Portugal: Carnaval in Madeira

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

The 15-minute taxi ride from the airport to the capital city of Funchal gives travelers a chance to witness the subtropical paradise that surrounds them. 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, which is in the center of all the fun. Depending on when you visit, there are three eclectic apartments to choose from. Steve, the owner and host, is happy to share his take on what to see and where to go.

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

Has walking/hiking worked up your appetite? It’s important to acknowledge a cultural difference: The Portuguese eat dinner much later in the evening than Americans do. 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 don’t disappoint. It goes without saying to try their Madeiran wine. Carnaval parade preparations will sneak up on you! I suggest caffeinating and leaving the bar early to claim a spot for viewing the 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 perform tricks for the crowd. 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 feeling alive. I’m grateful to have been part of something bigger than myself.

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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