A quiet coastal community in the southeast of Madeira, Caniço has many of the island’s best qualities. There are impossibly steep hills, pebble beaches and sheer cliffs. t Garajau there’s a large statue of Christ atop a headland, placed here before Rio’s Christ the Redeemer. Caniço is also on a marine reserve where groupers swim right up to divers.
The capital, Funchal is a ten minutes at most, so you can get your fill of sightseeing and culture in the morning and in the afternoon play a round of golf on an enormous shelf above the Atlantic. Or you can trek through laurel forest following the course of a historic aqueduct as it hugs the slopes.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Caniço:
1. Caniço Promenade
In the hotel district in Caniço de Baixo there’s walkway curving around the hotels, restaurants and the Madeira Dive Centre by the shore.
You can turn to the dark headlands covered with lush vegetation to the north, and as the promenade faces east, it’s a neat place to watch the sun come up if you’re an early riser.
At the turn of September every year this walkway welcomes the Noites da Promenade do Caniço festival.
Come down for typical Madeiran bands and costumes, and stalls selling local delicacies like poncha, a drink made with distilled sugar cane juice and lemon.
2. Miradouro Cristo Rei do Garajau
Yes, this statue on a lofty promontory may look like Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, but you might not know that Madeira’s statue of Christ is actually older, dating to 1927. It is 14 metres tall and was sculpted by two French artists, Georges Serraz and the better-known Pierre Charles Lenoir, whose work is in museums around France.
The monument is on a platform above the Garajau Marine Reserve and the limitless blue expanse of the Atlantic.
The view is even better if you carry on to the tip of the peninsula, where you;’ll make out the Bay of Funchal and the white houses of the capital teetering on the slopes.
3. Praia de Garajau
Another landform you’ll see from the headland at the Miradouro Cristo Rei is this tiny beach at the base of the cliffs.
Amazingly you can actually walk or drive down to the beach, along a zigzagging road with a gradient that will make the bravest drivers wince.
Luckily there’s also a cable car, and at the lower station is a stylish beach bar with a terrace that is dreamy at sunset when the light hits those basalt walls.
On the pebble beach below you can dip your toes in the water or brave a swim if the seas are calm enough.
4. Palheiro Gardens
On the eastern limits of Funchal, minutes from Caniço is a divine garden, on an estate owned by the winemaking Blandy family since 1885. October to April is divine here, as this is when the giant camellias are in bloom.
But that shouldn’t stop you from coming at other times as the bougainvillea and hibiscus flower in any season on Madeira.
The Palheiro Gardens are final proof that almost any plant with thrive in Madeira’s soil, and as well as the bewildering variety of plants: There are creative boxwood topiaries, roses on pergolas and mature exotic trees from all over the world that were planted in the 19th century.
Cap your visit with a slice of cake at the tea room.
Madeira’s capital is a few minutes west, and the conurbations blend together so it can be tricky to work out where Funchal begins and Caniço ends.
The old quarter bear the harbour is adorable, with Portuguese pavement in vibrant mosaic patterns and dignified mansions and churches that have whitewash and bare basalt facades.
There are some things that absolutely have to be done, like the cable car ride up to the Monte neighbourhood, which was a summer retreat for Madeira’s nobility.
There’s a hair-raising way to get back down again, on wicker toboggans pushed down the slope by men in white outfits and boater hats.
There are more botanical gardens, heart-lifting belvederes, churches, convents and now a museum to Cristiano Ronaldo, Funchal’s most famous son.
The beaches in Caniço aren’t without their charm, but those unpredictable currents might leave children a little bored.
So for a fun-filled afternoon for young ones, look to Aquaparque a little way north at Santa Cruz . The park offers a couple of pools, one for all ages and the other just for younger kids, and both are encircled by a long lazy river.
Aquaparque has four high-speed flumes, like the daunting black hole, and five more serene slides that all ages can ride.
Add to this “aqualand”, a playground reserved for the littlest members of the clan.
7. Praia dos Reis Magos
Beside the promenade, Caniço’s main beach is a perennial Blue Flag winner and teems with bathers in the summer.
There are two sections: One is the exposed beach, which is normally OK for swimming due to its easterly aspect.
If you have any doubts there are two lifeguards patrolling the beach in summer.
Next to his open beach is a lido, with waters closed off by a seawall, and swimmable in almost any weather.
The beach is pretty modest in size, and on sunny days almost any flat surface on the beach or terrace next to it will be taken up by sunbathers.
8. Quinta da Boa Vista
Also on the way to Funchal, the Quinta da Boa Vista is a cultured country estate on a vertiginous slope.
