Whale watching in Madeira is a very popular activity and a must do during your stay on the island. The warm water of the Atlantic Ocean surrounding Madeira island is home to a variety of whale and dolphin species. This makes Madeira a prime destination for whale watching in Europe. The awesome whale watching Madeira tours take you to the best spots for observing these majestic marine creatures in their natural habitat. But because it is such as popular activity, I highly recommend to book your whale watching tour in Madeira in advance. Because we have been living for more than 7 months on Madeira island, we share with you all the best whale watching tours you can choose from in this complete guide.
Differences between all Madeira whale watching tours
The main differences of all whale watching tours in Madeira are the following things:
- Length of the tour
- Group size or choose for this private dolphin & whale watching tour
- Time of the day
- Departure location
- Type of boat
Most of the Madeira whale watching tours last 2 – 3 hours and depart either from Funchal, Calheta, Machico or Porto Moniz. You can choose for the morning tour or afternoon tour. Usually morning whale watching tours depart between 9.30 AM and 10.30 AM while afternoon tours depart around 3 PM.
The biggest difference between the Madeira whale watching tours are the type of boat. You can choose between a bigger boat such as a Catamaran or sailing boat, or a smaller vessel such as a Zodiac boat. Both have their pro’s and cons. If you get easily sea sick it is recommended to book the bigger boat. But if you want to get closer with the marine life then the Zodiac boat is recommended.
The whale watching tours from Funchal offer different boat options you can choose from. Which one you choose depends on your preference. The type of boat can affect your comfort level, stability on the water and overall experience of getting up close to marine life. In case you choose to go whale watching in Madeira on a speed boat, or so called Zodiac boat, then make sure you don’t get easily sea sick.
This 2.5 – 3 hours Catamaran whale watching cruise is one the most popular Whale Watching excursions in Madeira. The unique thing about this particular cruise is that it is with an Eco-friendly catamaran build with hybrid engines so you can enjoy your cruise in silence! Make sure to book your whale watching tour in advance because they sell out quickly!
From the comfort of a luxury catamaran you can spot marine life during this 3 hour whale watching tour. While enjoying the boat trip with luxurious interior and comfortable seating you can either choose for the lounge chairs or outdoor hammocks. This tour also includes a visit to the 580 meters high Cabo Girão cliffs where you can swim and snorkel to explore the underwater world. Perfect for people who would like to have a comfortable and luxury whale watching experience.
During this 3 hour sailing trip you will not onlygo whale watching, but also snorkelling! Board a beautiful, small yacht and spot dolphins, whales and sea turtles. At Cabo Girão you will have the opportunity to swim and snorkel to explore more of the underwater world. Admire the towering cliffs and scenic coastal landscape while sipping on a complimentary drink. This is the most complete whale watching tour in Madeira if you’re looking for a combination between whale watching and snorkelling!
On a speed boat (RIB boat) with only capacity for 12 people you will set out on the ocean to find various marine species while enjoying the beautiful coastline of Madeira. Spot wild dolphins and whales from up close, which is the huge advantage of a speed boat in comparison to a bigger boat. You are guaranteed to catch sightings of cetaceans during the tour, and if this is not the case you are offered a second trip for free!
This 2.5 hour whale watching tour from Mahico is a special one because you will get the opportunity to swim with the Madeira dolphins! So besides observing the marine wildlife from the boat, you have the possibility of swimming with dolphins in the wild. This is dependent on weather conditions though, but if the weather allows it will be an unforgettable experience. Diving masks for swimming with dolphins are included, so you only have to bring a swimsuit and some luck on your side!
If you’re looking for a private yacht experience, you don’t have to look further than this whale watching tour on board a luxury yacht. You will depart from the Calheta marina and enjoy a 2 to 4-hour private charter by motor yacht. Your skipper will search the open seas for marine life including dolphins, whales, and sea turtles while you can enjoy light refreshments and a glass of sparkling wine. You can go swimming and snorkelling at one of the secret spots along the southern coast and directly take a shower on board to get rid of the salty water. A true luxury boat tour for an unforgettable experience!
During this 2 hour whale watching tour from Calheta you go out on a speed boat to spot whales and dolphins. The advantage of this tour is that the speedboat’s silent engines are ideal for wildlife watching as they cause little disturbance to the sensitive hearing of whales and dolphins. This will result in calm encounters and make the whales and dolphins usually stick longer around the boat because they don’t feel disturbed.
During this 2 hour whale watching tour from Porto Moniz in a speed boat you will explore the amazing marine life from Madeira with a small group up to 12 people. Guided by a marine biologist you are assured of an interesting tour where you’ll learn more about sea life in Madeira. The unspoiled views of the green North coast of Madeira are the perfect backdrop for this intimate tour. The huge advantage of this whale watching tour is that it is on a small boat, so it will never feel overcrowded. Just make sure that you are fine with sitting in a speed boat for 2 hours.
In the event that you do not see any whales or dolphins, you will be offered a second trip for free, according to availability.
Best time for whale watching Madeira
While each type of whale is best to be seen in a specific month, the general best time for whale watching in Madeira is from April to October. Whale watching tours in Madeira go out year round as there are always bottlenose dolphins and at least a couple of whale species swimming in the waters around Madeira.
Spring (April to June):This period marks the beginning of the prime whale watching season in Madeira. The weather is becoming warmer, and marine life becomes more active. Many species of whales and dolphins are migrating during this time, increasing the chances of sightings.
