The Porto Santo Island which lies to the north-east of the island of Madeira was recorded as being discovered by João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira in 1418 during the reing of D. João I of Portugal. However, due to its location it is quite likely that there were previous un-recorded visits by sailing vessels.
The island was named in Portuguese as 'Holy Port' by its discoverers as they found safe shelter during a storm. The first official owner on behalf of the Portuguese was Bartolomeu Perestrelo who was appointed to the position by prince Henry the Navigator.
He was responsible for creating a hamlet as the first settlement, introducing cattle breeding and the cultivation cereals and vines. Sugar cane cultivation was attempted but the climatic conditions proved unfavourable. The famous explorer Christopher Columbus settled here and it was recorded he married in Porto Santo a Dona Filipa, the daughter of Bastolomeu Perestrelo.
Porto Santo is one of the islands of the archipelago of Madeira and is amazingly different from the main island of Madeira. Whilst lush green vegetation predominates in most of the coastal areas of Madeira, the island of Porto Santo is almost bare. The southern coast is bordered by a 9km long beach of beautiful soft golden sand which has created a popular resort destination.
Situated in the northern hemisphere on the 32º latitude, its area is about 42 square kilometres and its mainly composed of peaks, almost all of which are to the north of the island and the highest of these being 'Pico do Facho'.
Many tourists seek out Porto Santo to enjoy a relaxing holiday as the island still maintains a scene of tranquility. A strong attraction of this island is that it enjoys all year a moderate climate good for holidays and lends itself also particularly to the game of golf.
Tourism has given Porto Santo an economic dynamism, which has been growing year by year. The construction of an airport in 1960, and later expanded in 1973, has caused a development of hotels providing good accommodation and a wide range of outdoor leisure activities such has golf, tennis, volleyball, windsurfing, island tours, etc.
The Porto Santo Line Company, which has a monopoly on the connection between the two islands, has invested (along with funding from the European Community and the Regional Government) in a new mini cruise liner.
The ship with a capacity for 1153 passengers now makes the journey between the Madeira and Porto Santo in approximately two hours.