You’ll come for the gardens, once a fruit and vegetable farm arranged on narrow terraces that were landscaped in the 1800s.
Exotic plants from the Americas (bromeliads), Africa (aloes) and Australia (bottlebrush) are now cultivated around old vestiges of the farm like a thatched barn and wine press.
The headline attraction though is the orchid plantation, growing many hundreds of species of this plant, from cymbidiums to paphiopedilums.
These are in bloom at all times of year, and you may caught off guard by how sweet some of these flowers smell.
9. Igreja de São Salvador
Madeira’s second-largest church is in the nearby town of Santa Cruz.
It was built after a decree by King Manuel I in the early 1500s, and has fittings that blend Gothic and Manueline design.
The portal has all the traits of this design, with three ogival archivolts surmounted by a dainty rose window.
At the lateral entrance there’s a sweet yard where you can admire the tower and cross-shaped merlons on the roof from the comfort of a cafe terrace.
The interior has frescos with filigree patterns on the ceiling, and there’s a painting of the last supper above the entrance to the central altar.
Ten minutes into the hills above Caniço and you’ll come to the small village of Camacha.
It’s a picturesque and rural community, on a high perch.
But Camacha’s real forte is wicker, employing more than a thousand people handcrafting items to be sold on site or at markets around island.
The activity is everywhere: On doorsteps and in workshops people shape canes into all manner of items, like furniture, hats, ornaments, models, kitchen utensils and baskets.
As souvenirs go, it’s satisfying to be able to own something that you can watch being made, and it’s neat to know this craft has persisted in Camacha for over 200 years.
11. Levada da Serra do Faial
“Levadas” are an irrigation system unique to Madeira.
These are long water conduits, snaking through hilly scenery to deposit water to plantations and farms.
Walking trails runs side by side with these channels and there may not be a better way to immerse yourself in Madeira’s countryside and its arresting green tones, misty laurel forest and stirring panoramas.
The Levada da Serra do Faial is an 8.5-kilometre trail on the way to Camacha.
You’ll venture into ancient forest, with blooming wildflowers in the undergrowth and look down at Funchal and the ocean far below.
Caniço has the bulk of Madeira’s dive centres, aided by relatively sheltered seas, warm average water temperatures, sparkling visibility and the wildlife of the Garajau reserve.
You can choose from Mero, Atalaia and Madeira Diving Centre.
Something you’ll remember about dives in Caniço is just how passive and curious the underwater life is.
Fish of various colours and sizes, like rays and groupers, will swim right up over your head and hang around the whole time you’re below.
And if you’re not yet ready for open water, Caniço’s centres provide affordable and professional tuition to get you those PADI certificates.
13. Outdoor Adventure
You only need one look at Madeira’s epic forest coated landscapes to know that you have to get your hands dirty to see it all.
And there are lots of businesses to make this possible (Lokoloko and AlbanoAktiv to name two). The island is a wonderland for mountain bikers, with rollercoaster trails that plunge and ascend absurd gradients.
If that sounds scary there are also lighter courses that start high and make a steady descent to the sea.
In a landscape sliced by fast-flowing rivers canyoning takes you to places walking trails can’t as you slide over cascades and abseil down waterfalls.
And some corners of the island are impassable without four wheels, so you’ll jeep to a remote and forbidding location and climb, hike or cycle back.
The difficult topography on Madeira allows for only three golf courses, and fortunately two of these are in a 20-minute radius of Caniço.
And these are out of this world.
The fairways at Palheiro Golf and Santo da Serra are trimmed by pines and sub-tropical vegetation.
And as both courses are hundreds of metres above sea level the views will make you forget all your cares.
Palheiro Golf has a single 18-hole course with clubhouse that looks down on Funchal Bay in the distance.
Santo da Serra has three nine-hole courses and was on the European tour until 2015. The fourth hole on the “Machico” course is a par-3 with literal ravine between the tee and green.
15. Food and Drink
Fish and seafood are cornerstone in Caniço, whether it’s grilled tuna steak or black scabbard fish fillets, octopus or shellfish like periwinkles and limpets.
For meat eaters, beef kebabs barbecued on laurel wood skewers have an indescribable flavour.
These are as tasty as it gets when you try with bolo do caco, a round flat bread spread with garlic butter.
We have to mention Madeira wine as well, which comes in dozens of varieties and has been produced on the island for hundreds of years.
Grape spirit is added during fermentation, and this was done to make it last longer on long caravel voyaged.
Take it as an aperitif or dessert wine to pair with a piece of Madeira cake.