and the high cliffs of Cabo Girao at distance.
Camara de Lobos and Cabo Girao
Camara de Lobos has a cluster of nice harbourside cafes and bars where you can sit outside and catch Madeira’s warm afternoon sun. Despite many visitors Camara de Lobos still is and looks like an original fishing village.
Fishermen’s chapel, Camara de Lobos
Camara de Lobos ffishermen still have their tiny chapel where you can step in and learn about their hard life. Storms, shipwrecks and drownings decorate the chapel’s wall paintings.
But these families are happy people, I know it. I was dancing on the street with fishermen’s wives at night after the Cantar os Reis party. That was in Funchal. Such wonderful people they are!
Driving in Madeira: Camara de Lobos
Towards Cabo Girao
Road trip to Western Madeira: driving on Madeira roads
But we were on the way to West Madeira and it was time to drive on. And as we often do also here we took the small roads since they give you so much more. Driving on these side roads was slow but never mind, we stopped all the time and took photos and admired Madeira views. Look at the scenery!
If you are making West Madeira as a day trip, skip Camara de Lobos and Cabo Girao and go there another day.
Madeira south coast from the car
Bananas grow up to the height of 300 m after which it’s more vineyards. In the winter vines look like this:
Hilly terrain on the way to Madeira’s west coast
On the small roads we partly followed miradouro (lookout) road signs and partly used Google maps offline for navigation – and then quite unexpectedly we happened to find a cable car station. This one:
Cabo Girao Teleferico
A roadside miradouro of Cabo Girao
It was cool and windy since we were already more than half way up the Cabo de Girao cliff.
The scenery was almost frightening and looking down I had to wonder why any people want to live and grow the land down on the base of this steep cliff! It’s so hard to get home if you live down there. Probably the cable car is the way for them to get to the nearest village?
Cabo Girao cable car
So the teleferico takes you down… to this place. I don’t believe my eyes! There is abeautiful farmhouse!
Cabo Girao farmhouse by the ocean
This is the view towards the direction we came from, towards Camara de Lobos. The Funchal hotel zone is almost right beyond it. So we haven’t got far away from Funchal yet, today is a day of slow travel.
Madeira south coast from Cabo Girao teleferico station
There was a restaurant with stunning views, and since this looked like a little village centre they of course also had a nativity stable here. Every village and almost every restaurant on Madeira has that for Christmas.
Nativity stable close to Cabo Girao, Madeira
From the Teleferico we had to return along the same road we had taken to get here, but only up to the next miradouro sign, this time pointing to Cabo Girao.
The roads here had lots of curves but they were not particularly narrow or difficult to drive on. There are no problems at all with driving on Madeira roads, if you can drive a car at home you can do it here as well.
Cabo Girao 580 m
Cabo Girao lookout at 580 m
So this is the next miradouro, a glass-floored lookout more than half a kilometre above the ocean! And it’s not only glass, on both sides of the glass the floor is – like this:
Cabo Girao lookout floor
The airy floor lets you see the sheer drop below you, a drop of almost 600 m! If the teleferico lookout was frightening, this one was that even more.
But the place was not only frightening, it was very interesting as well. You could see terraces for vines and vegetables directly on the cliff face and very very narrow paths carved on the cliff side since. As there must be a way to get to those terraces.
Road trip in Madeira: the glass floor of Cabo Girao
So from now on I understand why it’s said the Madeirans use every single patch of land they have. But why do they have to grow plants exactly here? – They say the cliff side is a good and warm place for plants.
Steep drop from Cape Girao, Madeira
It was so cold up here that we had to get our down jackets from the car. One more look downwards from the cape that is the second highest sea cliff in all Europe. Then we have to get down to warmer climate zones.
Atlantic waves at Cabo Girao, Madeira
This is west of Cabo Girao, beautiful terraced landscape where not only bananas but also other fruits like papayas and avocado grow.
Driving from Cabo Girao to Ribeira Brava
After some dozens of curves and bends we now decided to take the big main road that you can see down here. When the new motorway Via Rapida was opened for traffic it really cut driving time to Western Madeira.
Today you can reach Calheta in half an hour from Funchal which saves you a lot of time compared to taking the winding roads like the one we just took.
Via Rapida to West Madeira
Of course building a motorway in Madeira requires that you make tunnels, a lot of them. There are tunnels everywhere, some of them some only hundred metres and others 2 to 3 km long. Here is one of the tunnels:
Driving on Madeira roads: a Via Rapida tunnel
The tunnel leads to Ponta do Sol that is located in a deep valley, tight between two tunnel openings.
Ponta do Sol
Road trip to Western Madeira: Ponta do Sol on the south coast
A sign tells that Ponta do Sol is Madeira’s Christmas village, that’s why they have added that much decoration.
Ponta do Sol means Sun Point. Unlike other coastal villages Ponta do Sol gets sun all day long. Since Madeira mountains are so high most other villages remain parts of the day in shadow but Ponta do Sol is different. It has a more favourable location.
We came to Ponta do Sol for the sunset and in fact you should stay here until dark and see all the Christmas lights.
Ponta do Sol Christmas decoration
To see the village we parked above it and took the cobbled street down to the dark (almost black) pebble beach. The street is full of bars and cafes and a great place to spend time in.
Madeira by car: Ponta do Sol main street
Walking in Ponta do Sol, Madeira
The village church is named the Church of the Lady of the Light and has a pretty square in front of it.
Church of the Lady of the Light
The village shore has a row of beachfront buildings. We thought they look like hotels but didn’t see any hotel signs. Maybe holiday rentals? This must be a nice place to stay at, and it is not a long way to Funchal if you need city life.
Ponta do Sol ocean shore
The village of Ponta do Sol is located in a very narrow valley, both higher up by the main road and at seafront. It literally is between two tunnels.
The beach itself is rough, maybe we have to find a better beach. We went on to Calheta.
Road trip in Madeira: Calheta
Calheta looks a bit like Ponta do Sol but has a sandy beach, imported from Sahara. And some seafront hotels and a marina with restaurants.
It looked like this could be our base in Western Madeira. In any case it was getting dark soon so we had to find a hotel.
Views of Calheta, Madeira
We were driving up and down the seafront boulevard and here, too, found a Nativity Scene, this time a big one. Then we checked in the Savoy Saccharum Hotel at the end of the boulevard.
Calheta Christmas in Madeira
Our Hotel in Calheta
Hotel in the mountain wall: Savoy Saccharum, Calheta
This hotel attracted us, it sits in the mountain wall and overlooks the sea. There was a private beach right in front of it and also the imported beach was at walking distance. And I liked this view with old houses next to the hotel. What a contrast.
Madeira road trip: time to find accommodation
Calheta is a sugar cane area and the hotel had used sugar cane and local building elements in its interior decoration.
We got a sea view room with sugar cane wallpaper! And there was a lot of space to sleep, our bed was 200 cm wide.
Driving in Madeira: our Calheta hotel room
Some views of our room and from the balcony:
Calheta, Madeira: oom and balcony views
Our Calheta Hotel Infinity Pool
We felt very hungry at this point but it really wasn’t dinner time yet. The first thing we wanted in the hotel was to try the 8th floor infinity pool.
Evening by our Calheta infinity pool
Amazing! I took a refreshing dip in the cool water. Swimming towards the sea I had ocean views and after turning back I had rock views.
Infinity pool ocean views, Savoy Sacccharum, Calheta
Trying the Indoor Pool
Afterwards we tried the heated indoor pool that had fantastic ocean views as well. What a wonderful base for touring Western Madeira we had found! So peaceful and balanced, yet knowing that there were so many other hotel guests. And we were so centrally located to the area!
Enjoying the indoor pool after a day’s drive
The pool area was dark in colour and ultra modern like the whole hotel. A good idea was that old water pipes were used in many places as interior decoration. Never seen anything like that!
Downstairs we found an exhibition on sugar cane farming and industry. And more building materials used as decoration!
Savoy Saccharum interiors, Calheta
Somebody recommended us the hotel’s a la carte restaurant so we decided to dine there.
The dinner was very good and tasty and as I asked about the wines the waiter gave us a presentation on Madeira wines. And he took this photo of us since we are not good at selfies.
Dining in a Calheta restaurant: Savoy Saccharum
We had an after dinner drink at the lobby bar and what did we find again, a nativity scene!
Calheta Christmas decoration
The first thing we met in the breakfast room next morning was – a whole wall of water pipes!
