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  • Writer's pictureARTE.M

Explore Madeira's 25 Must-Visit Natural Heritage Sites!

Why It's Awesome: Madeira's geological diversity isn't just pretty to look at - it's a treasure trove of scientific, cultural, and touristic goodies! With two hotspots cooking up the magic, we've got rocks, minerals, fossils, and more, making us the envy of geology nerds everywhere.

Top Picks: Get ready to be wowed by our top 25 natural beauty spots, carefully curated by the adventurous students at APEL school. From cascading waterfalls to panoramic viewpoints, these spots are guaranteed to leave you speechless

So grab your hiking boots and get ready to uncover the secrets of Madeira Island. Adventure awaits!

Pico do Areeiro. Madeira's third-highest peak at 1818 meters! Easily accessible by car near Funchal, it's a hotspot for nature lovers... vibrant flora, soak in the stunning mountain views, and spot endangered seabirds nesting nearby.

Don't miss the "Freira-da-Madeira Center - Dr. Rui Silva" for insights into the island's biodiversity. Plus, catch epic sunrises and sunsets and enjoy stargazing with minimal light pollution. Feeling adventurous? Hike the "PR1 - Vereda do Areeiro" trail to reach Pico Ruivo, the island's highest peak, amidst clouds and mountains.

Bica da Cana, a hidden gem nestled 1580 meters high in Ponta do Sol! This geosite offers jaw-dropping views of Madeira's three highest peaks - Pico Ruivo, Pico das Torres, and Pico do Areeiro - all part of the majestic "Central Mountain Massif" natural monument.

A mere 20-minute stroll from the main road rewards you with vistas that are worth every step! Here, you'll find a surface layer of basaltic pyroclasts, remnants of the island's explosive volcanic history dating back 6000 to 7000 years. Plus, marvel at São Vicente Valley, a geosite showcasing the island's complex geological genesis.

Paúl da Serra. This sprawling mountain plateau, the largest in the archipelago, boasts stunning views of peaks and valleys from its lofty 1500-meter perch across 24 km². It's a hiker's paradise and perfect for picnics, but beware - while flooded, some adventurous souls have tried scuba diving and windsurfing (not recommended, folks!).

Did you know? The Paúl da Serra Plateau Glacier is a Natural Monument, showcasing relics from the Last Glacial Period. Plus, it's a vital area for recharging the island's groundwater, thanks to its unique planar structure.

Iconic Laurissilva Forest, the heart and soul of Madeira! With roots dating back 20 million years, this indigenous treasure is a living relic of the past, boasting a rich biodiversity found nowhere else on Earth.

Spanning 15,000 hectares and covering 20% of the island's territory, the Laurissilva Forest is a lush paradise of evergreen trees and shrubs, painted in vibrant shades of dark green. Nestled mostly along the North coast, this enchanting woodland stretches from 300 to 1300 meters above sea level, with pockets of greenery also found in select areas along the South coast.

Protected by a web of regional, national, and international legislation, including EU Habitats Directive and UNESCO World Heritage status, the Laurissilva is a haven for unique plant and animal species, making it a vital hub for global biodiversity conservation efforts

Chão dos Louros Forest Park, nestled in São Vicente municipality! Invites you to explore the wonders of the Laurissilva Forest Laurus novocanariensis while enjoying its recreational areas and stunning landscape views.

Embark on serene hikes amidst endemic species like the laurel tree, 'Madre-de-Louro' fungi Til, and Madeira mahogany, surrounded by the soothing sounds of native birds like the firecrest , chaffinch F, and the majestic Madeira pigeon Columba trocaz.

Relax and recharge at the park's picnic areas equipped with tables, benches, fountains, and fireplaces, perfect for a leisurely lunch amidst nature's beauty. And don't forget to kick off your adventure on the PR 22 - Vereda do Chão dos Louros hiking trail!

Seixal, a coastal gem on Madeira's northern shores! Named for its abundance of pebbles (seixos), this picturesque spot is a testament to nature's artistry.

