Rocha Do Navio Cable Car, Beach & Hike

Rocha Do Navio

Rocha Do Navio which translates as ‘ship rock’ is a natural reserve island on Madeira’s north east coast, close to Santana. The cable car runs from the top of the mountain to the beach and back however you can also hike up the hillside to return.  The hike is only 1.5km long but at a climb of 330m it gives a nice work out and you get great views. If you’re visiting Madeira with kids and looking for something fun and cheap, this could be it.

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The view from the top of the mountain, overlooking Rocha Do Navio


How To Find Rocha Do Navio

Its name (Ship Rock) is due to a Dutch shipwreck in the bay, in the 19th century. The islet appearance is also similar to the front of a ship.

Rocha do Navio comprises a total area of 1.710 hectares (1710 acres) and is 6259 metres long. It has a natural floristic heritage, characteristic of the Madeira coast where unique flowers grow. In winter there are not so many flowers but the higher you climb the more abundant they become.

Parking and Payment

Parking is limited to just four spaces in the official car-park with space on the road for about another three cars.

Payment is by cash and cost (in 2017) 5 euros for adults and 1 euro for children.  Each cable car is limited to six people and is locked before it sets off!

Other things to do on Madeira with kids

Catching The Rocha Do Navio Cable Car

The cable car is quite small and in high wind it does sway a tiny bit from side to side. It takes approximately seven minutes to get down the mountain so not a long time to snap photos.

The car gives great views across the mountain, sea and over to the island of Rocha Do Navio. However walking back up the mountain gives better views but obviously takes longer!

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The cable car with the island of Rocha Do Navio in the background
Flowers on Madeira Island
The mountain, island and one waterfall in the background.

The View From The Cable Care

Taking photos in the cable car was difficult due to the reflection from the very dirty glass but it is nonetheless very exciting to descend the mountain in it – especially when it sways and all the kids go ‘Ooooh’!

From the air you can see some of the steep steps that have been carved into the rock that we hiked back up on. You can also see a number of waterfalls and the gardens from the houses below.

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Rich and Zach in the cable car.
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I spotted the steps from the cable car before knowing you could hike back up the mountain.
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Waterfall from the cable car.
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The view of Rocha Do Navio, the coastline and the agricultural plots from the cable car.

The Rocha Do Navio Beach

There are concrete and stone paths along the foot of the mountain which divide the land and beach. People live down there and there are a handful of residential homes. The beach is incredibly rocky and the waves pound the shoreline (well it is winter, I suppose). A great spot for kids to jump and throw rocks into the ocean.

In the summer I am told it is much calmer and you can swim into the rock’s cave as well as snorkel and dive here.

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The pathway immediately upon exiting the cable car.
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The path that leads over to the Biosphere building and the hike up the mountain.
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The beach of Rocha Do Navio
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In winter the sea pounds the shoreline
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The boy perching on top of a rock

Can You Spot The Bananas and Vines

Lining the base of the mountain are gardens and agricultural plots where the residents and local farmers grow bananas, grapes, coconuts, custard apples and other fruits.  In this part of the island, life is simple and many residents live off what they grow and make a living from selling the produce.

Each garden is surrounded by ten foot bamboo to protect against the wind and sea spray but you can peak through the gaps to see what they’re growing.

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Cut down bananas being sold at the foot of the mountain.

Bananas are sold at the foot of the cable car when you descend, in buckets. I have never seen bananas in real life still attached to the branch or growing on a tree, so I was very happy.

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Bananas growing on the trees with a waterfall in the background.

Waterfalls & Bridges

Madeira has an abundance of rain and water and you can see the water cascading off the mountains in most places on the island. Here is no different and I think we counted three waterfalls.

There is also a particularly picturesque hump bridge crossing a river which feeds the sea, which is partially overgrown by bamboo.

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Hump bridge
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Waterfalls everywhere!
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Waterfalls, pathways and vines at Rocha Do Navio
Waterfalls at faja de Rocha Do Navio
Waterfalls at faja de Rocha Do Navio

Other things to do in Madeira

Don’t Forget To See The Biosphere Building

The Reserve encompasses a wide diversity of relevant natural habitats; vegetated sea cliffs with endemic flora of the Macaronesian coasts; lower formations of Euphorbia close to the cliffs; submerged or partially submerged sea caves as well as a large number of nesting and migratory ornithological species.

The biosphere building was closed when we visited and I think it might only be open to pedagogical groups by request? To do this, contact the Instituto das Florestas e Conservação da Natureza.

Hiking Back Up The Hill

Hiking back up the mountain is hard work but ultimately very rewarding.  It’s only 1.5km but climbs 330m.

All of the path is man made and comprises of steps cut into the rocks or steps made with rocks.

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Steep steps cut into the rock at Rocha Do Navio
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Admiring the view and having a break
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The view from the hike.

From this height you can see the small plots of agricultural land clearly.

The path is steep and in places narrow but the view over the bay is fantastic. There are hand rails over half the path but these are weak and I wouldn’t put any real weight on them.

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The view from slightly higher up
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Hiking back up the mountain

The Winery Rock Face

Maybe about 1/3rd of the way up the mountain, you can see a winery and a water tank excavated into the rock.

It is said to be a testimony of the farmer’s resilience to overcome the physical difficulties imposed by limited access to the area.  I certainly cannot imagine trying to carry all those grapes up that cliff face!!

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Winery carved into the rock
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The winery which is carved into the rock face

Keep An Eye Out For The Little Signs

There are little wooden signs to keep you going up the mountain. They’re all in Portuguese and they have helped our children start learning a new language.

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‘A little bit of dripping’ for this wet rock at Rocha Do Navio
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This one means ‘rest’! I’m pretty sure we did too.
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This one means baby crib which baffled us. Maybe it means we’re only a baby’s footsteps up the mountain? It was about a third of the way up.

Madeira Is Prone To Rock Falls & Mud Slides

Madeira is renowned for its rock falls and mud slides. At times perilous and we discovered a couple of fresh mud slides and about four rock falls. One of these rock falls was closer to the top and had removed a good 60cm of the pathway, leaving a path of 20cm wide with a sheer drop of 250m on the other side.  You will need sturdy shoes and to be mindful of covered paths and unstable paths. There is a risk but we felt it was manageable and our kids understood the consequences and acted responsibly.

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A mud slide covered the path.

Reaching The Top

The walk back up the mountain took us an hour but we didn’t walk very fast, we stopped for photos and of course had to be careful of the rock and mud slides.

An experienced walker or runner could complete this in half the time but probably wouldn’t have time to check out the view.

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The view over faja de Rocha Do Navio from the top.
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Flowers growing near the top of the walk.

Other Ideas on things to do in Madeira

Other tours you could book on Madeira