Porto Santo is the second largest island of the Autonomous Region of Madeira, with 42.48 km² and 5 483 people.
The capital of Porto Santo is the city of Vila Baleira. Porto Santo is also a Portuguese municipality. Located in the Atlantic Ocean, in the extreme south-west of Europe and just 500 km from the African coast and 1,000 km from Europe, you can fly in from Lisbon in a 1 ½ hour flight.
The early history of Porto Santo is still covered in the mists of time. The best known version involves a storm in 1418, catching off-guard the seafarers João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz, sent by Henry the Navigator, who were sailing in another direction. After countless hard days at sea, they arrived at an island that they would name Porto Santo (”Holy Harbour”).
A prior version, backed up by historical arguments, suggests that a vessel found that the island was a safe port after a violent storm. According to this description, before the Portuguese settled on the island, it was already called Porto Santo. This fact is supported by the so-called “Medici-Laurentian Atlas”, document dating back to circa 1370.
The island is known for its large fine yellow sandy beach, stretching close to 9 km, running along the island’s entire southern coastline, between the harbour and Calheta. Above all, it offers peace and quiet and a catching charm, which doesn’t leave any visitor indifferent. A particular highlight is the island’s sea water temperature; it is really warm all year round. Porto Santo’s climate is dry and stable, with little variation in warmness from season to season, therefore is usual to go to the beach throughout the year.
In terms of economic activities, due to the natural features of Porto Santo, means that agriculture is poor and therefore, most of its economy is based on trading and services. Over recent years, there has been a boost in tourism, largely as a result of the new ferry connecting Madeira to Porto Santo, by the boat “Lobo Marinho”. This progress has led to the construction of new hotels and restaurants, of increasingly good quality.
Porto Santo’s major cultural icon is Christopher’s Columbus House Museum, indicating the presence of America’s discoverer on the island. The museum aims to recreate the primitive environment in which the explorer lived. Columbus’ house is, in fact, two buildings, the older of which dates back to the time when the navigator was on the island. Aside from portraits of Columbus spanning the 16th to the 20th centuries, the exhibition also contains maps showing the different routes travelled by him.
Porto Santo Golf offers unique sporting challenges and superb views. Surrounded by serene landscapes and enveloped by sea breeze, the Porto Santo golf course boasts perfect year-round golfing conditions.
Vila Baleira, the only urban centre in Porto Santo, was given the city status on August 6th, 1996. Porto Santo also gives name to the municipality and also to the only parish on the island.