Gaze upon the stunning landscape formed by ancient lava flows cascading from the mountains to create a unique delta. Dip into natural pools and relax on the black sand beach while marveling at the majestic cliffs and cascading waterfalls of the Laurissilva forest - it's like stepping into a living postcard!

Fanal, a paradise nestled in the Municipality of Porto Moniz! Situated amidst the stunning Seixal, Ribeira da Janela, and Paúl da Serra mountains, Fanal is a vast forest area where nature's beauty takes center stage.

Marvel at the centuries-old Ocotea foetens trees, standing as silent witnesses to the island's history since before its discovery. These majestic trees, abundant in the Laurissilva forest, add to the enchanting landscape of Fanal.

Explore the richness of this natural haven by wandering along scenic trails like PR13 - Vereda do Fanal and PR14 - Levada dos Cedros, which lead to Chão da Ribeira. Don't miss the chance to visit the Fanal winter lagoon, a former volcanic crater filled with rainwater, showcasing the island's geological wonders.

Classified as a sanctuary of relaxation and tranquility by the Madeira Natural Park, Fanal is an indigenous forest area of extraordinary beauty waiting to be explored.

Chão das Feiteiras, a beloved destination cherished by locals ! Nestled within the Forest Perimeter of Poiso, this historic site boasts a unique blend of natural beauty and cultural heritage.

With its flat terrain reaching 1200 meters in height, Chão das Feiteiras offers ample grazing grounds for sheep herding—a rare sight in Madeira's rugged landscape. Legend has it that this area was once a volcanic crater, with lava flowing towards the Northeast, shaping the nearby Ribeiro Frio Valley.

In autumn, the forest comes alive with enchanting fungi, including the elusive Plutonia nítida, an endemic slug adorned with striking black spots. Keep an eye out for native flora like the Massaroco, a purple conical plant attracting butterflies, and the Bis-bis, Europe's tiniest bird, known for its playful antics.

Chão das Feiteiras welcomes visitors with picnic areas equipped with wooden tables, benches, and fireplaces—perfect for gatherings with loved ones.

Ribeiro Frio Forest Park, a haven for nature lovers in Santana, Madeira! This valley is a sanctuary for endemic flora and fauna, including laurels, leafies, and tilde trees.

Spot rare species like the firecrest and Madeira pigeon as you wander along scenic hiking trails like PR 10 - Levada do Furado or PR 11 - Vereda dos Balcões. Immerse yourself in the tranquility of the Laurissilva forest and discover the beauty of Madeira's natural heritage.

Paúl do Mar is a fajã *caused by landslides situated in Calheta, on the southwest part of the island of Madeira. This locality has a special charm due to its landscape and sea waves.

 In addition, as with the neighboring parish of Jardim do Mar, the waves of Paúl do Mar are widely appreciated by surfers. When surfing in Paúl do Mar, you will often find tubular waves of perfect cylindrical shape, which fill the eyes of those watching and increase the adrenaline levels of those who catch them.

Besides surfing, it’s possible to hike Caminho Real do Paúl do Mar, a short 1.8 km trail with an estimated duration of 1.20 hours with incredible sightseeing.

*Portuguese term "fajã" refers to supratidal talus at coastal cliffs created by landslides or lava flows. Although prevalent worldwide, they are unique to the Azores, Madeira, and Canary Islands, where the Canarian name is fajana.

Foz da Ribeira do Faial, a natural marvel where land and sea meet in perfect harmony!

This stunning site, encompassing the geosite of the same name, showcases the remarkable prismatic disjunction of lava flows—a geological wonder you won't want to miss.

Marvel at the perfect geometry of the disjunction columns, formed by thick basaltic flows from the Funchal Formation. As you explore, immerse yourself in the rich biodiversity of the river mouth, home to a variety of animal and plant species. Keep an eye out for trout, ducks, frogs, and the Critically Endangered European eel among the lush vegetation.

Penha de Águia, a geological marvel that towers over Madeira's landscape with unparalleled magnificence! This monumental formation, located between Porto da Cruz and Faial, stands nearly 600 meters tall and is a sight to behold from every angle.

Embark on a thrilling hike to the summit for breathtaking views and an unforgettable adventure. But heed the challenge—this trail demands good physical fitness and determination. Along the way, marvel at the volcanic sequences and rugged terrain that make up this natural wonder.

At the base lies Praia da Alagoa, a black sand beach perfect for beginner surfers and water sports enthusiasts. Dive into the crystal-clear waters and feel the rush of adrenaline as you embrace the beauty of Penha de Águia from below.

Encumeada/Serra de Água, a haven of natural wonders and geological marvels! Ancient Laurissilva forest, home to centuries-old trees and a diverse array of fauna, including the enchanting Firecrest, the melodious Madeiran Chaffinch, and the majestic Common Buzzard.

Witness the remarkable geological contact between the Lombos Unit and the Curral das Freiras Unit, revealing an awe-inspiring unconformity that spans across the landscape. This geological phenomenon offers a glimpse into the intricate history of Madeira's volcanic formations, providing invaluable insights into its geological past.

As you traverse the terrain, marvel at the Vinhático's geosite, a prime location to observe the volcanic and sedimentary sequences that comprise the Encumeada Formation.

Foz da Ribeira da Janela. Madeira's longest water canal, runs through the island's interior before delicately meeting with the sea, creating a stunning mountainous view.

Three beautiful rock formations—Ilheuzinho, Ilhéu da Rama, and Ilhéu Alto—rise boldly from the ocean near the river's mouth. Enjoy the spectacular sea views while admiring the towering cliffs and rough shoreline.

However, Foz da Ribeira da Janela's true beauty is its geological legacy below the surface.

The Ribeira da Janela levada is a thrilling 13-kilometer hike through unspoiled environment to see the region's abundant flora and animals. Along the winding slopes of Levada do Lombo Gordo and Vereda dos Cedros, you'll explore the thick Laurissilva forest, discovering new natural wonders.

For surfers, Foz da Ribeira da Janela's rough coastline with big waves and scenic beaches makes for a memorable day on the sea.

An important part of Madeira's landscape is Cabo Girão, which is the seventh-tallest cape in Europe. Marine life and ecological niches abound in the Cabo Girão Marine Natural Park, and ecotourism and exploration may be enriched by the Natural Monument's one-of-a-kind cultural and natural treasures.

Cabo Girão is not only home to stunning vistas, but also to flora and creatures that are exclusive to the beaches of the Macaronesia. Important from an ecological perspective, the cliff is home to seabird nesting grounds. Cabo Girão offers valuable information about the island's history and is a geological formation that is very educational and scientifically significant.

Eira do Serrado, nestled in the heart of Câmara de Lobos, offers a mesmerizing viewpoint that unveils the grandeur of the central massif embracing Curral das Freiras. Standing at 1095 meters above sea level, this spot provides a glimpse into the region's diverse wildlife, including the elusive Freira da Madeira bird.

Curral das Freiras, named after the nuns who sought sanctuary here during pirate raids, boasts a valley resembling a volcanic crater, steeped in cultural and historical significance.

The geological diversity of Eira do Serrado showcases intricate volcanic formations, while the flat expanse of Curral das Freiras, shaped by ancient landslides, adds to its geological allure. Travelers flock to Eira do Serrado for its unmatched vistas, with hiking trails leading to Curral das Freiras and beyond. Visitors can also explore local shops offering traditional delicacies like chestnuts and cherries, capturing the essence of this enchanting region.

Ponta do Pargo, with its gently rolling landscape, is like something out of a postcard. At its famous lighthouse viewpoint perched on a 300-meter cliff, you'll be treated to breathtaking views of the vast Atlantic Ocean and the lush northern hills of Madeira stretching all the way to Porto Moniz.

But that's not all – tucked away in this scenic region is the awe-inspiring "Garganta Funda" waterfall, one of the tallest on the island, adding to the area's natural charm. With protected terrestrial and marine zones, Ponta do Pargo is a haven for nesting birds and diverse plant life.

