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Ecotourism on Madeira

Updated on June 17, 2012

Virtual Tour of Madeira

What is ecotourism?

The term ecotourism combines the words ecology and tourism. The definition of ecotourism was provided by The International Ecotourism Society (TES) in 1991: “Ecotourism is a responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people”. The principles of ecotourism are as follows:

  • The prevention of negative influences that can destroy the character of natural or cultural environments.
  • The education of the traveler regarding the preservation and conservation of the environment. It involves the building of environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
  • Local communities should profit from the economic benefits. That is to say, locally-owned facilities and services should be used over international giant companies.
  • Financial benefits should be provided for conservation.
  • The host country’s political, environmental and social climate should be respected at all times.

Ecotourism on Madeira

Madeira is a Portuguese archipelago that lies in the north of the Atlantic Ocean. The cluster of islands includes Madeira, Porto Santo and the Desertas. Nature lovers and eco-tourists enjoy this place that offers summer temperatures all year round for its spectacular Levada walks and dramatic mountain tours.

Although many companies on Madeira say that they support ecotourism, only a few realize what this actually means. Nature Meetings is a company that offers sustainable ecological tourism on Madeira. It supports the principles of the UNESCO and contributes to the protection of the Laurisilva Forest. The company joined an international Eco organization called ecoclub.com. The multi-lingual employees possess a wide knowledge of the island and its natural history and are able to inform and educate clients accordingly. The difference between Nature Meetings and other companies promoting ecotourism is that Nature Meetings actually implements measures for environmental protection. The company has begun to share vehicles with other companies in order to reduce CO² emissions. It uses recyclable material and organic ingredients and collects waste that is produced along the walks and during the offered services. Their clients use local facilities during their stay.

Laurisilva of Madeira

The Laurisilva forest was proclaimed a UNESCO world heritage site in 1999. Laurisilva is a subtropical forest that features a high humidity and relatively mild temperatures. It is one of the few hectares left of this kind of forest in Europe. It is a place of natural beauty and appreciated for its natural diversity and endemic species such as bryophytes and ferns. It is also the habitat of invertebrate fauna such as the Madeira Laurel Pigeon which was almost extirpated due to human colonization and deforestation. This bird is now classified as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List and falls under the protection of the European Union Birds Directive. The Laurel forest as a whole is protected under the Habitats Directive, which is a directive adopted by the European Union in 1992 which aims to protect approximately 220 habitats and around 1,000 species. The forest used to cover the entire island before its colonization and the extensive agricultural development on the island. Now it extends across 15,000 hectares of land with an altitude between 300 and 1300 meters. It can be found in the mountains, on slopes, in deep valleys and in steep ravines. It is believed that 90% of it is a primordial forest.

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Levada Walks

The majority of the levada walks are found deep in the splendid and sumptuous vegetation of the Laurisilva forest. Due to excellent temperatures all year long, they are always accessible. The most popular levada walk is in Rabaçal with 25 enjoyable fountains. The walking distance is 11km and it takes 4 hours. You should bring flashlights as you will need to cross various tunnels along the way, as well as proper footwear that go over your ankle.

From Ribeiro Frio to Portela

The walk from Ribeiro Frio do Portela is a unique but at the same time demanding levada walk located on the eastern side of the island in the midst of laurel and heather trees. The tranquility and the peaceful natural beauty with different shades of green of the 11 km walk will enchant you. This walk is, however, not made for people with a fear of heights. It is actually considered to be the most dangerous Madeira walk and should be avoided in the case of bad weather conditions. The slopes along the way can become extremely slippery following rainfall. The best thing is to take the walk with a guide. Remember to bring a raincoat, a warm sweater, appropriate footwear, water, some food to boost your energy levels and of course a bag in order to take garbage with you.

The Ecological Park of Madeira is another natural gem established in 1994 by the Funchal City Hall. It offers a natural wealth of fauna and flora and possesses some rare endemic trees such as the Mountain Ash, the Lily of the Valley and the Canary Laurel. Reforestation and conservation projects are regularly being organized. Educational environmental actions involve students from different schools from Madeira. In 2010, the Funchal City Hall took part in the campaign “Clean Up the World”. Within the framework of this campaign, 141 people including students, teachers and private citizens cleaned up waste in burned forest areas, collected seeds and worked on the Indigenous Plant Nursery of the Park.

Public Transport on Madeira

Unfortunately, the public transport system on Madeira is not very developed yet. Taxis can be taken in the major tourist areas but if one is interested in taking a bus, one must consider that particular routes are only traveled once a day. There are three major companies that regularly travel to Funchal. Routes, fares and timetables can be obtained at hotels and all bus stations.

It becomes apparent that Madeira is a paradise for nature lovers. Even though the promotion of ecological tourism has not yet been undertaken by the majority of the tourist companies, the first steps are being taken towards sustainable tourist management on this tropical island and we certainly going to see further developments in this area in the years to come.

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    • tiagoz profile image

      tiagoz 5 years ago

      Wow such a beautiful place!

    • Jennifer Madison profile image
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      Jennifer Madison 5 years ago from Lohmar

      Yeah it is a magic place and definitely worth visiting :)

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