Madeira vs Tenerife: Which One is a Better Winter Retreat?

A Comparison of Aspects That Struck Us While Living There

Digital Red Crabs 🦀
8 min readMar 12, 2022

In the last two posts, we gave you insights from our travels to these two islands:

There is no doubt about it: Both destinations are beautiful, and both have their unique allure.

But if you had to choose one, then here’s our report on the following aspects:

  • Winter Climate 🌤
  • Beaches 🌊
  • Apartments 🏡
  • The Christmas Season 🎄
  • Drinking Water 🚰
  • Snacks and Quick Bites 🥟
  • Streets, Driving, and Car Rentals 🚗
  • Public Transport 🚌

Winter Climate 🌤

Photo by Marla Prusik on Unsplash

On both islands, the temperature drops a few degrees on either north coast. Thus, if you stay over winter, consider accommodating yourself in the south of the islands.
This is especially valid for Madeira. The northern coast was mostly windy and fresh, whereas you could still sunbathe on the eastern and southern coast of the island.
But even in the south, we experienced some rainy days and needed heaters and warm clothes during many nights in December and January.

Tenerife, located 500 kms further south, is a warmer winter destination. In winter, we sojourned in the south and west of Tenerife and went on day trips to the north, experiencing beach weather throughout our stay.

If you want guaranteed sunshine, Tenerife is a safer bet 🏅.

Beaches 🌊

Photo by Kiril Georgiev on Unsplash

Most of Tenerife’s beaches have fine black volcanic sand. Some fewer beaches have white sand. On these beaches, access to the ocean is easy unless the waves are very high–a scenario that does happen occasionally when Atlantic winter waves hit the shores of the Canary Islands–and Madeira.

In Madeira, there are fewer sandy beaches, but more beaches with pebbles or stones. To access the water, we strongly recommend water shoes.

If you are interested in exploring a variety of sandy beaches, the winner is Tenerife 🏅.

Apartments 🏡

Photo by Dimitry B on Unsplash

Our overall experience with apartments and guest houses goes as follows:
In Tenerife, there are many decent to good quality apartments, often in a bigger apartment complex with a shared pool for an affordable price.

In Madeira, there are many good to high-quality apartments and houses, which are generally a bit more pricey than Tenerife.

Now is there a winner? Not really, it depends on your budget and your idea of what your lodgings should provide you with.

Christmas Season 🎄

Photo by Dylan Freedom on Unsplash

We spent one Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Tenerife and another one in Madeira:

Our clear winner in this category is Madeira 🏅.

From December till the 6th of January Madeira is lit with stunning, blinking Christmas lights. Funchal is particularly beautifully decorated, but also other towns and villages spare no effort to create a Christmassy atmosphere. The fireworks in Funchal are a special highlight on New Year’s Eve.

Drinking Water 🚰

Photo by André Noboa on Unsplash

What about drinking water? Can you drink water straight from the tap on both islands or do you have to fret about carrying heavy water cans to your accommodation?

In Madeira, tap water is potable all over the island. We found it to be a great relief to hear that locals drink water straight from the faucet, because as a result you don’t have to carry heavy 5l cans from the supermarkets to your lodgings, which most likely happen to be situated on a hill, cliff, or mountain. In some towns you’ll also find drinking fountains, especially along running trails and in outdoor fitness parks.

If you come to Tenerife, you will see islanders and tourists alike buying big water cans. If you ask locals, they will generally say, it’s saver to buy bottled water than consuming tap water. Saver? What does that mean exactly? Can you drink it, or will you end up in the hospital?

Years ago, water was not recommended to be consumed straight from the tap on any of the Canary Islands. Even for cooking, many locals would use bottled water. (Imagine the plastic waste if you need to buy bottled water for a family of four throughout the year). Thankfully, today this has changed in most regions.

Although the bad water quality is still firmly anchored in the minds of people, the local government of the Canary Islands has done a lot in the recent years to improve the water quality for the final consumer. Therefore, tap water is drinkable in most municipalities, but –and therein lies the hitch– not everywhere. To be save, you would have to check your place of residence on Spain’s official website for potable water (SINAC), which includes a quite complicated search process in Spanish.