Breakfast room: water pipes and local dishes
After a rich breakfast that also contained local dishes we were ready for a walking-day. And after the walk we once more used the pool – but I was going to write about Madeira, not the hotel…
But anyway, for us, Savoy Saccharum was a peaceful place to come back to and relax after the days’ activities and we liked the place a lot. If you got interested in having your base here I include a link to their website for more information:
Walking in Calheta
Driving in Madeira: exploring Calheta on foot
So we had a walking day. We knew there were levadas higher up in the area of Rabacal, with both short and long levada walks.
But as we didn’t want to sit in the car today we started walking along the winding walkway straight up from the hotel and walked on small side roads up on the Calheta hills.
Walking up to Calheta hills
It was residential and farming area with vineyards and banana and sugar cane plantations between the houses. This residential area is a beautiful one and sea and mountain views from Calheta hills were great all way long.
Walking on Calheta hills
Below you can have a closer look at Madeira bananas. This small and very tasty banana variety is called Musa acuminata and it has been grown on the island since the 16th century.
Tasty Madeira bananas
These village homes are like in a sea of banana plants and there’s no space for anything else. Banana production is one of the island’s main industries and they export a huge amount of bananas to mainland Portugal while the rest is consumed locally.
Banana plantations of Calheta
The other main farming product in Calheta is sugar cane that we already met signs of at the hotel. Sugar cane has been grown in this region since the 15th century when Madeira’s early settlers built the first terraced fields for sugar cane on hillsides.
They also built Levadas for carrying mountain water to sugar cane fields and they even imported slaves from Africa when more labour force was needed to grow cane.
Calheta sugar cane, Madeira
Later on a sugar mill was built and Calheta became the centre of cane production of Madeira. Above you can see some sugar cane.
In addition there are vineyards. This is what terraced Calheta vineyards look like in winter. Like elsewhere Madeira vines get autumn colours and drop their leaves for the winter.
Road trip in Western Madeira: Calheta vines in winter
Calheta Village Centre
It was great fun to walk on the hills and see the pretty village of Calheta from above.
On the opposite side of the valley there is the modern Centro de Artes das Mudas, a cultural centre with contemporary art exhibitions.
Centro de Artes das Mudas, Calheta, Madeira
And here you can see the man-made Calheta beach, well protected from the rough sea. The other photos show you some typical house roof details.
West Madeira: Calheta beach and red roofs
And here is the beach again, and a house roof covered by flowers.
The sandy beach of Calheta, Madeira
This is the village centre of Calheta. A river (that you don’t really see on the photo) is running through the village and there is a tiny square with a fountain, and a pretty church, Igreja Matriz from 1430 with a fine painted wooden ceiling.
The village centre is really small but there are some cobbled streets to walk along.
West Madeira by car: the village of Calheta
Engenhos da Calheta
Engenhos da Calheta sugar factory
And there is a sugar mill, Engenhos da Calheta. It’s one of the two sugar factories that still remain on the island. This kind of factories were needed when the demand for sugar increased in Europe as a result of a raised standard of living.
Today Engenhos da Calheta distills sugar cane syrup into rum. The factory is open to visitors so you can see and taste the product.
Calheta sugar mills from the mountains
These photos show the Calheta seafront: our hotel beach and Calheta marina. In addition to restaurants there are companies offering whale and dolphin tours to the ocean.
Our Calheta hotel beach
Whales can be seen at certain times of the year but dolphins are in these waters all year round.
A fisherman I was talking to told me you can even swim with dolphins but not in the spring when they have babies. At that time dolphin mothers defend their babies and are everything else than friendly towards people.
Calheta harbour in the west of Madeira
On the next day it was time to continue our Western Madeira road trip so we headed west, first to the next village Jardim do Mar.
Jardim do Mar
Steep walkway in Jardim do Mar, Madeira
Jardim do Mar, “Garden of the Sea” is a village were old footpaths to different directions start. Here you can see a walkway going uphill to the mountains.
Walking in Madeira: footpath up from Jardim do Mar
In the village the walkways have a beautiful stone pavement. The village is a big maze of narrow walkways, too narrow to get into with a car and sometimes even almost too narrow to walk.
Madeira village walk along narrow walkways
So you have to leave your car outside the village.
