Ilhéu de Cima, Porto Santo, Portugal

The First Light of Who Navigates From Above

Cargo on sight
back to the foothills
Tour group descends the stairs back to the base of Ilhéu de Cima.
"Youth" Dragon Tree
Dragon tree newly planted by the authorities in order to recover the vegetation that once proliferated in Ilhéu do Farol.
The headlight
The front façade of the Ilhéu de Cima lighthouse, between two housing wings.
speedboat on its way
Speedboat approaches the anchorage point at the foot of Ilhéu do Farol.
A Santo Porto and Shelter
Sailboats moored in Porto Santo marina, west of Ponta do Passo.
The Marina Murals
Athlete runs along the wall that isolates the marina in Porto Santo.
Facing Ponta do Passo
The view from the northwestern tip of Ilhéu do Farol to Ponta do Passo de Porto Santo.
Navigator in the midst of fun, off the Ilhéu do Farol.
Brief Snorkeling
Bathing and snorkeling time off the Ilhéu do Farol.
It is part of the group of six islets around the island of Porto Santo, but it is far from being just one more. Even though it is the eastern threshold of the Madeira archipelago, it is the island closest to Portosantenses. At night, it also makes the fanal that confirms the right course for ships coming from Europe.

We arrived on Sunday. Porto Santo treats us to one of the few sunny sunrises.

About 9:30 am, as agreed, we are at the door of the hotel ready to move on. The kids from the family who would accompany us from there appear sleepy and wearing beach slippers.

The guide from Mar Dourado warns them that, wearing that way, the walk would make them suffer. Even so, he cannot overcome, first the indecision, then the youthful inertia of the group.

Victor shrugs. Validate the match. We crossed the whole of Vila Baleira at the Sunday rhythm to which the village surrendered. Soon, the road flanked by houses and businesses gives way to another one, unobstructed, named Student Jorge de Freitas and parallel to the golden sands of the south of the golden island.

Arriving at the foot of Portela, we enter the marina. We find it disputed by athletes stimulated by the asphalt track between the cliffs of the jetty and the wall full of nautical murals above.

Ilhéu do Farol, Ilhéu de Cima, Porto Santo Marina

Athlete runs along the wall that isolates the marina in Porto Santo.

Victor gathers the passengers.

Give them the navigation and destination information. Moments later, we set sail for the gentle Atlantic south of the pier.

Ilhéu do Farol, Ilhéu de Cima, Porto Santo Marina

Sailboats moored in Porto Santo marina, west of Ponta do Passo.

The Smooth Navigation Towards the Ilhéu do Farol

The semi-rigid train progresses towards Ponta do Passo. From the imminence of this peninsula, overlooking the beach nestled at its base, we point to the northern end of Ilhéu de Cima, a kind of inverted scenario that geology and erosion have loosened.

Despite the separation, Ilhéu de Cima is still there. It is the most intimate of the constellation of volcanic and arid quasi-islands that surround Porto Santo. It is a mere 380 meters from the southeastern edge of the main island.

Lighthouse Islet, Cima Islet, Sailing

Navigator in the midst of fun, off the Ilhéu do Farol.

The semi-rigid progresses so close to its western escarpments that, despite the shade, we can appreciate several lava tubes that seem to have been injected a posteriori on the rock.

We were also able to identify the eccentric volcanic formation that Victor points out to us, baptized as Pedra do Sol, for reasons that its configuration makes quite obvious.

It is estimated that about 18 million years ago, fast-moving lava flows at high temperatures came into contact with the much cooler sea. The lava solidified in a short time. It assumed a radial, striped structure, which evokes the look of the great star and which forms one of the main geosites of Ilhéu de Cima.

After a few more minutes, we anchored at the small anchorage on the coast and safe from the North Sea.

The Long Ramp and Staircase to the top of Ilhéu de Cima

Victor alerts the participants that, in terms of effort, the moment of truth has arrived. Like someone who doesn't want the thing, he looks askance at the little one and their scraggly feet. "Let's go then. It's 713 steps up there. We stopped how many times the views down here are good.”

Good… it was like saying. We stop at one of the “donkeys' rests”. The staircase had a few more, determined by the points where the donkeys that used to carry food, merchandise, whatever, to the top of the lighthouse, were tied in order to avoid accidents.

From this walled landing, the sea displayed an incredible chromatic splendor: immediately, a translucent emerald band that showed the submerged rocks in detail. From that strip onwards, a vast expanse of turquoise water that only the south of Porto Santo imposed an end to.

Ilhéu do Farol, Porto Santo, Ilhéu de Cima, Porto Santo, Speedboat on the way

Speedboat approaches the anchorage point at the foot of Ilhéu do Farol.

There were a few hundred steps to the top of the island. From there up, the transparency and appearance of the sea only improved.

The scenario arouses in us sudden yearnings for diving, bathing and swimming. With the ascent, perhaps, not even halfway through, we arrange them in the subconscious and resume the conquest of the lighthouse.

The staircase reaches a corner. Folds back. A good dozen more steps and it launches us onto the stable land at the top of the islet.

Pre-informed that we were participating with a separate mission, Victor gives us the necessary freedom to go ahead and reach the northwestern tip of the island in time to photograph its grandiose confrontation with the one in Passo.

Incursion to the northwestern tip of Ilhéu do Farol

We almost ran. We avoided an attack by furious seagulls by trespassing on their territory where, for sure, they would have a nest.

