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Whale and Dolphin Watching with VMT Madeira

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The waters of the Atlantic are a treasure trove of amazing sea life. On our visit to the Portuguese island of Madeira, we decided to take a trip out on the ocean with VMT Madeira to see what we could find.

Why VMT Madeira?

There are several companies that operate out of Funchal’s harbour. If you wander down there, you will have many leaflets waved enthusiastically at you. It can make choosing a company tricky, but after reading many, many reviews, we decided to go with VMT Madeira.

Yo ho, yo ho, the pirates life for me.

The clincher for me was finding out that they don’t chase the animals out at sea. I think VMT Madeira have a great set of ethics. Feeling unsure? Check out their code of conduct.

The Arrival

Funchal’s harbour was basked in sunshine as we made our way down. The water sparkled and excitement was high.

A helpful promoter pointed us the way along to VMT Madeira’s office. It is accessed from the upper level by a glass covered stairway plastered in advertising. They welcomed us, took payment and gave us all a plastic ticket.

I had booked the tour for our group, 20 friends from the UK, in advance. Whilst doing my research, I started by looking at Viator but for some reason you can only book up 18 people. I ended up emailing VMT Madeira directly and they responded quickly and positively.

The Boat

Our boat, a catamaran called Sea Nature, was already mostly boarded and the staff were rushing us along. They mildly scolded us for being the last passengers, but you know what it’s like trying to muster a large group of grown ups. Oops!

It was a huge catamaran that had room for 200 people, but it was only half full for our tour. I bet it is totally full during the summer holidays. I don’t think it would feel too busy as there was loads of room.

The top deck was entirely made of white plastic and was a lovely sun trap. The main floor had lots more seating, lots in the shade, and a large netting area at the front. There was also a bar serving snacks and drinks, including alcohol.

The Departure

Part of our group went upstairs to get a good viewing point. The rest of us took spots on the nets at the front. There was room for three lines of people on each of they were all sunbathing, but we curled up and got lots more on.

There was a small announcement explaining the plan for the day and the rules of the boat. There were two spotters on the roof and they were ready with binoculars as soon as the announcement commenced.

As this was going on, the boat left the harbour and took to the sea. It was an amazing sea too. The surface went from a ripple covered ocean to a glassy surfaced lake. The underwater currents created beautiful variations. We were enjoying watching the waves when the woman making the announcement came back on the speaker to give us some good news.

This water looks fake but it really was that blue and clear!
A guide to different types of whales

The Whales

In less than ten minutes, the spotters had found something. A sperm whale swimming at the surface caught their attention. We all gazed on with childlike eyes. Each blow of water and bend of back had the crowd enthralled. They talked a little about the whales’ normal behaviour. Sperm whales are very common around the coast of Madeira. They spend a few minutes at the surface before diving down again and so we all strained to see when the back bent more than normal as this could mean they were about to go. As they dive, you can often see their tail come out of the water…the whale spotting money shot.

The whale was quite a way off.

As we bobbed on the spot, more whales were sighted and we had a glimpse of about six of them in the end. Our still shots may not be the most thrilling for you, but it was really cool!

The Dolphins

We popped upstairs to warm up a little but within minutes, a frisson of excitement shivered through the passengers. Me Fluskey grabbed my hand and we dashed back down to the left hand net. Just as we got down to the front, a pod of dolphins burst from beneath the boat. The dolphins raced the catamaran diving, jumping and creating the most fantastic show!

I have only ever seen dolphins in the wild once before and never this closely. It was thrilling! Apparently, they love the stimulation of playing with the boat. For us, it just made us flap excitedly and make stupid human noises.

Check out all our animal adventures around the world including swimming with whale sharks

And a Turtle!

Would you believe it!? As the boat sliced through the waves, a tiny turtle joined the dolphins. It took him a little while to remember that he wasn’t part of the pod and he dived off by himself. Sadly I missed getting a photo of him, but trust me, he was awesome!

The Waves

After the dolphins tired of us, and went off to visit another boat, we turned landward. We were clearly now fighting the waves and so the swell rocked the boat a lot more enthusiastically than before. As they hit the front of the boat, they erupted underneath the nets and everyone ended up with wet bottoms. We ran back upstairs to avoid getting soggy derrieres.

The cliffs at Cabo Girao
Some of my buddies sat on the bottom deck, out of the splash zone

The Swimming at Cabo Girao

Whilst getting ready in the morning, we had all popped our swimwear under our clothes. The plan was to jump in and enjoy the gorgeous blue water for ourselves. As the time to dive in drew closer, I decided that I wasn’t going in. As appealing as the water looked, and as much as I like swimming, the chilly wind was still whipping through the boat. Being cold turns me into a whining, shivering blob and so I thought better of it. However, my friends are a little more hardcore than I and so they leapt gamely into the surf. I was so impressed!!

Look at them fly!

The Return

When we turned back for the harbour, the wind dropped, the waves calmed, and the sun came out for good. I really regretted my decision not to jump in then, so if you take the tour, just go for it! You can always order a nice, hot cup of coffee to warm back up if it isn’t too warm.

It took about fifteen minutes to get back and we spent that quarter of an hour sunbathing on the front nets with drinks in hand. It was a glorious end to the trip.

Check out all our travels around Europe

Final Thoughts

We had such a great time with VMT Madeira. It was definitely the highlight of our time in Funchal and so we can heartily recommend it! If you do, here is some info you might like to know:

  • Wildlife is never a guarantee so board with the thought that you are going to a nice boat ride to see Funchal from afar. Any sea life you do see is a bonus!
  • Take your swimwear (we had ours underneath to make life easier) and make sure you take a towel for afterwards.
  • Take layers just in case the wind picks up. Additionally, you will probably want your sunglasses, suntan cream, and wet weather gear. Madeira is full of microclimates so you never know what the weather will be.
  • The bar on board that sells snacks, soft drinks and alcohol only takes cash.
  • To book directly with VMT Madeira, visit the VMT Madeira website.

Rosie xx

We did receive a group discount in return for this review. However, we had an absolutely wonderful day with VMT Madeira and all opinions are my own.

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