Recognized as a Natural Monument, Ponta do Pargo holds ecological, scientific, and cultural importance. Explore the lighthouse viewpoint and discover a small museum showcasing other lighthouses found across Madeira – it's a fascinating glimpse into the island's maritime history.

18. Ponta de São Lourenço, at the eastern tip of Madeira Island, is like the cool kid of the island – adventurous, diverse, and totally Instagram-worthy! T

Imagine hiking along rugged trails with your squad, taking selfies with the ocean as your backdrop, and spotting unique plants and animals along the way. From the Ponta do Rosto viewpoint, you can see both the north and south shores of the island – it's like having the best seats in the house for a nature show!

Speaking of shows, Ponta de São Lourenço is like a VIP club for birds. Pintassilgos, Corre-caminhos, and Garajaus are just some of the cool birds you might spot here. And if you're lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the elusive monk seal – talk about a rare sighting!

After all that exploring, chill out on Sardinha Pier, a chill pebble beach where you can soak up the sun and dip your toes in the crystal-clear waters. And hey, if you're feeling extra adventurous, camping is totally allowed here, so why not spend a night under the stars with your crew?

20. Prainha beach, situated near Ponta de São Lourenço in the Caniçal Parish, is a geosite boasting volcanic black sand—a rare feature on Madeira Island. Accessible by car or bus, the beach offers amenities like parking, changing rooms, and sunbeds.

The black sand of Prainha is unique, attributed to specific hydrodynamic, sedimentary, and geomorphological conditions that maintain its permanence. Originating from ancient dunes upstream, these sands contain limestone fossils, adding to their geological significance. Unlike the island's lush greenery, Prainha's surroundings are characterized by yellow and brown hues.

Visitors can enjoy various activities at Prainha, including diving, snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, and climbing. For those seeking an educational experience, the nearby Whale Museum in Caniçal offers insight into marine life and local history.

21. Dunas da Piedade, also known as Piedade Dunes or Dunas da Prainha, is a geosite situated in the parish of Machico, adjacent to the Prainha geosite. Dating back to 1824, this site has attracted numerous tourists fascinated by its geological formations, often referred to as the "Forest of Fossils."

Comprised of sand, shells, and fossilized roots or tree trunks, the Piedade Dunes form intriguing structures of scientific and aesthetic significance. These dunes hold high educational and scientific value, representing aeolian sands spanning from the Middle Pleistocene to the Holocene. Originating from marine environments, the sands were remobilized by winds, incorporating limestone fossils and evidence of abundant past vegetation.

A notable activity at Dunas da Piedade is field trips for observing and photographing this natural heritage, offering insights into its geomorphological features and limestone fossil formations.

22. Porta d’Abra, situated in Ponta de São Lourenço within the municipality of Machico, showcases the fascinating interplay between tectonic and volcanic structures on Madeira Island. Known for its accessibility and stunning vistas, Porta d’Abra stands at an altitude of 47 meters, just 760 meters from the nearest paved road.

This bay boasts magnificent cliffs adorned with colorful rocks, offering a striking illustration of the relationship between tectonic and volcanic formations. The landscape is characterized by rugged cliffs and hardy vegetation, shaped by the region's semi-arid climate and exposure to north winds. Recognized for its rare and significant flora and fauna, Porta d’Abra is designated as a Partial Natural Reserve.

At the Baía d'Abra Viewpoint, visitors can marvel at the area's rich natural heritage and witness the coastline's intricate contours, sculpted over millennia by the relentless forces of sea and wind. In the distance, the Desertas Islands and Porto Santo add to the panoramic vista.

Praia Formosa, situated approximately 5 kilometers from Funchal, stretches for about 4 kilometers, featuring a dynamic landscape of sandy and rocky beaches. This geosite is not only a habitat for various seabird species but also offers insights into Madeira's volcanic past through its striking black sand and volcanic formations.

Home to seagulls, terns, cormorants, and other seabirds, Praia Formosa's coastal ecosystem supports a unique array of flora adapted to the harsh coastal conditions. Salt-resistant plants like samphire, sea lavender, and coastal succulents thrive here, contributing to the area's ecological richness and helping stabilize the shoreline against erosion.

The beach's distinctive black sand, a result of weathering and erosion of volcanic rocks, contrasts beautifully with the azure waters of the Atlantic Ocean, serving as a tangible reminder of Madeira's volcanic origins. Within the geosite, various volcanic sequences from the Funchal Formation, including pyroclastic deposits and basaltic flows, offer further insights into the island's geological history.

24. Funchal Ecological Park (PECOF), your gateway to all things wild and wonderful! Tucked away just 12 km from Funchal in the heart of the mountains, this hidden gem is like a playground for Mother Nature enthusiasts.

From quirky Wallflowers to majestic Kestrels, you'll encounter a whole cast of characters as you explore this natural wonderland.

But the fun doesn't stop there! PECOF is jam-packed with activities guaranteed to get your heart racing and your spirits soaring. Strap on your binoculars for some epic birdwatching, or channel your inner daredevil with thrilling canyoning adventures. Prefer to keep your feet on solid ground? No problem! Lace up those hiking boots and hit the scenic trails, or rev up your adrenaline with some trail running and mountain biking.

And hey, we're not just about fun and games – PECOF is also on a mission to save the planet! Join us for community projects like school visits and reforestation efforts, and help us keep this natural paradise thriving for generations to come.

25. Reserva Natural do Garajau! Nestled along the southern slope of Madeira Island, this water reserve is a true paradise for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike.

Dive into clean waters with visibility exceeding 20 meters to see a stunning marine life. This reserve's richness will amaze you, from colorful fish dashing among the rocks to the endangered Mero (Epinephelus marginatus).

In 1986, the Reserva Natural do Garajau was created to protect the seabed from desertification. Today, it is full with life on all biological levels. Visit rocky bottoms and sandy slopes to see colorful plants, fascinating crabs, and secretive marine creatures.

Every corner of the rocky beach is alive with plants and animals. From tough lichens to busy barnacles and agile crabs, there's always something new to uncover.

Dive deeper and you'll find a beautiful algae paradise with inquisitive fish swimming around the rocks.

The Reserva Natural do Garajau offers activities for divers and snorkelers of all levels. Explore the depths or kayak around the rough shoreline with diving gear. Coasteering thrills the most extreme adrenaline junkies.

Ponta do Garajau,  down in the sunny south of Madeira Island, is like the cool hangout spot by the sea. Picture towering cliffs, a chill pedestrian trail leading to epic views, and the iconic Jesus Christ statue welcoming you with open arms – literally!

 It's also home to the Garajau Partial Natural Reserve, where marine life thrives. Dive into the crystal-clear waters and you might spot Grouper fish, Manta rays, and colorful coral reefs – it's like swimming in a real-life aquarium!

And if you're feeling adventurous, hop on the cable car for a scenic ride down to the beach. From up high, you'll get to see the rugged coastline and steep slopes, making it a ride you won't forget.

Lugar de Baixo Lagoon, this stunning lagoon is a haven for nature enthusiasts, boasting vibrant biodiversity and captivating landscapes that will leave you spellbound.

Bask in the warm, sunny weather as you explore the lush surroundings of Lugar de Baixo Lagoon. With its diverse array of flora and fauna, this ecological hotspot is a paradise for birdwatchers and wildlife lovers alike. Keep your eyes peeled for graceful herons, elegant egrets, and colorful kingfishers as they flit and flutter among the reeds and rushes that line the lagoon's brackish waters.

But the beauty of Lugar de Baixo Lagoon doesn't end there! Dive into the inviting waters for a refreshing swim or simply relax on the pristine beaches and soak up the serene atmosphere. Whether you're seeking adventure or tranquility, this enchanting lagoon offers something for everyone.

The neighboring wetlands and marshes play a crucial role in enhancing the ecological value of Lugar de Baixo Lagoon, providing vital ecosystem services such as flood control and water filtration. These pristine habitats serve as important refuges for a variety of wildlife, from bustling insects to elusive amphibians and small mammals.

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