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The best guide to Porto Santo

Porto Santo Day Trip, Excursion or Day Cruise from Madeira

Porto Santo is often incorrectly regarded as purely an extension of Madeira, but this delightful island has its own totally unique character, climate and charm, than from its larger island neighbour. Porto Santo is famed for its glorious 7km long sandy beach, but there is so much more to discover, including challenging hiking trails, delightful villages and stunning natural scenery.

 

The schedule departures of the Porto Santo Line ferry from Funchal means that the island can be visited as a long, but enjoyable day trip. This article will provide an in-depth guide to an excursion to Porto Santo and includes details of ferries services, organised tours and things to see and general, unbiased tourist advice.

 

Highlights for a Day trip To Porto Santo

The beautiful beach of Porto Santo; the only natural sandy beach of the Madeira archipelago, which could be considered one of the finest beaches of Portugal.

Porto Santo

The endless beach of Porto Santo

The town of Vila Baleira with its delightful centre of white washed houses, historic buildings and bags of Portuguese character; the perfect location for a relaxed lunch or coffee break.

Igreja Matriz church in Vila Baleira

The Igreja Matriz church in Vila Baleira

The wonderful panoramic views of the arid landscapes and deep blues of the ocean – these viewpoints could be combined with the challenging hiking routes, if lounging on the beach is not the activity for you.

Miradouro da Portela Porto Santo

The Miradouro da Portela, to the east of the island overlooks the harbour

The enjoyable two-hour ferry ride on a modern and well-equipped ship that provides sea views of the Madeira coastline.

Lobo Marinho ferry porto santo

The Lobo Marinho ferry - translated means sea lion ferry!

Typical costs for a day trip to Porto Santo

Return ferry on Porto Santos Line - €64.20

Cooked Breakfast on the ferry - €7

Taxi from the harbour to Vila Baleira - €5

Bus from the harbour to Vila Baleira - €1.60

2-hour Organised tour with commentary - €20

1.5-hour tour with no commentary €8

Light lunch – €9

Water/snacks/ice creams – Supermarket prices!
(Head to the Pingo Doce supermarket opposite the pier in Vila Baleira)

The beach of Ponto Santo

The beach of Porto Santo is wonderful, it extends along the entire southern side of the island and is formed of soft golden sands that are lapped by the crystal-clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean. This huge size of the beach means that there is always space to be found but visitors usually cluster around the pier in Vila Baleira. During the summer this central section is supervised by lifeguards and is safe for children to paddle around in. Interesting, the waters between Porto Santo and Madeira are incredible deep descending for almost 4,000m between the two extinct volcanic islands.

beach Porto Santo

Kilometres of beautiful golden sands

Hiking Routes

Porto Santo demands to be explored on foot and our two favourite hiking routes are the Pico Castelo trial, that skirts around one of the highest summits, and the Branco e Terra Cha path that follows the remote but dramatic northeastern coast. These are well-maintained footpaths that are clearly signed (PR2-Castelo and PR1-Branco) and detailed information is provided by the helpful tourism office in Vila Baleira.

Pico do Castelo hike walk Porto Santo

On the trail to the summit of Pico do Castelo

The hidden gem of Porto Santo – Calheta Beach

Most visitors come to Porto Santo to lounge the day on the beach, so why not head to the most beautiful stretch of sand on the island? The small beach of Calheta is at the far eastern end of Porto Santo, next to the Ponta de Calheta headland and overlooks channel to the uninhabited island of Baixa ou da Cal. The unpredictable sea currents are too strong for swimming, but the setting is magical.

Ponta de Calheta beach

The idyllic beach at the Ponta de Calheta

Historical Monuments?

The best historical monument on Porto Santo is the Casa de Cristovao Colombo, the small house that Christopher Columbus lived in between 1479 and 1484, with his wife Filip Moniz before his epic voyage. This charming little building has been restored and transformed into a museum (€3) and includes historical artefacts and items salvaged from sea wrecks off the coast. Columbus’ time on Porto Moniz was significant to him, as it provided him his early ideas of sea currents, movements and westward travel, based on debris from winter storms.

