Visiting Desert Islands – Part 2

Monk seal bay Ilhas Desertas

It wasn’t the stereotypical “white sand and palm trees” desert island of movies, but that’s what made it so unique – and, probably, so untouched by humans. We docked the boat in the beautiful waters, which we were told were 20 C or 30 C in temperature (they were joking: the water was clearly around 18 or 19 C but it warmed up later that day). Chilly, but doable. It would be a waste coming to the Ilhas Desertas and not go for a swim among the sea bass and other fish. I even got a picture to prove I went in!


Going for a swim

Going for a swim… a chilly, but memorable, experience

After the swim, Marco and Zofia gave us a tasty lunch of bread, salad, chicken, Madeiran tuna, rice, and potatoes, which we ate on the boat as we dried off in the sunshine. We then took a rubber dinghy to the shore, where Zofia gave us a little tour of the site, including a rehabilitation center for injured monk seals, and described the historical challenges of maintaining the island’s natural landscape and species. We learned that half of the island’s waters are a natural reserve and boats aren’t allowed there, which explained why our boat moored where it did. It was common knowledge that all these islands were volcanic, but seeing the evidence of magma pushing through the layers of rock made you realize how powerful those volcanos really are.


Monk seal bay Ilhas Desertas

Monk seal bay – they like to hang out here


Volcanic rock Desertas

You can see where the magma pushed through the layers of rock

Speaking to one of the island’s guards, Isamberto, I found out that you can spend two weeks on the island doing work experience, a really unique opportunity to anyone interested in marine biology and geology! There are three species of birds for whom the Ilhas Desertas is a key habitat on a global level, so if you’re lucky you may catch a glimpse of them up close.


Ahoy Catarina!

Embracing the sailing life: “ahoy, matey!”

To finish off our visit to the Desertas, we took the dinghy (a few people decided to swim) to a little cave where monk seals sometimes go to rest. Unfortunately, we didn’t come across this endangered species.


Goodbye Ilhas Desertas

Goodbye Ilhas Desertas!

On our return, we were not welcomed by a pod of dolphins again, but we did see a few flying fish, petrels and (briefly) a sea turtle that had come up to the surface to warm itself. The sun was shining and it was a relaxing trip back to civilization. They even served fruit and small pastries to keep us going – the sun and sea really drain you if you’re not used to it. At around 7:30 pm, we were back at Funchal Marina, contemplating what a unique experience we’d had that day.


View of Madeira

View of Madeira on our return

If you’re interested taking a trip to the Ilhas Desertas, book a place with Ventura Nature Emotions. Be sure to bring the following: a bathing suit, a towel, flip flops/sandals, a wind-proof jacket, a hat, sunglasses, and lots of sunblock!

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