Porto Santo is an incredible island with a rich history near Madeira in Portugal. Known for its 9-kilometer beach covered in soft, powdery sand there’s a lot more to this island than first meets the eye. I spent 10 days exploring the island by mountain bike and ventured to all of the beaches, sat atop every peak, and swam in all of the natural pools. In this Porto Santo Travel Guide, I’ll share all of the top things to do on Porto Santo and a few tips for visiting this amazing island.
I explored the caves by kayak, scuba-dived down to shipwrecks, and found sea life while snorkeling amidst the volcanic rocks below the surface. I hope you enjoy the Porto Santo travel guide as much as I enjoyed exploring this incredible island.
TOP 3 PLACES TO STAY IN PORTO SANTO
PORTO SANTO TRAVEL GUIDE
In this guide, I will first share with you some tips about Porto Santo Island such as:
- How to get to Porto Santo
- How long to stay on Porto Santo
- How to get around on Porto Santo
- Best time of year to visit Porto Santo
- Where to stay on Porto Santo
These quick tips will then be followed by the top 28 things to do on Porto Santo Island.
HOW TO GET TO PORTO SANTO ISLAND
You have two options to get to Porto Santo, which are via ferry or plane.
Ferry: The ferry trip takes about 2.5 hours one-way and is a very modern, huge ferry. I was impressed. There was a cafe, lots of tables, and luxurious seating areas and you could wander outside and take in the views. The return fare for an adult is approximately 60 Euros during peak season or 48 Euros in non-peak season (January – March & October – December). Usually, the ferry is running once per day. In the morning it heads from Madeira to Porto Santo and returns in the evening. During high season the frequency of the ferry can double.
If you bring a car over to Porto Santo Island on the ferry the price ranges from 130 Euros in low seasons to 260 Euros in peak season. You can check out all of the ferry prices and options on the Porto Santo Line website.
Flight: A flight is just 25 minutes from Madeira to Porto Santo and can range from 120 Euros to a few hundred depending on the sale prices and time of year. The nice part about the Porto Santo Airport is that it’s international so if you are just visiting Porto Santo and not Madeira you can fly directly out to Europe. It might not be the cheapest option but very convenient if you want a quick beach getaway.
HOW LONG TO STAY ON PORTO SANTO ISLAND
Most people who visit Porto Santo are coming for a relaxing time at the beach, which is totally fine. For this type of vacation with an all-inclusive package where you might lay on the beach and check out one or two viewpoints for sunset, you only need 4-5 days. There are only so many days you can lay at the beach right?
However, if you want to get a bit more adventurous and do some diving, kayaking, snorkeling, swimming in natural pools, hiking, taking boat trips, or doing a jeep tour you can quickly see how the days might be filled rather quickly. Therefore Porto Santo Island is a vacation where you get to write the script. You can visit this island in many different styles.
I stayed for ten days. That’s probably more than enough but I kept myself busy creating this guide doing sunrises, sunsets, eight hikes, ten beaches, scuba-diving, kayaking, snorkeling, and the list goes on. So now you have an idea of how long you should stay! If I had to say a number, most people will be fully recharged and have enjoyed a great stay with up to a week on Porto Santo Island.
HOW TO GET AROUND ON PORTO SANTO ISLAND
At its widest points, the island is 11 kilometers long. However, most people just need to walk from the hotel to the beach so the island transit is very short for them. You don’t need to have a car on this island. Almost everything is on the south side of Porto Santo where the main 9-kilometer beach is. Taxi run up and down this strip or you can walk to and from a restaurant or a beach.
If you do want to explore some of the viewpoints, hikes, and other beaches away from the south, there are a few options for transport.
Car: When you book your Porto Santo Rental Car online, I personally recommend and always use Discover Cars. They search for both local and international companies, so you get the best deal! MUST Read: Guide to Renting a Car on Madeira
Scooter: This is probably the best option in my opinion. There are some pretty significant hills on Porto Santo Island. It’s not as steep as Madeira but I rode it on my bike and it was a heavy workout week for my legs. A scooter will get you everywhere you need to go and is pretty cheap at around 20-25 Euros per day.