If you understand Spanish, here is the link:

Select your region and town, then, on the next page popping up, click on the specific area under “denominación” and see if the water is recommended for drinking.

What a complicated search, you might exclaim! We thought so, too, therefore, the winner is Madeira 🏅when it comes to drinking water.

Snacks and Quick Bites 🥟

Photo by Patryk Pastewski on Unsplash

One of us is constantly hungry. Thus, we are always on the lookout for something to nibble on. Street food is highly appreciated, and we found our street food in Madeira sold in numerous bakeries. Madeiran bakeries offer a wide array of freshly made fish, meat, or omelet sandwiches, as well as empanadas. If you have a sweet tooth, these bakeries also offer a variety of cakes and buns. Check out the Christmas honey cake bolo de mel. In bigger towns, you can also find street vendors that offer Madeira’s typical bread spread with garlic sauce: bolo do caco.

In Tenerife, we couldn’t find that many bakeries that offer ready-to-go sandwiches. In supermarkets, you can normally find some supermarket empanadas which can’t stand any competition to those offered by bakeries in Madeira. Don’t get us wrong, Tenerife’s cuisine is delicious (check out the mojo on their papas arrugadas–salted Canarian potatoes), but there were not many options to fix sudden hunger pangs.

We have a clear winner when we want to appease our hunger with street food: Madeira 🏅.

Streets, Driving, and Car Rentals 🚗

Photo by Danilo Santos on Unsplash

Tenerife has a motorway running from the northwest to the northeast almost like a ring around the island. This makes driving easy and uncomplicated. But you should allow for some time to get to the other side of the island, as there is no way of cutting though the island. In the middle of Tenerife is Spain’s highest mountain: The sleeping volcano El Teide. Therefore, it will take you approximately an hour to drive from the east to the west, or the south to the north. Hiring a car is no hassle, as all of Tenerife’s well-known towns offer several car rental companies.

In Madeira, highways link all important places and you’ll be in awe of the many tunnels Madeirans constructed on their rocky island, allowing you a smooth transition from the north to the south (20 min).

Madeira’s smaller coastal roads often edge an abrupt precipice, winding themselves up and down the steep cliffs. This makes driving slower–at least for most tourists. Locals seem to be so used to their winding cliff roads that they speed around bends in a blink of an eye, making us shift uneasily in our seats.

Rental car companies abound in Madeira’s capital Funchal, and the area around the airport. The further you drive away from those places, the harder it is to find a car rental, though. Thus, we recommend to look for car rentals before you spend some time in the far west or north.

Now, the nomination of the winner of this category is hard because we loved the easy access to cars, and the relaxed rides in Tenerife, but we applaud the awesome tunnel systems in Madeira. Here both destinations draw level.

Public Transport 🚌

Public transport is fine in Tenerife. There are regular buses (guaguas) that take you back and forth to most coastal destinations and it’s common to find busses departing regularly throughout the day. We used google maps to check departures and arrivals and could rely on the busses being on time.

In Madeira, they also use busses for their public transportation. Whilst Funchal and its outskirts have a good bus network, the other parts of the island are run by different bus companies and each company is responsible for their region. Unfortunately, there is no internet presence by these companies outside of Funchal which makes travelling by bus difficult, as you always have to look at different bus stops to figure out where each bus might be going. Also, Madeiran busses try to connect the small villages along the way, which makes the journey seem endless, as coastal streets are super winding. For a stretch of 20 min by taxi, it took us over 1 1/2 hours by bus. We just wished the busses would take those tunnels more often instead of taking the long route around the cliffs.

Thus, when it comes to public transport, the winner is Tenerife 🏅!

We hope the above insights would help you choose the right destination for your next vacation, and if you still can’t make up your mind, know that there is a one hour flight from Madeira to Tenerife.

Happy travelling! ☺️

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Digital Red Crabs 🦀

Digital nomadic couple 🗺, minimalists 🍃 | Sharing meaningful experiences from our travels | Support our writing: