The island of Porto Santo [“Sacred Harbour”] was, according to the stories, the first island in the archipelago of Madeira to be discovered by Portuguese sailors back in 1418. Rumours around the island tell that a huge storm almost sunk their ship, and was it not for the island of Porto Santo, the sailors would have been dead. They said that Porto Santo saved their lives, it was a miracle. For that reason, they decided to name the newly discovered island, Porto Santo. However, even tho the storm and the shelter part of the story may be accurate, who the sailors were seems to be under constant dispute. There seem to be reports of the island being called Porto Santo well before the Portuguese arrived in 1418. Also, the fact that this, as well as surrounding islands, appear in maps dating as early as 1339. Either way, ever since, it has been a popular place among the locals to spend their days and visitors to pop over from mainland Madeira. Even Christopher Columbus lived there for a while.
Contrasting the main island’s wild and rocky composition, Porto Santo Island is a white sand paradise perfect for a relaxing day escapade from the adventurous neighbour island. At only 79 Km (around 49 mi.) northeast of Madeira, a day trip from Madeira to Porto Santo Island couldn’t be any easier. Whether you book a flight from Funchal (there are 2 direct flights per day) or take the ferry there (1 connection per day during peak season), you’ll love it. During our visit to Madeira, we partnered up with Tourism Madeira and Porto Santo Line** to show you just how easy it is to plan and enjoy a day trip to Porto Santo Island while visiting Madeira. Keep reading for the ins and outs of organising your day trip to Porto Santo and some tips on what to do when you arrive in the golden paradise of Madeira.
Planning Your Day Trip to Porto Santo Island
One of the biggest hassles of planning any day trip is finding all the information necessary. How to get there, how much does it cost, what are the alternatives, how long does it take, when is it best to visit, etc. In this section, I’m going to try to answer as many of those questions as possible to make your planning that much easier. I know you can’t wait so, let’s get started.
Weather in Porto Santo Island
First things first, it is useful to know that Madeira’s weather is pretty mild all year round thanks to its location, with averages ranging between 13 and 24°C (55 – 75°F). That being said, during some months the chances of catching some rain are exponentially higher than others. December to April will be the coldest rainiest months with temperatures averaging between 12 and 18°C and between 5 and 7 days of rain per month. For reference, we visited Madeira in the beginning of February and it rained 1 day our of the 7 we were there. The warmest driest months are May through November. However, those are also the most popular months for visitors to come to the Island, thus making it difficult to find good deals. That being said, Porto Santo in the summer months is incredibly busy, so I would highly recommend visiting during the off-season.
How to get to Porto Santo Island
As I mentioned before, Porto Santo Island can be reached by plane (from Funchal, Lisbon and other major Portuguese cities directly). There are two direct flights per day from Funchal. But for a day trip to Porto Santo Island, the best option may be to take the daily ferry early in the morning.
Porto Santo Line commutes almost daily all year around (except for a few weeks of maintenance) with their Lobo Marinho. During low season, the boat leaves Saturday-Monday & Wednesday-Thursday mornings at 8 AM from Funchal’s harbour and leaves Porto Santo Island at 6 or 7 PM (depending on the weekday) back to the main island. In the high season, there is a connection every day. Timetable information can be found here. This makes for a perfect day trip connection, and the time in the boat makes for a wonderful experience too, with epic views of the main islands rugged coastline from a different perspective.
Here’s all the essential information about the tickets:
- During peak season (April – September) the adult round-trip fare costs 59,44 € (around 66 USD)*.
- During low season (January – March & October – December) the fare costs 48,60 € (around 54 USD) for an adult round trip*.
- Both in high and low season, children 5 to 11 pay half of the adult fare and children under 5 (0 to 4) travel for free (still require a ticket)*.
You can also get special packages if you want to take a car or motorbike with you, click here for all information about fares. If you’re staying at one of the many resorts and hotels around the Funchal/Caniço area, you can get your ticket to Porto Santo with transfer included for a little extra cost.
