Porto Santo, Madeira Islands
With a length of 12 km and a width of 6 km, Porto Santo is the second largest island in the archipelago of Madeira. It is located approximately 46 kilometers northeast of the main island, and almost 800 kilometers off the southwest coast of Portugal. Unlike the densely populated island of Madeira, Porto Santo is home to only 4,500 people. The population of the island is scattered in several small villages. The largest one is the homonymous town of Porto Santo, located on the southern coast of the island.
The history of Porto Santo began in 1418, when the Portuguese explorer João Gonçalves Zarku accidentally stumbled on the island during a storm in the Atlantic.
Like all the other islands in the archipelago, Porto Santo was completely uninhabited. A year later, in 1419, the first settlers began to arrive.
They were, however, more attracted by the larger neighboring island of Madeira, because it offered plenty of fresh water and better opportunities for development of agriculture.
Porto Santo is known for the most beautiful beaches in the archipelago of Madeira. Practically the entire southern coast of the island is occupied by a beautiful beach with a length of over 8.5 km.
This is a lovely place with fine golden sand, and it attracts large number of tourists, especially from Northern Europe, craving higher temperatures and sunshine.
The northern coast of Porto Santo is completely different from the south of the island. The coastline is rocky and with almost no beaches.
The waves that break into the jagged northern coastline, are usually large even in calm and windless weather.
The clean blue waters that surround Porto Santo, combined with whimsical and colorful sea creatures, make the island an attractive destination for those who love to dive.
If the combination of transparent waters and variety of marine animals is not reason enough for you to wish to dive into the ocean, you will probably be interested by the remains of a ship that was purposely wrecked into the Atlantic to attract divers from near and far.
The landscape of Porto Santo is mostly dry. It is devoid of rivers and lakes, and is quite different from what you can find on the neighbouring island of Madeira.
Porto Santo’s open spaces are dominated by low lying hilly terrain, covered with sparse herbaceous vegetation, and with huge electricity generating wind turbines in the background.
The only places to find fresh greenery and trees is the slopes of Pico Castelo (438 meters) and Pico do Facho (517 m).
These are also the highest points on the island. Located in the northeast of Porto Santo, they offer a spectacular view of the whole island.
The terrain and landscape of Porto Santo are excellent for golf course development. For this reason the island is an attractive international golf destination, and the green golf courses stand out strongly from the surrounding brownish-yellow landscape.
The island of Porto Santo enjoys a subtropical maritime climate, with long and pleasantly warm summers. Winters are usually cool, but in windy and humid days they can seem grey, cold and unfriendly.
Temperatures range from about 17°C in January and February to about 25°C in August and September. Precipitations are rather scarce, especially during the summer months. Sea surface temperatures vary from 17 to 23°C.
How to get there? The easiest way to get to Porto Santo is with a flight to the international airport of Madeira. Once you have arrived on the big island, you can get the daily ferry that travel from Funchal to Porto Santo every morning.
Another option is to fly directly to Porto Santo, but most of the lines are seasonal, and the choice of destinations is relatively small. Lisbon, London, Paris and Brussels are among the most regularly served destinations from Porto Santo.
When to go? The best time to visit Porto Santo is during the period from June to October. The average daytime temperatures on the island in this part of the year are higher than 22°C, and are for this reason very comfortable.
The weather is perfect for the beach, and seawater temperatures are usually over 20°C throughout the period.
What not to miss? Although Porto Santo is a small and sparsely populated island, it offers a lot of things worth seeing.
The house-museum of Christopher Columbus is probably the biggest attraction here. Be sure also to climb the stone path to Pico do Castelo.
In order to protect themselves from the attacks of pirate ships, the peak of Pico do Castelo have been used by the residents of Porto Santo as a watchtower.
Another amazing place is Quinta das Palmeiras. This is a small botanical garden that attracts seeking shade visitors. It is a paradise of fresh greenery among the dry landscape of the island.
It is recommended to visit also Fonte da Areia. This is an impressive sandstone rock formation sculpted by erosion.
Food and drinks. If you have decided to get to know local food, beef kebabs and salad of flavorful fresh vegetables is a good choice.
It is advisable also to dedicate part of your holidays to seafood, especially if you love mussels (the most popular seafood here). All this goes great with a glass of excellent local wine.
The grape that grows in Porto Santo is unique in the fact that it is grown next to the beach itself.
Risks. Since the weather in the area rarely gets very hot, and the pleasant breeze gives the sensation of freshness, the people that visit the island often underestimate the dangers of sun.
But beware – Porto Santo is located closer to the tropic of cancer in comparison with Southern Europe, so the solar radiation here is stronger.
The best way to avoid sunburns is to use sunscreens with a high UVA factor, and to avoid, of course, prolonged stay outdoors in the hottest midday hours.