Driving on Madeira

Car driving on Madeira, an enjoyable experience.

If you allow enough time to head from point A to B, then car driving on Madeira can be an enjoyable experience.
The secondary roads outside of the capital, Funchal, take you to a rural environment. Magnificent views await you with each turn of the road, at the end of another tunnel or at the top of a mountain.
The most important roads on Madeira are :

  • The coast road that goes all the way around the island.
  • The North-South connection between Ribeira Brava and Sao Vicente.
  • The central road between Achada da Cruz in the West of Madeira that takes you over Paul da Serra towards Encumeada.
  • The Via Rapida, a highway that leads from Santana, along Machico, the airport in Santa Cruz, funchal and further towards Ribeira Brava.
In general i believe i can say that you don't have to be affraid to drive around on the island.
If you know how to drive in England, then Madeira should not be any problem for you.
The most difficult part will probably be to get the car rolling after a stop on a steep road and of course you need to keep in mind that you should drive on the right hand side of the roads.

The coast road of Madeira, a touristic route.

The coast road of Madeira (ER101) was the first real road on the island. It goes all the way around the island and takes you in many curves and up and down along the dramatic coast line.
In recent years, many parts of this road were renewed and a lot of tunnels now take you through the mountains. The tunnels can be used by those who want to move fast, but tourists who have come to Madeira for its great views on small villages, mountains and green valleys can still decide to enjoy the authentic part of the way.
In the North of Madeira, the old route accounts as one of the main tourist attractions.
A tour on the coast road is highly recommended. Therefor i have dedicated an entire Web page to it.
see the coast road of Madeira.

The "Via Rapida" or highway.

The highway, always indicated with "Via Rapida" goes from Santana, over the airport in Santa Cruz and over Funchal towards Ribeira Brava.
Currently new tunnels are being digged to take the road further from Santana towards Sao Jorge.
If you rent a car at the airport, you always arrive on the Via Rapida. Finding your way is very easy. You either head towards Funchal or you head towards Machico and Santana. There are no other options.
The road has 2 lanes in each direction and leads through many tunnels and over high bridges.
Be careful on the exits. They are well indicated but usually rather short.

If you plan to make a tour using secondary roads, then it's a bit of a pitty that most road signs lead to the Via Rapida. Therefor don't hesitate to trust on your road map.

Driving through small villages.

Usually the streets are wide enough and in good condition.
But if you explore distant places and the center of little villages, then you should know that there may be very narrow roads with steep climbs.

Once i was searching for a picknick location near Paul do Mar. I was descending the mountain but got stuck in a dead end street and had to to drive in reverse all the way back!

Cycling on Madeira.

The percent grade of climbs can easily be 15% and more. Unless your family name is Bahamontes, you may find cycling on Madeira a very tough experience.
Therefor, both scooters and bicycles are seldom to be seen on Madeira.

Car driving in Funchal.

Funchal may be the only place on Madeira where you find some more traffic, allthough it is also never too busy in this capital.
Locals usually depend on public transport that consists of busses only.
The ER101 (coast road) gets wider in Funchal, with 2 lanes in each direction. Roundabouts and traffic lights ensure that people drive slow.

Traffic rules on Madeira.

Madeira is part of Portugal, member of the European Union. This means that most of the traffic rules are similar to England and other parts of Europe.

It may be important to know the following rules :

  • Driving direction: On Madeira, you drive on the right hand side of the roads.
  • Alcohol : The permissable alcohol limit is 0,5 promille .
  • The security belt is obliged in front and in the back of the car.
  • Children under 12 should always take place on the back seat.
  • Unless otherwise indicated, there is a speed limit of 80km/hour on secondary roads, and 120km/hour on the highway.