Fanal is one of the truly magical locations in Madeira. This ancient laurel forest in the northwest is regularly enveloped in thick fog, giving it a mysterious atmosphere.
Whether it will be foggy during your visit appears to be mostly up to chance, as the conditions can be right at any time of day and any time of year.
Even when the skies are clear, it’s still a nice area to explore, though it will of course lose some of its mystique.
Tip: there is no perfect time to visit Fanal, so don’t overthink it and just go! If you’re lucky there’ll be plenty of fog, but otherwise, it’s still a beautiful area to wander around.
Why is it so foggy?
The forest of Fanal is located on the north side of Madeira. Fully exposed to the trade winds, it’s here that clouds typically first hit the island before getting stuck in the mountains.
Fanal is also in a particular location where the clouds tend to get funneled into, so even if the weather is bright and sunny in other parts of the island, you may find it’s still shrouded in clouds when you get there.
If you’re not so lucky, it can still be worth waiting a bit while you’re there, as the weather can turn on a dime. We’ve had multiple successes visiting in the afternoon, though some locals have said chances are a bit better in the morning.
While there are webcams in many parts of Madeira that let you check the conditions in areas before heading off, there is no such feed from Fanal, so you just have to cross your fingers.
Just don’t let any sunshine in your location fool you, as the conditions may be very different in Fanal.
What’s a laurel forest?
The mysterious look of Fanal is greatly enhanced by all the gnarly and twisted laurel trees that contrast so beautifully against the foggy backgrounds.
The laurel tree, known as Laurisilva in Portuguese, thrives in areas such as this where regular cloud cover creates very moist conditions. You’ll typically find the Laurisilva forests brimming with ferns or moss.
Fanal is part of a UNESCO World Heritage-recognized natural landscape due to being the largest surviving area of laurel forest. It is believed to be 90% primary forest.
The ancient cloud forest exemplifies a type of subtropical forest that was once common on the Mediterranean mainland, but which can now only be seen in the islands of Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands.
How to get to Fanal
With your own transport: simply put this location in your GPS and drive there! You’ll find a spacious parking area where you can leave your car. There are a number of picnic tables around here, as well as a public toilet and BBQ area.
With a tour: if you can’t drive to Fanal your only option is to go with a tour. We suggest this Fanal hiking tour with free pick-up in Funchal or surrounding areas.
There are no public transport options.
Walking around Fanal
You can choose to follow a hiking trail, but it is not strictly necessary. From the parking lot, you can simply have a wander around. It’s an open area without fencing so you can explore it any way you want.
Just make sure you have a good sense of direction or a map on your phone because it’s easy to get a little bit lost in the fog!
To the north of the parking area is a pond, which can be fun to check out as it’s quite an atmospheric spot where you’ll probably hear many creaking frogs.
It seems quite common for colourful birds to express curiosity and check you out when you’re taking a rest beside the trees. It’s another element that can add to the magicalness.
It’s an amazing location for photography, so don’t forget to bring your camera.
If you’re not into doing a strenuous hike, you can spend just some time wandering around. We’ve been to Fanal with our 18-month-old and our friends with a toddler. They found it quite a fascinating environment! Under the gnarly laurel trees, we had ourselves a nice little picnic.
Doing a hike in Fanal
Fanal is definitely one of our favourite hiking areas in Madeira. If you’re not content with just a bit of a stroll, you can follow one of the official trails.
The first trail to consider is PR 13 – Vereda do Fanal. This 4-hour hike starts in the central plateau, passes through Laurissilva forests, and ends in Fanal. It’s point-to-point, which is a bit annoying in terms of transportation to or from the trailhead.
For a circular hike, consider the PR 14 – Levada dos Cedros, which starts and ends in Fanal. It takes roughly 3 hours and is of medium difficulty. The route follows the Levada dos Cedros, one of the oldest in Madeira.