What You Should Know About Driving In Madeira, Portugal

Travel Tips Driving Road Trip Madeira Portugal | 5 mins read | Diana Neculai

What You Should Know About Driving In Madeira, Portugal
Roads on Madeira can be a challenge for less experienced drivers. Knowing what to expect and being prepared are essential.

Our first contact with the roads on Madeira was a complete surprise. We left the airport with our rented car and we did not expect to see so many tunnels, so many bridges, and such a good road infrastructure. The main road is simply an engineering masterpiece for such a small island.

There are also a lost of scenic roads, where you can drive and admire nature. We never got enough of those landscapes, although we drove multiple times on most roads.

Things change completely once you enter between houses in towns. After driving on some of Tenerife’s steepest streets, we thought Madeira can’t be much more than that. I have to admit that we were a bit shocked on the first day when we arrived on Madeira. In Tenerife you had SOME steep roads if you knew were to look. In Madeira all smaller roads are steep and narrow!

It is impossible to show in photos how steep a road is. Some roads are so steep that I had to lift the driver’s seat to the maximum in order to see enough through the windscreen when going uphill. While going downhill, always keep in mind that someone might be coming uphill and be prepared to break. Never speed while going downhill because the breaking distance is greater than expected.

Our first days of driving in Madeira have been a bit tense, but then we started to get used to it and relax. I’m not saying it is easy, but we got used to the style. We are experienced drivers with more than 15 years of driving experience. I wouldn’t recommend beginners to drive on every road on Madeira

Parked Cars On The Road

Most times, there are no car parks, especially in towns. People will simply park their cars on the side of the narrow road. Sometimes there is a huge line of parked cars on one side of the road, and you are not able to see the end of it. You have to drive past them without being able to know if there’s another car coming your way. Be polite to others, stop and let others pass if it is easier for you to stop, no matter if you should yield or not.

It once happened to us to have the parked cars on our side of the road. As far as we were able to see forward, there was no car coming our way. We slowly started to pass the long line of parked cars. When we were half way there, we started seeing the end of the parked cars, and a car coming towards us. Most of the time, every car will stop or slow down to let you finish pass the parked cars. Except for some tourists that expect driving in Madeira to be like driving on regular roads. We had to reverse all the way downhill with them putting pressure on us, continuously driving towards us.

Accept that driving in Madeira is not 100% by the book, but it is rather based on being kind and polite to those around you. This is not necessarily because people don’t respect laws, but because of the roads they have. It doesn’t cost you anything to stop and let someone pass if it is easier for you to do that. Trust me, they will thank you and do the same in return.

Animals On The Road

If narrow and steep roads were not enough, add to it fog and animals on the road. By animals I mostly mean cows with calves. The calves are pretty cute to see, but remember to drive slowly.

Waterfalls On The Road

There are some places on the island where waterfalls fall directly on the road. I cannot stress about how dangerous this can be. Water erodes rocks and where water falls, rocks might fall too. In addition, algae-like vegetation forms on wet surfaces making them extremely slippery. One of them (which I am not going to name) is very popular among tourists, but it is also forbidden to go to it. Several people have died while trying to get their best selfie under this waterfall.

Acesso Local

I believe it is important to also mention that some roads are signed as “acesso local”. Translated it means “local access” obviously. This doesn’t mean that the road is an access road to some sort of local community. On the contrary, that road is only for locals and you should not drive on it. “Acesso local” means that the road is closed to non-residents.

What Type Of Car To Rent

This aspect is mostly a personal preference, but there are some things to keep in mind:

  • the steep and narrow streets are easier to tackle with an automatic transmission car.
  • we don’t like driving small cars, but a big car would be a hustle on most roads on Madeira.
  • petrol cars have higher RPM and greater initial acceleration than diesel, which makes them better for steep roads.
  • we prefer cars with higher ground clearance to avoid any stress regarding uneven roads or unpaved side road parkings.

What car did we choose? We rented a petrol Ford Puma. It’s not the smallest car out there, but we’ve been just fine with it and we would go for it once more next time we travel to Madeira.

If you’re planning a trip to Madeira and you are looking for more ideas, hikes and awe-inspiring places and experiences, then check out our other articles about this destination:

The perfect destination for nature lovers, foodies, road trippers, backpackers, trekkers, and probably everyone else.

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