If you are passionate about landscape photography, I’m sure you’ve heard about Madeira. With its jagged coastline, breathtaking mountains, and unpredictable weather, it’s a destination that needs to be on every photographer’s list. In this article, I’ll share some of my favorite spots for photography on Madeira as well as tips and tricks to get the best shots possible.
- Why Madeira is an Ideal Photography Destination
- Best Photography Locations On Madeira
- When to Go to Madeira
- Getting Around the Island
- Where to Stay on Madeira
- Drone Photography on Madeira
- Recommended Camera Gear
- Other Useful Things to Pack
- Essential Madeira Apps and Resources
- Final Thoughts
Why Madeira is an Ideal Photography Destination
Imagine a beautiful tropical island with a rugged coastline and enormous cliffs rising high from the deep-blue ocean. The impregnable ridges hide the dreamy valleys full of lush green vegetation and fabulous waterfalls.
Sounds like Hawaii, doesn’t it? Well, not necessarily. What I have just described is Madeira, a Portuguese island in the Atlantic Ocean, some 300 kilometers west of the African coast.
Indeed, the similarities are so striking that some people even call Madeira the secret European Hawaii. And while in many aspects the two are very different, let me assure you that the comparison isn’t at all that farfetched.
Madeira is insanely gorgeous. It’s a kind of place that you can explore for weeks on end and never uncover all of its secrets. Here, every turn of the road may reveal a new grand vista, and every path leads to something remarkable.
For landscape photographers, Madeira is a dream come true. A playground where one can capture some truly dramatic scenes. Be that seascapes, mountains, waterfalls, or forests that you prefer, you’ll have no shortage of compositions to shoot.
And if you ever get tired, there are countless beaches to relax and spend a day enjoying the sun and local hospitality. Seriously, is there anything else to wish for?
Best Photography Locations On Madeira
Madeira is home to so many viewpoints and photogenic areas that it’s next to impossible to visit them all, let alone describe them in a single blog post. Besides, discovering them is part of the fun, and I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so.
I’m currently working on the detailed map of Madeira photography locations and will add it here whenever it’s ready. But for now, here are a few of my favorite spots on Madeira that you shouldn’t miss as a photographer.
Pico do Arieiro
Pico do Arieiro is the third highest peak on Madeira and the most easily accessible one. You can drive right up to it! It was the first place I went to photograph after arriving in Madeira, and it remains one of my favorites.
What I love about Pico do Arieiro is how versatile it is. Situated smack in the middle of the main Madeira mountain range, it offers spectacular views in multiple directions. There are several viewpoints nearby that you can freely alternate between depending on the conditions.
Just north of the parking lot, Miradouro do Pico do Areeiro is a perfect spot to capture the sunset. Walk a few minutes to the east, and Miradouro do Juncal offers a panoramic outlook toward the São Lourenço peninsula that is ideal for sunrise.
And if you don’t mind a bit of hiking, Miradouro do Ninho da Manta is not too far away either. While especially fabulous during sunrise, it offers amazing compositions throughout the day.
Pico do Arieiro is also the starting point of arguably the most breathtaking hike on Madeira. The PR1 trail takes you from here to the summit of Madeira’s highest mountain — Pico Ruivo. If you enjoy hiking, this one should be your top priority.
In fact, why not come here to shoot then sunrise and then do the hike right after? This way you’ll be able to capture the mountains in the gorgeous light of the golden hour.
One important thing to consider on Pico do Arieiro is the weather. There are often clouds here, and while these can be great for photography (especially if you’re lucky enough to catch the atmospheric inversion), you want to avoid the situation when the peak is shrouded in them.
So be sure to regularly check the forecast. I recommend the Madeira Weather app since it has a section specifically for Pico do Arieiro. It’s not always accurate, but much better than the others.
Ponta de São Lourenço
Ponta de São Lourenço is the easternmost point of Madeira. It’s a thin rocky peninsula stretching far into the ocean and an excellent photography location for shooting the dramatic Madeira coastline.
Ponta de São Lourenço can only be explored on foot. There’s a free parking lot at the end of the ER109 road, from which you’ll have to walk. Luckily, the trail isn’t overly difficult and won’t prove an issue for most people.
The final viewpoint is Miradouro Ponta do Furado, some 3.5 kilometers away from the car park. The path is mostly even, so without stops, you can be there in an hour or so. There’s only one steep incline at the very end, but the view from the top is worth the effort.
To the east, rocky islets lead the eyesight towards the lighthouse in the distance. I didn’t have the chance to shoot this scene in the morning but can imagine it being fabulous at dawn. Turn around, and the peaks of Madeira dominate the horizon, menacing in the evening light.
