As an independent traveller I normally like to make my own arrangements when visiting a new place. But there are times when a guided tour adds something extra: the local knowledge of the guide, and the opportunity to explore places you wouldn’t have found by yourself. My tour of Funchal with ToursByLocals during my recent visit to Madeira was just such an experience, an enjoyable mixture of well known places and hidden corners, with an entertaining and knowledgeable guide.
Disclosure: ToursByLocals provided a complimentary tour for myself and my husband in return for coverage on this site.
Funchal Highlights With ToursByLocals
The Funchal Highlights private tour is aimed at cruise ship passengers and those visiting Madeira for a short break. However, this tour is also ideal for anyone who doesn’t want to hire a car (or to drive on the sometimes tortuous mountain roads), for those who want to venture off the beaten path, and for those who just want to learn a bit more about the island, its history, and its culture.
The tour was fully customisable. Valdemar, our guide, was happy to tweak the itinerary to meet our needs and interests. And he had a seemingly inexhaustible supply of information, giving us a potted history of Portugal and the colonisation of Madeira, a description of Madeira wine making, and much more.
Our Tour Of Funchal
Our tour of Funchal began by driving to several viewpoints, giving breathtaking vistas across the city and its harbour. As the tour description says, “in Funchal, you can go from 0 to 1500 meters in 25 minutes and the higher you go, better the views”. Not only are the roads – both in the towns and the countryside – very steep, they are also narrow, winding, and often cobbled. I was glad that someone else was doing the driving!
The Statue Of Cristo Rei
Although this was billed as a tour of Funchal, we went well beyond the city limits. One of the viewpoints was beside the statue of Cristo Rei, on the headland near the resort of Caniço. Not only was this a beautiful location but, as Valdemar proudly informed us, the statue (built in 1927) is actually older than the more famous statues of Christ in Rio de Janeiro and Lisbon.
Lesser Known Towns
Moving around the coast we had the opportunity to discover two small towns that are rarely visited by tourists. Santa Cruz is a sleepy fishing village with just a handful of hotels, but some historic buildings, a lively food market, and a peaceful promenade beside the sea. The two small town squares were full of locals enjoying a drink in the sun.
Machico, the oldest town in Madeira, is even less touristy. It may not be a place to spend a whole day, but we enjoyed exploring the historic fortress and an old church, and wandering along the seafront.
Fortress Of São João Baptista
As an added extra, Valdemar ended our tour by driving up to the Fortress of São João Baptista, built in the 17th century as part of Funchal’s defences. Earlier that day I had gazed up the hill at the fort – situated 110 m above sea level – and wondered how easy it would be to get to it. I was pleased to be saved the steep climb!
ToursByLocals operates in 191 countries, offering a range of private, customisable tours. Within Madeira there is a wide choice of tours, from sightseeing to culture, from nature and countryside to wine tasting.
Guides are all experienced, local people. They aim to include some lesser known sights, places not included in the guide books. Certainly, for me, the flexibility of the itinerary and Valdemar’s extensive local knowledge were an essential part of our tour of Funchal.