Portugal: Carnaval in Madeira

Partying on a remote island off of the coast of Morocco? No problem for those who aren’t a walking contradiction: I love traveling but I am not keen on flying. Once you accept that Madeira’s airport is the third most dangerous airstrip in Europe, the turbulent 1.5 hour flight from Lisbon is worth it. The island’s deep history and colonial architecture are winning highlights. Who wouldn’t want to feel like they were in a Pirates of the Caribbean movie?

The 15-minute taxi ride from the airport to the main city of Funchal gives travelers a chance to witness the sub-tropical beauty. Preferably, your destination will be one of the high-quality AirBnB properties that dot the city. I recommend booking a room in the Den Building in the center of all the fun. Depending on when you arrive, there are three eclectic apartments to choose from. Steve, the owner and host of the properties, is a great resource for what to see and where to go. You’ll definitely want a quiet place to recharge after hanging with the locals late into the night.

Once settled, hit the main streets for plenty of sightseeing and souvenir opportunities. Pro tip: Madeiran wine and cork products are unique to the island. Coffee may be the first thing on your mind if you arrive in the morning. The Golden Gate Grand Cafe serves a delicious galão (similar to a latte) and an impressive array of pastries. Nabbing a courtyard table is perfect for people watching. Carnaval weekend brings droves of tourists and vendors to Funchal; it’s difficult to be bored amongst the holiday buzz. Besides, Funchal’s winding and steep hills will certainly get your heart racing!

Has walking/hiking worked up your appetite? It’s important to acknowledge a cultural difference: the Portuguese have dinner much later in comparison to Americans. We’re talking 9:00 PM at the earliest. My solution? Start with tapas and wine. The bread and cheese plates at 1811 Bistro & Wine Bar do not disappoint. It goes without saying to try their Madeiran wine. Carnaval parade preparations will sneak up on you! I suggest pre-caffeinating and leaving the bar early to nab a reasonable viewing spot for festivities.

The dancers shimmy and twirl in their colorful feathered and bedazzled costumes. The samba music proudly blares in every direction. Onlookers crane their necks to watch the endless train of floats pass by. Children bounce with glee on their parents’ shoulders as entertainers stroll by. Friends gather in the streets to eat, drink, and be merry. This is Madeira. This is Carnaval. This is an ode to living in the moment and to feeling alive. I am extremely grateful to be part of something bigger than myself.

Go ahead, add celebrating Carnaval in Madeira to your bucket list; it truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Jonesing for some insider tips and tricks? I’d be happy to be your personal guide; drop me a line and let’s chat about it!

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