Over the past few years, we’ve seen a bigger focus on sustainable travel – and for good reason. As people travel more and for longer periods of time (like we do as digital nomads) it is important to think about the footprint you leave.
This is not to say you shouldn’t travel though but instead an encouragement for you to consider the ways in which you travel meaning the actions you take and the businesses that you support.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to travel in a more sustainable way, and in this post, we will cover how to do exactly that in one of our favourite destinations of all time: Madeira.
As a destination, Madeira has put an increased focus on sustainability over the years and is now part of The Earth Check Program where they recently received the Silver Medal as a sustainable destination.
We hope this post will help make it easier for you to make sustainable choices as you visit this Pearl of the Atlantic.
Disclosure: This post has been created in collaboration with Visit Madeira. Everything in this post is based on our personal opinions and experiences. This post also contains affiliate links which means if you decide to use the links and make a valid purchase, we will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.
Sustainable Tourism in Madeira
In this post, we have highlighted some of the best sustainable hotels in Madeira, eco-friendly tours you can try, and some small tips and tricks on how to travel more sustainably by making small changes to your travel habits.
A lot of these practices are simple practices that you may already do but they go a long way when it comes to travelling sustainably.
Especially with travel becoming more popular and accessible the sooner we can find out about all the different things we can do as individuals the better.
Sustainable Hotels in Madeira
One of the easiest things you can do when it comes to travelling sustainably in Madeira (or anywhere else for that matter) is to book accommodation that does its part. Thankfully, Madeira in general is very aware and proactive when it comes to this topic.
From small hotels to some of the bigger hotel chains, a lot of them have taken action steps to minimize their carbon footprint and reduce, reuse, and recycle where they can.
Below you will find 3 hotels that we recommend if you’re looking for sustainable hotels in Madeira. There are plenty more than just these hotels that have “Green Key” or “Green Leader” but here is a list of our top 3 that we absolutely love.
All 3 of these hotels in Madeira are located on different parts of the island. So depending on whether you want the bustling city vibe of Funchal or something quieter in rural Santana one of these hotels should be a great fit for you!
Quinta do Furão Hotel in Santana
💰 Price: €140-275 a night
📍 Location: Santana
⭐️ Rating: 9.3
🌿 Sustainability? Sustainability Independent Certified
👉🏼 Check out Hotel Quinta Do Furao’s prices & availability here
Quinta do Furão is one of the most beautiful hotels in Madeira. Located on the coast near Santana you’ll find this stunning hotel surrounded by vineyards, solar panels, and a 180-degree ocean view.
Quinta do Furão practices what they preach when it comes to its sustainable values.
They utilize solar panels to heat shower water and minimize plastic usage throughout the property, including at the breakfast buffet. The hotels encourages guests to reuse their towels and take the stairs when possible.
They also prioritize supporting local farms and buying locally where they can. Of course, a lot of goods have to be imported to Madeira since it’s a smaller island. But of the things that grow locally the hotel will buy from local businesses.
These are just a few things that Quinta do Furão does to minimize their carbon footprint.
On top of that, the hotel is absolutely stunning. You can probably see why it’s one of our favourite hotels on the island.
Located on the quiet northeastern side of the island you’ll enjoy your own little paradise at Quinta do Furão.
Check out Hotel Quinta Do Furao’s prices & availability here.
Also read: Staying at the Amazing Quinta do Furão Hotel in Madeira (Hotel Review)
Aqua Natura Bay in Porto Moniz
💰 Price: €125-200 a night
📍 Location: Porto Moniz
⭐️ Rating: 9.3
🌿 Sustainability? Sustainability Independent Certified
👉🏼 Check out Hotel Aqua Natura Bay’s prices & availability here
Aqua Natura Bay is located on the north-western side of the island in the beautiful town of Porto Moniz which is famous for its natural pools. On one side you have an incredible view of the Atlantic Ocean. On the other, you have the mighty mountains of Madeira to look back on.
When it comes to sustainability, Aqua Natura Bay is recognized on a global scale with its Green Key Portugal which is an international award that promotes Sustainable Tourism in Portugal.
Aqua Natura Bay is also recognized as a Green Leader on Tripadvisor which is recognized by the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme). There are four Green Leader statuses (Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum Status). Aqua Natura Bay is recognized as a Gold Green Leader.
If you’re planning to visit the north-western side of the island including spending some time in the famous Laurissilva Forest then this is a great place to stay.
The north of Madeira indeed gets a bit more wild and crazy with the weather but in our opinion, that just adds to the charm of Porto Moniz. Waking up overlooking the Atlantic is always magical – no matter what the weather is like.
Check out Hotel Aqua Natura Bay’s prices & availability here.
