Calheta (Madeira): The Complete Guide

Calheta is a charming village nestled in a steep valley just above Madeira’s coast. It is the principal town of the sun-drenched, fertile southwestern coast of the island. Constructed in a bay at the stream’s mouth, Calheta enjoys constant sunshine, and its modern artificial sand beach and marina have transformed it into a leisure destination.

As one of Madeira’s oldest parishes and a site of early exploration by the island’s first settlers, Calheta holds historical significance. Established on June 1, 1502, by a Royal Decree from Dom Manuel the Virtuous, its foundation day is celebrated on June 24th, aligning with the festive St. John’s Day. Annually, the village near the beach buzzes with music, food stalls, and lively parades.

It hosts the historic Engenho da Calheta, a sugar cane factory founded in 1901, still producing sugar cane honey and ‘aguardente’ or rum. The area is also renowned for its rich variety of fish in its coastal waters.

A highlight for visitors is the Mudas Contemporary Art Museum of Madeira, an architecturally ambitious project that blends seamlessly with its environment. Known for its quality exhibitions and cultural events, it offers an iconic view of the sandy beach, the Savoy Calheta Beach hotel, and the marina. Nearby, overlooking a small pebble beach, the Savoy Saccharum Resort & Spa, a hotel harmoniously integrated into the natural landscape, is situated close to the marina.

Visiting Calheta (Madeira) for the first time and wondering what are the top places to see in the city? In this complete guide, I share the best things to do in Calheta (Madeira) on the first visit. Top help you plan your trip, I have also included an interactive map and practical tips for visiting!

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History of Calheta (Madeira)

The name “Calheta” has dual origins related to its toponymy; it means “small bay” in Portuguese and also relates to “cal” meaning lime, linking to limestone. Founded in 1430, Calheta is one of Madeira’s oldest parishes and among the first explored by early settlers. It was granted to João Gonçalves Zarco’s son and his wife as a land grant.

Calheta evolved from a village to a town in 1502, following a royal charter by King Manuel I. Initially settled by noblemen and knights, this influenced the naming of localities such as Lombo do Doutor and Lombo do Atouguia. Important early establishments included the Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Graça, founded in 1502, and the Santa Casa da Misericórdia in 1535, serving healthcare needs.

Prazeres parish, initially part of Estreito da Calheta, became autonomous in 1733, with its church founded in 1751. The Liberal revolution in 1835 led to Calheta’s incorporation as a municipality. Ponta do Pargo, initially under Porto Moniz, was incorporated into Calheta, but later returned to Porto Moniz in 1855, and was reintegrated into Ponta do Pargo in 1871.

Tristão Vaz Teixeira Bettencourt da Câmara, titled Baron of Jardim do Mar, was a significant figure, owning properties and directing the Diário de Notícias in Funchal. King Carlos I and Queen Amélie of Portugal visited Calheta, marking one of the monarchy’s last events affecting the area. Notable developments include the 1922 inauguration of the Ponta da Vigia lighthouse and the 1944 establishment of the Bairro Piscatório do Paul do Mar for the fishing community.

7 Best places to See in Calheta (Madeira)

This complete guide to Calheta (Madeira) not only tells you about the very best sights and tourist attractions for first-time visitors to the city but also provide insights into a few of our personal favorite things to do.

This is a practical guide to visiting the best places to see in Calheta (Madeira) and is filled with tips and info that should answer all your questions!

Calheta Beach

Calheta Beach
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Petras Gagilas
Calheta Beach, located on Madeira Island, is renowned for its sandy shores. While it may not boast the same level of natural beauty as some of the more picturesque beaches on the island, it is a popular choice among vacationers, tourists, and local residents of the Calheta region due to its soft sand and easy […]
Location: Av. D. Manuel I 8, 9370-133 Estreito da Calheta, Portugal | Distance: 0.00km
Visiting Calheta Beach

Espírito Santo Chapel, Calheta

Calheta, Iglesia Matriz Del Espírito Santo
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Allie_Caulfield
The Espírito Santo Chapel is a cherished historical monument in the Calheta parish, known for its priceless art collection, making it a highly regarded point of interest. Originally constructed in the late 15th century, the chapel underwent a complete reconstruction in 1639, resulting in a blend of both Manueline and Mannerist architectural styles, contributing to […]
Location: Igreja Matriz do Espírito Santo Av. D. Manuel I 23 Calheta Portugal | Distance: 0.30km
Visiting Espírito Santo Chapel, Calheta