Bike: I rented a Mountain Bike from AAColombo – Auto Acessórios Colombo, which is a local shop. The guys and girls in there were super nice. Was really simple. I just turned up and asked for a bike and they gave me one for 10 Euros a day. They also gave me lights, a helmet, and a lock for no extra charge. If you take it for more than a day or two you can get it for 10 Euros a day otherwise I think it was 15 Euros a day. In ten days, I did 150 kilometers and 2,100 meters of elevation on a mountain bike.
Electric Bike: As I said earlier, this island is steep with small undulating hills. For many, the hills will be too much on a bike so an E-bike is a good alternative that lets you enjoy riding a bike around the island but you can get some help from the motor up the hills or when you are tired. It wasn’t too expensive at around 20 Euros per day.
BEST TIME OF YEAR TO VISIT PORTO SANTO
It’s an interesting question because you have a few factors to consider. Do you want the absolute best weather Porto Santo can offer or are you escaping the harsh winter of mainland Europe? Do you want to visit Porto Santo when it is the least crowded?
The best time to visit Porto Santo Island is from June until November when there’s lots of sunshine and not much rain at all. The highest average temperature in Porto Santo is 23°C in August and the lowest is 17°C in February. While the best weather for hitting the beach may just be during the summer of July and August, it might be more tempting to visit later in the year. If you visit around September to October when you can still swim, enjoy the sun, and have a beach getaway while your home country well and truly enters winter and the colder temperatures.
WHERE TO STAY ON PORTO SANTO
There are a lot of options on Porto Santo Island from big all-inclusive hotels to small Airbnb apartments. I’ve written a huge post about all of the best options when it comes to Porto Santo and you can check it out here: WHERE TO STAY ON PORTO SANTO ISLAND: 11 BEST RESORTS AND HOTELS
I stayed for five days at Vila Baleira Resort and five days at Hotel Porto Santo & Spa but also heard and saw great things about Pestana Porto Santo Beach Resort & Spa. Here’s a quick glimpse at those three, beautiful beachside accommodations.
VILA BALEIRA RESORT
Vila Baleira Porto Santo (Luxury & All-inclusive): THIS IS WHERE I STAYED! Vila Baleira is a 4-star resort situated right on the golden sand beach of Porto Santo. The rooms are on one side of the road and the restaurant and pool area are directly next to the beach. I had the all-inclusive package, which meant we got a wristband when we arrived and then had buffet breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as unlimited coffee and alcohol all day, every day.
Click here to check the best current rates and availability of Vila Baleira Porto Santo.
Pestana Porto Santo Beach Resort & Spa (Luxury): This is a 5-star resort on Porto Santo Island and it is by the largest hotel group in Portugal. The moment you step in the resort you’ll be rewarded with a blissful setting and its world-class amenities. I would’ve liked to stay here and from everything, I heard while on the island, it is a pretty awesome place to stay. It’s the top pick for a hotel on Porto Santo Island if you want luxury!
Click here to check the best current rates and availability of Pestana Porto Santo Beach Resort & Spa.
Hotel Porto Santo & Spa (Luxury): THIS IS WHERE I STAYED! Another classy, 4-star resort is Hotel Porto Santo & Spa where I stayed for my second 5-day period on my 10-day trip to Porto Santo Island. I’d happily recommend this Porto Santo hotel for couples and those looking for beachfront luxury with a very relaxing atmosphere. On top of that, the spa has a Turkish bath, a heated pool, massage rooms, relaxation spots, hot sand therapy, and more. Not to mention the restaurant serves fresh local dishes.
Click here to check the best current rates and availability of Hotel Porto Santo & Spa.
28 AWESOME THINGS TO DO ON PORTO SANTO ISLAND
I’m now going to show you all of the epic beaches, every single hike on the island, the natural pools, and other activities you can do while you are on Porto Santo Island. I did all of the activities you are about to see and these recommendations are based on my own experiences. You can click on any of the links throughout this list to head to a more detailed blog post I’ve written about a specific activity.
‘THREE PEAKS HIKE’ PICO CASTELO, PICO DO FACHO & PICO JULIANA HIKE ON PORTO SANTO
This is a hike on Porto Santo that I have named ‘The Three Peaks’ hike as it tours three of the top peaks on the island. The route takes you to Pico Juliana, Pico Castelo, and Pico do Facho on a 9-kilometer round-trip adventure. It’s a steep trail but the panoramic views from the summit of each peak are well worth the arduous journey!