Savoy Palace in Funchal
💰 Price: €189-899 a night (depending on the season + what room you get)
📍 Location: Funchal
⭐️ Rating: 9.3 (5 star hotel)
🌿 Sustainability? Sustainability Independent Certified
👉🏼 Check out Savoy Palace’s prices & availability here
‘Savoy’ is one of the most famous names in Madeira and it’s known for its stunning properties that can usually be found located in all of the best spots around the island.
We don’t usually recommend big chains but Savoy does do a lot for the island of Madeira. It’s also held to a high standard when it comes to sustainability and giving back to its local economy.
You can look into Savoy’s Sustainability here where they share their policy and what they do as a brand.
For being a huge hotel and a big name on the island, Savoy really does it part when it comes to sustainability on Madeira. It’s a nice thing to see because if big brands like Savoy can do it then it shows that everyone else can do it too.
The Savoy Palace is one of multiple Savoy Hotels on the island. The Savoy Palace is located right in Funchal and is the perfect place to stay if you want to be in the capital of Madeira.
We spend most of our time in Funchal when we’re not out hiking and we absolutely love the city.
Funchal is a big city compared to the size of the island but it’s walkable and has access to all sorts of fun activities, restaurants, and bars. If those are things you enjoy, then Funchal is a great place to stay.
Check out Savoy Palace’s prices & availability here.
Sustainable tours in Madeira
There are a ton of different guided tours you can go on in Madeira! From hiking trips to jeep tours to boat tours and canyoning, there’s almost no limit as to what you can experience here.
However, we’ve only seen a few tour companies so far that put sustainability at the forefront of their businesses. We’re sure that’s going to change over the next few years but for now, we are going to highlight the ones that really make sustainability a priority in their business in this post.
Eco-friendly dolphin and whale watching catamaran cruise
💰 Price: €30
⏰ Duration: 3 hours
⭐️ Rating: 4.7 out of 5
🌿 Sustainability? Eco-friendly catamaran
👉🏼 Check out Magic Dolphin’s tours & availability here
One of our favourite things to do in Funchal is going on a dolphin and whale watching tour – and one we highly recommend!
On a clear sunny day when the water is calm, this outdoor activity is truly one of the best experiences you can do on the island.
When going on a dolphin and whale watching tour in Madeira, it’s important to remember that these animals are wild and should be treated with respect. That’s why it’s so important to choose a tour operator that follows responsible and sustainable practices, such as maintaining a safe distance from the animals.
Keep in mind that you’re in their natural habitat so it’s your responsibility to respect the animals and their homes! One of the best ways to do this is to be conscious of which tour operator you go with.
When we went dolphin spotting, we went with Magic Dolphin on their eco-friendly catamaran and we had a great experience! On our trip, we saw Common Dolphins, Bottlenose Dolphins and Pilot Whales. It was amazing!
We found that Magic Dolphin were very conscious of how much time they were legally allowed to spend with the animals before we had to leave them be. When the time was up, we would continue sailing until we found a new pod of whales or dolphins.
Even though we didn’t get too much time with the dolphins when they were spotted it was still such a cool experience. That’s one of the things we really respect about this dolphin tour.
Magic Dolphin is also a family-run business and they pride themselves on more intimate and unique experiences.
Simple choices like supporting smaller and local businesses that respect nature and the animals goes a long way.
Check out Magic Dolphin’s prices & availability here.
Private Jeep tour around Madeira
💰 Price: €475 (for a private tour)
⏰ Duration: 7.5 hours
⭐️ Rating: 5 out of 5
🌿 Sustainability? Biosphere certified company
👉🏼 Check out True Spirit’s tours & availability here
True Spirit is a local jeep company based out of Funchal that offers all sorts of different jeep tours. From the tallest peaks of Madeira to the most remote dirt roads on the island you’ll get to explore the coolest and most beautiful parts of the island.
We went on a private jeep tour around the east side of Madeira and it was a blast! We stopped by Ponta do São Lourenço and Portela, drove on dirt roads above Machico, and had lunch in Ribeiro Frio. It was so much fun!
One thing we love about True Spirit is how flexible they are when it comes to the itineraries on their private tours. Their guides are super accommodating and more than willing to help plan the perfect trip for you.
True Spirit always tries to go more off-the-beaten path to avoid overcrowding which does become a problem at some of the more popular spots on the island.
On top of that, they do all sorts of small things within the company to offset their carbon footprint.
A few things True Spirit does to be more sustainable:
- They use a certain % of biofuel in all their jeeps
- They spread out the timing of the tours to not overpopulate busy areas
- The team also does a coworking event where they go to busier areas and pick up garbage
- True Spirit has a collaboration with TUI where they go and plant trees on one of their jeep tours!
Check out True Spirit’s tours & availability here.