Casa de Cristovao Colombo porto santo

The delightful Casa de Cristovao Colombo

The ferry to from Madeira to Porto Santo

Porto Santo Line is the only company which provides a ferry between Madeira and Porto Santo. No matter of the ticket office or hotel booked with, the ferry boat will always be the same, the Lobo Marinho (the sea lion).

Funchal to Porto Santo ferry

No matter the ticket you will end up on the same ferry.....

This is a large and modern ferry with multiple places to eat (catering all budgets), comfy seats and a selection of shops. As the ferry is designed for Portuguese customers the prices onboard are surprisingly reasonable. The price of the “one day cruise” return ferry with transfer is €64.20/€53.20 (high/low season) or the 1st class ticket, which have their own lounge, better views and snacks is €87.60/ €77.40 (high/low season). These prices do not include the fuel surcharge of a couple of Euros. There are seasonal variations to the timetable so always check the Porto Santo Line website before planning your day trip, where tickets can also be purchased at the lowest price:

http://www.portosantoline.pt/index.php?lang=en

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Travel from the Porto Santo Harbour

The ferry moors to the western side of the island and is 2.5km walk to the centre of Vila Baleira, or 1.2km to the very western edge of the beach (which is not the best section). The route, once out of the harbour complex, does follow the beach but there are much better walks on the island.

When the ferry arrives there will be an assortment of taxis waiting for the guaranteed fares into town (€5) or cram along with all of the Portuguese onto the local bus (€1.60). A rental car (€67 per day) for a day trip is a little excessive as a guided tour will cover all of the major sights. Cycling is a great way to explore the island but the bikes (€12per day) have to be picked up at Vila Baleira. The Lazermar tours (see next section) provide a transfer from the harbour.

Organise Tours of Porto Santo

Porto Santo has more beautiful natural scenery than just the main beach, and the only real way to explore the whole of the island in a single day is to join one of the organise tours. There are two very different tour companies; Lazermar and Moinho.

Lazermar provides three types of tour; small group, coach or off-road. Most visitors purchase tickets for the 2-hour coach tour as it is sold on the ferry and also sold under lots of different guises from Madeira ticket sellers. This tour can be combined with the ferry ticket, when purchased from Porto Santo Line at €84.20, making the tour €20. The jeep tour includes the inaccessible off-road viewpoints and lasts a bone-shaking 3.5 hours. A link to the Lazermar website can be found here:

https://lazermar.com/servicos/bus-e-mini-bus/

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Moinho tour bus

The Moinho converted tour bus....

Moinho on the other hand provides an inexpensive, no commentary tour which follows almost the same route as the Lazermar coach tour. This 1.5-hour tour costs only €8 but tickets have to be purchased from their ticket office in central Vila Baleira and the tours are on an old (or characterful depending on opinion) bus. The tour departure times are seasonal dependent and a map of the route can be seen on their website:

http://moinhorentacar.com/circuitos/

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Golf

Porto Santo contains one excellent golf course, the Porto Santo Golfe, this 18-hole course is in the heart of the island and provides a stunning backdrop to your game. The Porto Santo Line sell a combined ferry, transfer and golf ticket for €97 and more information about the course can be seen on the Santo Golfe website:

http://portosantogolfe.com/

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Why is Porto Santo so arid when Madeira is so lush and green?

Porto Santo is the classic example of deforestation and erosion. When settlers first arrived here in the 15th century many of the trees were cleared for farming but when the heavy rains fell it washed away the nutrient rich top soil. The poor sandy soil is all that remains today, giving the distinctive yellow appearance to the island, and is difficult to grow on. As a secondary complexity, is the porous consistency of the ground quickly drains away the meagre amount of rainfall. The local government has attempted to plant new trees but this is unlike to reverse centuries of erosion quickly.

Miradouro Pico Castelo

The Miradouro Pico Castelo and views over the arid lands

July and August

The Portuguese and the population of Madera adore the beaches of Porto Santo, and during the summer expect the ferry to be very busy with Portuguese day-trippers and holidaymakers. As with everything Portuguese during the summer book well in advance to secure places.

 

Thanks for reading our article and we hope you found it beneficial - Phil and Carla Giddioso.

 

This article was written faithfully to the best of our knowledge, if you notice an error or would like to suggest an amendment please send us a message using the “contact us” page, via the link found at the bottom of this page.

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