The Less Crowded And Just As Stunning Island To Visit Instead Of Overpriced Maui

Maui is spectacular, with its moonlike views from the top of Haleakalā, legendary red and black sand beaches, and stunning coastline. But it also comes with a pretty steep price tag, especially if a visit requires a long flight across the mainland. If you're looking for an alternative, on a more reasonable budget, that offers a similar climate, mountainous landscape, lush forests, and a focus on nature, consider Madeira instead.


With an abundance of history and culture, you'll not only be introduced to aspects of daily living in Madeira, but also delve into the rich connection with the land and historical aspects of exploration, trade, and the resulting influence of European and African cultures on the island. That's because Madeira is an autonomous region of Portugal, so it shares the same currency, language, and politics of mainland Portugal and much of the rest of the European Union. However, Madeira is geographically located 320 west of Morocco, so it actually sits closer to Africa than Portugal (600 miles). 

Fortunately, even with its remoteness, Madeira is easy to access with flights from the east coast in North America or from all over Europe, including frequent flights from Lisbon and Porto. One caveat is that Madeira has a bit of a reputation as a scary place to land.


Activities and things to do in Madeira

Like Maui, Madeira is blessed with a year-round climate that rarely fluctuates. Although not as warm overall as "the Valley Isle," the average temp ranges from 61-73 degrees throughout the seasons. This mild climate offers the perfect opportunity to take in the copious amount of hiking on the island without the sweltering heat. You'll find yourself exploring paths along 15th-century man-made irrigation canals called levadas, and hiking to mountain peaks. Or you can take to the skies by paragliding. In addition, you can head over to Porto Santo for epic stretches of sandy beaches, golf, horseback rides, and Jeep tours.


If you prefer to spend your time on the water, it's everywhere. You can sail, swim, kayak, scuba dive, jet ski, or surf. Tour boats can provide access to the nature reserves on nearby islands or plant you near dolphin and whale activity. There are also guided fishing tours.

Back on land, explore the markets and dining opportunities in Funchal, while also taking in the architecture and 'getting lost' in the black-and-white stone streets. For a different perspective, take a 20-minute ride on a cable car that rises above the city. On the north part of the island, you can also ride the Achadas da Cruz cable car in Porto Moniz, which provides water views.

The things that make Madeira unique

With half the visitors of Maui, Madeira hasn't been a poster child of the international travel scene, yet it has offerings that are bespoke to the island. In addition to shimmering waters, a lush and ruggedly mountainous interior, and exotic flowers, Madeira is home to the largest Laurisilva (Laurel) forest in the world. This 20-million-year-old subtropical rainforest is so spectacular that it's been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a protected area for unique flora and fauna in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.


Madeira is globally recognized for its wine. Similar to the port wine that sibling Porto is known for, Madeira has produced a fortified wine. Another classic drink, called poncha, has been a favorite for centuries in the region. It's a combination of rum, honey, sugar, and citrus juice that offers a bit of kick and a mouthful of culture. In fact, the island is well-known for all types of wine and cocktails created through traditional methods of cultivation and production.

As one of many gorgeous yet budget-friendly islands, Madeira is not an undiscovered location, but it does receive significantly less crowds than Maui, and many of the visitors are domestic travelers from Portugal. Although prices are overall less expensive than Hawaii, the cost of food, lodging, flights, and transportation add up. For comparison, average prices include house wine at around $3, meals with drinks for $20, tours for $30-$60 per person, museums for $10, basic lodging at $100-150 per night, and rental cars for around $30 per day.