The most popular type of tourism in Madeira is ecotourism, for which many Europeans come here. The Madeira National Reserve was established in 1982 to preserve the natural heritage of the island. Unique species of plants and animals are protected here, some of which are close to extinction. The reserve occupies 2/3 of the island and includes both strictly protected areas and recreation areas. It is divided into several separate reserves.
According to definitionexplorer, Ilhas Desertas is located on small islands south of Madeira. The reserve covers an area of 1421 hectares and was created to protect the seal colony. Security measures in this area are quite strict – you can not scuba dive, in order to land on a boat, you need a special permit from the management of the reserve.
The Ilhas Selvagens Reserve was established in 1971 and is one of the oldest reserves in the country. Ilhas Selvagens includes two groups of small islands, the most notable of which are Selvagem Grande, Selvagem Pequena and Ilheu de Fora, with impressive untouched flora. Of the 90 animal species found on these islands, 10 are endemic. The islands are 300 km away from Madeira and are the southernmost territory belonging to Portugal. Due to favorable conditions, they are also home to a large number of seabirds.
The Parcial do Garajau is located on the south coast of Madeira. This is a marine park that includes the area from the coastline to a depth of 50 m. It is home to large fish and many coastal species. Groups of the largest manta rays (manta birostris) can be seen in the area every year. Mantas move perfectly in the water, waving their “wings” with ease and grace. Their ability to jump out of the water is well known. At the same time, they can rise 1.5 m above its surface. The sound of a large specimen falling onto the water is heard like thunder and is heard at a distance of several hundred meters. The slopes have turned the park into a place of international pilgrimage.
Rocha do Navio is the youngest reserve, which was created in 1997 at the request of the local population. It includes a sea strip where the sea wolf is found, and a small island on which rare plants grow.
The island has developed many tourist routes, which you can travel on your own, or you can book an excursion. Here are some of them:
1. Throughout the island, along the mountain slopes, a network of levadas was laid, which was created by the first settlers to irrigate the fields. Traveling along these irrigation canals, you will come across the amazing flora and fauna of the island, as well as village life. Most of the routes along the levadas are easily accessible, but it is still recommended to book a tour from local travel companies. Levadas that are dangerous for walking are marked with a red square at their beginning.
2. The mountain route along the Paul da Serra plateau has a length of 5 km and will take 3 – 4 hours. For the hike you need to have mountain boots and warm clothes. On a clear day, you have a view of the plateau and its spurs, going north and south and descending to the sea. Do not stay late – the weather in the mountains changes quickly, and fog may appear.
3. Another mountain route connects Pico do Arieiro and Pico Ruivo. It has a length of 6 km. After the first 15 minutes of walking you will reach the plateau of Ninho da Manta, called “eagle’s nest”. From here you can see the many streams that feed the river Ribeira da Metade. Then there is a pass separating the rivers Faja da Nogueira and Cidrao, from a journey that will take your breath away. Through some of the peaks encountered along the way, tunnels were laid, which greatly facilitates the road.
4. The route Ribeiro Frio – Portela gives the opportunity to see the nature that met the first settlers. You will see how wild she was and understand how difficult it was to fight her in order to build levadas. During the hike, you can see blackbirds, the smallest birds in Madeira, and if you’re lucky, you can see the buzzard, a bird of prey that flies into the forest in search of prey. On a clear day you can see the villages around the forest.
5. The route Ribeiro Frio – Balcoes presents many interesting places. It passes through Ribeira das Cales and Chao da Lagoa, which belong to the Ecological Park of Funchal, and through the highest points of the island – Pico Ruivo and Pico do Arieiro. On the way, stop at Terreiro da Luta to see Madeira ‘s largest monument, built after the Germans bombed the island in 1917. It is recommended to go to Poco da Neve, a needle-shaped peak at 1600 m above sea level. In Ribeiro Frio there is a Forest Park with a trout farm. The trout farmed here are used to repopulate the island’s rivers and are also sold to restaurants. This park is the starting point for the trail to the Laurissilva Forest.
6. Route in Madeira National Park passes through the settlements of Ribeiro Frio, Balcoes, Central Faja da Nogueira with a power plant and Ponte Ribeira da Metade. It is suitable only for advanced travelers, as the road is very difficult in some places.
7. Rabacal Valley is located in the western part of Madeira. This place is known for its amazing tropical vegetation, as well as lakes and waterfalls. There is a gorge in the valley where water falls from all sides. It was named “Valley of 25 Fountains”.
8. In the south of the island there is the second highest cliff in the world – Cabo Girao, which offers a picturesque view of the entire southern coast. Cliff height – 560 m.
For tourists making long journeys in Madeira 22 wooden houses were built. The houses are located in reserves, one is in the mountains on Pico Ruivo. In order to spend the night in them, you need a special permit from Funchal.