Check out all the details and photos of this hike: The Three Peaks Hike
PONTA DA CALHETA
Ponta da Calheta is the southern point on Porto Santo Island. It’s one of my favorite spots on the island because it is great for sunset but also the sunrise. If you come out here early in the morning, there will be basically no one on the beach and as you look up the entire stretch of sand on the island, the sun will rise lighting up the beach. A sunrise walk here is one of the most relaxing Porto Santo Activities. Alternatively, if you come out for sunset, you have a great view of the sun setting over the horizon beside the nearby island of Ilhéu da Cal.
There are a few caves around the corner of Ponta da Calheta, which I visited on a kayak tour. There are also a few fun little tidal pools you can check out at low tide. There are usually a few people down this end of the beach but it’s not quite as busy as the main sections of Praia Porto Santo in front of the big hotels.
Zimbralinho Beach is tucked away, requiring a little bit of an adventure to find. There are a few ways to reach this hidden gem beach on the southern coast of Porto Island. You can drive all the way up and make the short walk down the stairs, hike to Zimbralinho, or kayak to Zimbralinho beach. I actually hiked, biked, and kayaked to Zimbralinho beach on three separate occasions.
This isn’t a sandy beach for sunbathing like the main Praia Porto Santo Beach but it’s much more epic. After a pretty steep, cliff-side stairway leads you down to the beach, you will be on the rocky shore with giant cliff walls towering over you. There are a few rocky formations inside this little cove, which are perfect for exploring while kayaking or snorkeling.
VEREDA PICO BRANCO & TERRA CHÃ HIKE
The Vereda Pico Branco and Terra Chã hike is the most popular hike on Porto Santo Island. The route leads you to the second-highest peak on the island, Pico Branco. The other viewpoint on the trail is Terra Chã, which has coastal views and is one of the greenest areas on the entire island. The hike is just 5 kilometers round-trip and is a perfect sunrise adventure. This hike is one of the top hikes and most popular things to do on Porto Santo.
Check out all the details and photos of this hike: Vereda Pico Branco and Terra Chã hike
PONTA DA CANAVEIRA SUNSET VIEWPOINT
Ponta da Canaveira sunset viewpoint is right next to Morenos and is on the far western coast of the island. You have a great view of the lighthouse on the nearby island of Ilhéu de Ferro. I visited this viewpoint a couple of times and it was never busy but because you drive directly to the viewpoint, there are usually a few other tourists who come out here to catch the sunset.
PORTO DAS SALEMAS NATURAL POOLS
The Porto Das Salemas natural pools are one of the best places to swim on the north coast of Porto Santo Island. At low tide, you can float and swim in a vast array of beautifully shaped natural tidal pools. The water was crystal clear in the pools and it was incredible to watch the waves smashing against the outer wall of the pools. This is one of my favorite Porto Santo activities.
It’s important to choose the right time to visit Porto das Salemas natural pools. You need to consider the time of day so that the sun is reaching the pools but most importantly you need the low tide. I suggest arriving one hour before low tide so you have two full hours of time to explore while the tide is at its lowest.
There is a very small sandy beach on the shore before the tidal pools, which is one of the few sandy spots on the north coast. There is enough room for about 20-30 people to sunbathe on the sandy patch after enjoying the tidal pools.
If you want to read my full blog post you can check it out here: Porto das Salemas Natural Pools
ANA FERREIRA SUNRISE CAVE AND ORGAN PIPES ROCK FORMATION
This rock formation is incredibly unique, with an organ-pipe arrangement of pentagonal rock columns, which was caused by volcanic activity millions of years ago. The crest was produced by differential erosion, which means the ‘host’ rocks were worn out exposing the more durable and resistant inner layer of mugearitic rock.
At the base of the organ pipes, you can walk all the way up to inspect the surface. When you are close to the rocks, you will quickly be dwarfed by the huge, elongated columns that tower above. It’s a very unique spot to visit on Porto Santo.
Once you reach the caves, you will see there are two separate caves about 5 meters wide. The great part about these caves is that they face directly to the east so you can sit inside the cave, hiding from any wind, while waiting for the sun to rise over the ocean in the east. I visited the caves during the day and for sunrise. They were both great times to visit but the sunrise was extra special with some nice colors popping out over the clouds as the sun breached the horizon.
