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5 Beautiful Beaches for Snorkel in Madeira

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Visiting the amazing Portuguese island of Madeira off the coast of Northwest Africa? Lucky! Its rugged landscapes and wonderful local culture make Madeira a fantastic holiday destination. There’s good diving to be had here too, but what about snorkel? Do the rough seas even permit it?

I traveled all across the island in order to answer this question. My conclusion is yes, you can snorkel in Madeira, but you need to know the right spots! Below, I’ll discuss 5 of my favorite locations for snorkel in Madeira.

Where to snorkel in Madeira

When trying to find a spot to admire Madeira’s sea life, the main issue is that this island doesn’t really have many beaches in the traditional sense. It’s not a place for lounging with a glass of the local poncha in your hand—it’s a place for exploring, hiking, clambering over rocks, and being awed by the sheer power of the Atlantic.

And the Atlantic really is powerful! There are a lot of places here where you simply can’t snorkel, as the risk of getting smashed on the rocky shore by the waves is too high. That’s why, before we start, I would like to emphasize that you should always prioritize safety.

If you arrive at one of the locations below and the surf is too intense, just find something else to do for today, or drive to the other side of the island to see if it’s calmer there. The snorkel in Madeira isn’t world-class; it’s fun and different, but not worth risking your life over.

And now, without further ado, here are my 5 favorite snorkel locations in Madeira!

1. Praia dos Reis Magos

When it comes to easy access, safe snorkel, and amenities, Praia dos Reis Magos is a clear winner. Located outside Caniço, near the island capital of Funchal, this is a rather versatile location that features a beach with smooth rocks, a little boardwalk with steps leading to a natural swimming pool, and a dock at the end with stairs allowing access to the water.

All of the above are suitable for snorkel! The little swimming pool is perfect to let the kids splash around in. And if they like tide pools, definitely walk to the right hand side of the beach (facing the sea)—we found various sea stars and even an octopus in the pools there.

Like most beaches in Madeira, Praia dos Reis Magos isn’t the comfiest, as it’s mostly rocks and concrete. Still, it’s definitely worth a visit. There were lifeguards on duty when we visited (they patched up a cut on my foot and were very nice to me) and there are also changing rooms, toilets, showers, a restaurants, and even a tiny dive center.

Easy to reach?Yes

2. Prainha do Caniçal

A sandy beach in Madeira? Yes! Caniçal beach is one of the few in Madeira that’s not rocky or pebbly. Located on the east coast, it sits in a protected little bay, meaning the sea is usually relatively calm. It’s the perfect spot if you want both snorkel and comfort.

You can reach Prainha, whose name means “little beach”, by car—parking space is available—or by bus. There’s a bit of a descent involved, though nothing too bad (I’ve done it in flip-flops, although I’ll admit that trainers would be a significantly better choice of footwear).

Once you’re on the beach, you can enter the water near the rocky areas on the far left or far right to spot all the common inhabitants of the Atlantic. When you’re done exploring, you can use the changing rooms and have a coffee at the little restaurant to warm back up.

Easy to reach?Intermediate
Top view of Prainha do Caniçal in Madeira
Underwater image of snorkel at Prainha do Caniçal, Madeira
Snorkel at Prainha on an overcast day

3. Piscinas Naturais do Seixal

Northern Madeira has some pretty nice natural swimming pools, and I particularly like the ones in Seixal. This town also has a beautiful beach, one of the only sandy ones on the island, but I personally think the swimming pools are cooler. They have no waves at all, so they’re perfect to give the kids their first snorkel experience!

There are a bunch of natural swimming pools in Seixal, including right next to the beach. My favorites are a five minute drive away, though. They’re marked as “Piscinas Naturais do Seixal” on Google Maps (see the map at the top of this post) and there’s a bit of a climb involved in order to get there, but it’s generally not too busy and the place is gorgeous.

Remember that these areas don’t offer sand to lie down on, so bring some beach chairs if you have them. Or just spend the entire time in the water—the kids can explore inside the natural pools, while the adults can take a peek at the ocean around them if the waves aren’t too rough.

Tip: If you happen to visit Gran Canaria, one of the islands off the African coast that forms part of the Macaronesia archipelagos along with Madeira, you’re in luck. There are loads of gorgeous natural swimming pools to be found here as well!

Easy to reach?No
Natural swimming pools at Porto do Seixal in Madeira
Man underwater wearing snorkel gear
Outside the natural swimming pools in Seixal

4. Garajau Beach

Ever taken a cable car to the beach? Now you can! Located in a nature reserve, Garajau is one of the most popular locations among divers and snorkelers. Although it’s not the most amazing snorkel spot I’ve ever seen (you should probably go scuba diving here to see it in its full glory), it’s definitely one of Madeira’s coolest beaches and absolutely worth a visit.

Although this is a relatively secluded location that doesn’t get too busy, it still has good amenities: a restaurant, changing rooms, bathrooms, shower, sunbeds, and more. There’s also a diving school where you can book a dive or rent some snorkel equipment if you don’t have your own. And for just €3 (at the time of writing), you can take the cable car down and back up!

I entered the water on the lefthand side (when facing the ocean) and explored the coastline, continuing left around the rocks. Lots of fish and crabs to be seen, though do be careful to stay away from the rocky areas if there are waves.

