Fanal Forest, Madeira: Tour the Mysterious Woods (2024)

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The Fanal Forest of Madiera is the most surreal and magical place I’ve ever visited! I highly recommend spending a few hours in this rare landscape in Madeira natural park on the north side of Madeira island. You’re going to want to experience the magical atmosphere of the fanal laurel forest for yourself!

I’ll never forget my first time stepping foot inside this magical forest. I was instantly enchanted by the lush greenery, moss-covered forest floor, and curious cows grazing nearby. The air was thick with a mystical fog transforming the sunlight into a glowing, ethereal wonderland. Tall trees with twisted limbs that seem like they were plucked right out of a fairy tale.

Along with the Santana houses, visiting this surreal forest was one of the highlights of my Madeira solo trip during my Portugal solo travel adventure.

In this guide, I’ll walk you through the hiking, tours, photography, viewpoints, and parking. We’ll cover everything you need to know about Fanal Forest Madeira. Ready? Off we go!

Best Fanal Forest Tour

Top Tour

Get the most bang for your buck with this Northeast Madeira Tour through the beautiful fanal forest, magical Porto Moniz pools, and gorgeous black sand beach of Seixal. Talk about an epic day!

taking photos in madeira's fanal forest

Fanal Forest, Madeira

Madeira’s ethereal Fanal Forest, nestled high among the mountainous island terrain, is an ancient laurel forest and distinguished UNESCO World Heritage site with sustained conservation efforts. Recognized for its status as one of the few remaining laurel forests in the world, this mysterious location is a major Portugal bucket list location.

Known as a cloud forest, a forest found on mountainous slopes where moisture from the sea collides with air masses being pushed up from the ocean, Fanal Forest occupies over 37,000 acres (15,000 hectares) of land.

The ancient forest is home to many endemic plant and animal species, meaning they only exist on Madeira. You’ll find different laurel species like the Madeira, Canary and Bay laurels as well as reptiles, amphibians, and birds like the Madeiran long-toed pigeon and Madeira firecrest.

History

How did this enchanting forest come to be? Thought to be between 15-40 million years old, Fanal Madeira traces its roots back to a time when laurel forests were prevalent in certain regions of Europe and North Africa.

After the ice age and climatic change, these subtropical forest lands began to disappear. Today, only a few places are home to these stunning laurel forests, including Madeira, the Azores, the Canary Islands, and the Cape Verde Archipelago.

Is Fanal Forest Worth Visiting?

Madeira’s Fanal Forest is absolutely worth visiting. As Madeira’s most beautiful forest and one of the world’s few remaining laurel forests, this is truly a unique ecological location with almost 150 endemic species of plants that don’t grow anywhere else in the world.

ancient Ocotea Foetens tree

Ancient Trees

The grand centenary trees in Madeira’s laurel forest are part of what makes this unusual landscape so special.

At its heart stand the venerable old laurel trees, named Ocotea Foetens. These ancient trees have been standing witness to the passage of time for centuries, their gnarled trunks and lush canopies exuding an aura of wisdom and resilience.

These remarkable specimens are remnants of a primary forest that once blanketed Madeira’s landscape. The laurel trees’ age is a testament to their ability to thrive in this unique microclimate, where mist-laden air from the Atlantic Ocean nurtures their growth.

What makes Fanal Forest truly special is its role as a living relic, preserving the biodiversity and ecosystems of a bygone era. It’s a place where ancient trees continue to provide shelter for diverse flora and fauna, and where the whispers of the past beckon nature enthusiasts to explore this timeless wonderland.

Weather

At over 3,700 feet (1,150 meters) above sea level, the magical Fanal Forest is typically enshrouded in an otherworldly white fog that lends a mysterious aura to the evergreen landscape.

The weather here can be quite unpredictable and the fog’s appearance can change within minutes, shifting your visibility from a mere 10 feet ahead of you to clear skies almost instantaneously.

