Orbit's Travel Blog - 10.05.2023.

Driving in Madeira: The Ultimate Guide in 2023

Discover the beauty and challenges of driving in Madeira with our comprehensive guide. Learn tips and tricks for navigating the island's winding roads.

Madeira is an archipelago and region of Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean, located about 400 km north of the Canary Islands. Madeira is known for its rugged volcanic landscape, subtropical climate and lush vegetation, which includes laurel forests and levadas (irrigation channels that serve as hiking trails). Due to its stunning landscapes, winding roads, and steep hills, driving in Madeira can be a thrilling experience. However, it can also be challenging, particularly for those not accustomed to driving on narrow, mountainous roads.

In this article, we will guide you through everything you need to know about driving, renting a car and the driving rules that apply in Madeira.

Renting a car in Madeira

Renting a car is a popular and convenient way to explore Madeira. We at Orbit Car Hire advise you to book in advance, especially during peak tourist season when demand for rental cars is high. 

Hiring a car at Funchal Airport with Orbit Car Hire gives you plenty of freedom to travel around the island of Madeira. With a wide range of vehicles to choose from, you can be sure to find the one that suits your needs.

Is it worth hiring a car in Madeira? 

Yes! Hiring a car in Madeira is a fantastic way to explore the island and its hidden gems. Madeira is a small but incredibly diverse island with beautiful coastal drives, mountain roads, and stunning scenery. Most of the island's roads are well-maintained and suitable for smaller cars. Consider a smaller car if you are not used to driving on narrow roads or steep inclines. Smaller cars are easier to manoeuvre and navigate in tight spaces. When choosing a car, it's important to consider your driving needs and preferences and the amount of driving you plan to do. Choosing a reliable and safe car, regardless of size or type, is also essential.

Have all necessary documents with you when renting a car, including your driver's license, passport, and credit card for the deposit.

Camara de Lobos, Madeira Island

What do I need to drive in Madeira?

For starters, you need to have a driver's license! The legal driving age in Madeira is 18 years. That means you must be at least 18 years old to drive in Madeira legally. The age limit for car hire is between 21 and 25, depending on the car rental agency. Many agencies charge a young driver fee if you are under this age. Additionally, visitors from other countries planning to drive in Madeira should check with their car rental agency to ensure they have the appropriate documentation and license to drive a car in Madeira. It's also important to note that while driving in Madeira, you should always carry your driver's license and any necessary identification in case of a traffic accident or other incident.

Driving in Madeira

Even though driving in Madeira can be an exciting experience, it can also be challenging, particularly for those unfamiliar with driving on narrow, mountainous roads. 

Before starting your journey, familiarise yourself with the road conditions, including steep inclines, sharp bends, or narrow passages. Studying Google Maps or using a GPS to plan your route is a great idea.

Don't rush while driving on Madeira's roads. Take your time and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Driving in Madeira can be easy or challenging, depending on various factors. The roads in Madeira are generally well-maintained and well-signposted, making it easy to navigate around the island. Additionally, the scenery on Madeira is breathtaking, and driving can be an excellent way to experience it all at your own pace.

Be prepared for all weather conditions. The weather in Madeira can be unpredictable, so be prepared for rain, fog, and sudden changes in temperature. 

Magnificent cliffs in Madeira

Can you drive around Madeira in a day? 

While it is technically possible to go around Madeira in a day, it would be very ambitious and challenging, especially if you want to stop and explore some of the island's many attractions and scenic viewpoints.

The road that circles the island is approximately 160 kilometres long and includes many steep, narrow, and winding sections. It also passes through many small towns, villages, and scenic areas such as forests, mountains, and coastal cliffs. To truly appreciate and enjoy Madeira's offerings, we recommend taking your time and exploring the island more leisurely.

What side of the road do you drive in Madeira? 

In Madeira, you drive on the right-hand side of the road.

Speed limits

In urban areas, the speed limit is 50 km/h (31 mph) unless otherwise indicated by road signs. On rural roads, the speed limit is generally 90 km/h (56 mph) unless otherwise indicated by road signs. On highways and expressways, the speed limit is usually 120 km/h (75 mph) unless otherwise indicated by road signs.

However, it's important to note that the speed limits may vary depending on the road conditions and the location. In some areas, particularly in urban areas or areas with heavy pedestrian traffic, the speed limit may be lower than the standard limit. Additionally, in some areas, particularly on mountainous or winding roads, the speed limit may be lower due to the challenging driving conditions.

Drivers should always pay attention to road signs and adjust their speed accordingly to ensure their safety and the safety of others on the road. Speeding fines can be quite steep in Madeira, so paying attention to the speed limits and driving responsibly is best.

Are there speeding cameras in Madeira?

Yes, there are speed cameras in Madeira and other traffic enforcement cameras, such as red light cameras, located in various locations throughout the island. The fines for speeding in Madeira can be steep, and if a speed camera catches you, you will likely receive a penalty in the mail.

In addition to speed cameras, there are also police patrols that enforce traffic regulations on the island. It's essential for drivers to always drive responsibly, follow the rules of the road, and be aware of other drivers and pedestrians to ensure their safety and avoid getting fined.

Mountain road in Madeira

Road conditions and safety

It's generally safe to drive in Madeira. The roads are usually well-maintained and well-signposted, and drivers must follow strict traffic laws and regulations. Additionally, the speed limits are marked, and many road signs provide essential information for drivers.

What is the drink-driving limit in Madeira? 

The drink-driving limit is 0.5 grams of alcohol per litre of blood. This limit applies to all drivers, regardless of age or driving experience. It's important to note that this limit is lower than the drink-driving limit in some other countries, so drivers need to be aware of their alcohol consumption and plan to ensure they are below the legal limit. Suppose a driver gets pulled over with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit. In that case, they may face fines, license suspension, or even imprisonment, depending on the severity of the offence. It's always best to avoid alcohol before driving and ensure your safety and other people around you.

Is driving in Madeira easy? 

The roads can be narrow and winding, especially in rural and mountainous areas, which may be challenging for some drivers. Additionally, the traffic can be heavy in some areas, particularly during peak tourist season, which may add to the challenge of driving around the island. Many of the island's roads wind up and down steep hillsides, often with sharp turns and narrow lanes. While the steep roads can make driving more challenging, they also provide some of the island's most stunning and scenic views. 

What should I do in case of trouble or emergency? 

  1. Pull over to a safe location: If your vehicle has a problem or needs to deal with an emergency, it's essential to pull over to a secure site as soon as possible, but without your vehicle blocking traffic.
  2. Turn on your hazard lights: Once you have pulled over to a safe location, turn on your hazard lights to alert other drivers that you are experiencing an issue or emergency.
  3. Contact emergency services: If your emergency is severe or in case of an accident, call emergency services immediately by dialling 112, the universal emergency number in Portugal, and they will connect you to police, ambulance, or fire services, depending on your needs.
  4. Use reflective warning triangles: If you are on the side of the road, it's important to use reflective warning triangles to alert other drivers to your presence. 
  5. Wait for assistance: If your vehicle has a problem, wait for assistance to arrive before attempting any repairs. If you are in a severe emergency, staying with your car until help arrives is essential.
  6. Be aware of your surroundings. While waiting for assistance, be mindful of your surroundings and watch for potential hazards or dangers. It's also essential to keep yourself and any passengers in your vehicle safe by staying inside the car with locked doors until help arrives.
  7. When you do everything else, you should also contact the rental station where you got the rental car to inform them of what happened, as they might be able to offer you some advice and assistance as well.

It's essential to be prepared for emergencies and know what to do in case of trouble while driving. By taking the appropriate steps and staying alert, you can help ensure your safety and the safety of others on the road.

Parking, tolls and tunnels

It's worth noting that parking can be difficult in some areas, especially in urban areas or popular tourist destinations. Planning and considering parking options before setting out on your journey is best. Parking can be a challenge, particularly in busier towns. Look for designated parking areas or park along the side of the road, being mindful of any restrictions or signs.

Are there tolls in Madeira? 

Yes, there are! The toll fees vary depending on the distance travelled and the type of vehicle, but they are generally quite affordable. The main toll road on the island is the Via Rápida, a modern and well-maintained highway that runs along the island's southern coast, connecting many of the major towns and cities. It's important to note that there are no toll booths on the Via Rápida, and tolls are collected electronically using a system called "Via Verde." You must rent a car equipped with a Via Verde device or purchase a temporary device from a Via Verde outlet or rental car company. Some rental car companies in Madeira offer the Via Verde device as part of their rental packages, but it's always best to check in advance to avoid any surprises.

Madeira has several tunnels to access some of the island's most beautiful remote areas. Some tunnels are very long, narrow, and winding, so it's essential to be extra cautious when driving through them. Here are a few things to keep in mind when driving through tunnels in Madeira:

  1. Turn on the headlights. By law, you must have your headlights turned on when driving through tunnels in Madeira.
  2. Stay alert and focused. Some of the tunnels are quite long and narrow, so it's essential to stay alert and focused on the road to ensure your safety and the safety of other drivers.
  3. Follow the speed limit. The speed limit in tunnels is generally lower than on the open road, so follow the posted speed limit signs.
  4. Watch for oncoming traffic. Many of the tunnels in Madeira are narrow, so be prepared to encounter oncoming traffic, particularly in the island's more rural areas.
  5. Check your vehicle's lights and brakes. Ensure your vehicle's lights and brakes are working properly before entering a tunnel, as you may need to slow down or stop suddenly.

Rent a car in Madeira with Orbit

Driving in Madeira can be an excellent way to explore the island, but being prepared is essential. By following these tips, you can ensure a smooth and enjoyable car rental experience in Madeira. We at Orbit Car Hire wish you a pleasant and safe journey in Madeira!

Orbit's Travel Blog

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