(*Note: these are 2021 prices, I’ll update these as soon as the new ones come out)
Once your tickets are set, all you have to do is show up in the south dock of the harbour of Funchal about 30 minutes before departure and enjoy the ride. Which, by the way, takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Once in Porto Santo
Porto Santo harbour is a bit outside the main town so to get in you can either buy a transfer ticket directly on the ferry or take a walk into town. This will take about 30 minutes. If you decide to take a walk, the first part will be through the parking lot of the harbour, but soon you’ll find yourself walking along the majestic sandy beach of Porto Santo. If you’ve got time and feel energetic, go for it! If you don’t feel like walking around Porto Santo, you can rent bikes and 4-Wheelers in town.
What to do in Porto Santo
When you arrive in Porto Santo, you’ll be greeted by the beautiful town of Vila Baleira. It is the capital and only city of Porto Santo, and it is located on the site of the first settlement on the island, founded back in 1419 by Bartolomeu Perestrelo (one of the settlers that bumped into Porto Santo Island in 1418).
The heart and soul of this little city are its main square, Largo do Pelourinho, and the Infante Gardens, where you can take a quick stroll among the palm trees, enjoy the sculptures, drink water from one of the fountains (thought to be good against kidney problems) or simply, take a seat in one of the benches and people-watch. Besides that, the low white houses, idyllic cafés and historic buildings give Vila Baleira a unique charm. Among these little houses, you can also find Christopher Columbus’ old House.
Visit Christopher Columbus’ House
In a small alleyway behind the church of Nossa Senhora da Piedade you can find what is believed to be Christopher Columbus’ old house. There is no record of it actually being his house but for its location and the beauty of it, would fit the grand explorer and his wife (daughter of the founder of the settlement). Whether it is or not his old stomping ground, it is today the Casa Museu Cristóvão Colombo (Christopher Columbus Museum). This museum houses diagrams of his trips, models of his boats, and portraits of what’s believed to be him, no one really knows how he looked like.
The museum opens Tuesday to Saturday from 10 AM to 12:30 PM and 2 PM to 5:30 PM, and Sundays from 10 AM to 1 PM.
The tickets are around 2 € (students go in for free). Spend some time at the beach
Spend some time at the beach
One of the main reasons to visit lovely Porto Santo Island is its 9 Km golden sand beach. It is the only sandy beach in the Archipelago of Madeira and acclaimed as one of the best beaches in Portugal. Its sand has proven therapeutic qualities. So far there is scientific research that proves, that Porto Santo’s beach sand helps alleviate pains caused by rheumatism as well as helps speed up the recovery of broken bones among others. Besides its many health benefits, Porto Santo Island also offers a myriad of activities to chose from, from SUP to Diving and horseback riding.Whatever you chose, you’ll have a lovely time.
Go for a hike
Porto Santo isn’t just a beach and a nice city. The north-east and north-west of the island are covered by many mild elevations. Ranging between 100 to 300 meters above sea level, most of these little mountains provide a wonderful opportunity for a hike and breath-taking views over the whole island. So, if you’re feeling adventurous but still want to take it easy, go for a hike to one of the many elevations around the island.
We went to Pico de Ana Ferreira, which with its 283 meters above sea level is the highest point on the west part of Porto Santo. It took us about 45 minutes to walk up there from Vila Baleira. At the top you don’t only get stunning views but you get to see the spectacular pentagonal rock formations that volcanic activity from millions of years ago left in the area.
Getting back to the ferry
At the end of a wonderful day trip in Porto Santo Island, you still need to find your way back to the ferry. Whether you bought the return ticket directly on the boat upon arrival or need to get a single ticket back, don’t worry, it may look confusing but it isn’t.
All you have to do is look for the taxi stop and the Rent-a-car Moinho in the main square, the bus back to the ferry leaves from there at around 5 PM.
While you wait for your bus, I highly recommend you stop by Mais Sabor, across the street from the bus stop, and try one of their delicious milkshakes and smoothies for 2 – 2,20 €, they are absolutely worth it!
Now, sit back, relax and enjoy your day trip to Porto Santo.