This time I will take you on a beautiful photo hiking week on the island of Madeira. Although it belongs to Portugal, it is located off the Moroccan coast of Africa. Therefore, the climate is pleasantly mild all year round. Even though there are dozens of other photo spots to discover, I’ll give you lots of tips and sample shots for six varied day trips on the “Isle of Flowers”. Here you get the first part – in November there will be part 2.
Journey to Madeira
The easiest way to get to Madeira is by plane to Aeroporto Internacional da Madeira Cristiano Ronaldo (also called Funchal Airport). The airport is located only 15 minutes from the capital Funchal, in Santa Cruz. For a hiking photo week, it is highly recommended to book a rental car right at the airport. I have had very good experiences with the provider Insularcar. Overnight stays in Madeira are quite cheap in a hostel – but at some of the photo spots described below you can find really nice campgrounds, too.
Day 1: Sunset at Ponta do Pargo
The outermost western tip of Madeira is called Ponta do Pargo. Legend has it that the name comes from a particularly large porgy fish once caught off this coast. The landscape here ends very abruptly with a 300-meter steep cliff that drops down to the Atlantic Ocean. Since 1922, a lighthouse has been standing directly on the edge of the impressive abyss, which serves as a perfect motif in front of the setting sun. Besides the lighthouse, the beautiful prickly pears and the view from the Miradouro do Fio (lookout point) are also great to photograph.
I was there on a rainy afternoon. Because of this, I was lucky to get a magnificent rainbow when the sun came out shortly before it set. If I were there again today, I would also take the time to visit the nearby Garganta Funda. This is a waterfall with a drop of more than 140 meters and a great viewpoint.
Day 2: Sunrise at Ponta de São Lourenço
There are two ways to be at Ponta de São Lourenço in time for sunrise: Either camp on the small campground near Casa do Sardinha or start extremely early in the morning. Because from the parking lot to the final tip of the headland, Pico do Furado, it is a one-hour walk.
I was already at the parking lot at 06:30 a.m. and covered the hike in deepest darkness with my headlamp. When the sun rose at 08:15 (which of course varies depending on the season), I was already standing with my camera at the viewpoint.
In addition to the always obligatory tripod, I recommend the following photo equipment: Both wide-angle and telephoto lenses make sense. With the (ultra-)wide-angle you get the impressive vastness of the sea and the nearby Ilhas Desertas in the picture. With the telephoto lens, you can zoom in on the lighthouse on the Ilhéu do Farol. Later, when the sun is already high in the sky, you can use gray filters to take long time exposures of the sea surf on the impressive cliffs.
And finally, you should put your photo equipment aside at some point and take a refreshing swim in the sea at one of the beautiful bays on the south side of Ponta de São Lourenço.
Day 3: The fairy forest of Fanal
Fanal is an area in the northwest of Madeira, at an altitude of about 800 to 1000 meters. Characteristic here are the unique laurel forests (laurisilva), which are particularly often shrouded in thick fog and are on the UNESCO World Natural Heritage List. The area is so humid that the vegetation is covered with moss everywhere.
There is also a nice campground in Fanal, right next to the Posto Florestal Fanal. I was already there before sunrise and climbed up a hill towards the east. There I had a breath-taking view when the sun appeared behind the rising fog on the horizon.
Then I descended again to the laurel forest. The trees have taken on very bizarre shapes of growth and small ferns grow on their trunks. In combination with the mystical foggy atmosphere and the green meadows, you get scenery like from a fantasy movie. Therefore, visitors have established the term fairy forest.
I definitely recommend water-repellent boots when you walk around here because the ground usually remains moisty all day long. When taking pictures, I made a lot of use of the tripod, because the gloomy light required long exposure times. In order to get the big laurel trees completely on one picture at close range, I often used the ultra-wide angle.
In the afternoon I drove down the steep serpentine road northwards to Ribeira da Janela. Here there is an impressive rock that rises out of the water like a pyramid. There is also a camping site.
In the neighboring village, Porto Moniz, you should definitely take a bath in the Piscinas Naturais Velhas. These are natural swimming pools, directly at the sea. They can be used for free.
This was only the first part of my Madeira trip! In November the next three fantastic spots for photographers await you! If you don’t want to miss it, subscribe to my newsletter! (Edit: All you need for a fantastic photo hiking week on Madeira – Part 2)
And here I leave you with some more pictures from my first three days on Madeira.