Best beaches in Madeira: from black sand to volcanic pools

The Portuguese island of Madeira has some of the most beautiful nature I have ever seen. Located in the Atlantic Ocean, the island is nicknamed the Hawaii of Europe thanks to its jaw-dropping volcanic landscapes, humid climate and subtropical vegetation.

Although the island isn’t really known as a beach holiday destination, you can still find plenty of unique swimming spots and scenic beaches in Madeira. During the five weeks I spent on this island, I got to visit gorgeous black sand beaches, secluded pebble beaches, natural lava rock pools and so much more.

In this blog post, I’ve compiled a list of the best beaches in Madeira and split them into two categories: the best sandy beaches and the best rocky beaches, which includes natural pools. At the bottom of the post, you’ll also find a map which gives you an overview of where each of these Madeira beaches are located.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links from which I may make a commission at no additional cost to you if you make a purchase.

Best sandy beaches in Madeira

Seixal Beach

Seixal Beach with black sand and a backdrop of green mountains, one of the best sandy beaches in Madeira
Seixal Beach, the most beautiful black sand beach in Madeira

On the spectacular north coast of Madeira, where lush green mountains rise vertically from the ocean, lies Seixal Beach (Praia do Porto do Seixal). What makes this beach so special is the fact that it’s one of the few naturally sandy beaches in Madeira. The vast majority of the beaches on the island are covered with pebbles or large rocks.

With its black volcanic sand, turquoise water and a breathtaking backdrop of steep cliffs, Seixal Beach is undeniably one of the most beautiful beaches on the island. It blows my mind that a place like this exists in Europe! This wonderful beach should be a part of every Madeira itinerary, even if you’re visiting in the winter.

The small black sand beach is bordered by a pier on one side, which shelters it from larger waves. On some days though, when the waves are big enough, you can also surf at Seixal Beach. Since the beach is facing east, it’s also considered one of the best spots for watching the sunrise in Madeira.

Right next to the beach, there’s an area with a restaurant, toilets and a large sheltered natural pool where you can swim if the sea is too rough.

Note that parking near the beach is very limited so you should either arrive early or be ready to wait for some time to get a spot.

My two feet with pink toe nails on the black sand on Seixal Beach, Madeira Island
Volcanic sand on Seixal Beach

Porto Santo Beach

A panoramic view of Porto Santo Beach with its long stretch of yellow sands and turquoise water.

The beautiful Porto Santo Beach is not located on the main island of Madeira but on the neighboring Porto Santo Island, which is a part of the Madeira Archipelago.

Even though Porto Santo is just a two-hour ferry ride from Madeira, its nature and landscape couldn’t be more different. Unlike Madeira with its volcanic and mostly rocky coastline, Porto Santo boasts a 9-kilometer (5.6-mile) long beach with soft golden sand and turquoise water.

It’s a popular beach but because of its huge size, it never feels crowded. There are several restaurants and bars along the beach, most of which are located near Vila Baleira, the largest town on the island.

The sand of Porto Santo Beach is renowned for its healing properties thanks to its special chemical composition and many local spas use it in their treatments. It has even been scientifically proven that this sand can help those with rheumatic and orthopedic issues.

While visiting the island, make sure to drive up to Miradouro da Portela viewpoint which offers a fantastic view of Porto Santo Beach.

For the best sunset views, head to Ponta da Calheta in the southern end of the beach. There’s a great little seaside restaurant called O Calhetas where you can enjoy a delicious local dinner while watching the sun drop behind the horizon. If you’re looking to do something a little more adventurous, you can take this kayaking tour from Ponta da Calheta.

Some parts of Porto Santo’s coast also offer excellent snorkeling opportunities. For example, on this snorkeling tour, you’ll visit the natural pools of Porto Santo Marine Protected area and have the chance of seeing octopuses, moray eels, starfish, cuttlefish and other species.

Prainha Beach (Prainha do Caniçal)

Rugged volcanic cliffs and brown sand at Prainha Beach, one of the best sandy beaches in Madeira.