KAYAK TOUR FROM PONTA DA CALHETA
I did my kayak tour with Matias, who is born and bred in Porto Santo and has been running the tours for years now with his company Porto Santo Destination Tours. He knows the swell, and ocean conditions well.
This is a very low-key tour that isn’t too intensely physical. It’s full of adventure but not an endurance event. You spend 1-2 hours leisurely paddling along the coast and every now and then head into a water cave to explore.
Throughout the trip, we entered about five different caves. Some of them were huge and seemed to go on forever as we paddled inside for more than 50 meters. The luminescent water glowed a vibrant blue from beneath the kayak as we examined the high, volcanic rock on the ceilings. The highlight for me was having Sherlock (his dog) basically sitting on my shoulder for the whole tour! We stopped off at Zimbralinho Beach and even visited a cave at Ilhéu da Cal, the small island near Porto Santo.
If you want to view the full blog post, it is here: Kayak & Snorkel on Porto Santo
MORENOS SUNSET VIEWPOINT
Morenos sunset viewpoint is a bit of a strange one. The main viewpoint nearby is Ponta da Canaveira and it has fences, a platform, and is very clearly a viewpoint. However, Morenos didn’t really have a nice spot along the coast and was just a cliff edge. The view was still great and you could see out to Ilhéu de Ferro perfectly. I did find a little tide pool on the cliff edge where I hung out while waiting for the sun to set. When the sunset came, I was ready with my telephoto lens to snap a shot of the lighthouse on Ilhéu de Ferro, which is the small island right in front where the sun sets.
PICO DE BAIXO HIKE ON PORTO SANTO
The Pico de Baixo peak is a 209-meter, steep mountain on the east side of Porto Santo Island. It’s not an official hiking route but it is one of the best sunrise views on the island and a fun climb involving some sketchy scrambling, and some sand dune sliding. This is an adventure for those willing to get a little dirty, maybe a few scrapes, and do some scrambling up the mountainside. This was one of my favorite things to do on Porto Santo.
Check out all the details and photos of this hike: Pico de Baixo Hike
FONTE DA AREIA SUNSET VIEWPOINT
On the north coast, accessible by car, you will find one of the lesser-frequented viewpoints on Porto Santo. Fonte da Areia is not only a great sunset viewpoint on the cliffs but it has some incredibly unique rock formations. You can really see the erosion over many years along these cliffs. You have a direct view out to the sunset from the cliffs and the rocky walls look great with the warm light of the golden hour as it beams directly upon them.
CALHAU DA SERRA
Calhau da Serra is the beach you go to if you want to get away from the tourists in the south and enjoy some time out in nature. It’s a rocky beach so don’t expect the powdery sands of the south, but what you do get is some peaceful solitude at quite a stunning little spot on the northeast coast of Porto Santo Island.
I visited this beach after the Vereda Pico Branco and Terra Chã hike and enjoyed the entire beach to myself. There are some incredible rock formations along this coastline and some good snorkeling is to be done as well. To get to this beach you simply turn off the main ‘ring-road’ that wraps around the island and either walk or ride your bike along the dirt road. It wasn’t super clear from the main road but it’s only a few hundred meters to walk.
SCUBA DIVING ON PORTO SANTO
I headed out with Rhea Dive to check out one of the shipwrecks nearby the island. There are a couple of shipwrecks and even a submarine wreck as well as some cool cave dives on Porto Santo Island. You can have two or three full days of diving and see a lot of diverse action.
I dove the Cordeca wreck, which is a huge sunken ship. You can look through the entire ship, which is now taken over by fish and sea life although the guns and captain’s cabin is still intact. It was much bigger than I expected and a really great experience.
I only travel with my GoPro but these photos were taken by Pedro Vasconcelos.
MIRADOURO DAS FLORES VIEWPOINT
When I visited, we arrived at Miradouro Flores about half an hour before sunset, which was perfect timing. The cliffs were gleaming and we could take in the views before the sun would put on its nightly show. At the viewpoint, a nice wooden railing lines the entire perimeter with several levels of viewing. It’s a perfect spot that you can drive to for sunset. You have views back down the island to the east and, of course, a direct view of the sun setting over the ocean to the west.
On the night we visited, there was a storm brewing right in front of the sun, which created some crazy light rays through the clouds. In the other direction, the clouds were being strung out by the wind creating formations I’d never seen before!
PICO DO MAÇARICO HIKE ON PORTO SANTO ISLAND
The Pico do Maçarico hike on Porto Santo Island is a great peak for either sunrise or sunset with panoramic views of the entire island. The route is short but very steep up the rough trail. There is no official path but you will find a worn trail that makes it easy to access the summit where you will find a large white cross overlooking the ocean and the whole island of Porto Santo. This is a great Porto Santo activity for adventurers.
Check out all the details and photos of this hike: Pico do Maçarico hike
ILHÉU DE CIMA
Ilhéu de Cima is a small island near the southeast corner of Porto Santo. Atop its rugged cliffs is a plateau where a small lighthouse can be found. It’s possible to hike up to the top of the island but first, you will need to take a boat ride over to the island, which is possible on some tours. Otherwise, you can enjoy the view of Ilhéu de Cima from several of the hikes on the eastern end of the island.
PORTO DOS FRADES TIDAL POOLS
Porto dos Frades is a pristine area with crystal clear water and a rugged coastline, which has some well-protected tidal pools. This makes it a perfect snorkeling spot without many waves. Lots of sea creatures love the shallow water and protection of the reef wall so they call it home. I actually visited this spot as part of my snorkeling tour with Matias from Porto Santo Destination Tours.
The volcanic rocks below the surface make a perfect hiding spot for an octopus or a Moray eel as well as lots of fish and other creatures. Within such a small area we saw so many different critters and sealife, even more than on an entire scuba dive I did at one of the top dive sites in Porto Santo. The Moray Eel was probably the highlight of the trip as he came out of his hole to let us know this is his territory.
If you want to view the full blog post, it is here: Kayak & Snorkel on Porto Santo
PICO DE ANA FERREIRA SUNSET HIKE
Pico de Ana Ferreira is an incredible rock formation on Porto Santo, which looks like a spine of jagged rocks running down the center of the island. There are several attractions at Pico de Ana Ferreira such as the numerous caves to explore, a hike to the summit along the jagged ridge, and the ‘Organ Pipes’ rock formation.
Check out all the details and photos of this hike: Pico de Ana Ferreira hike
FONTINHA BEACH (THE PIER)
One of the most iconic beaches on Porto Santo island is Fontinha Beach because of the prominent pier stretching out from the coast. This area of Porto Santo is a hub for cafes, restaurants, and small shops so it is always lively with action. Lots of locals hang out here and many of the young kids love jumping off the pier, which is just a few meters in height.
PICO DO CONCELHO HIKE
The Pico do Concelho hike on Porto Santo Island is a steep climb up an undefined trail, which rewards hikers with epic views along the east coast of the island. It’s a perfect hike for sunrise and I can all but guarantee you will be up there alone as the sun creeps over the horizon to announce a new day.
The views from the top are actually pretty epic. On the left, you look down the coast to the north and can see directly across to Pico Branco and Terra Chã. To the right, you can see all the way to Pico de Baixo and the small island in the distance called Ilhéu de Cima.
Below, you have a great view of the incredible Porto dos Frades tidal pools, which are a great spot for snorkeling. I think the best part about the view was just how wild and free it felt. There was zero chance of another hiker coming up to join us and we felt on top of the island, all by ourselves.
Check out all the details and photos of this hike: Pico do Concelho hike
PRAIA PORTO SANTO – MAIN BEACH
We probably shouldn’t go much further into this Porto Santo travel guide without mentioning the main strip. Praia Porto Santo is a classic. On a good, clear day you have incredibly, crystal clear water to compliment the unbelievably fine sand. It really is like powder more than granular sand. You’ll understand once you feel it beneath your feet. Visiting this beach is one of the top things to do on Porto Santo.
There are lots of areas along Praia Porto Santo that have umbrellas and daybeds for rent. Many are linked to a hotel but you can also just turn up and ask to rent one. With the sand so soft, it’s nice just to lay the towel down and enjoy the natural, free sunbed.
It’s more than 8 kilometers in length so perfect for a morning walk where you can catch the sunrise. Depending on the swell there can be some waves small enough for body surfing but usually, it is pretty calm, good for swimming, and a refreshing dip after working on your tan on the beach.