Also read: Discover the Wonders of Madeira on a Private Jeep Tour
Other things we can do to travel more sustainably
As travellers, there are quite a few small things we can do on a daily basis to travel more consciously and sustainably. Especially if you travel a lot (like we do as digital nomads), it’s important to be conscious about all the small choices you make and actions you take.
A lot of these things, you might already know about – and maybe you already follow these practices. If that’s the case, then that’s great!
If we all do our part and help out a little bit in all these different small ways it can go a long way.
We do our best to practice these daily, and even though a lot of them seem like small things, in the big picture (with everyone doing their part) it adds up!
Eat at local restaurants
Eating at local restaurants that serve local and traditional food is an awesome way to travel more sustainably.
On top of being more environmentally conscious, there’s a good chance you’ll even save money and eat healthier food since it’s all locally sourced. If you eat more like a local there’s a good chance you’ll find more locally priced places.
This is also a great way to learn more about the culture because food (and wine and coffee) is such a huge part of the Madeiran culture.
Support local businesses
In Funchal, there are tons of small businesses to support! Especially in the Old Town of Funchal. From shoe shops to fresh fruit and vegetable stores you never have to go far to find little local businesses.
At the local markets, there are plenty of vendors as well that sell hand-crafted goods and other goods that are made right here in Madeira.
So you’re not only making an environmental impact but you’re also helping out the local economy and supporting individuals and families instead of a big corporation.
This is an amazing way to make connections with the locals as well which is one of our favourite things about travelling. We have a little local fruit store we always go to in Funchal and we know their entire family now on a first-name basis. You can’t get that at a big corporation!
Reduce plastic waste
One of the easiest ways to reduce your plastic waste is to carry around a reusable water bottle. It doesn’t seem like much but if you spend two weeks in Madeira and go through one to two new water bottles a day it ends up being 14 to 28 bottles that go to waste just on that trip!
We absolutely love our Lifestraw Bottles and bring them with us on all of our travels. They have a filter inside that makes it possible to drink water anywhere (we actually drank tap water in Mexico).
While the water is drinkable in Madeira we know how easy it can be to just buy a plastic bottle at the store still – just because it’s a habit. Bringing a reusable water bottle is just one thing that can be done to minimize your use of plastic.
Another simple thing to do in Madeira is to buy whole fruit instead of pre-cut fruit that is packaged with a bunch of plastic (normally it’s more expensive too).
Lastly, when you go shopping and do grocery shopping, bring a tote bag or a backpack instead of buying a plastic bag. You can actually find some super cute tote bags in Madeira with Santana Houses or the outline of the island on them!
We know it can be really challenging to completely eliminate your plastic usage, so when you are going to use plastic, try your best to recycle it.
All over Funchal, you’ll find recycle bins which makes it super easy to recycle the plastic that you do end up using. It’s just another small thing we can do to make a difference.
Respect the environment and leave no trace
When you go hiking in Madeira (or when you go anywhere out in nature for that matter), always be respectful of nature and don’t leave anything behind.
When you go hiking (and do other outdoor adventure activities), always remember to follow the 7 principles of leaving no trace.
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of others
Also, we want to mention here that while the birds you often encounter in the laurel forests are super cute, you cannot feed them bread. Bread is very harmful to the birds so please refrain from feeding them with bread!
Also read: 12 of the Best Hikes to Do in Madeira
Use eco-friendly transportation when possible
Funchal is a very walkable city which is awesome since you can walk almost anywhere. Public transport is also good around the city and around certain parts of the island.
Even though renting a car can be convenient there are times when you truly don’t need it. For lots of the hikes, you can get there by bus. Even for some of the ones that you can’t access by public transport, it can actually be cheaper going with a tour company than renting a private car.
Of course, if you’re a few people then renting a car may be the better option. The good thing to know is that there are always multiple options for getting around the island.
This is just something to consider when planning your trip to Madeira!
Volunteer and give back
One thing we can do as travellers and (especially as) digital nomads is to give back. Of course, it’s a lot easier to give back if you’re staying in a location for longer periods of time.
For us, as ‘slomads’ (people who spend multiple months in one location), we have plenty of good opportunities to volunteer and give back.
If you love animals, SPAD is an awesome organization to look into.
ARTE.M is a cultural and artistic organization that helps give young people in Madeira more opportunities (this is huge!!).
There are also platforms like Workaway that let you connect with locals and help in all sorts of ways. Some of the main things locals are looking for on Workaway include language help, farming, and agri-tourism! Some of these places even have communities and can be an awesome way to meet people!
Also if you’re a part of a community like Madeira Friends or Digital Nomads in Madeira they also hold events where they volunteer and give back to the community. Lots of these events actually end up being quite fun too since you’re doing it with a group of like-minded people.