You can walk down to the seafront where they have built a wide pedestrian street. From the promenade you have a nice view towards the sea, the steep sea cliffs and the next village Paul do Mar.
Jardim do Mar oceanfront promenade in West Madeira
There is a hidden alley to the ocean shore what starts in the village centre, right below this church.
Church of Jardim do Mar
Some more views of Jardim do Mar before moving on.
Madeira nature at Jardim do Mar
Road Trip in Madeira: Driving Further West
West Madeira is a dramatic area. There are plateaus that drop straight down to the sea, green hillsides with roads carved in the hillside and isolated seaside villages. This is Paul do Mar seen from the surrounding cliffs.
The village Paul do Mar in West Madeira
This part of the island doesn’t have any motorways so driving takes more time. But there’s no hurry, we are on holiday.
Driving in Madeira: Portuguese road signs
You have to be careful in the curves but otherwise the road is very easy to drive. At least there’s not much traffic you would have to meet in curves. You partly drive in eucalyptus forest and partly in an open landscape.
Open mountain landscape of West Madeira
Ponta do Pargo Lighthouse
The lighthouse of Ponta do Pargo
Ponta do Pargo means “Dolphin Point” but the name doesn’t come from dolphins, it comes from dolphin fish that fishermen catch in these seas.
This is the westernmost point of Madeira and there is a lighthouse that has an exhibition about that. In fact the exhibition tells about all lighthouses on Madeira.
Ponta do Pargo lookout
There are two lookouts (miradouros), the lighthouse lookout and another one from where you can walk along the headland back to the lighthouse. This photo is from this other miradouro:
View from the Ponta do Pargo miradouro
And this is from the lighthouse. The headland is on high sea cliffs that drop straight down to the sea. Can you bear to look down?
The westernmost point of Madeira
I’m sure these men really don’t understand where they are. Look at them!
Two men standing at the edge of a steep cliff
This view is from Ponta do Pargo lighthouse towards north. Can you see that the extremely steep cliffs are terraced in some places? That means somebody is growing something in those patches…
Drive to West Maderia: terraced cliffs of Ponta do Pargo
Ponta do Pargo was the first place on Madeira where we saw levada signs – really. There is a long levada walk from here that goes all the way to Calheta.
But where are all other levada road signs and why didn’t we see any? Where are Madeira’s levada walking routes?
The furthest end of Madeira: Porto Moniz and its saltwater pools
Porto Moniz at the northwestern tip of Madeira is as far as you can get on the island. The village is famous for its natural rock pools and of course we, too wanted to see these pools.
But compared to the south coast the weather was very cold up here so absolutely nobody was swimming and we had no use for our swimsuits. What we needed hear was our down jackets.
Rock pools of Porto Moniz
It would be fun to swim here though. They have built concrete paths and stairs in between the volcanic rocks so it’s easy to get to the pools.
Road trip to Western Madeira: visiting the rock pools of Porto Moniz
The ocean is mostly too rough for swimming purposes so this is a wonderful way to enjoy the ocean waters. The rock pool water is warmer than the sea and it is calm – and they say you will get natural showers from the waves as they break against the rocks.
But not today… there’s no need for cooling showers today.
North cost of Madeira
The village itself has an upper and a lower part of which the lower part is very touristic. You can see the upper part here:
The upper village of Porto Moniz
Tourists found Porto Moniz after the new road with tunnels was built. Before that the area was isolated and if I understood right people lived here without having any electricity.
Driving in Madeira: returning from the west along the north coast
Back to Calheta
As you can see it was getting dark and to get back to Calheta we decided to take the direct tunnel road via Seixal and Sao Vicente and then through the Encumeada tunnel down to Ribeira Brava. The driving time back to Calheta was about an hour.
At dark there’s no difference if you drive in a tunnel or not. You won’t see anything anyway.
A Madeira north coast tunnel
I hope you liked this post on our road trip to Western Madeira and that the information I gave you is useful to you. If not, what more would you like to know?
More on Madeira Travel
You might also be interested in my other posts on Madeira, the flower island:
- Madeira: Exploring Funchal Sights
- Santana Day Trip from Funchal
- Day Trip from Funchal: Curral das Freiras
For more information on Madeira you can also check out the official website of Madeira Tourism: