Being a volcanic island, Madeira is almost entirely mountainous and has steep cliffs all over. It should come as no surprise that the island also has numerous waterfalls — and, as I discovered, a canyoning tour is a thrilling way to see these!
Canyoning is an activity where you traverse river gorges and waterfalls while wearing a wetsuit and using rappelling gear. Madeira is ideally suited to this activity and several companies offer safe and expertly guided experiences throughout the island.
Feeling adventurous, I signed up with Epic Madeira for a Level 3 canyoning tour, the highest level you can do without professional training.
Tip: There are varying levels of difficulty, ranging from child-friendly clambering through a stream all the way up to heart-pumping descents at some of the biggest waterfalls. If you’re new to canyoning, I recommend booking a Level 1 canyoning tour. This beginner level will have a mix of rappelling, jumping into pools, and swimming, but with the waterfalls never being more than a few meters high.
Although I’ve done some climbing before, this was actually my very first time canyoning, so my Level 3 tour was a little adventurous for sure. (It’s listed as the “Advanced tour” at Epic Madeira.)
When I got to the first waterfall, I’ll admit I did wonder if I got slightly more than I bargained for. Right away, this was the first cliff we had to descend!
Our canyoning instructors took us to Ribeira Funda, a wild river running through the humid laurel forests on the north side of Madeira.
The adventure already started before we’d even begun. On our way to the starting point, we got to a truly hidden village by way of taking a hard turn into the emergency exit of a nearby tunnel.
This village is so secret that you will probably never find it when exploring Madeira by yourself. Surrounded by lush green mountains, it gives you the feeling of being in quite a remote place.
After a brief hike through the village and after getting some basic instruction while clambering and swimming through the small river, we were thrown right in at the deep end… so to speak.
While I knew we’d be rappelling down a series of waterfalls, what I didn’t expect was that the very first waterfall would already be a whopping 60-metre drop!
I will admit that as I approached the edge, the “wait, what am I doing here?!” factor was pretty high, though once you’re in position and going down, it’s just a matter of taking things one step at a time.
Going down the epic cliffs with water splashing your face was an incredible introduction to the island’s epic nature.
On your way down, you also get a rare drone’s eye view of Madeira’s most majestic natural sights. The perspective you get while climbing down a waterfall is simply priceless.
When you finally reach the bottom, you suddenly feel tiny, hardly believing you made it all the way from up there.
While the first big drop was by far the most epic on this particular traverse, the route continued with about two more hours of clambering and rappelling down the Ribeira Funda, with a series of much smaller waterfalls.
Part of the fun is the activity itself, but I also loved the chance to see a wild part of the island away from any roads or even away from any hiking trails.
The waterfalls further down the river were only a few meters high, so they weren’t quite as adrenaline-pumping as the first, but the terrain continued to be interesting, with the river funnelling down a small canyon. Jumping into the water is optional (but it’s fun and safe when following the guide’s directions).
We ended up on an abandoned coastal road where the canyon opened onto a panoptic view of the Atlantic sea. Simply spectacular!
The staff at Epic Madeira were highly professional and ensured a safe and memorable experience. But if merely looking at the images above gives you vertigo, lower-grade canyoning options will be much less intense. The beginner tours involve some cascades of a few meters in height with optional jumps into the water.
Whatever your preferred level, I can highly recommend doing some canyoning in Madeira. Even if you’ve never done it before, it’s easy to get into. If you’re interested in an introductory experience, you can also more easily book a level 1 canyoning tour with Epic Madeira through GetYourGuide.