Even so, hampered by the high wind and the menace from the wings, we made our way over the narrow ridge, while admiring the somber and dizzying panorama to the right.

Finally, the crest opens to a slightly wider and flatter stretch. We took our backpacks off our backs, steadied our panting.

Soon, we started taking pictures. especially the Pico Branco, your Terra Chã and other peaks that rose above Ponta do Passo, detached from the golden massif of Porto Santo, just separated from the point that supported us by a strait of shallow, greenish sea.

Ilhéu do Farol, Porto Santo, Ilhéu de Cima, Porto Santo, facing Ponta do Passo.

The view from the northwestern tip of Ilhéu do Farol to Ponta do Passo de Porto Santo.

We were already late. We go back with the same care. We see the queue led by Victor in the distance. Victor, detect us and claim us.

When we gather, the group takes a slope that crosses the widest section of the islet and climbs to the top of the cliffs that enclose its east, shelter for the endemic Macaronesian rock carrots.

The trail is demarcated by the absence of the low, dry vegetation that predominates around it, speckled only by a few sharp-leaved trees that, by all indications, were juvenile. Intrigued, we asked Victor what they were about.

The Dragon Trees that once Abundant on the Island and throughout Porto Santo

The guide enlightens us. “They are dragon trees. Now, it may seem impossible to you, but this Ilhéu de Cima and Porto Santo in general were once full of large dragon trees.

In Ilhéu de Cima, in particular, there were so many that it came to be called Ilhéu dos Dragoeiros.

Ilhéu do Farol, Ilhéu de Cima, Porto Santo, dragon tree

Dragon tree newly planted by the authorities in order to recover the vegetation that once proliferated in Ilhéu do Farol.

The trees and the meaning of the name disappeared because, with colonization, came the search for wood and the extraction of dragon's blood, which spread to almost all of Macaronesia.

The Azorean chronicler Gaspar Frutuoso (1522, Ponta Delgada; 1591, Ribeira Grande, Madeira) narrated in his chronicles that, with the trunks of ancient dragon trees, the settlers of Porto Santo built boats capable of taking six or seven men to fish.

Over the centuries, Porto Santo and its islets have lost them all, but the dragons maintain their definitive place in the arms of the city's municipality, which, in practice, covers the entire island.

The authorities aim to recover them. Since these are slow-growing trees, they have a lot to plant. And even more to wait.

The Lighthouse why the Ilhéu do Farol is also known

The lighthouse, this one, did not take long.

A few additional steps, already at 120 meters of altitude, we bump into its front, facing west. It comprises two twin housing wings, with a tower of fifteen meters in the middle, in turn, crowned by a red bell.

Ilhéu do Farol, Ilhéu de Cima, Porto Santo, the Lighthouse

The front façade of the Ilhéu de Cima lighthouse, between two housing wings.

Victor and his colleagues install themselves next to the rest and meals tables that equip the structure. There they devote themselves to preparing the food and drinks that the entourage had deserved.

We took the opportunity to investigate the lighthouse surroundings. We don't go far.

When we turn it around, we confirm that it had been inaugurated, in May 1901, almost on the east cliffs of the island, at a high point that made it easy for ships to see its rotating light on the routes in and out of Europe.

The Ilhéu de Cima Lighthouse continues to be, it should be noted, the first to guide boats from the north, whether from the European Atlantic coasts or from the Mediterranean Sea.

Until 1956, its light was fueled by oil. From that year onwards, the lighthouse operated with a 3000 watt lamp, remodeled in 1982, when it gained a range of almost 40km and made the intervention of lighthousekeepers unnecessary.

As unlikely as it may seem, after a decade the lighthouse was turned off without warning.

The Troubled Landing of Moroccan Migrants Who Turned Off the Lighthouse

We are already seated at one of the snack tables when Victor tells us what happened: “look, four Moroccans who arrived here in despair have deactivated it.

They had clandestinely boarded a Panamanian ship in Casablanca.

However, the crew discovered them and the commander took the most radical step. He dropped them into the sea near here. With a lot of effort, they managed to get up here but there was no one here, not even water.

Therefore, they decided to turn off the lighthouse so that they could come to their aid.

The Dentist Beirã Lourdes and the Delicious Atlantic Diving at Largo do Ilhéu de Cima

Victor devotes himself to host duties at other tables. As the conversation continues, we get to know one of our partners better.

His name was Lourdes. He was from Viseu, where he worked as a dentist. It had been five years since he had migrated from Beira Alta to Porto Santo, with his daughter, who at that time was already eleven years old and had changed her Beira accent for the prophet.

Lurdes delighted us with the peculiarities of his consultations, in which patients offered him a little of everything, as has always been the habit of the Beiraes and people from the interior of Portugal.

The meal is over. We reversed the path to where the semi-rigid was waiting for us, at that point, with the teenagers in the slippers cursing their communal stubbornness.

Lighthouse Islet, Cima Islet, Porto Santo

Tour group descends the stairs back to the base of Ilhéu de Cima.

Informed that they would have time to cool off, the group hits the bottom of the stairs at a glance. On the volcanic slab that served as a dock, we dive into the warm Atlantic off the coast.

We rejoice with the inaugural bath in Porto Santo. He dictated the exploratory and photographic hustle that had been the only one.

Lighthouse Islet, Cima Islet, Snorkeling

Bathing and snorkeling time off the Ilhéu do Farol.

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Terra Chã and Pico Branco footpaths, Porto Santo

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