Porto Santo is an unspoiled small island 43 kilometers northeast of Madeira in the North Atlantic Ocean. The island belongs it to the most beautiful islands of Portugal and could preserve its natural charm. You don't have to be afraid of the beach resorts or the "Ballermann" feeling on Porto Santo. Instead, a 9-kilometer-long, family-friendly sandy beach on the warm Atlantic beckons, a paradise for bathers and water sports enthusiasts. It is also the reason why many Portuguese have chosen Porto Santo as their vacation destination. The more famous island of Madeira scores with lush greenery, but extensive sandy beaches are scarce there. Pleasant is also the subtropical climate with mild temperatures throughout the year.
In contrast to Madeira, the vegetation on Porto Santo seems quite sparse. Originally there were many dragon trees as well as juniper and tree heather. Even today, Porto Santo is home to a number of rare plant species that can only be found on the island. Nevertheless the volcanic island makes a steppe-like impression, to which also the strong tree clearings contributed some years ago. Large-scale reforestation is difficult due to the lack of rivers and lakes. Nevertheless, reforestation programs are now underway, and numerous trees have been planted in the Porto Santo Nature Park between Vila Baleira and the airport.
The dream beach of Campo de Baixo on Porto Santo
Ilha Dourada, the gold island, locals call home. Many tourists believe that the golden beaches lined with palm trees are responsible for this auspicious name. But actually the mountains shimmering golden in the sunlight were the inspiration for this. The main attraction of Porto Santo is nevertheless the sandy beach of Campo de Baixo, which is about 9 kilometers long. It is divided into several sections up to 50 meters wide. While adults bask in the warm sand, kids always get a stretch of beach with plenty of room to play safely, too. The shore zones slope gently into the sea, so that even the inexperienced and non-swimmers can find optimal bathing spots.
The water along the coast is warmed by the Gulf Stream and washed onto the soft golden sand, which is said to have healing properties due to its high mineral and sulfur content. Especially pain caused by rheumatism and joint problems as well as skin diseases are supposed to be alleviated by it.
There are many recreational activities on the coast, including diving, snorkeling, fishing, canoeing, windsurfing, jet skiing, water skiing, paragliding and swimming in the crystal clear sea. The beach can be enjoyed at any time of the year, as the weather hardly varies from season to season. Nearby are all the amenities you need as a seaside vacationer, such as bars, restrooms, showers and grocery stores.
Things to see and do
Although a small island, the municipality of Porto Santo has its own schools, health center, police stations, sports hall, churches, several local squares, a convention center, a museum, shopping centers, bars, hotels and restaurants. There are a few places to visit, but Porto Santo is mainly a bathing island. If you are looking for more variety or want to go shopping, you can take a ferry to the neighboring island of Madeira within 2.5 hours.
Vila Baleira with the Columbus Museum
The most important urban area is the city of Vila Baleira, also known as Porto Santo. Almost all the inhabitants of the island live there. The urban area is very pleasant with cobbled streets and beautiful whitewashed buildings.
Actually it was the Portuguese sailors Joao Goncalves Zarco, Tristao Vaz Teixeira and Bartolomeu Perestrelo who went down in history as the rediscoverers of the Madeira Islands. They landed their ship in Porto Santo in 1418 during a storm, more by chance than anything else. After the happy rescue they started from here the exploration of Madeira. One of the sailors brought a rabbit with him, which caused a rabbit plague on the island in the following years. Also, the repeated pirate attacks used to bring a lot of excitement and suffering to the otherwise tranquil island life.
Many events marked the history, but only one celebrity has a museum dedicated in Vila Baleira: Christopher Columbus. The sailor married in 1479 Dona Filipa de Perestrelo e Moniz, the daughter of Bartolomeu Perestrelo mentioned above. He was governor of the island at that time. Columbus stayed on the island with his wife for several years. His former house has now been converted into the museum "Casa Colombo – Museu de Porto Santo", which deals not only with Colombo, but also with the history of the island. For a better understanding, information boards with German translations are provided.
Hiking, horseback riding, cycling and excursions
Some wonderful hiking or horseback riding trails lead around the island. You can also quickly find a bike rental to take a bike ride through the idyll and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
Pico de Ana Ferreira
There are a few peaks to climb, but most of the land is flat. However, the Pico de Ana Ferreira in the west of the island is not to be missed. It impresses with interesting basalt structures on one of its slopes.
Bird garden Quinta das Palmeiras
A lush green oasis in the middle of the rather dry landscape is the small bird park Quinta das Palmeiras west of the airport. The botanical garden in mini format was planned and laid out by Carlos Alfonso on his own initiative. In an immense effort he created a small paradise with beautiful plants and many birds. Visitors can refresh themselves in the cafe. If you don't want to hike, you can reach the park by car, quad bike or bicycle. A must for all visitors to the island.
Insiders know their island best, which is why you learn many interesting things on the jeep tours around the island. You will also get to know the most beautiful viewpoints that offer a fantastic panoramic view of the island, such as Pico Castelo Viewpoint, Portela Viewpoint and Miradouro das Flores, among others. You can also book city tours, food tours and wine tours. All promise variety and deeper insights into island life.
The Porto Santo Golf Course
The island has an excellent golf course with magnificent views over Madeira, designed by Spanish golf champion Seve Ballesteros; Porto Santo Golfe hosted the Madeira Islands Open in 2009 as part of the European Tour. When the planned second course is completed, Porto Santo Golfe will be the largest golf course in Madeira: There is currently an 18-hole golf course and a nine-hole course. In addition, Porto Santo's golf complex includes eight tennis courts and an equestrian center (Pico Ana Ferreira).
Climate and best time to visit
Unlike Madeira, which receives sufficient rainfall due to its mountainous altitude profile, Porto Santo's comparatively low relief results in a dry climate and a predominantly steppe-like landscape.
The warmest months are between August and September, when you can expect low rainfall and temperatures around 25°C. Also in May and June it can be summery. In midsummer, the mercury column sometimes climbs to 35°C or remains at 20°C. Extreme temperature fluctuations are rare, however, which is one of the most pleasant aspects of Porto Santo. Even in autumn and winter there are pleasant temperatures, which invite you to go hiking. However, travel to and from the area should be considered, as it can get stormier in the cooler seasons, making ferry travel difficult.
Gastronomy and nightlife
Surprisingly, there is a wide range of restaurants and cafes on the island, including several for more sophisticated tastes. Fish or grilled meats dominate the menus and prices are quite reasonable for family travelers. Of course, fast-food junkies are also provided with typical burgers and pizza. But overall you can feel the Spanish and Portuguese influences in the cuisine.
For example, visitors are enthusiastic about the Panorama Restaurant and the Casa do Velho Dragoeiro restaurant, where fresh seafood and Mediterranean dishes are served.
The nightlife is very restrained on the whole island. There are some clubs, bars and cafes, but a lot of entertainment takes place mainly in the hotels and resorts.
Accommodation in Porto Santo
The island attracts with soft tourism. Family hotels and modern resorts for family vacations can be found, for example, on Booking.com. Appealing vacation homes on Porto Santo offers last minute vacation home.org.
Arrival to Porto Santo
The island has an international airport with daily flights to Madeira airport (about a 15 minute flight away). Porto Santo Airport (PXO) has connections with both domestic flights (Lisbon, Porto) and occasional international flights. Among them are several charter flights to England, Italy, Germany, Scandinavia, Belgium, France and Spain.
Often tourists also choose the sea route by ferry from Madeira, which takes about 2.5 hours, because of the beautiful itinerary.
Pico de Ana Ferreira, basalt formations on Porto Santo, ellentang from Pixabay