The small Prainha Beach on the east coast of Madeira is bordered by beautiful cliffs and features brown volcanic sand and crystal clear water. It’s one of my favorite Madeira beaches since it offers the perfect combination of peaceful atmosphere, scenic surroundings and beautiful marine life.

With showers, toilets, sunbeds and a small restaurant overlooking the cove, there’s everything you need for a relaxing day by the sea. Not only is Prainha Beach a great place to swim and sunbathe but it’s also a good snorkeling spot. There’s plenty of colorful fish to be spotted around the rocks on the left side of the beach so remember to bring your snorkeling mask. 

Note that getting to the beach requires walking down a short but pretty steep path with lots of steps. It’s not a difficult walk but if you have reduced mobility, it might be challenging.

Related post: 7-day Madeira road trip itinerary

Machico Bay Beach

An aerial view of the crescent-shaped Machico Bay Beach with its golden sand, one of the few sandy beaches near Funchal
A bird’s-eye view of Machico Beach (photo credit Czech the World)

Machico Bay Beach is one of the two Madeira beaches with golden sand. Situated on the east coast of the island, in front of the town of Machico, it’s an artificial beach with sand imported from the Sahara.

Since the beach is enclosed by two piers that protect it from waves, the water is very calm and perfect for swimming. There are shower facilities and toilets as well as sunbeds and umbrellas for rent. Near the beach, you’ll find cafes, restaurants, ice cream parlors and a lovely waterfront promenade.

Due to its proximity to the town of Machico and the fact that it’s one of the few sandy beaches in Madeira, Machico Bay Beach can get pretty crowded, especially on weekends. Luckily, there’s also a large pebble beach right next to it with much more space and fewer people.

Many consider Machico Beach to be one of the best beaches in Madeira but I definitely preferred the natural and more remote beaches (like Seixal or Prainha) over this one.

Panoramic view of the coastal town of Machico, dotted with houses with terracotta roofs and surrounded by green mountains.
Machico town and beach

Whale watching in Machico

If you’ve ever dreamt of seeing whales and dolphins in their natural habitat, then Machico is your place. Various whale and dolphin watching tours depart from the marina next to Machico Beach and the chances of seeing these fascinating marine creatures is around 85-95%.

To maximize your chances of seeing the animals, book a tour that allows you to try again another day at no extra cost if there are no whale or dolphin sightings during your first tour – such as this 2.5-hour tour where you can even swim with dolphins if the conditions are right.

Calheta Beach

The popular Calheta Beach next to tall green cliffs, one of the few sandy beaches in Madeira.
Photo credit: Bengt Nyman, CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons, edited by me

Calheta Beach is the other one of the two golden sand beaches in Madeira. Just like Machico Beach, it is man-made with sand imported from the Sahara desert. 

Calheta Beach actually consists of two beaches facing each other. They are both enclosed by breakwaters, which create a nice calm area for swimming and protect the beaches from being washed away by waves and currents.

The beach has lots of facilities – showers, toilets, changing rooms, kids playground as well as a volleyball and beach soccer court. You can also rent sunbeds and umbrellas. Along the beach promenade, there are cafes, restaurants and a supermarket.

At Calheta Beach you can also go whale and dolphin watching and rent jet skis.

Best natural pools and pebble beaches in Madeira

Seixal Natural Pools

The north coast of Madeira is full of amazing volcanic formations and Seixal Natural Pools is the perfect example of that. These tidal pools are filled with crystal clear ocean water and surrounded by volcanic cliffs. There’s also a cool lava rock arch leaning over one of the pools – see the photo below. It’s such a unique swimming spot and the perfect place to relax on a sunny day.

Although the water in the pools is very calm, be aware that you shouldn’t go too close to the edge of the pools, especially on days when the sea is rough. I’ve heard stories about people being pulled into the sea by powerful waves here so be careful.

A large brown rock arch towering above one of the natural pools in Seixal.

