The cities of the Portuguese mainland have a somewhat well-founded reputation for providing unsuspecting travelers with rather harrowing driving experiences. However, driving on the island of Madeira tends to be a much more relaxing affair. Here, we'll give you the rundown on safe and enjoyable driving on the captivating Madeira archipelago.
The ER101 was the first paved road on the island of Madeira. It circles the island's dramatic coast, and provides sightseers with a wide variety of breathtaking vistas. At one point, certain portions of the journey around the island were quite stressful for those afraid of heights, but tunnels that bypass these treacherous mountain passes have recently been added, making driving around the island a bit less stressful. Thrill-seekers can still take those narrow mountain passes if they choose, but the tunnels are a nice treat for nervous motorists.
Madeira has several other expressways, too. The ER104 bisects the island from Sao Vicente in the north to Ribiera Brava in the south. ER110 travels east to west between ER104 and ER101 near the coast. ER103 runs northward from the capital city of Funchal to the northeastern coast, just south of Santana. ER109 will allow you to reach the easternmost point of the island, near Canical.
Funchal, the island's capital city, is the one place on Madeira where you're most likely to experience heavy traffic. The roads here tend to be narrow, winding, and often ancient, so it's a place that may best be explored on foot, once you're in a part of town that you're interested in seeing more of. Parking in the city is ample, but be aware that parking spaces marked in blue are pay parking, and if you fail to pay, then you could end up with a hefty ticket.
Madeira drivers are generally quite courteous. They're almost unfailingly willing to let pedestrians have the right of way, even more so than in certain parts of the U.S. The flip side of that customary courtesy is that pedestrians are accustomed to getting the right of way, so you'll want to be extra cautious in areas with heavy foot traffic.
Driving in rural Madeira is generally without incident, but be aware that some of the roads are not very well maintained, and that many have rather steep ditches on either side, rather than any discernible shoulder. Because of this fact, don't be surprised if you find cars parked in the middle of a lane of traffic. It's also a wise idea to keep an eye out for horse-drawn wagons, and similar conveyances. The island is not very big, so getting lost is not much of a concern here, and can in fact be a rather enjoyable diversion if you find yourself with some time to kill. Exploring the small coastal towns, you're likely to find friendly locals, great places to go fishing, and lots of delightful little places to stop for refreshments.
Now that we've discussed some of the finer points of driving in Madeira, let's examine the Portuguese traffic laws that you'll need to be aware of before driving your rental car in this part of Portugal: