Because its shores are washed by the same Gulf Stream that eventually makes its way up to the British Isles, Madeira enjoys a wonderful sub-tropical climate that makes it an ideal outdoor destination all year round.
The island may lack sandy beaches, but it makes up for it with
spectacular scenery and there are all kinds of outdoor pursuits on
offer, from mountain biking, paragliding and big-game fishing to
the hundreds of miles of scenic hiking trails based on ancient
irrigation channels that criss-cross the mountain slopes.
One activity you won't find anywhere else in the world is the
carro de cesto. This involves a hair-raising descent from the small
town of Monte (reached by cable-car) in a sort of wicker toboggan.
Controlled by two 'drivers' who run alongside, this three-mile
joyride through the steep streets lasts about 20 minutes. Another
fun activity for families is a trip on a replica of Christopher
Columbus' ship, the Santa Maria (Columbus once lived on the
neighbouring island of Porto Santo).
Other activities include a boat trip to see the 600-metre tall
sea cliffs of Cabo Girào, the second highest in the world (the
highest are in Hawaii) and whale and dolphin-watching trips. Sperm
whales (like Moby Dick), fin whales (the second largest species
after the blue whale) and pilot whales can all be seen in the
waters around Madeira.
The attractions of Funchal, Madeira's attractive and largely
pedestrianised capital, include colourful markets selling
everything from fresh fish to local crafts, and tours of the wine
lodges where Madeira's most famous export is made. On New Year's
Eve, the city also hosts the largest fireworks display in the