I encourage you to do the entire hike, as there are many more compositions along the way. But if you don’t have enough time or aren’t in the mood, there’s an outstanding vantage point 15 minutes walk from the car park.
To reach it, follow the path until you see the information sign, then turn left and climb up the hill. You’ll be treated to a remarkable panoramic view of the Ponta de São Lourenço and Madeira’s spectacular shoreline.
Fañal forest is without a doubt one of the most famous photography locations in Madeira. Situated in the north-western part of the island, it’s a perfect choice for those moody overcast days when you can’t seem to get a decent shot elsewhere.
Because of the high altitude, the Fañal forest often gets enshrouded in clouds. And that’s exactly what you want here. Dense mist gives the trees an eerie, almost supernatural look that you’ll enjoy playing around with.
Unfortunately, catching these conditions isn’t always straightforward. Madeira has a very peculiar climate where sun and mist are sometimes separated by no more than a few hundred meters. And when it’s sunny, Fañal forest quickly loses most of its charm.
On one occasion, I was driving through fog all the way to Fañal, only to be greeted by the clear skies as I arrived. If that happens to you, don’t be discouraged. Sometimes, you need to give it a few tries before you hit the jackpot.
There is a hike through the Fañal forest (by now you probably noticed that in Madeira there’s one almost everywhere), but you don’t need to do it unless you want to. Simply park here and walk a little bit north to find yourself inside a fairy tale. Just don’t get lost in the woods, ok?
Levadas are something you’ll only encounter on Madeira (there are a couple on Tenerife but in far worse condition). Levadas are the irrigation channels and walkways cut alongside, and in many instances right into, the mountains.
Dating back to the sixteenth century, levadas are still in operation. But besides their original purpose of carrying water to the regions that most need it, today they also serve as unique trekking routes popular among visitors.
There are more than 2000 kilometers of levadas on Madeira, so pick one or two of the famous ones and head there with your camera. You’ll be strolling through evergreen forests, dark tunnels, beautiful valley lookouts, and stunning waterfalls, among other things.
Most levadas are easy to walk and super fun to photograph. Besides, they show you the side of Madeira that you won’t experience otherwise.
My favourite ones are Levada das 25 Fontes and Levada do Caldeirão Verde, but feel free to try others too. Levadas tend to get busy during the day, so I suggest coming in the morning or later in the afternoon.
Miradouro do Guindaste (Crane Viewpoint)
Among the many viewpoints on Madeira, this might be one of the coolest. Situated on a small peninsula on the northern shore of the island, it allows you to showcase the scale and grandeur of Madeira’s coastline.
Miradouro do Guindaste is facing almost directly east. So for the optimal light, try to be here at sunrise. It’s a popular spot among Instagrammers, so be prepared to take turns with a few other eager early birds. But hey, such is life.
I also strongly suggest bringing a model. This particular shot only really comes alive if you have a person in the frame to create a sense of depth and scale.
If you travel alone, make sure to have a tripod, so that you can be the model yourself. Set the intervalometer on your camera and run into position. That’s what I did, and although I’m hardly an exemplary Instagram model, I think it worked out pretty well.
I do have to mention that this location is by and large a one-trick pony. There’s one generally accepted composition that’s been shot by everyone and their mother. So if you’re after something unique, this might not be your first choice. But I think it’s too good to give it a pass.
Miradouro da Bica da Cana
Another viewpoint on the list, Miradouro da Bica da Cana is an awesome sunrise location. On a clear morning, you’ve got a fabulous panoramic view east towards the summits of Pico Ruivo and Arieiro in the distance. Plus, there’s a fair chance of catching the epic cloud inversion.
The vantage point sits at the end of a short 10-minute hike that spans off the ER110 road. It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere. There’s enough room for a few cars, but not much else around.
On the upside, there probably won’t be many people here, so you might even have it all to yourself. Oh, and be sure to bring your drone if you have one. From higher up, you’ll get a less conventional perspective that might look better when there are too many clouds.
Porto Moniz and Surroundings
Last but not least, I’d like to give a shoutout to Porto Moniz, a small town in the north-western part of Madeira. There are several interesting photography locations scattered around that are worth visiting.
To begin with, the natural swimming pools of Porto Moniz are quite photogenic. Needless to say, they are also great for a relaxed sunny afternoon on the northern shore. If your significant other doesn’t enjoy photography, bring them here, and you’ll both have a lovely time.
A couple of kilometers south, in Ribeira da Janela, there is a nice pebble beach with some prominent rock formations. This is a good place to practice your seascape photography, especially during the morning blue hour.