Keep in mind that the weather in the Madeira forest can be totally different from that at ground level.

madeiran cow in fanal forest

What to Do in Fanal Forest, Madeira

The best thing to do in the Fanal Forest is simply to discover the area’s enchanting beauty. Follow the pathway through the dense forest and marvel at the mystical fog surrounding you.

There are also hiking trails with viewpoints, a waterfall, and plenty of amazing photo locations. This area connects to tons of other hiking routes so make sure to pay attention to the signs.

Hiking

hiker in fanal forest

Hiking in the Fanal Forest is an enchanting way to explore the fairytale landscape. There are two different hiking trails that cross through the forest, as well as an easy forest walk. While the hiking paths include a number of incredible viewpoints, there is still one you can enjoy without taking these trails.

Personally, I don’t often seek out hikes over 2 hours long so the forest walk was perfect for me. There were so many incredible sights from the misty Fanal Pond to the gnarled centennial trees. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything.

Vereda do Fanal (PR 13)

  • Length: Approx. 6.5 mi (11 km) or 13-mi (22 km)
  • Duration: 4-8 hours
  • Elevation: Approx. 3900 ft (1200m) gain
  • Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult
  • Trailhead: PR 13 Vereda do Fanal sign, across from parking lot

The Vereda do Fanal is the most popular fanal Madeira hike. This one-way trail descends from the Paul da Serra plateau down to Fanal Forest, taking around 4 hours one way.

Keep in mind that this is a point-to-point, or an in-and-out, route so you’ll need to arrange transportation, hitchhike, or make the 13-mile (22 km) round-trip journey.

You’ll turn around once you reach the Fanal Forestry Station (Posto Florestal Fanal) where there will be a larger parking lot and your best bet for a ride back to your car.

Viewpoints: Vereda do Fanal has tons of great viewpoints, but you won’t see much unless the sun’s out.

Parking: This trail has its own small, gravel parking lot.
Enter “PR 13 Vereda do Fanal” into your GPS.

Levada dos Cedros (PR 14)

  • Length: Approx. 6.5 mi (11 km) roundtrip
  • Duration: 3-4 hours
  • Elevation: Approx. 1300 ft (400 m) gain
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead: PR 14 Levada dos Cedros sign, near parking lot

The Cedros Levada trail guides you through almost 4 miles (6 km) of the Fanal Forest’s most picturesque landscapes. Weave through lush green forests surrounded by the majestic Ocotea Foetens trees until you ultimately reach a stunning multi-level waterfall where you can cool off before making the journey back.

Parking: This trail has its own small parking lot.
Enter “PR 14 Levada dos Cedros” int your GPS.

Fanal Pond

fog surrounding fanal pond

Just outside of the forest, you’ll find the enchanting Fanal Pond (Lagoa do Fanal). This small, round pool rests in the midst of the twisting laurel trees. Typically surrounded by thick mist, the pond makes an excellent spot for photography.

If you park in the main lot near the Forestry Station, you’ll be near the pond, to your right.

Photography

photography of baby cows in fanal forest

With a unique landscape unlike any other, the Fanal Forest is an amazing place for photography. Not only is this one of the best photo spots in Madeira, but it’s also on the list of most Instagrammable places in Portugal!

For the best photos, you’ll want just the right amount of fog so you can shoot at long distance ranges to capture the enormity of the towering trees.

Sunrise is the best time for photography, flooding the forest with bright light that’s absorbed by the white fog, setting the trees and plants aglow.

FUN FACT: The Fanal Forest is so otherworldly, rumor has it that Star Wars recently used this area as a filming location for an upcoming project.

morning light in fanal forest

When to Visit Fanal Forest, Madeira

A cloudy, rainy day is the best time to appreciate the Laurissilva forest’s ethereal beauty.

While time of year doesn’t play a major factor, daily weather can be challenging to anticipate due to the island’s many microclimates.

My best advice for a fog-filled day? Arrive as close to sunrise as possible, because the forest tends to be foggier in the morning. When I visited, 8 am-10 am was the foggiest time of day.

However, if you plan to hike, especially the Vereda do Fanal trail, too much fog means you’ll miss out on some of the epic viewpoints. If you have the time, you could plan to visit twice. Once for a full-fog forest walk and a sunnier day for the hiking trail.

PRO TIP: To try and predict the weather, keep an eye on the island’s southern coast. Oftentimes, rain or cloudiness here is a good indication that the forest will also be shrouded in mist.

WHEN TO VISIT PORTUGAL

Looking for the best time to visit Portugal? It all depends on what you want to do! The annual guide will help you figure out the ideal time to check out the stunning Porto viewpoints, plan some epic Faro day trips, and find out the answer to: Is Aveiro worth visiting

grazing cow in fanal

How to Get to Fanal Forest, Madeira

You’ll find the mystical Fanal Forest at the mountain plateau of Paul da Serra in northwest Madeira. It’s about 6 miles (10 km) east of the town Ribeira da Janela.

Public transportation doesn’t reach this part of the island. The only way to get to the Laurissilva forest is to drive or book an affordable day tour. Plus, depending on your comfort level and sense of direction, exploring Madeira’s laurel forest with a tour guide may keep you from getting lost or having to worry about hitchhiking back from your hike.

If you plan to rent a car and want to visit on your own, take a look at the directions and parking information below.

How to Get to Fanal Forest from Funchal

Getting from Funchal to Fanal Forest is pretty easy. The two areas are about 30 miles (50 km) apart and should only require an hour-long drive.

Parking

Parking for the forest should be a total breeze. To locate the parking lot, simply put ‘Fanal Parking’ or ‘Posto Florestal Fanal’ into your GPS and you’ll be on your way.

The parking lot is located near the Fanal Forestry Station, and the road that takes you there is in good condition.

Once you arrive, you’ll have a quick walk to the forest. Head to the left for Vereda do Fanal or go right towards Levada dos Cedros and Fanal Pond. Just be sure to watch out for mud and grazing cows!

Camping

While there’s no campground in Fanal Forest, wild camping can be done in and around the area.

If you plan to go wild camping in Madeira, you’ll have to apply for permission from the Regional Forest Directorate beforehand. Once you have received an official document granting your permission, be sure to keep it with you at all times. You may need to present it to the Forest Guards who protect the areas.

Head here for more information on camping in Madeira and a list of campgrounds.

following path on a tour of fanal forest madeira

Madeira’s Fanal Forest Tours

Enjoying a solo trip to Madeira? A fanal tour is a great way option for anyone traveling on their own or who doesn’t want to bother with the hassle of a rental car.

Luckily, there are tons of day tours that, when combined, will take you to just about every part of the island.

My recommendation is to book a full-day tour that includes a couple different stops. Your group might be picking up travelers in different areas of the island, so unless you book a private tour, driving time could be a little longer.

You might as well do as much as you can in one go, and save a day or two to hire a taxi or private transport to an area you want to spend more time in.

Best Fanal Forest Tour: Get the most bang for your buck with this tour through Northeast Madeira. It combines the mystery of the beautiful fanal forest with the magic of the Porto Moniz natural pools, and includes stops at the gorgeous black sand beach of Seixal and Cabo Girao Sky Walk. Talk about an epic day!

PS: Want to enjoy a private tour? Book now for up to 2 guests!

tree branch across fanal pond

Map

Use this map of Fanal Forest to get an idea of where you’ll park and which viewpoints you want to visit.

FAQs

Where do you start in the Fanal Forest?

The forest walk starts at the Fanal Car Park and winds around a number of viewpoints, the Fanal pond, and the ancient Ocotea Foetens laurel trees.

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Sydney

Sydney is a solo travel expert who’s extensively explored Spain, Portugal, Morocco, California, and more! She creates travel guides and itineraries to share everything she's learned about the Iberian peninsula through personal experience and exploration.

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