Near the pools, there’s a small kiosk, changing rooms and showers but during our visit, they weren’t open.

I recommend combining your visit to Seixal Natural Pools with Seixal Beach, which I described earlier in this post. These two places are just 1.5km (0.9 miles) apart so it makes sense to visit them in one go. Don’t confuse this spot with the natural pool that is located right next to Seixal Beach – it’s not nearly as beautiful as this one.

You can find the exact location of this place on the map at the end of the post.

Porto Moniz Natural Pools

A large outdoor pool full of people at Porto Moniz Natural Swimming Pools, a great alternative to beaches in Madeira
Porto Moniz Natural Swimming Pools

A short drive west from Seixal, there’s a small coastal town called Porto Moniz where you can find another two sets of natural lava rock pools.

One of them is a large developed pool complex called Porto Moniz Natural Swimming Pools. Here, visitors can access pools with different depths, changing rooms, showers, a restaurant and a kids playground. The entrance fee to the complex is 3 euros.

The other set of pools is called Cachalote Natural Pools (or Piscinas Naturais Velhas on Google Maps). These pools are much less developed, have a more natural look, are free of charge and have no facilities other than one restaurant.

We visited both of them and I definitely preferred the less developed pools (Cachalote) since they weren’t so crowded, had more beautiful volcanic formations and looked more natural. If you’re traveling with small kids though or have limited mobility, the Porto Moniz Natural Swimming Pool complex would probably be a better choice for you.

Praia São Tiago

Praia São Tiago is a tiny beach in Funchal, located in front of the yellow Fort of São Tiago. It consists of a pebbly area and a concrete platform and is a popular beach among locals. There are toilets, showers and an authentic beach bar selling local snacks and cold drinks at cheap prices.

There’s nothing particularly beautiful about this place but it is one of the few beaches in Funchal where you can swim and sunbathe. So if you crave a dip in the ocean and can’t be bothered to go out of the city, this is one of your best options.

Faial Beach

Lush green mountains and a small grey pebble beach at Faial Beach Club on Madeira island.

Last but not least, is the Faial Beach Club on the northeast coast of Madeira. Here you’ll find a crescent-shaped pebble beach protected from the waves by a rock wall. There are changing rooms, toilets, a few restaurants, a playground and a small pool for children. You can also rent beach chairs for a small price.

With its green mountains and steep cliffs rising from the sea, the landscapes around Faial Beach are truly amazing. For an awesome view of the coastline, head up to the Miradouro do Guindaste viewpoint on the cliff to the left of the beach.

Turquoise ocean and vertical coastal cliffs viewed from Miradouro do Guindaste viewpoint next to Faial Beach in Madeira.
Miradouro do Guindaste viewpoint

Madeira beaches map

On the map below, you can see the locations of all the beaches I mentioned in this post. Click on the icon in the top left corner of the map for more details.

Where to stay in Madeira

Since Madeira is quite small, you could easily base yourself in the capital city Funchal and do day trips to the different parts of the island. However, if you want to experience what it’s like to stay in some of the smaller towns, consider spending a night or two in São Vicente, Santana or Machico.

Here are my top picks for places to stay in Funchal:

The ideal choice for backpackers or budget travelers. Modern, clean and spacious rooms plus a large terrace and a shared kitchen.

MID-RANGE: NEXT by Savoy Signature
A relatively new 4-star hotel at the oceanfront in the center of Funchal. There’s a beautiful rooftop infinity pool and bar, sauna, gym and modern rooms with views of the ocean and the city.

LUXURY: Savoy Palace by Savoy Signature
One of the most upscale 5-star hotels in Funchal. With its sleek interior decor, rooftop pool, exceptional spa facilities and tropical gardens, this place is the definition of luxury.

If you’re planning to explore mainland Portugal as well, then have a look at the following posts:

Enjoyed reading about the beaches of Madeira? Pin it!

A Pinterest pin with an image of me walking on a black sand beach and a text overlay stating 'Best beaches on Madeira island'.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *