Madalena grew up surrounded by Portugal’s maritime history in Belém, where she dreamt about exploring the oceans. Her love for the sea led her to study marine biology and receive a master’s degree in Natural Resources Management, specializing in Ecotourism. After graduating, Madalena moved to Príncipe Island, off the west coast of Africa, and worked with local communities on the implementation of a responsible tourism project.
Madalena’s biggest passion is traveling the world and connecting with different cultures, exploring the wilderness, and embracing local experiences. Since graduating, she has traveled to Central & South America, Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Arctic. When she is not on an expedition exploring the world, she is a naturalist at the aquarium, Oceanário de Lisboa, raising awareness on ocean conservation and biodiversity.
Where are you from and where have you lived?
I am from Lisbon, Portugal, and grew up in Belém, an area that’s steeped in marine history. I went to University in Évora, a gorgeous UNESCO-listed city in Alentejo which is home to the University of Espírito Santo. I have also had the immense privilege to live on a pristine, beautiful island called Principe, on the West Coast of Africa.
Tell us about yourself—what path led you to become an Expedition leader?
That is a very funny story, great for a cocktail hour on board. When I was in Principe, we regularly had expedition companies come visit us on the island and being the welcoming people they are, the staff invited us to visit the ship. For us, that invitation felt like traveling to another planet. We were on a very remote island where access to most things was not very easy; sometimes you couldn’t even find the things you might consider to be basic on the island. Don’t let that dissuade you, it is possibly one of the most magical places you can visit! Anyway, we had a very nice ship tour and when we got to the lounge it was teatime, so someone asked if we wanted any cookies. We were in heaven and in unison said, “You have cookies???? Cookies, really???” It just sounded impossible on our island.
A few years later when moving towards an expedition career, I thought about those very nice people that gave us cookies, got in contact with Zegrahm Expeditions which was Exodus Travels’ sister company, and here I am!
What other jobs, positions or credentials do you have?
In recent years, most of my time has been spent on board expedition ships and on voyages around the world. I started working as a marine educator more than a decade ago while I was still studying, and still to this day when I find myself at home, I collaborate with Fundação Oceano Azul and Oceanário de Lisboa contributing to ocean literacy and raising awareness for ocean conservation. When in Portugal, besides working as a marine educator and science communicator, I also volunteer at a Seniors University, where I lecture about photography, traveling, and biology.
What other fields are you passionate about?
My biggest passions are photography, gastronomy, and the music of the world. Traveling is what allows me to fulfill these passions. When I’m out exploring, I get the opportunity to get lost in my photography, indulge in incredible flavors, and experience new cultures. This is where I find my happiness. Every day I must listen to the radio and/or have music around.
What excites you (or what do you enjoy) about leading Expeditions?
The thrill of genuinely exploring the world with the finest companionship. It is the true traveler’s experience, meeting new people, cultures, and wonders of nature. I’m lucky to work and travel with incredibly knowledgeable and inspiring people. I have such a great time that it does not feel like work at all. I’m always ready and eager to pack my bag for an expedition – anytime, anywhere.
What is your favorite Expedition memory?
Laughing and having fun all over the world! It is very hard to choose just one, as there are so many great memories. To start, I’ve had many unbelievable encounters with whales, like last January when we had 4 whales surrounding us. Or when we were traveling from Iceland to Greenland and saw the most magical skies with incredible Northern Lights dancing above us. Even the time a ship’s crew allowed me into the kitchen to bake cookies and Portuguese chouriços (chorizo) for a lecture for guests, is a memory I look back on fondly. The list goes on and on!
Can you tell us about a time that you were on an expedition that ended up taking an unexpected turn or made an unexpected discovery that took you off the planned trail?
It was the end of a spring day; we had just visited the beautiful Granada. The sun was going down and the sky had great strong white clouds contrasting with a vivid blue background. It just seemed like a painting with the sun rays cutting the clouds, simply stunning. We went to a beautiful hotel balcony for a cocktail and a lovely Mediterranean dinner. At this point, you would assume the day was over, but the best was yet to come! On our way out of the hotel, instead of going back to the ship, we took a turn into the Alhambra. Yes, during the most perfect sunset, we had the privilege to visit Alhambra. And it was just for us – only us. It was so beautiful, calm, quiet, and peaceful. You could stop and take the time to appreciate every single detail of its architecture. Standing in one spot, simply listening to a water fountain, it is so easy to imagine how wonderful it must have felt to live here. It was just unbelievable.
What non-for-profits or causes do you support or feel strongly about?
Understating the ocean, its sustainable use, and conservation is something I’m very passionate about. For a better, healthier, and more sustainable life we must understand the ocean’s influence on us and our influence on the ocean. Plus, its immense beauty is fascinating. As a world explorer, I truly believe in the principles of ecotourism – exploring the world and leaving a positive footprint behind while learning from local communities. The best combination is when you can explore the world, learn about the ocean, and contribute to its conservation.
What are your top three countries or regions in the world to explore?
I’m a very enthusiastic person, exploring a new place I’ve never been to, is always exciting for me. I believe every place is special in its own way, but some places I’ve traveled to that I’m very passionate about are the polar regions, Latin America, any great snorkeling spot with coral reefs, and any place with great people – if it’s around a table, even better!
What’s left on your explorer’s bucket list/where do you still want to go that you haven’t been yet? Why there?
The more you travel, the more and deeper you want to explore. You become more aware of unknown places and different experiences. I personally don’t have a list because, for me, it’s more about the moment, the environment, and the people you meet, not a set goal or a number. That said, one of the advantages of expedition travel is going to places that most travelers have never heard of. Those are special places for me. It can be an undiscovered cultural house in a city or remote places like Jan Mayen, an un-sailed fjord in West Greenland, or Steeple Jason.
Who is an Expedition Traveler?
A true discoverer. We explore the world together with like-minded people as a true family. The Expedition explorer is someone with an appetite for knowledge, curiosity about other people, and a passion to share the beauty of our world. Always looking for the thrill of exploration even when we are already on plan Z…