On the north side of Madeira Island, you can find a mysterious fog creating an incredible atmosphere amongst the trees of Fanal Forest. The twisted branches of the grand centenary Ocotea Foetens trees and the fog come together in this fairytale scene. In this blog post, I will share with you the details about what to expect at Fanal, how to get there, the different walks, hikes, and viewpoints in the region, and some photography tips for Fanal.
BEST FANAL TOUR: BEST OF THE WEST
Best of Madeira’s West: The tour departs from Funchal and passes through the charming fishing village of Câmara de Lobos. Following that, Cabo Girão Skywalk (the tallest seacliff in Europe) is next on the itinerary. Here, you can enjoy stepping out on the glass floor observation deck for jaw-dropping views below.
After that, the tour continues to wind up to Madeira’s highest plateau and explores the amazing Fanal Forest. A leisurely stop at Porto Moniz’s natural pool for lunch is next.
HOW TO GET TO FANAL FOREST
Located on the north-western end of Madeira Island, the Fanal Forest is quite easy to find as it has a dedicated parking area called ‘Faial Parking’ on Google Maps. Here you can park your car and walk a few hundred meters straight into the forest or to visit the nearby viewpoint, which is also just a few hundred meters away from the parking lot. From Funchal, it will take you one hour via car.
BEST TIME TO VISIT FANAL FOREST
The Fanal Forest is great to visit all year round but there are certain weather conditions that make this place quite atmospheric. Basically, you want the entire forest to be engulfed by fog to create this mystical, moody vibe that you can see in my photos. It is common for fog to hit this area, which is 1,150 meters above sea level. It can be quite hard to predict when it will be clear and when it will be foggy. Often if it is clear and sunny at sea level down by the beach, it can still be foggy conditions in the forest.
The best tip I can offer is that it is said to be more likely to get foggy conditions in the morning rather than in the evening. We chose a day when it had been foggy for a few days up in the mountains and then went for sunrise the next morning. It was even a little too foggy and windy for us but we were grateful the fog rolled in and created this stunning scene. As you can see below, I’ve included a photo of the Fanal Forest in foggy conditions and also of when I visited after the Levada dos Cedros hike when it was clear and sunny. Big difference.
MY 3 FAVORITE TOURS IN MADEIRA
- Dolphin & Whale Watching: Take a cruise from Funchal to spot Dolphins, Whales and see amazing views of Madeira’s coastline!
- Hike Pico Arieiro to Pico Ruivo: Hike the most epic trail on the island with a qualified guide!
- Level 1 Canyoning Adventure: Rappel down waterfalls in this high-adrenaline experience.
WHAT TO EXPECT AT FANAL FOREST
This ancient laurel forest of Fanal is found in the northwest of Madeira island. It’s renowned for its alluring beauty eerie atmosphere. You will be met by a dense canopy of trees as you enter the forest, which will filter the light and produce a softer, more ethereal glow. It feels otherworldly because of the thick layer of moss that covers the forest floor and the fog that commonly rolls through the region.
Several hiking trails with varying degrees of difficulty can be found as you meander through the forest. There is a trail for everyone, experienced or novice hikers alike. Be on the lookout for the well-known “fairy tale trees,” which are old laurel trees with twisted and contorted branches that resemble something from a fairy tale.
The Fanal Forest takes on a completely different personality at night. A mystical and ethereal atmosphere is created when the forest is enveloped in mist and the moonlight and starlight pass through the trees. It’s the ideal time to go on a guided night hike through the forest, where you can discover the magic of the forest at dusk. Even some nocturnal creatures found in the forest, like owls or bats, may be visible to you.
In conclusion, the Fanal Forest is a must-see location for visitors to Madeira. It’s the ideal location to get back in touch with nature and get away from the stresses of everyday life because of its serene beauty, magical atmosphere, and limitless opportunities for adventure. You’ll undoubtedly feel revitalized and inspired after exploring the Fanal Forest on foot, whether you hike through it during the day or go on a guided night hike.
HISTORY OF THE UNESCO FANAL FOREST
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Laurissilva Forest includes a section on Madeira Island called the Fanal Forest. A variety of plant and animal species can be found in this subtropical forest, which is about 15,000 hectares in size. Some of the plant species are unique to Madeira Island. Laurel trees, the forest’s dominant species, are what give the forest its distinctive appearance.
The Canary laurel, Madeira laurel, and Bay laurel are some of the laurel species that can be found in the Fanal Forest. These tall trees, whose height can reach 40 meters, have broad leaves that absorb moisture from the persistent mist that covers the forest. Because of the laurel trees, the forest has a special atmosphere with high humidity and relatively constant temperatures all year long. Ferns, mosses, and lichens, among other plant and animal species, can all thrive in this environment. Numerous bird species, including the Laurel Pigeon and the Madeira Firecrest, which are both endemic to the island of Madeira, can be found in the Fanal Forest.
