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Latest update: 14 August 2023

Huh, what? No beaches in Madeira? No stress! Just plan some time for the neighboring island of Porto Santo. The ‘Golden Island’ does have beautiful sandy beaches (and other things to do, too). So take the ferry from Madeira to Porto Santo to enjoy a few days (or hours) there.

Porto Santo: the local island escape for Madeirans

Did you know that Madeira is actually an archipelago? It consists of the main island of Madeira and the tiny Porto Santo. The latter island is only 11 kilometers long and 6 kilometers wide. Just as the Dutch go to the Wadden Islands, the Madeirans go to Porto Santo. For the tranquility (only 5,000 people live there) and the beaches. And the variety. Because Porto Santo is really very different from Madeira.

Madeira is a green, densely vegetated island. Porto Santo is dry and barren. It only rains five days a year. So it is like entering a desert landscape. And let’s be honest: I’m not sure whether Porto Santo is worth the hassle when I leave the ferry with wobbly legs and still a little drowsy from a seasickness pill. But guide Sofia from Lazermar is going to prove the opposite. This woman has such good energy and is clearly devoted to the island.

Jeep tour in Porto Santo

Before I land on the golden beaches of Porto Santo, I will spend a morning exploring the island with Lazermar on a jeep tour. The reviews are glowing – rightly so. Guide Sofia has a lot of knowledge and knows how to convey this enthusiastically and visually. She explains Madeira is about 7 million years old, and Porto Santo is already 18 million. “Madeira is like a baby; Porto Santo is the grandmother; you see the wrinkles in the mountains.” The jeep tour takes a few hours and will take you to the main sights of Porto Santo. More info on the site of Lazermar.

Jeep tour Porto Santo

Viewpoints Miradouro da Portela and Miradouro do Pico Castelo

In Porto Santo, you have several viewpoints that are worth seeing. I visit Miradouro da Portela, and Miradouro do Pico Castelo with the jeep tour, but of course, you can also go there on your own. You can easily park your car. By the way, if you want to rent a car, you can try it here.

At the viewpoint Miradouro da Portela, you have a beautiful view over the mountains, the harbor, and the beach of Porto Santo (Google Maps location), and at Miradouro do Pico Castelo (Google Maps location), you can see the golf course and the airport. From this spot, you can also visit the castle ruins of Pico Castelo. That is a climb of about 45 minutes.

Desert landscape Dunas da Porto Santo

Guide Sofia announces the Dunas da Porto Santo as the smallest desert in the world. I don’t know if that’s entirely true. But it is beautiful. If you touch the stones, they crumble in your hand. And if you walk up the dune, you will encounter much more sand and rock formations. A truly unique place in Porto Santo. Many jeep tours also go off-road through the sand dunes.

Google Maps location

Unusual natural phenomenon: Pico de Ana Ferreira

The columns of Pico de Ana Ferreira are not handmade but naturally created. You could almost say they are an art project. Due to the action of volcanic rock, organ pipes have been made. It’s the perfect background for many Porto Santo selfies and Instagram photos.

Google Maps location

Beaches of Porto Santo

The beaches of Porto Santo are not just any beaches. The grain of sand you find on the island is said to have medicinal properties. The grain is round and soft, and all the good stuff comes out when it comes into contact with your body. Perfect for rheumatism, bone disorders, muscle diseases, skin disorders… You name it, and the sand of Porto Santo cures it. 😉 You can go to the beach to experience this, but there are also all kinds of wellness facilities on the island with sand treatments.

The main beach of Porto Santo is Praia de Porto Santo. This is a 9-kilometer-long beach with clear blue water. Different parts of the beach have different names, but together they form Praia de Porto Santo.

Google Maps location

For example, go to the beach at Pé na Água Restaurante & Beach Bar. They have various facilities on the beach, and you can also do water sports activities. But it is also lovely to chill out on a sun lounger at Pé na Água. The beach bar has a beautiful location and great potential, but the service is horrible (read: absent). Occasionally there is also live music, but it is pleasantly busy even without it.

Google Maps location

Beach Porto Santo

At the tip of Porto Santo is the Ponta del Calheta beach. It has a simple restaurant (O Calhetas) where you can have a nice lunch. Meanwhile, you have a view of the rocky island of Da Cal.

Google Maps location

Ponta del Calheta beach Porto Santo

What else can you do in Porto Santo?

The capital and main resort of Porto Santo is Vila Baleira. It has several bars, restaurants, and the Christopher Columbus Museum in his former home.

There is also good hiking in Porto Santo. Different trails have been laid out. For example, the PR 1 Vereda do Pico Branco e Terra Chã (more info), PR 2 Vereda do Pico do Castelo hike (more info), and PR 3 Levada do Pico do Castelo (more info). Y ou can easily do these hikes yourself. Bring good shoes, water, and sunscreen. If you prefer to go with a guide, check out this option.

Are you into golf? There is a beautiful golf course in Porto Santo. Book a spot.

You can also go in or on the Porto Santo waters. For example, go kayaking, diving, windsurfing, SUPping, or snorkeling.

How long do you need on Porto Santo?

I’m only in Porto Santo for a day. I arrive from Madeira in the morning and catch the boat back in the early evening. That is fine to do, but I advise you to stay overnight. Then you have a little more time to discover Porto Santo, do some activities, eat good food and enjoy the beach.

Some people even stay on the island for a week. That would be too long for me, but if you love the beach and want to do all the hikes, why not? I would consider one or two nights perfect for Porto Santo. But it’s up to you, of course!

Hotels in Porto Santo

I have already made a selection of friendly hotels in Porto Santo. Definitely put these ones on your long list:

How to get from Madeira to Porto Santo?

The island is more than two hours by ferry from Madeira. You depart from the port of Funchal in Madeira with a large ferry to Porto Santo. Check the current departure times and prices. I needed my seasickness pills because of the swell of the waves. So take them with you to be on the safe side (stock them up at Plein.nl, for example).

You can also fly from Madeira to Porto Santo. The flight takes less than half an hour. But add to that the journey to the airport, check-in, security, and everything. So I don’t think you really save time. Still curious? Check the options at Skyscanner.

More Madeira inspiration?

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I was invited to Madeira by Visit Madeira and Interface Tourism Netherlands.

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