Most visitors come here strictly for the wide beach of golden sand along the southern coast. It's ideal for swimming in unpolluted waters or for long strolls. If you tear yourself from the beach for a day, you will find some minor attractions. Vila Baleira, a sleepy town of whitewashed stucco houses, merits an hour of your time. You'll be following in the footsteps of Christopher Columbus as you make your way along its cobblestone streets.
Locals call the town Vila, and it lies at the center of the 6.5km-long (4-mile) beach. Stop for a drink at Café Ballena on Largo do Pelourinho, the main square. Shaded by palm trees, it is the center of life on the island. To the right of the Church of Our Lady of Piedad, follow a sign along the alley to the Casa de Cristovão Colombo, Travessa da Sacristia 4 (tel. 29/198-34-05). The explorer is said to have lived here with his wife, Isobel Moniz. Documentation about the Columbus visit to Porto Santo is skimpy, but it appears that he did live here for a short time. In an annex, you can view maps and engravings depicting major events in his life. The museum is open Monday to Friday from 10am to noon and 2 to 5:30pm, Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 1pm. Admission is free.
Later you can follow Rua Infante Dom Henrique, off Largo do Pelourinho, to a beach-surrounded, flower-filled park with a statue dedicated to Columbus. This is one of the most restful and scenic spots on the island.
After seeing the town and its meager attractions, you can visit some of the island's scenic highlights. They include Pico do Castelo, north of Vila Baleira, on a small and difficult road. It affords a perspective on the whole island and endless views of the sea. Pick up picnic provisions at one of the little shops in Vila Baleira. A fortified castle once stood here to guard Vila Baleira from attacks by pirates. Only four cannons remain -- islanders removed most of the castle's stone for building materials. The island government has planted pine trees to keep the air moist, but they never grow beyond 3m (9 3/4 ft.), so as not to obscure the view. From Pico do Castelo, you can follow signs to Pico do Facho, the tallest point on the island.
At the southwestern tip of the island, Ponta da Calheta is another scenic destination. To get there, take the road west out of Vila Baleira. It has a view of the little offshore island of Baixo, across a dangerous channel riddled with reefs. The beach is made of black basalt rocks, so it's not suitable for swimming.
Directly north lies another of the island's great lookout points, Pico dos Flores. Access is over a pothole-riddled dirt road. The cliffs here also have a panoramic view of the islet of Baixo, to your left. The tiny islet to your right is Ferro.
While in the southwestern part of the island, you can also follow the signs to A Pedreira, on the slopes of Pico de Ana Ferreira. The amazing basalt rock formation brings to mind organ pipes stretching toward the sky.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.