Calhau da Lapa: Complete Guide to Madeira's Hidden Gem

Pristine crystal clear water, ancient caves you can sleep in, a magnificent volcanic cliff, unique landscapes, a remote pebbly beach and an experience that’ll last you a lifetime. Continue reading to discover the hidden gem of Calhau da Lapa.

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If you enjoy discovering off-the-beaten-track locations on your travels, make sure you put Calhau da Lapa at the top of your list of things to do in Madeira!

The view from the deck out across the pristine water, pebbly beach and magnificent ancient cave houses carved into the side of a gigantic volcanic cliff, Calhau da Lapa, Madeira, Portugal
Calhau da Lapa is a highlight of any Madeira itinerary
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Save this complete guide to Calhau da Lapa for later, Madeira, Portugal

What is Calhau da Lapa?

Calhau da Lapa is a tiny piece of land nestled at the foot of a gigantic volcanic cliff. 

You’ll discover a waterfall, a remote pebbly beach, ancient caves hundreds of years old and some of the island’s clearest water making it one of the best places in Madeira to swim in the ocean.

Helen swimming in crystal clear water with a gigantic volcanic cliff backdrop with ancient caves carved into them, Calhau da Lapa, Madeira, Portugal
Calhau da Lapa has some of the clearest water in Madeira
Helen and Andy swimming in the crystal clear water at Calhau da Lapa, Madeira, Portugal
Such a beautiful spot for a swim

Due to its hard-to-reach location, Calhau da Lapa largely remains off the main tourist track. However, if you’re up for a bit of a challenge and don’t mind a bit of effort, it’s definitely worth a visit. We had the whole place to ourselves for a couple of hours!

The landscape is completely unique!

Pebbly beach and crystal clear ocean water with a magnificent volcanic cliff backdrop with ancient cave houses carved into it's side, Calhau da Lapa, Madeira, Portugal
Have you ever seen anything like it?!

Pristine waters lapping at the foot of a huge volcanic cliff make for an incredible backdrop for a peaceful swim away from the crowds at one of Madeira’s hidden gems.

Scattered up the side of the cliff, you’ll notice numerous caves. These caves were built hundreds of years ago to provide shelter for sea traders and their goods as transportation was done by sea.

Today, there are around 30 caves and some of their owners have restored them to rent out as accommodation.

How do I get to Calhau da Lapa?

Calhau da Lapa is located in the civil parish of Campanário in the municipality of Ribeira Brava.

You can’t reach it by car; your only options are by boat or on foot!

By boat, there are a few tours departing from Funchal that take you up the west coast and stop at multiple points including Calhau da Lapa. You can also rent a private sailboat.

During the summer months (May to September), several taxi boats operate between Ribeira Brava Bay and Calhau da Lapa daily. Ribeira Brava is 19 kilometres from Funchal and can easily be reached by car, bus or taxi.

Our top tip: During the winter months, boats can’t dock at Calhau da Lapa as a temporary disembarking platform is raised during the summer. You may be able to ask one of the locals to give you a ride, but the sea conditions have to be right.

Your other alternative is on foot.

View from the road across the start of the path to Calhau da Lapa. Flat and luscious green with the ocean in the background. Madeira, Portugal
The trail to Calhau da Lapa starts off nice and flat

You’ll need to park at the trailhead, Vereda do Paço, on Estrada da Lapa and the walk will take approximately 30 minutes over the steep cliffs. 

You can also get the bus from Funchal to Campanário and from there it’s a 30-minute walk to the trailhead.

Beware, the path to Calhau da Lapa is extremely steep. It’s around 1 kilometre down steep slopes and approximately 700 steps so proper footwear is required! We also wouldn’t recommend this walk with young children.

Andy hiking up the steps from Calhau da Lapa back to the road past the ancient cave houses, Madeira, Portugal
What goes down...has to go back up!
The view from the road down on Calhau da Lapa below the steep cliffs, Madeira, Portugal
The walk to the beach is not an easy one

The path is well-maintained and there are railings to hold onto for support.

The path starts off nice and flat but after a couple of hundred metres becomes very steep. The closer you get to the bottom, it also becomes quite slippy so take care.

The view is amazing as you make your way down to Calhau da Lapa so make sure you stop and appreciate it now and again and to give yourself a break on the way down.

Andy hiking down the steep slopes of the volcanic cliffs to Calhau da Lapa, Madeira, Portugal
The path to Calhau da Lapa is well-maintained but very steep

As you get closer to the bottom, listen out for the sound of a waterfall.

View from the bottom of the steps up to the waterfall hidden behind the gigantic volcanic cliff with ancient cave houses carved into it's side, Calhau da Lapa, Madeira, Portugal
Can you see the waterfall behind the cliff?

Where to Stay at Calhau da Lapa?

The closest and most unique and memorable place to stay for Calhau da Lapa is to travel back in time and stay in a fisherman’s cave house.

Some of the caves have been beautifully adapted and kitted out with a fully-equipped kitchen, warm shower, toilet, barbeque and balcony with a sea and mountain view.

You’ll need to do the walk down the steep cliff so only pack what you need.

There are also guesthouses close by in Ribeira Brava and Campanário.

Aside from Calhau da Lapa, there isn’t a whole lot in this area. You can visit in a day from Funchal and use Madeira’s vibrant capital as your base, or do what we did and stop off en route as we were driving from Calheta to Funchal on our 10-day Madeira itinerary.

Everything Else You Need to Know About Calhau da Lapa

Do I need to bring anything to Calhau da Lapa?

You’ll need to wear proper footwear for the walk down and back unless you’re arriving by boat. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen and depending on how long you plan on staying, bring snacks and food. Bring swimwear and a towel if you plan on going for a swim. 

If you’re staying the night, bring only the essentials so you don’t need to carry too much along the path.

Is there an entrance fee?

No, Calhau da Lapa is completely free to visit!

How long should I spend in Madeira?

To really make the most of your visit and experience the best Madeira has to offer, we’d recommend a week at minimum. We spent 10 days in Madeira and there was still more we would loved to have visited.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our complete guide to Calhau da Lapa. Be sure to check out some of our other Madeira travel guides below.

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