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A complete guide to Dolphin and Whale watching in Madeira - plus review of our tour.

Did you know that Madeira is an amazing location for dolphin and whale watching? We've written a complete guide with top tips for when to book your Madeira whale watching tour, what species you might see and a review of the company we went with.


When is the best time of year to see whales and dolphins in Madeira and what might you see on a tour?


Surrounded on all sides by the Atlantic ocean, Madeira is a great place for spotting marine wildlife. Bottlenose Dolphins can be seen year round and April - October are the best months for spotting whales. Sperm whales tend to be around Madeira all year, but depending on migratory routes you might also see Humpback, Fin or Sei whales. According to our guides, some 20 different species of dolphins can be found around Madeira depending on the season - if you're lucky you might see Risso's Dolphin, Common Dolphin or Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, along with Pilot Whales, sea turtles and even endangered Monk Seals!

a Bottlenose Dolphin breaching the water in front of Madeira's cliffs.
Beautiful Bottlenose Dolphins in front of Madeira's cliffs

So which whale watching company did we choose?


The vast majority of whale watching trips leave from Funchal's main marina. Some offer speedboats, some catamarans - we were very impressed by Magic Dolphin's eco catamaran. Large enough to seat 250, the company caps its cruises at 150 guests, meaning everyone has plenty of room to sit comfortably and you can still see when people inevitably rush to one side of the boat when wildlife appears.


Magic Dolphin's eco catamaran has toilets on board and a small bar selling drinks and snacks, ample seating under cover for shade and a large sun deck with nets at the front of the boat - be warned, this is the splash zone!

Disembarking from Magic Dolphin's eco catamaran, Funchal

The catamaran crew all had binoculars to look for wildlife and were constantly in communication with spotters via radio. Our tour also included a marine biologist to identify the marine life which was a nice touch.


What impressed us the most about Magic Dolphin was their eco friendly, responsible


attitude to wildlife: while watching whales or dolphins, the catamaran's engines switch to silent electric mode which is much less stressful for the animals and emissions free! The company also sticks to a strict policy of only observing the dolphins or whales for a maximum of 10 minutes before moving on. While this might be frustrating to us tourists who are enjoying watching, it's important to remember that these are wild animals and it's best to avoid disturbing them as much as possible. We are in their home after all!


A review of our whale watching cruise with Magic Dolphin


We joined Magic Dolphin for their 2:30pm 3 hour eco catamaran tour. Their kiosk is down at the marina on Praça do Povo where we were checked in and given a ticket before heading on board. The catamaran was a great size, very clean and modern, and it felt like everyone had a good seat with visibility. We sat upstairs on the upper deck. After a quick safety briefing about life jackets from the friendly crew we set off! It was a beautifully calm sunny day and the catamaran felt incredibly smooth and stable. I'd brought my sea sickness wrist bands just in case but never needed them.


After about 30 minutes of heading out to sea we got notification of our first wildlife sighting and along with 2 other boats (I think the different companies also communicate with each other, which maximises everyone's chances of finding whales and dolphins), our catamaran swung right to see what had been spotted. Suddenly excitement rippled through the catamaran as splashing and dorsal fins came into view - a large group of 9 or 10 big Bottlenose Dolphins jumping as they made their way through the Atlantic! We pulled up at a respectful distance, switched to silent engines and spent the next 10 minutes watching these beautiful animals play around the catamaran, sometimes dancing around the bow, sometimes diving deeper and spinning out to the sides. It was amazing!

Bottlenose dolphins in front of Madeira's cliffs, being watched by a crowd from a boat.
Our first pod of Bottlenose Dolphins

Setting sail once more, we came across a lone Bottlenose Dolphin, and the onboard marine biologist was able to identify it from its dorsal fin as a family member of the group that we had previously encountered. It was clearly trying to catch up with its family, having been left behind for whatever reason, and so the crew decided not to stop or disturb it in any way and to let it continue on its way. We found this so impressive - the well being of the marine life is so much more important than getting in their faces for photos!


Heading along the coastline towards Madeira's massive cliffs, we were rewarded with another major Bottlenose sighting - a group of around 6 jumping and splashing as they swam. We spent another 10 minutes watching the dolphins before heading back inland towards Cabo Girao, the highest cliffs in Europe.


By now we had spent 90 minutes looking for marine life, and in summer months the catamaran tour includes time for a short swim, so be sure to bring your swimmies! The boat anchored beneath the enormous headland with the famous glass walkway way above our heads, over 500m up. The crew lowered the catamaran steps and we were able to go into the water for round 20 minutes for a cool off, looking up at Madeira's beautiful volcanic coastline. You can see why the island has the nickname Hawaii of the Atlantic - the dramatic ridged cliffs reminded us so much of Kauai's Na Pali coast! Very Jurassic Park...

The dolphins coming in for a closer look

The final hour of the tour was spent hugging Madeira's south coast on a beautiful sunny cruise while the crew pointed out interesting sights on land, like colourful Camara de Lobos, the fishing village where Winston Churchill holidayed and painted in 1950. They described the delicious seafood so well that we were sold and actually went there for dinner that evening - thanks for the tip, Magic Dolphin! The bar was open and it was a lovely relaxing way to see the coastline from the water. Of course the crew were still on their radios for the duration, and had a whale decided to appear, we're sure we would have gone for a look.


We really liked that the tour incorporated different activities - a good long search for marine life, a swim and a scenic coastal cruise, but if you'd like to book a tour that only focuses on whale watching, Magic Dolphin also offer a 2 hour speedboat rib safari which doesn't stop for swimming.


What to take on a Madeira whale watching cruise

  • Sun hat

  • Sun cream

  • A jumper (it can get breezy out at sea)

  • A raincoat (another option to keep the wind off, and weather can be changeable in Madeira)

  • Binoculars for whale spotting

  • Your swimming costume and a towel for swimming under Cabo Girao


What if I don't see any whales or dolphins on my tour?


While Magic Dolphin has a fantastic rate of spotting wildlife (over 90% of their catamaran trips and 98% of the speedboat tours see dolphins), the ocean is big and sightings of wild animals are not guaranteed - this isn't a zoo and you could be unlucky and not have anything swim by at the exact time of your cruise. In which case, Magic Dolphin offers a 2nd catamaran booking for only €10, or if you'd booked the speedboat then your 2nd tour is free! While we would have loved to see whales (we've never seen Sperm Whales before!), it was so special to see so many Bottlenose Dolphins. Rest assured that your crew will do everything they possibly can to find you some amazing wildlife!


Magic Dolphin's dolphin and whale watching tours - useful info:



The 3 hour eco catamaran tour runs every day at 10am and 2:30pm. It costs €30.

The 2 hour speedboat safari runs every day at 10am, 1pm and 3:30pm. It costs €50.


We'd recommend booking your whale watching cruise well in advance of your trip as they are really popular and do sell out. Try to book with at least a couple of days left on your itinerary in case you need to book that 2nd tour.


You should arrive at Magic Dolphin's kiosk about 30 minutes before your tour to check in.

 

Disclosure: Having already researched different companies and decided to go with Magic Dolphin for our Madeira whale watching trip, we approached them to see if they would be interested in collaborating with us. They agreed to waive the cost of our tour in return for an honest review and Instagram content, but as always, we only recommend things we have genuinely enjoyed and all opinions are our own.


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