Porto Santo, this is the paradisiacal hidden gem next to Madeira Island

Porto Santo Island near Madeira in Portugal

Had you heard of the island of a paradise island near Madeira call Porto Santo? if it were not for a whim of destiny we certainly would not, and we would have returned without knowing it.

In our recent trip to Madeira when we were about to land at the airport, they told us that because of the strong wind they had to divert the plane to the nearby Porto Santo Island.

Because of its geographical location,Madeira It has strong winds that can complicate the landing, which we already knew, but what we did not know is what happens if these winds prevent it.

Porto Santo Island near Madeira in Portugal

And we already have the answer, they divert you to the Porto Santo Island until the wind subsides and you can land in Madeira again.

But this made us know that there is a hidden jewel, a beautiful island which we had never heard of that they keep as one of their great secrets.

Obviously on that first flight we could not go out to visit the island, but we already stayed in the retina with the views from the plane of those long beaches that made us reserve one day to visit Porto Santo.

Porto Santo Characteristics

It is a small island very similar to a paradise in the Atlantic near Madeira and of the African coast where about 5,000 people live during the year, and in which 60 percent of the houses on the island are owned by inhabitants of Madeira.

Eleven kilometers long, in Porto Santo nine kilometers of a huge beach of fine sand and bluish and crystalline waters of a tropical paradise extend.

In fact, Porto Santo is an island with six small islands that surround it, which long ago became united, as reflected by recent geological studies, so that it was four times larger than today.

How Porto Santo was formed

The first thing that catches the attention of this island is its huge beaches, something very rare in islands of volcanic origin. And this is because of a unique nature that occurred on the island with the passage of time.

30,000 years ago the Porto Santo Island It was already above sea level and was a tropical island with a warm and humid climate of hot waters completely surrounded by coral reefs typical of the current Caribbean Sea.

After the glaciations, the waters receded and all these coral reefs were exposed to the strong polar winds that eventually eroded and decomposed.

Porto Santo Island near Madeira in Portugal

The remains ended up being carried by air into the island to cover an important part of it. Thus Porto Santo have Sandy beaches that cannot be compared to almost anywhere in the world.

This carbonated sand by its origin is composed of many substances that dissolve in contact with the sweat of the skin and promotes its absorption through the skin.

As anecdote they told us that in the schools of the island they have an experiment that they are taught as children where they take sand from their island to compare it with another sand in Europe.

In two separate containers place the different sands and mix them separately with lemon juice; Only the sand of Porto Santo undergoes effervescence with the acid contained in the lemon.

These arenas are in fact currently being investigated by many scientists from European universities.

Ponta da Calheta in Porto Santo near Madeira in Portugal

Porto Santo history

He Porto Santo discovery It was the beginning of the story that would end the discovery of America, and like many of the great discoveries, it was by chance.

Some Portuguese sailors who sailed along the African coast looking for new routes to the east, and during a storm the ship broke moorings and they were sailing aimlessly offshore.

At that time it was believed that the earth was flat, so they thought they were going to die, but they got a surprise at the end of this island. That is why the island has that name since they considered it a miracle to have survived.

Although accidental, it was the beginning of trips in the Atlantic to the offshore, which would end with the discovery of the new world.

Port of the island of Porto Santo near Madeira

It's known that Christopher Columbus he lived in Madeira two years before the discovery of America, and he had some land in Porto Santo. And it is said that it was here that he began to study the tides that led him to set sail on the historic journey to the new world.

How to get to Porto Santo

A reason that Porto Santo be an unknown island is that you can only get there by ferry from Madeira or By plane.

The ferry is the most common way to go to the island but the slowest. Its journey lasts just over two hours and leaves from the port of Funchal every day first thing in the morning, returning late in the afternoon.

The boat ride has an advantage in addition to the price, and if you are lucky, you can reach see whales or dolphins during the trip, since it is an area very frequented by cetaceans.

Tickets can be purchased right there or in advance on the internet.

Plane to fly to the island of Porto Santo from Madeira

The other option is go to Porto Santo by plane in a journey of only 15 minutes, although to fly out of season this island there are hardly a few flights.

In summer the flights are intensified and the available airports are expanded, so that you can fly to Porto Santo from Lisbon and Porto, as well as from other parts of Europe, such as Denmark or London.

We made our visit to Porto Santo by flying from Madeira in a small plane of about 20 seats, which is what makes the route. We left in the morning and returned in the afternoon, so we met the entire island in one day.

Perhaps if we had known before when we planned the trip to Madeira, we would have planned to spend the night in Porto Santo to spend a day at the relaxing beach.

What to see and do in Porto Santo

The first thing we are going to tell you is that the island is so small and unknown, that in Google Maps You hardly find references of the main places of it.

Casa da Serra on the island of Porto Santo from Madeira

Typical house Porto Santo

Most people live near the beach and around the airport and very few are the houses that are in other areas. But to know how the settlements where the inhabitants of the island lived, you have to move to one of the ends of the island.

Very close to the port by narrow roads and dirt is Casa da Serra.

It is a house that an inhabitant of the island has rebuilt without any profit, simply for not letting time disappear. It is the home of his ancestors and where he lived until he was 8 years old, and which he now keeps open to the public. A beautiful enclave between mountains.

In addition to knowing in it the history of how the inhabitants of the area lived, you can see the shelters in which the population hid when pirate attacks arrived that once ravaged the island.

We warn that this visit does not appear in almost any guide, but it is worth doing and it is free.

Casa da Serra on the island of Porto Santo from Madeira

You can also buy local products made as they were years ago, and which otherwise you could not know (buying these sweets help him maintain the house)

Porto Santo mills

To be able to stock up, the inhabitants of the island built mills similar to those found in Castilla la Mancha in Spain.