Lastly, all around Porto Moniz, you’ll discover an entire plethora of viewpoints, each with its own unique composition. One of the more easily accessible ones is Miradouro da Santinha which offers a bird-eye panorama of the town.
When to Go to Madeira
Madeira is located far enough south to enjoy a warm pleasant climate all year long. Some even call it the island of eternal spring. The winter months from November to February are somewhat cooler with frequent rains, but still quite pleasant.
With regards to photography, summer days on Madeira are longer but it gets quite hot and most waterfalls dry out. In winter, the island is less crowded (although I didn’t think it was too busy in summer either), but the weather, especially in the mountains, can be a hit and miss.
So this largely comes down to your preference. If you’re purely after photography, I’d pick autumn, spring, or even winter. There are fewer people, prices are lower, the waterfalls are at full power, and you often get dramatic skies.
But if you’d rather also relax on the beach here and there, May to September are hard to beat. Even though it’ll be a bit of a compromise, you’ll have no problem getting some great images to bring home.
Getting Around the Island
If you plan on doing photography on Madeira, you need to rent a car. There is simply no way around it. Public transport on Madeira is rudimentary, and many locations are inaccessible without a car. Certainly not during sunsets or sunrises anyway.
There are taxis of course, and certain packaged tours fit photographers, but honestly, it’s more hustle than it’s worth. Neither are exactly cheap on Madeira, so you won’t be saving yourself any money.
Besides, tours need to be booked in advance, and finding a taxi at 5:30 am to go shoot the sunrise somewhere on the opposite side of the island isn’t always straightforward. A rental might be a little more expensive but it gives you the flexibility you need.
Keep in mind that prices have risen substantially lately, so the earlier you book, the better deal you’ll likely get. Also, you’ll generally get lower prices with small local providers. We rented with Funchal Car Hire (not affiliated) and had a perfectly smooth experience, so I’m happy to recommend them.
Where to Stay on Madeira
That’s a question I spent a lot of time trying to find an answer to. And even after visiting Madeira myself, I’m not entirely sure one exists. There are so many photography spots on Madeira that no matter where you stay, you’ll inevitably end up driving quite a bit.
A simple solution is Funchal. It’s centrally located, has accommodations for just about any budget, and there are several vantage points nearby. With its charming old town, summer Saturday fireworks, and lots of restaurants, it’s also where all the action is.
A more laid-back and relaxed option is Machico. It’s where we stayed, and I loved it. Machico is Madeira’s old capital, so there is still a ton to see but without the hustle and bustle of Funchal. There’s even a sandy beach, something you don’t often encounter on Madeira.
Getting to the western part of Madeira from Machico is a chore for sure. Then again, Ponta de São Lourenço is very close, and so are a couple of other locations. So there’s always something to fall back on in case you don’t feel like driving.
For photography, I would avoid Calheta and other places on the southwestern shore. They’re excellent as vacation destinations and for water-related activities, but the roads in the area are slow and twisty. Driving them might be exciting at first, but will quickly get old and tiring.
For a detailed breakdown of some other options, take a look at this article. You might also consider splitting the trip in two, staying a few days on both sides of the island. I’m not a huge fan of such an approach as you sacrifice flexibility but it might work out for you.
Drone Photography on Madeira
Madeira is a wonderful destination to bring your drone to. There are endless amazing angles here that almost beg to be captured from above. Honestly, it’s like a candy store for anyone who is into aerial photography.
What’s more, there are no restricted zones and almost no air traffic anywhere on Madeira other than near the Funchal airport (check this map for details). So on much of the island, you’ll have the skies all to yourself and your fellow drone enthusiasts.
As part of Portugal and thus the EU, Madeira is subject to all the standard European regulations. You have to register your drone and (for drones heavier than 250 grams) complete an online training course. Nothing too difficult here.
There is, however, one problem that makes flying fully legally in Madeira a little tricky. It’s the Portugal national law that states that shooting any images or video with your drone requires a permit from the National Aeronautical Authority (AAN).
Logical contradictions aside (how is it that shooting from the ground is fine, but get your camera a couple of meters higher in the air, and suddenly you need a permit?), you can apply for one using the link above.
If you go down that route, be ready to provide a whole lot of personal information and plan well in advance. One step is signing a paper form and sending it to Portugal via mail so getting approved might take a while.
Is that strictly necessary? I’ll leave that for you to decide, but from what I’ve seen, nobody cares. People fly their drones on Madeira left and right without getting into trouble. So unless you do something stupid, you should be fine. Still unsure? Have a look at this discussion.
