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Ilhas Desertas and Ilhas Selvagens, unique islands in the Madeira Archipelago

These two small island groups may not be frequented by tourists but their roles when it comes to protection of nature are very important. They have been recognized by the government as a nature reserve. Hence, safeguarding of natural forests, landscape and bodies of water is closely monitored.

Deserted Islands

The direct English translation of Ilhas Desertas is Deserted or Desert Island. The rocky Ilhas Desertas are located approximately 15 miles to the southeast of Madeira. Since this was recognized as a protected area since the 1990s and was later considered as a nature reserve, landing to this location would mean getting necessary permission first. The archipelago consists of three islands, Ilheu Chao, Deserta Grande, and Bugio. Deserta Grande is the largest island with approx 3,2 sq mi. The only inhabitants on the islands are natural guards on Deserta Grande. The northern part of the island is accessible for permitted visitors but activities like line and spear fishing is not allowed because this is also the habitat for protected species.

Apart from a small colony of Monk seals you will see small rodents, wild goats, reptiles and sixteen birds species. In fine clear weather you can see the islands from Madeira Coast. The southern part of the Deserted Island is strictly guarded because it is the breeding ground of endangered species.  

The top view of Ilhas Desertas is very interesting since it is a chain of several islands. The total length of this interconnected island is about 23 km., from the top down to the bottom. The main area which is preferable for inhabitants is called Deserta Grande. It is because the rest of the island’s land area is rocky and water supply may get difficult. Regardless of the rocky geography, there are still seabirds, rodent, rabbits and goats which have found home in this island.

For people who would like to visit the Ilhas Desertas, it is best to coordinate with a professional touring company because permits need to be settled first.



Savage Island

Ilhas Selvagens is translated as Savage Island. The also uninhabited volcanic Ilhas Selvagens (wild islands), approximately 175 miles south of Madeira, are the most southern part of Portugal. They lie between Madeira and the Canary Islands and are anm official nature reserve as well. The Ilhas Selvagens consist of two larger islands, Selvagem Selvagem Grande and Pequena, and several rocks. To visit the islands you need a special permit from the Parque Natural da Madeira.

Since 1971, this island is already considered as a natural reserve. That is because this island serves as the natural habitat of several bird species which have dwindling population. Aside from that, the surrounding water is also protected because the government is exerting all effort to ensure that the sea creatures remain undisturbed.

Because the land and water area of Savage Island has to be protected, the Maderia Nature Park designates guards, especially during the months of May to October. The only residents in this island are the assigned guards and permitted scientists who are observing the species in the island. There are also several tourists who aim to visit the Ilhas Selvagens but getting to the island is not the easiest thing. The surrounding water is filled with rich coral reef so sea vessels can not easily access the island.    

Climate of the Ilhas Selvagens and Desertas

For both Ilhas Selvagen and Ilhas Desertas, the temperature is usually much higher than that of Madeira. Even if these are parts of the Madeira archipelago, the climate is not as friendly. The higher temperature, which is around 17°C to 19 °C, is also the reason why the land area is generally dry and rocky.

Aside from the fact that these islands are nature reserves, locals do not opt to live here too because of the strong coastal winds. The low precipitation makes land cultivation less likely. Aside from that, the freshwater supply is scarce too.  

Video of a visit to Deserta Grande:


Slideshow of the Ilhas Selvagens:


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