Casa Dos Mudas

Casa Dos Mudas
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Jane White
Casa das Mudas, situated on a hill overlooking the town of Calheta and just over 30 minutes from Funchal, is a museum devoted to contemporary art. This dynamic cultural venue, inaugurated in October 2004, boasts not only a rich collection of art but also serves as a hub for various cultural events. The museum’s building, […]
Location: Casa das Mudas, Estrada Simão Gonçalves Câmara, Calheta, Portugal | Hours: Tuesday to Saturday: 09h30-13h00| 14h00-17h30 Closed: Mondays, Sundays and public holidays | Distance: 0.40km
Visiting Casa Dos Mudas

Engenho da Calheta

© 2024 Andrew Ashton
Exploring the sugar-producing history of Madeira is akin to journeying through the cultural and historical tapestry of the archipelago. A vital part of this exploration is a visit to the Engenho da Calheta, a landmark emblematic of Madeira’s sugarcane heritage. This visit is a must for anyone traveling along the island’s west coast. The Sociedade […]
Visiting Engenho da Calheta

Cascata dos Anjos

Cascata Dos Anjos
Pixabay / Frank Nürnberger
Cascata dos Anjos, situated just outside Ponta do Sol on Madeira Island, Portugal, is a breathtaking waterfall that cascades over the old highway ER 101, creating a stunning natural spectacle. To reach Cascata dos Anjos, when traveling west from Ribeira Brava to Madalena do Mar on road VE3, take the exit at a roundabout leading […]
Visiting Cascata dos Anjos

Paul da Serra 

Road In Paul Da Serra
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Mysserli
Paúl da Serra, located in the central-western part of Madeira, is a magnificent plateau that stands as the highest and largest on the island, offering breathtaking panoramic views and remarkable natural features. Situated centrally in Madeira, Paúl da Serra boasts an average altitude of approximately 1,400 meters (4,600 feet) above sea level, making it a […]
Location: Paúl da Serra ER209 Ribeira da Janela Portugal | Distance: 8.70km
Visiting Paul da Serra 

Garganta Funda Waterfall 

Garganta Funda Waterfall 
© 2024 Andrew Ashton
Within the Madeira archipelago, numerous locations showcase Nature’s remarkable exuberance, and the Garganta Funda Waterfall unquestionably stands among these exceptionally beautiful places that leave no one untouched. Nestled on the southwestern edge of the island, within the Calheta municipality, reaching this natural sanctuary involves heading towards the parish of Ponta do Pargo, notable for its […]
Visiting Garganta Funda Waterfall 

Best Time to Visit Calheta (Madeira)

Calheta enjoys a sub-tropical climate characterized by hot summers, very mild winters, and year-round sunshine. The warmest period for visiting Calheta is typically between August and September. However, due to its favorable climate, sunshine is abundant throughout the year, making winter months also popular among visitors.

August: The hottest month, with an average daily maximum temperature of 27°C and a minimum of 21°C.
February: The coolest month, with an average daily maximum temperature of 19°C and a minimum of 14°C.
In terms of sunshine and rainfall:

June: The driest month, experiencing virtually no rainfall and boasting 30 days of perfect sunshine.
October: The wettest month, with 34 mm of rainfall spread over 3 days.
For beach activities, the sea temperature is comfortably warm, averaging 23°C or above, from June to October, making these months ideal for enjoying the beach.

Average Temperatures in Calheta (Madeira)

  • January 16°C 6
  • February 16°C 7
  • March 19°C 6
  • April 19°C 6
  • May 19°C 3
  • June 21°C 3
  • July 23°C 0
  • August 26°C 1
  • September 23°C 3
  • October 22°C 7
  • November 19°C 8
  • December 18°C 9

How to get to Calheta (Madeira)

There is a direct bus service from Funchal to Calheta. The bus departs from Funchal – Avenida do Mar and arrives at Calheta. This service operates five times a day, every day, providing a convenient and regular transportation option for the journey.

Tours and Activities from Calheta (Madeira)