Recommended Camera Gear
You don’t need any special gear to make good pictures and have fun on Madeira. That said, here are a few items I suggest taking with you for a perfect photography trip.
- A camera. I have a full-frame Sony A7III, but any camera will do as long as you know how to operate it.
- An all-around travel zoom such as 24-105 mm. If I can carry only one lens, that’s the one I most frequently pick. The majority of my photos from Madeira are shot with it.
- A wide-angle zoom, such as 16-35 mm or 17-28 mm. In landscape photography, you often want to go wide, and Madeira is no exception.
- (Optional) A telephoto lens. In Madeira, I didn’t use mine much for landscapes, but if you plan on doing a whale-watching tour, you’ll be happy to have it.
- A polarizing filter to tame reflections and enhance saturation. This will be helpful on levadas where you’ll be shooting waterfalls and forests.
- A drone. As already mentioned, Madeira is a treasure trove for aerial photography, and you’ll surely want to capture it from above.
- A tripod for any situations that involve waterfalls, insufficient light, or bracketed exposures.
You are welcome to check out the full list of my gear for more information on what I usually bring with me.
Other Useful Things to Pack
In addition to the camera gear, here are a few more essentials that will ensure your trip to Madeira runs as smoothly as possible. While not directly related to photography these will be handy if you plan on shooting a lot.
- Hiking boots. Some of Madeira’s best photography spots are only accessible through hiking. So having a pair of shoes that you can rely on is highly recommended.
- Headlamp. If you intend on walking levadas (which you should), you’ll inevitably encounter dark tunnels. A smartphone light is an option, but a headlamp fares much better.
- Sunscreen. Madeira sun is extremely harsh, so without protection, you’ll quickly get sunburns. Believe me, it’s no fun!
- A hat or a bandana for extra protection from the sun.
- Reusable water bottle. Tap and stream water in Madeira is very clean and safe to drink. So whenever you go hiking, instead of buying bottled water, take a reusable flask and refill as needed.
- Swimming attire. Photography aside, Madeira is a tempting beach destination. Chances are, sooner or later you’ll want to go for a swim. And if you come in summer, I’m willing to bet it’ll be sooner.
- A light rain jacket. Didn’t we just talk of bathing suits? We did, but the weather on Madeira changes quickly and unpredictably. Even in summer, there are occasional showers and even downpours.
- European power plug. Madeira uses standard European power sockets (type F), so depending on where you come from, you might need an adapter to charge your stuff.
Essential Madeira Apps and Resources
One of the main challenges of landscape photography in Madeira is the weather. Madeira has a unique microclimate that often produces drastically different conditions in various areas of the island. Therefore, relying on your standard forecast app isn’t the best idea.
Instead, I suggest installing Madeira Weather app that has separate forecasts for all the regions. They even have one explicitly for Pico do Arieiro which I thought was quite handy. The prediction is not always 100% accurate, but from my experience, it generally does a decent job.
Additionally, you might want to bookmark NetMadeira and Madeira Web. Both offer a wide selection of webcams to help you judge the situation before driving anywhere. Speaking of which, for navigation I normally prefer Waze, but Google Maps is equally reliable.
It is also very important to have a good offline map app. On many hikes and in more remote areas of Madeira catching a signal might be an issue, so you need something that works without a cellular network.
In the past, I recommended Maps.me but its recent versions refuse to launch or take forever to load when there’s no connection. This happened to me on Madeira, and I wasn’t overly thrilled by this development. Therefore, I advise installing Mapy.cz as a replacement or an alternative.
Honestly, my only regret about visiting Madeira is not spending more time there. I know this sounds cliche, but it’s true. There’s so much to discover and so many incredible compositions to shoot that no matter how long you stay, it never seems enough.
Madeira is a type of place that instantly evokes the desire to go out and explore with your camera. To drive around without a well-defined plan and see what happens. It will always have new, exciting, and totally unexpected ways to surprise you.
If you love landscape photography, I hope Madeira is on your bucket list. I also hope that you found this guide helpful and got some value out of it. If so, you can do me a huge favor by sharing it with your friends and on social media.
I also have other articles that you might find interesting. Have a look around the blog or check out some of the suggestions below to see if there’s anything you like:
- Algarve Photography Guide: Best Locations and Practical Tips
- Mallorca Best Photo Spots and How to Plan A Trip
- Top 7 locations for landscape photography on Tenerife
- Sintra Photography Guide: 10 Best Spots with Practical Tips
- Lisbon Photography Guide: 10 Fabulous Spots to Capture
- Sunrise on Top of the World: Photography Guide to Mt. Pilatus
- A Land of Wonders: 10 Great Reasons to Travel to Slovenia
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