From The Madeira Island Web Site
Porto Santo - The Basic Facts
By Philip Fiske de Gouveia
Sep 5, 2007 - 1:44:35 PM
archipelago lies in a remote area of the North Atlantic ocean approximately 500
kilometres from the coast of Africa and 900 kilometres from continental Europe.
Lying roughly 50 kilometres to the north east of Madeira, Porto Santo is a
surprisingly small island - only 11 kilometres long and 6 kilometres wide. The
island covers an area of approximately 40 square kilometres and has a coastline
38 kilometres long. Porto Santo's major feature is the golden beach running the
length of the south coast. While most of the island is faily flat there are
several hills - the most notable are Pico do Facho (516m), Pico Castelo (438m),
Pico da Juliana (450m) and Pico da Gandaia (413m). Like Madeira, Porto Santo is
of volcanic origin and dates from the Tertiary period - as a consequence much
of the island is limestone rock although basalt is also present. The island’s
main town is Vila Baleira, home to several thousand people. Other significant
settlements include Camacha to the north, Campo de Baixo to the West and Serra
de Fora to the East.
Like its neighbouring
island Madeira, Porto Santo has a fairly stable climate throughout the year with
temperatures averaging roughly 22 degrees Celsius in the summer and 16 degrees
Celsius in the winter. The sea temperature rises from a low of roughly 16
degrees Celsius in April/May to a high of roughly 24 degrees Celsius in
October. Rainfall on Porto Santo is low and the weather is often dry and sunny
(so its important to have sun protection). The various windmills and wind
generators on the island are testament to the fact that Porto Santo can be
windy. Low cloud known as ‘capacete’ (meaning ‘helmet’) will sometimes hang
over the island through the middle of the day before clearing in the afternoon.
The year-round warm climate means there is no bad time to visit Porto Santo,
although the island can be windy during the winter and spring months (November
to April). Because of the summer sun, however, the island is very popular with
Madeirans during July and August and can get a little crowded.
Daylight hours don’t
vary as much as in Northern Europe - it gets dark at around 6pm in winter, and
9:30 pm in the summer.
Most of the several
thousand inhabitants of Porto Santo live in the island’s main town, Vila
Baleira, although continuing development and construction means people
increasingly have the option of living away from the town. When Porto Santo was
first discovered by the Portuguese in 1418 there were no indigenous
inhabitants, so all of the local people (apart from more recent immigrants) are
descended from the original Portuguese settlers. While job opportunities on the
island have increased with development, many people still commute weekly
between Madeira and Porto Santo. The people of Porto Santo have a reputation
for being extremely relaxed and laidback.
Porto Santo has
traditionally relied on agriculture as its chief source of income and
employment. The island’s farmers grow a wide variety of fruit and vegetables,
as well as producing grapes for the local wine (available in the bars of Vila
Baleira). Recent years have seen significant diversification in Porto Santo’s
economy, particularly in the tourist industry and related construction work.
Tourism increasingly dominates the island’s economy with many people working in
hotels, bars, restaurants and other tourism-related enterprises.
The official language
of Porto Santo is Portuguese. Many people (and all waiters and hotel staff)
speak some English. However, since the recent arrival of some large swash new hotels and an impressive golf-course the population of the island has not been sufficient for all the new jobs created. Many of the staff on the island are itinerant workers form the main island of Madeira and they are usually adept at speaking English very well, along with smatterings of French and German.
Like its neighbour,
Madeira, Porto Santo’s culture is distinctively Portuguese. Almost everything
on the island has a Portuguese flavour to it - the architecture, the mosaic
pavements, the gorgeous blue wall tiles (called
), the food and
drink - indeed, at times, it is easy to forget that you are strolling in the
sun on an remote island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, 900 kilometres
from mainland Portugal. If immersing yourself in the languid atmosphere of
laid-back Porto Santo is not enough to satisfy any cravings you may have for
culture, there are a variety of festivals through the year for visitors to
enjoy including various religious and gastronomic festivals, a three day wine
festival, and a selection of sporting events including a beach volleyball
tournament and rally-car race.
© Copyright 2007 by The Madeira Island Web Site