Easy to reach?Yes, by cable car
Garajau beach on Madeira island, top view

5. For the kids: Porto Moniz

Let’s wrap up this post with another nice option for the kids to get their first taste of the sea: the natural swimming pools in Porto Moniz. Even if you don’t have any youngsters in tow, I’d say this town is a day trip must for anyone who visits Madeira!

Aside from the two large natural swimming pool complexes (pictured below are the Piscinas Naturais Velhas, pictured at the top of this post are the Piscinas Naturais do Porto Moniz), there’s a little aquarium (nothing spectacular, but worth a visit) and various viewpoints that offer amazing vistas of the surrounding landscape.

The great thing about the Piscinas Naturais Velhas, my favorite of the two, is that they’re free. There’s a bunch of different pools to explore and you can enjoy views of the Ilhéu Mole islet situated right in front of the coastline. Because there are no waves, the kids can safely explore the underwater world.

Just be sure to come early during the high season, because the pool area does fill up quickly and it can be difficult to find a (parking) spot!

Easy to reach?Yes
A natural swimming pool next to the open ocean at Porto Moniz, Madeira island, Portugal
Sure, there may not be as many fish, but the natural swimming pools at Porto Moniz are a lot safer than the rough Atlantic if you want to give the little ones their first snorkel experience.

Snorkeling with dolphins in Madeira

Multiple species of wild dolphins call the waters around Madeira their home, and you can actually go and see them up close. There are various companies offering tours that allow you to snorkel or swim with dolphins.

Unfortunately, our dolphin spotting trip was canceled due to the weather—Madeira can be stormy! If you’d like to give it a try, there are various companies you can book through. Be sure to choose one that prioritizes safety and respect for the animals. Don’t touch them, just let these curious cetaceans come to you and show their fascinating natural behavior.

Scuba diving in Madeira

Yep, Madeira is also a great place to dive. Macaronesia in general is known for its unique underwater wildlife. During a dive, you may spot huge groupers (especially around Garajau), rays, morays, cuttlefish, octopi, pufferfish, and more. The visibility is usually great, though you might want to bring a thick wetsuit or even a dry suit, as it can be chilly!

We only had time for a single dive, which we did with Madeira Divepoint, located inside a hotel. As we didn’t want too much hassle, we opted to just explore their house reef, where we found all the regular small Atlantic bugs and beasts (see below).

If we ever go back, we’ll definitely visit some of Madeira’s boat wrecks. There are actually quite a few, though remember that you’ll need advanced certification for most of them—they’re generally located at a depth of 30+ meters/100+ ft.

Scuba diver pointing a red camera at the viewer.
Scuba diving at the little harbor in front of Pestana Hotel Madeira Carlton

Sea life

I normally snorkel in the Mediterranean, so getting to visit the Atlantic for a change is always a treat. The eastern Atlantic Ocean has plenty of interesting wildlife. Although you’re unlikely to see large pelagic species like sharks while snorkeling, I can promise you won’t be bored while you explore Madeira’s underwater world.

The species I spotted most frequently in the shallows include:

  • Common octopus (Octopus vulgaris)
  • European common cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis)
  • Bearded fireworm (Hermodice carunculata; no touchy!)
  • Sharpnose pufferfish (genus Canthigaster)
  • White sea star (Coscinasterias tenuispina)
  • Madeira scorpionfish (Scorpaena maderensis)
  • Madeira goby (Mauligobius maderensis)
  • Redlip blenny (Ophioblennius atlanticus)
Octopus underwater photo, curled up in a hidey hole.
Common octopus (Octopus vulgaris), spotted at Praia dos Reis Magos
Close-up view of a cuttlefish resting on the seafloor.
European common cuttlefish, spotted at Prainha do Caniçal
A white sea star in a tide pool in Madeira, underwater photo.
White sea star (Coscinasterias tenuispina), spotted in a tide pool at Praia dos Reis Magos

Other things to do in Madeira

It’s very hard to be bored in Madeira. Although the island isn’t that large, there’s just SO much to do! If you’re into hiking, definitely look up some routes. The mountain landscapes with their laurel forests are really something. The most famous hike is from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo—the island’s highest peak.

Not into hiking or need a break? Here’s some other stuff I absolutely loved:

  • Take the “teleférico” (cable car) in Funchal up to the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens. You can even ride the famous wicker baskets on the way down!
  • Check out Cabo Girão near the lovely town of Câmara de Lobos. At 580 meters (almost 2000 ft), it’s one of the highest cliffs in Europe. And it has a glass walkway, eek!
  • If it’s raining, which does happen a lot on this rather wet island, there are some museums to check out. Try the Whaling Museum (very close to Prainha do Caniçal on this list) and Madeira Story Centre for history, or the MAMMA for modern art.
  • Try the local cuisine. Don’t sleep on Madeira’s espetada (beef skewers), bolo do caco (traditional bread), lapas (grilled limpets), and other traditional dishes.
  • Just drive around. Yes, even in this economy! There are so many beautiful lookout points, waterfalls, and unique landscapes. This is how we discovered the “enchanted” forest of Fanal, for example.
Cable card in Funchal, Madeira
Hear me out: cable cars are an underutilized form of transport. (Pictured: Funchal)
Ancient laurel tree at Lago do Fanal in Madeira
The ancient laurel trees in Fanal
Traditional Portuguese food in a Madeiran restaurant (bread soup and cheese platter)
Traditional Portuguese bread soup, local cheeses, and Madeiran bread!

If you have any more questions about snorkel in Madeira or if you want to share your own experiences visiting the Canary Islands’ Portuguese sister, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!

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