Another way to travel sustainably is to participate in cultural experiences. This can be anything from meeting and connecting with locals (such as through Workaway) to participating in some of the many events that Madeira has year-round.
Earlier this year, we participated in the famous Madeiran Carnival which takes place in February every year in Funchal.
There are tons of fun festivals and events at any time of the year you can join such as the Madeiran Rum festival, the Onion Fest (yes, it’s a thing!), and the infamous Flower Festival.
You can check out all of the different events here.
What we also recommend is to visit lesser-known places around the island for a more cultural experience. Santana has a whole theme park dedicated to Madeiran culture and history and it’s super interesting to visit!
What’s so special about Madeira is that there’s lots of room for tourists while the people of the island still preserve their culture and history.
By prioritizing cultural experiences, not only do we see and experience the island’s natural beauty, but we also contribute to preserving it for generations to come, gaining valuable insights into local life and traditions.
Other questions related to Sustainable travel in Madeira
Is Madeira self-sustainable?
Madeira itself is not self-sustainable since there are almost no factories on the island. The majority of the goods on the island are imported from the Azores or mainland Portugal and the rest of Europe.
While a lot of wine, cheese, and meat is imported from other parts of Portugal (and Europe), Madeira does have lots of great fruit and vegetable growing right here on the island.
One thing you’ll notice about Madeira is the amount of farming terraces you can find around the island. Many of these terraces are used to cultivate fruits and vegetables.
Some of the main things that are grown here are sweet potatoes, passion fruit, papaya, mango, lemon, avocado, and so much more.
There are also plenty of banana plantations around the island which is probably the produce that Madeira is the most famous for!
In terms of energy, even though Madeira isn’t self-sustainable, you do find lots of solar panels and wind turbines around the island. And the water comes straight from the mountains brought to you through the levadas.
And although Madeira isn’t self-sustainable they really do a lot to fully utilize the land they have on the island and its natural resources.
Can I get around Madeira without a car?
Yes, you can get around without a car in Madeira. There are three bus companies that operate out of Madeira. Towards the airport and the east side of the island, SAM is the main company.
To the west side of the island, Rodoeste is the bus company that goes over there. You can get to most villages and even quite a bit of the levada hikes by bus.
In the city of Funchal and above it, the company Horários do Funchal is the main company.
Buses do at times take significantly longer than going by car but it’s easy and cheap. There’s also the option to go by Bolt or taxi if it’s somewhere close as they aren’t that expensive on the island.
Is Madeira overcrowded?
Everybody has a different definition of overcrowded. At times, the city of Funchal can get super busy and in our opinion pretty crowded when there are multiple cruise ships docked at once (often on Mondays!).
Do certain streets downtown Funchal feel overcrowded at times? Absolutely!
But you can also easily find places where there are no people around. It’s just a matter of knowing where to go and when.
In general, we would say that the island isn’t overcrowded at all. There are so many small towns, levada trails, and off-the-beaten-path places that you almost feel like you have the whole place to yourself.
It all depends on where and when you go. Madeira has a long way to go before being overcrowded. It’s a wonderful place to visit!
If you wish to avoid the crowds a bit, then go during the off-season which is in January and February.
You may also like…
- Discover the Wonders of Madeira on a Private Jeep Tour
- 11 Beautiful Levada Walks in Madeira
- Staying at the Amazing Quinta do Furão Hotel in Madeira
- 12 of the Best Hikes to Do in Madeira
- Hiking to the Hidden Waterfall of Cascata Agua d’Alto near Santana
Recap of exploring Madeira in a sustainable way
We hope this post gave you some valuable insights into how you can visit Madeira in a more sustainable way.
As you can see, it doesn’t take a lot to be a more conscious traveller and it can actually be quite easy to make sustainable choices while you travel.
As more websites like TripAdvisor and initiatives such as GreenKey emerge, it only becomes easier for consumers to make sustainable choices in the future.
We hope you have an amazing time exploring the island of Madeira!
If you have any questions about Madeira, feel free to leave a comment below or DM us on Instagram @redwhiteadventures.
And if you wish to learn more about what Madeira is doing in terms of sustainability, you can check out their Madeira Sustainable for All website here.
Madeira is incredible and we’re sure you’ll love it here!
Dear Josephine and Dominik,
I have read your article. Great job done. Especially pressing your view on the Eco Friendly tours is impressive.
I like to thank you for choosing Magic Dolphin for Dolphin and Whale watching activity. I also like to share with you that we have just completed planting 8000M2 land with endemic tress to neutralize our foot print on the planet with our Carbon offset project.
We hope to see you in the future again.
I wish you all the success for your great work.
That’s amazing! We had no idea about the plot of land with endemic trees. That’s an awesome way to give back and to neutralise your carbon footprint. It couldn’t be more fitting for Madeira. We love it and thanks for sharing that with us, Umut!