Summer (July to September):These months are considered the peak of the whale watching season in Madeira. The sea conditions are generally calm, and a wide variety of marine species are present in the waters.
Early Autumn (October):While the whale watching season starts to wind down in October, it’s still a good time for sightings. The weather remains pleasant, and you might still have the chance to spot several species before they start their migrations.
Which whale species can be seen in Madeira
In the waters around Madeira you will have the opportunity to encounter several fascinating whale species. I’ve summed all 25 different species up for you below:
- Common dolphins
- Atlantic Spotted dolphins
- Striped dolphin
- Rough-toothed dolphin
- Bottlenose dolphins
- Risso’s dolphin
- Black whales
- Pigmy whale
- Dwarf whale
- Short-finned pilot whales
- False whale
- Fin whales
- Minke whale
- Sei whale
- Humpback whale
- Blue whales
- Bryde’s whale
- Sowerby’s beaked whale
- Gervais’s beaked whale
- Cuvier’s beaked whale
- Northern Bottlenose whale
- Blainville’s beaked whale
- True’s beaked whale
- Sperm whale
Things to prepare for whale watching Madeira
- Take enough layers of clothing with you as it might be chilly in the morning on the open sea. Better is to have a windbreaker or waterproof jacket with you and underneath that a sweater and t-shirt.
- Don’t forget sun protection and your sunglasses.
- Bring enough water and some snacks with you.
- To avoid getting seasick you can do a few things. Don’t drink alcohol for at least twelve hours before your excursion. Look at the horizon in the direction that you’re going. Take a motion sickness medicine before you board the boat. Eat ginger 12 to 24 hours before your whale watching tour. Scientists discovered that this powerful root helps to prevent seasickness. If you don’t like ginger some sour sweets also do its job. The last funny tip when you’re already seasick is: put a cotton in the opposite ear of the hand you write with.
- Of course don’t forget your camera and bring some extra empty memory cards.
Best Madeira island tours
If you want to explore the best of Madeira with a guide then here some great tours I recommend. All of these tours include transport with hotel pick up and drop off, certified guides and sometimes the entrance fees if applicable. You can reserve now and pay later, with cancellation up to 24 hours in advance to receive a full refund.
- Customized 6 hour Madeira tour. On this six-hour tour you can choose the different areas you want to visit on Madeira island. Pick the landmarks and iconic places to make your own itinerary with the help of your local guide/driver.
- West Madeira private tour. Starting in the fishing town of Câmara de Lobos you will drive via Cabo Girao, the highest cape in Europe, to the beautiful view of Serra d’Agua valley. From there you will head to São Vicente to explore the Laurisilva forest. Continuing north, you will visit Porto Moniz and visit the famous rocks at Ribeira da Janela.
- East Madeira tour. Visit Pico do Arieiro viewpoint, make pictures at the Santana houses and the beautiful viewpoints at Porto da Cruz to finish the day at the impressive volcanic landscape of Ponta de São Lourenço.
- Canyoning adventure with transfer from Funchal. Get the thrill of canyoneering and explore Madeira’s untouched nature. follow a river as you walk, rappel, slide and jump through hidden waterfalls with streams that cross endemic forests. A super fun and adventurous day!
- Funchal Old Town walking tour. Learn about the history of Funchal and Madeira on a guided walk through the city’s medieval center. Visit the farmer’s market, the Campo Almirante Reis, the Fortress of St. James, and a number of other sites as your guide provides commentary.
- Sunset tour from Funchal by Catamaran. Watch the sunset off the coast of Madeira on a 3-hour evening catamaran cruise from Funchal and spot dolphins (guaranteed, or you get a 2nd trip for free).
Where to stay in Madeira
There are several towns in Madeira that are great to stay while exploring the island. Funchal is the capital town of the island with the most restaurants around. It has a charming old town and all sorts of facilities you might look for such as a boulevard, shopping centre, cafe’s and nightlife. It is a great place to base yourself with plenty of culture and beautiful old buildings and charming streets to explore. There are also a few beaches in Funchal to enjoy the ocean. However these beaches are from pebble stones.
We have stayed in The Vine hotel and Okulus villa which are both beautiful locations. The Vine has the comforts of a hotel including breakfast and is located right in the city centre. Okulus villa is located in the Old Town with the most amazing ocean and city view.
If you want to be based near a sandy beach in Madeira, then Calheta is a great place. While Funchal is more to the east of the island located, Calheta is more to the west of the island located. So eventually you can also stay a few days in both towns depending the total length of your stay in Madeira. Calheta has an atmospheric marine with restaurants offering great spots to watch the sunset and enjoy a meal.
We have stayed a few weeks at Calheta Boutique Houses during our 7 months living in Madeira. Highly recommend these private villa’s as you have all the amenities you have at home as well. The modern design and amazing ocean views makes it a perfect vacation home.
If you want to experience really small towns to stay in Madeira, then check out the accommodations in Seixal, Porto da Cruz, Sao Vicente or Ribeiro Frio. Take into account that there will be less restaurants around but you will be completely immersed in the local life and nature.
How to get around in Madeira
The best way to get around in Madeira is with a rental car. Public transport is not very convenient and doesn’t come to the best spots on the island. You can also rent a scooter in Madeira if you prefer that. However, with the ever changing weather, especially in the mountains, renting a car is recommended. Another option is to book a tour, see in the next paragraph some of the best tour of Madeira island.
More Madeira travel inspiration
I hope you enjoyed this blog post about the best whale watching tours Madeira.
For more travel tips about Madeira, read our other Madeira travel blogs.