ILHÉU DA CAL
Ilhéu da Cal is a small island just off the southwestern tip of Porto Santo Island. From Ponta da Calheta, you are basically within swimming distance of the island although the voyage is not encouraged. You actually need a permit to set foot on the island but you can explore the caves via kayak or take a tour by boat with a guide to explore the island. If you just want a good view of Ilhéu da Cal, the Miradouro das Flores viewpoint is the best spot to check it out during sunset.
PORTO DOS FRADES BEACH
I’ve already mentioned the tidal pools at Porto dos Frades, which are great for snorkeling. However, Porto dos Frades beach is probably my top pick for beaches on Porto Santo Island away from the south coast. There is parking right next to the coast here, which makes it the most accessible beach on this rocky eastern coastline. The main drawcard to Porto dos Frades is the crystal clear water, snorkeling opportunities and it’s sandy beach! Pico do Maçarico acts as a perfect backdrop to this incredibly scenic beach.
PICO DO ESPIGÃO HIKE
The Pico do Espigão hike is a very short but steep trail to a rocky viewpoint in the south of Porto Santo Island. With just over 200 meters of elevation in less than one kilometer, the trail up will definitely get your heart racing. At the summit, you have views of the nearby Pico de Ana Ferreira in the center of the island but you can also see all the way down to the peaks in the east of Porto Santo. The best views are out over the small island, Ilhéu de Ferro, which is right in front of you on the coast. It’s a great sunset viewpoint that you can get to quickly for a short and sharp evening hike.
Check out all the details and photos of this hike: Pico do Espigão hike
SNORKEL TOUR ON PORTO SANTO ISLAND
I did the snorkel tour with Matias, the same tour guide from my kayaking tour. The snorkel tour is on the other side of the island at Porto dos Frades, which is quite literally down the road from Matias’ house. It’s no wonder he knows where all the sea creatures live when it’s practically his backyard. Porto dos Frades is a pristine area with crystal clear water and a rugged coastline, which has some well-protected tidal pools. This makes it a perfect snorkeling spot without many waves. Lots of sea creatures love the shallow water and protection of the reef wall so they call it home.
ZIMBRALINHO BEACH AND MIRADOURO FLORES VIEWPOINT HIKE
On the east coast of Porto Santo Island, the hike to Zimbralinho Beach and Miradouro Flores Viewpoint is a great coastal trail for sunset views. Most of the trail can be completed by car or motorbike along the roads but it’s a short coastal trail, which is great for hiking and enjoying the views. Because it faces east, you can expect beautiful lighting and colors in the sky at sunset! For me, this was the best coastal hike on Porto Santo Island with a number of great viewpoints.
Check out all the details and photos of this hike: ZIMBRALINHO BEACH AND MIRADOURO FLORES VIEWPOINT HIKE
PORTELA VIEWPOINT ON PORTO SANTO ISLAND
The Miradouro da Portela (Portela Viewpoint) is one of the most popular viewpoints on Porto Santo Island. Portela Viewpoint has views down the 9-kilometer-long sandy beach to the west and all of the sharp, volcanic peaks to the east. It’s accessible by car but if you are like me, take up the challenge and ride your bike to the top!
If there is one viewpoint most people visit in Porto Santo it is this one. It has great views of the entire island but you can also drive your car straight up the hill to access it, which is probably why it’s so popular. The other attraction at the viewpoint is the historic windmills, which have been preserved on top of the hill.
PENEDO BEACH / MARINA
If you are looking for a classic sandy beach for a nice day of swimming and sunbathing but don’t want the crowds, you should try Penedo Beach. It’s right next to the marina and the port where the ferry dropped you off when you arrived. Unlike many docks around the world, the beaches nearby have remained pristine and with some umbrellas set up, it is a pretty nice beach for a relaxing day.
PRAIA DO FURADO & POIO DAS MULHERES
These two little beaches are a bit more remote and always very empty. They take a little coastal trek to reach but are guaranteed some social isolation and some crystal clear waters. If you continue on from Porto dos Frades along the coast to the north, you will reach these two beautiful little spots.
I hope you enjoyed this Porto Santo Travel Guide. Now you know, there is more than just the beach in front of your hotel so go check out a couple of the epic places on this beautiful island!