Blog - Fanal Forest Madeira Photography Guide
In this article I share my experience of photographing the beautiful Fanal Forest on Madeira. I give tips on how to get there, where to stay, and when to visit.
The Fanal Forest is famous for fog, and when I was visiting in November of 2021, I was hoping to take some atmospheric landscape photos in such conditions. After spending ten wonderful days at the Portuguese coast near Lisbon, I flew to the island of Madeira, which is just a 90-minute flight. From the airport north of Funchal, I got my rental car and drove directly to the north-western part of the island. It’s where the Fanal Forest is located.
Why Madeira Is Great for Landscape Photography
I spent two full weeks on Madeira. For some people, two weeks might sound a bit too much because the island is not very large and there are nearly no sandy beaches. But beaches are not the reason to visit Madeira. Especially for landscape photographers two weeks can go by very quickly on this mountainous island with its many photographic treasures.
So if you ever have the chance to visit Madeira, plan in enough time. You can photograph scenic vistas, mountains, waterfalls, magical forests, and spectacular coastlines.
Where to Stay
Because I had so much time, I split it to first explore the lush landscapes in the north-western part of the island for one week, and then focus on the east with its mountains and photogenic coastline.
The winding roads and mountains that cover Madeira were the reason for this split. It reduced the time spent in the car by a significant amount. For example, getting from Funchal in the southeast to Porto Moniz in the northwest takes around one hour. If you add a return trip, then this is already two hours spent in the car.
While we stayed in Porto Moniz, we mainly drove around the mountain plateau that contains the ancient Laurisilva forest. There's a nice round-trip you can do, which includes the Fanal Forest, the 25 Fontes Waterfall, and many beautiful Levada Walks. Just take the ER209 and ER110 roads and combine them into a loop. You’ll find many great landscape photography opportunities along the way.
And you might already have guessed it: You need a car on Madeira. We got our rental car from AnaLodges, through whom we also rented our first apartment. I can fully recommend their service as well as the Ocean View Cottage located above Porto Moniz.
When to Visit Madeira
If you are after the beautiful flower bloom, then you should visit Madeira during springtime. From the photos I’ve seen, the island will look wonderful during that time.
But if you’re after moody conditions, which, in my opinion, are needed to photograph the Fanal Forest, the time between the beginning of November and the end of March will give you the highest chance to get those. But it’s still no guarantee you’ll get fog in Fanal. And the conditions during that time can be quite bad for photographing the mountains, with strong winds and a lot of rain.
If I were to visit Madeira again, I would opt for the end of March. There’s already a chance for the flower bloom. And fog in the Fanal Forest is also still common for that time.
Fanal Forest Photography
During the week I had in Porto Moniz, my main photographic focus was the Fanal forest. This ancient laurel forest is a photographer's dream, if the conditions are right. And, if you do a Google search for Fanal, you'll quickly get an idea what those are: Landscape photography in the Fanal Forest typically features fog.
Since I visited Madeira in late November, I was sure that to get a lot of fog in the mountains. Especially for Fanal this is quite common I've been told. But to my surprise, despite plenty of rain in the first days, there was never enough humidity in the air for fog to manifest in this magical forest while other mountainous areas on the island were often shrouded in deep clouds.
Again and again, I drove up to the Fanal Forest to be greeted either by sunny or grey skies, often with a lot of wind. On the first visit, I managed to take a photo I'm quite fond of, though. As you can see above, the sun was casting beautiful shadows that served as an extension to this already very gnarly tree with its many reaching branches.
On sunny days you have to spend a lot of time to find compositions that work in this forest – the photo above is one of the very few successes I had. While this was a good exercise and preparation, after the fifth visit I was really longing for some fog up there. It was hard to get a good weather forecast for the region. The Webcams that are spread all across Madeira were also no real help in predicting the conditions in Fanal.
In the end, I got the best forecast by using the app MadeiraWeather and looking at the conditions in Ribeira de Janela. One day MadeiraWeather finally predicted 100% humidity combined with a light drizzle in the morning, so I started the drive for attempt number six.
And I was rewarded with five hours of dense fog. In the beginning there was much more rain than a light drizzle, but after some time it subsided, and I was able to finally photograph Fanal in prime conditions.
Madeira Photography behind the Scenes
The photos above are just a small excerpt. I photographed a total of 15 different compositions, which I show in the second video linked below. The first video covers the challenges I had the first days and how I had to adapt by finding other subjects to photograph. If you have some time, watch those videos. You'll get good impression of how the area looks, and what you have to do to come away with good photos from there.
As you can see, although Fanal is famous for foggy conditions, even in November there’s no guarantee for fog. So, if you plan a landscape photography trip to Madeira, stay long enough, so you can return to places like the Fanal forest multiple times. Had I not spent a whole week dedicated to this area, I would have been pretty dissapointed.