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My "Best of Western Madeira" Bus Tour
Slow travel and soaking up the atmosphere is what I normally do. But because I only had a few days, I resorted to a guided bus tour on Madeira.
The local company, Strawberry Tours had an interesting offer and I decided to embark on the "Best of The West" Madeira bus tour.
I basically had two major options to choose from: a western and an eastern tour. The two parts of Madeira are very different.
For several reasons, the Western Madeira package was more appealing: more stop-overs and touching the beautiful Porto Moniz and the Encumeada Pass.
Although the weather was sour with rain, fog and piercing cold winds, it was a memorable trip.
Looking east from Porto Moniz
Coincidence or Synchronicity?
Before getting into the details about the trip, I must mention an interesting phenomenon that happaned to me.
Back in Barcelona I hastily decided that I wanted to travel to Madeira, so I came across this tour company's site, called "Strawberry Tours" and inquired about the western Madeira bus tour, requesting a reservation as well.
A lady replies and confirms my reservation. We exchanged a few more e-mails later, because I actually had to postpone the trip a few days (couldn't get to Madeira fast enough).
A few days later, after having arrived in Funchal, on my second day I went out searching for the tour operator's office.
I entered the office, which was found inside a small office building.
A female employee was sitting at the reception and just before she sees me, a young blonde doris rushes out through a door nervously.
She then mentioned my name - pronouncing it correctly...
The blonde doris was nervously shoveling in the air with my printed e-mail with my inquiry.
I approached them, telling them: "That's me" - to their shock, they barely believed me, I had to show them my ID.
Quite a coincidence.
Not an extraordinary adventure story, but I couldn't help mentioning.
Bus Tour Itinerary, Stop-overs
The trip covered 163 km (101.3 mi) in length, about 5 hours and only cost me 29 euros.
We stopped by at various locations and went through the scenic green Encumeada Pass - a place everyone should see when on this green island.
We had the following route from- and back to Funchal:
Câmara de Lobos (stop-over), Cabo Girão (stop-over), Ribeira Brava (stop-over), Serra de Agua (drive-through), Encumeada Pass (stop-over), São Vicente (drive-through), Seixal (stop-over), Porto Moniz (longest stop-over for 45 minutes), Paul da Serra (drive-through), Ponta do Sol (drive-through), Ribeira Brava again (drive-through), Câmara de Lobos again (drive-through).
Unfortunately, due to dense fog south of Porto Moniz, the Paul da Serra Plateau was left out. We took an alternate route back to Funchal:
Porto Moniz (longest stop-over for 45 minutes), Paul da Serra (just a few km drive), then headed south to Prazeres (drive-through), Calheta (stop-over), Ponta do Sol (stop-over), Riberia Brava again (only drive-through), Câmara de Lobos again (only drive-through).
Literally, it means "Chamber of the Wolves". The name comes from the word "lobos-marinhos", which in Portuguese means "sea-lions", which essentially is a seal specie.
Unfortunately the poor fellows were hunted down and not a single one is around anymore.
Another speica, called "monk seals" do swim out to the Madeira archipelago, namely to the Desertas Islands.
As for the city of Câmara de Lobos...
More than 36,000 people live there (as of 2008), making it one of the most populous municipalities and, considered an extension of Funchal's economy.
The views were very nice, but the dense fog has hindered me from taking good photos. I reckon, it's worth spending a 2-3 days at least in Câmara de Lobos.
The peak of the experience was our visit to the Cabo Girão.
View of central Câmara de Lobos from a nearby hill
They told us it's the World's largest sea cliff, well actually - it could probably only fit in to the top 10, globally speaking.
In Europe there are 5 sea cliffs that are much higher.
Nevertheless, we love the Cabo Girão for its sheer beauty.
View of the Cabo Girão from Câmara de Lobos
The visit to the Cabo Girão was among my top Madeiran experiences.
Too bad the foggy bad weather ruined my photos. Visibility was poor and a slight drizzle kept throwing water drops on my lens.
Looking out from Cabo Girão: Câmara de Lobos is behind that sea cliff
The sea cliff rises to 589 m (1,932 ft) above sea level.
In October 2012, a glass-floored viewing platform was installed at the edge of the cliff.
This is becoming fashionable all around the World. However, I think it's better to leave the places as they are.
Looking down from the Cabo Girão towards the blue ocean... There are cultivated lands down there!
The town stretches out from the shore deeper into an abrupt gorge. Literally, Ribeira Brava is inside a narrow valley-like formation.
The gorge runs across the land and in the direction of the Encumeada Pass. I heard mudslides and floods occur periodically in this area.
12,500 people live in the municipality of Ribeira Brava.
Ribeira Brava and the gorge towards the Encumeada
I checked the São Bento Church, had a coffe at a local bar and headed back to the bus, which then headed northwards - towards the Encumeada Pass.
I'm sure there's a lot more to Ribeira Brava than I could see, but when compared with the other places, it didn't impress me much.
This is central Ribeira Brava with the São Bento Church
Serra de Água
Little town (or village) north of Ribeira Brava with lots of houses, waterfalls, fountains... We didn't stop at this location, but the scenery was magnetic.
I was aching to see Madeira's scenic mountainous views.