They are located high in the mountains, where one of the most beautiful viewpoints of the island is located from where you can see the large beach that surrounds the island and the port where ferries arrive.

Mills on the island of Porto Santo near Madeira

Paleo Dune Porto Santo

A great example of how the island was covered with sand formed by coral remains are the paleo dunes.

In the north of the island, we find a landscape more typical of the Star Wars or from Mars. They are dunes that strongly attract attention because they are not near the sea, but at the top of the cliffs.

It is called paleo dune because all the vegetation and small animals like snails that were there were covered by the sand of the dune and ended up fossilized.

I encourage you that when you walk through the dunes you look at the sand because you will find many remains at first sight.

Paleo dunes on the island of Porto Santo near Madeira

Also look at the different stratifications the wind forms in the dunes.

Tropical Garden in Porto Santo

Porto Santo It is an island with a dry climate and with little rainfall, but this was not an impediment to the implementation of a private project to build a tropical garden like those that were thousands of years ago.

It is really an eccentricity, since for many years the way to get water to the garden was almost manual. They had to go looking for it with several car journeys to maintain their irrigation.

Currently it is an enclosure that has been growing year after year in space, where you can find many animals in freedom, especially several types of birds.

If you go to visit the Tropical Garden of Porto Santo, it is worthwhile to enjoy walking in silence while listening to the great amount of sounds of the birds that move you to many tropical forests.

Tropical garden on the island of Porto Santo near Madeira

Vineyards in Porto Santo

Although there is not much space on the island, they do have some areas for growing vines to produce wine.

Production is very limited, between one thousand and two thousand liters per year, and does not give for export, so the came from Porto Santo It can only be tasted on the island, and is usually reserved for celebrations or religious events.

Due to the hot weather, its maturation is earlier and has a high fermentation that results in wines of 22 degrees of alcohol.

On your visit, notice that the vineyard areas They are usually full of snails.

Endemic snail on the island of Porto Santo near Madeira

Despite being a dry climate, on this island there is a pink snail which is unique in the world, and which has been the subject of many studies on the evolution of an isolated species and how it adapted to changes in the climate.

It has survived thanks to a local plant that maintains water droplets and is also used in the cuisine of the island. 

Seve Ballesteros Golf Course in Porto Santo

As a curiosity, the Porto Santo golf course has the name of Seve Ballesteros given that famous Spanish golfer was the one who designed it.

Outside the summer season, the largest source of income on the island today is the one provided by the golf course.

Seve Ballesteros Golf Course in Porto Santo near Madeira

They have achieved this because in Porto Santo a self-supply system has been created to recycle sea water and thus be able to have water on the island and to irrigate the field

And interestingly, most of the visitors who come to play golf are tourists from Denmark.

Ponta Da Calheta in Porto Santo

To the extreme to the southwest, the area closest to the island of Madeira It is perhaps one of the prettiest points that can be found. We met him when we went to eat at the restaurant of the same name Ponta Da Calheta found in that enclave.

One of the essential points to know is where the most crystalline waters are.

Porto Santo Island near Madeira in Portugal

To get to this strut you have to cross a dune area where some of the hotels on the island are located.

Das Flores viewpoint in Porto Santo

For us the most colorful viewpoint of the island is located in the aforementioned enclave of Ponta Da Calheta.

Its about Das Flores lookout point, and to access it it is necessary to climb a dirt road, which can be done by car or by quad.

From this viewpoint you can see the entire beach along the island, and one of the small islets that used to be part of Porto Santo. In addition, from the height the surroundings of the island are very well seen with shallow waters that makes it look with a lighter blue color

Right next to it is a cove that is worth seeing with a beach of volcanic origin like those of Madeira.

Mirador das Flores on the island of Porto Santo near Madeira

To reach the sea area there is a path that can only be accessed on foot; If you want to see it from above, be careful because it is a rather impressive precipice.

It is a very good cove to make snorqel and sport fishing.

Christopher Columbus House in Porto Santo

As I said before, it is said Christopher Columbus lived in these lands and it was where he finished setting his journey to discover the new world.

Do not leave the island without visit the house-museum of Christopher Columbus what's in the center of town of Porto Santo, in which you can see some of the objects of the time, in addition to maps and all kinds of information about the routes that followed.

Christopher Columbus House-Museum in Porto Santo near Madeira

Pianos in Porto Santo

Another of the peculiarities of nature that are seen on the island are the so-called pianos, rare geological formations that occur in areas composed of lava.

In the depths of the Earth, low strong pressures created vertical columns of lava with hexagonal shapes, which came to light after excavations that sought to extract land for the construction of houses.

The entire mountain inside is formed by those hexagonal columns where stratifications are seen.

Transportation in Porto Santo

For move around the island of Porto Santo the best is rent a car or quad to tour it on your own, or hire the service of a company that teaches you the island.

Cliff with pianos in Porto Santo near Madeira

There is also the option to rent a bike, a service that several companies offer in the area of ​​the old town.

If you are going to rent a car, you can do it at the same airport you can do it, but you have to consider some things.

There are many parts of the island that do not have paved roads, but there are only dirt trails; even at some point or that, so it’s important rent a 4 × 4 or a quad.

I warn you that it is not easy to find maps and information of the roads, but since it is a very small island, even if you get lost you will be very fast, so do not be afraid to explore it.

That's why people usually hire a guided tour It facilitates transport and takes you to all sites without getting lost. We are what we did and a very nice girl called Sofia, of the Sermar agencyHe showed us the whole island.

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