FANAL FOREST HIKING OPTIONS
There are a few different options for hikes and walks in the Fanal Forest. Naturally, I did them all because I was on Madeira for three months. Therefore, I can share what to expect and which one of the routes you might want to choose.
VEREDA DO FANAL
Vereda do Fanal is the popular choice for hiking when it comes to Fanal Forest. It begins at the plateau of Paul da Serra and actually ends at the Posto Florestal do Fanal Forest after an 11-kilometer journey through the Laurissilva forest.
The awkward part about the Vereda do Fanal is that it’s a point-to-point trail, which basically means it is a one-way route. You either have to park at one end and hike it out and back meaning it would be 22 kilometers or have someone pick you up at the other end. It is possible to hitchhike back because it is on a popular main road.
Read the full blog post about the hike here: VEREDA DO FANAL HIKE
LEVADA DOS CEDROS TO FANAL HIKE
The Levada dos Cedros hike follows a levada through one of the most beautiful forest sections on Madeira until you finally reach an incredible waterfall! This shady, forest hike winds through lush greenery for 6 kilometers before you will discover a multi-tiered waterfall for a refreshing dip.
Read the full blog post about the hike here: LEVADA DOS CEDROS WATERFALL HIKE
FANAL FOREST WALK AND SCENIC VIEWPOINTS
If you don’t want a big long hike what you can do is simply park your car in ‘Faial Parking’ and then walk up the stairs to the viewpoint or wander around the forest nearby. Basically, as soon as you arrive to the parking lot, you are immersed in the magic of the forest. You can enjoy the twisted trees, mystic fog and magical scenery without going on a big trek. Even the cows are hanging out near the parking lot.
What I found is that there was no right or wrong with Fanal and I ended up having the best time just wandering around all of the different paths and viewpoints in the area. Over each new hill are some more crazy trees and stunning scenes so just set off from the parking lot and see what you find.
There are also lots of picnic tables and places to gather and relax with family and friends near the parking lot so it can be a great place to spend a few hours in a group.
PHOTOGRAPHY IN FANAL FOREST
Fanal Forest is an incredible location for photography. The twisted branches of the trees create a scene straight out of a horror movie. This is especially true when the fog is rolling through, giving that eerie atmosphere to the landscape. In terms of photography in Fanal it really depends on how much fog there is for what type of photos you might be able to create.
I wanted to capture some images with the entire trees and small people beneath them but the fog was so strong on the day I visited, that the quality of my images suffered a little bit. I began shooting with a 24-105mm lens. I didn’t even bother to take out my 400mm as the fog was too thick for a long-distance telephoto shot. In the end, I quickly switched to my 16-35mm, which meant I could get closer to my subject and avoid the quality loss due to the thick fog between myself and the subject.
Having a person in the frame at this location can help to give some scale to the trees but I also loved the moody shots of the twisted trees without any human element.
One of my favorite parts of Fanal was the curious cows who seemed to stare at me, wondering what I was up to. I had a stand-off with one cow for a couple of minutes while he let me snap a few shots of him. You can see in the photos his eyes are locked onto me with a steely determination.
I hope you enjoyed this guide about the Fanal Forest on the north-western side of Madeira Island.
WONDERING ABOUT WHERE TO STAY ON MADEIRA?
Throughout my six months on Madeira Island, I stayed in multiple accommodations. My favorite regions to stay in were Funchal and Canico de Baixo. I’ve created several guides to help you find the right region for you and a great hotel or apartment.
- The ultimate guide: WHERE TO STAY ON MADEIRA: WHICH REGION IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
- If you want luxury: BEST 5-STAR LUXURY HOTELS ON MADEIRA ISLAND
- To feel at home: TOP 10 BOUTIQUE HOTELS ON MADEIRA ISLAND
- If you want to base in Funchal: WHERE TO STAY IN FUNCHAL: 15 TOP-RATED HOTELS
HAVE YOU READ MY OTHER MADEIRA BLOGS?
I spent six months exploring Madeira and the nearby island of Porto Santo. These are some of my most popular guides about the region that you may be interested in.
- My favorite hikes: 65 AWESOME HIKES ON MADEIRA
- My favorite levada walks: 25 BEAUTIFUL LEVADA WALKS ON MADEIRA
- The best waterfalls on the island: 25 EPIC WATERFALLS ON MADEIRA
- Guide to the best Accommodation: WHERE TO STAY ON MADEIRA
- Hardest hike: THE MADEIRA ISLAND ULTRA TRAIL IN 4 DAYS (115KM)
- Longest hike: CAMINHO REAL 23: MADEIRA’S ROYAL PATH (180KM)