There's nothing like the lush green forest-covered mountain ranges, deep valleys and the fresh air.
Scenic green "depth" all around the Encumeada area.
Fantastic valleys and gorges. Lots of towns and villages, white houses scattered everywhere.
We stopped for about 15 minutes (on higher ground), but the fog was (again) too dense and the views from our location weren't as good as the ones I caught during the bus ride.
Geographically, Madeira seemed a lot like Hawaii or the Andes Mountains in South America. At least, the scenery looked so similar.
The road passing through the Encumeada reaches a maximum height of 1,004 m above sea level.
Leading from the Ribeira Brava area north-west and past Serra de Agua, the road across the Encumeada stops at the top of the valley.
When at Encumeada, breathtaking scenery will surround you.
Wide spaces between high mountains have spectacular views. I could have stayed there for days, admiring the landscape. But, unfortunately our stop was short and not at the best spot (a bus is hard to park, it's understandable).
The green Encumeada Pass was swimming in myst - poor conditions for taking photos
Small town just across the Encumeada.
It seemed like a friendly place with a profusion of palm trees. At first, São Vicente seemed more attractive looking than Ribeira Brava, but we didn't stop.
Northwestern Madeira is extremely rocky, with a plentitude of tall ocean shore cliffs, through which tunnels have been cut.
Many of the tunnels were dug in the 1920's, by hand, through hard volanic rock.
The area has several narrow waterfalls. We checked out a few before driving through Seixal.
At a local bar at Seixal, I tasted the famous Madeiran chestnut liqueur. Weird, but not bad for an experience. I'm not sure I could consume it in larger quantities.
Scenic view of Seixal
We stopped here for the longest time. I had a brunch and walked around a bit... Ice-cold winds were blowing from the north.
Porto Moniz is famous for its baths. Peculiar cliffs can be seen there and part of the town spreads upwards, across higher ground.
Part of the port town is actually on the sides of the mountains
Agricultural terraces on the mountain sides made me think of the Incas in South America.
Aloe vera plants and distant sea cliffs added to the beautiful views.
It's a picturesque landscape... deep blue ocean. It was the first time in my life when I saw such a beautiful blue ocean. This time it was different than any other time, any other place before...
Scenic view. The serpentines on the mountain's side lead towards Paul da Serra.
About 3,000 people live in Porto Moniz, situated on the northwestern tip of the green Madeira Island. It's an old town, having been settled in the late 1,400's already...
I had a basic brunch with two hamd and cheese warm sandwiches, a salad and a coffee. Read more about what to eat and drink on Madeira for more info about local gastronomy.
Porto Moniz is a tourists' paradise, famous for its baths.
It's not the ideal place for swimmers. The water is very deep and Ocean is furious, the shoreline is full of sharp sea cliffs as well.
But: there are plenty of open-air swimming pools that were formed from natural rock pools.
The barriers that have been built around will protect the swimmers from the wild waves coming inward from the wild blue Atlantic.
Harsh rocky shore
The most interesting direction to look at the coastline is the part looking towards Seixal.
Locals were exceptionally friendly, I enjoyed stay our Porto Moniz stop-over.
Ice-cold piercing winds were blowing from the north - very far in that direction are Iceland and Greenland.
Deep blue Atlantic Ocean - staring out towards the direction of Greenland
Paul da Serra
Too bad we couldn't see much of Paul da Serra - the plateau offers fantastic scenic views, but due to dense fog (which occurs quite frequently up there), our bus driver and tour guide asked us whether we wanted a route modification - unanimously everyone raised their hand, so we headed down towards Calheta.
We cut through dense green forests as we passed through Prazeres - a little town or, rather village in the mountains.
This was the only time I spotted a levada aqueduct from inside the bus.
One of the most recommended types hikes to do on Madeira is the levada trek. There are irrigation channel networks across the entire island.
An ocean shore town. Apart from a few hotels and restaurants, a marina and an area for swimming - I didn't see anything else.
A picturesque place due to the colours...
Light-coloured sand from Morocco - protected area for swimmers
Palm trees and the white yachts again... nothing more impressive than elsewhere on the island.
It's a very small locality, but with a beautiful little marina and with a yellow sandy (internal) artificial beach - with sand brought from Morocco (otherwise Madeira's beaches aren't generally sandy, except for a few with dark brown sand).
This sandy swimming area was surrounded by walls barring it from the furious Atlantic Ocean. It's rather like a pool, but people called it "beach".
So, Calheta is a humble little beach destination. But in September it was freezing, so not many were out for a dip.
Ponta do Sol
Ponta do Sol geographically resembled Ribeira Brava - to me. Situated between tall dark cliffs... just that it had more beach (but rough, full of boulders) than Ribeira Brava.
With a population of over 8,800 souls, rugged coastline, a few waterfalls and a beach area, Ponta do Sol is another place you might want to try out, if you have plenty of time on the island...
About the Author:
Escape Hunter, the young solo traveler in his early 30's explores the World driven by curiosity, thirst for adventure, deep passion for beauty, love for freedom and diversity.
With a nuanced, even humorous approach to travel, an obsession for art and design, Escape Hunter prefers to travel slowly, in order to learn and "soak up" the local atmosphere...
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