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I spend the past week cycling around Madeira and here are some of my experiences and some tips and advice for those who wish to go cycling around Madeira.

Cycling around Madeira.

Cycling around Madeira.

This past week has really been a joy. I have circumnavigated the island Madeira with my bike and have had some great days of climbing mountains by the Atlantic Ocean. Madeira is really a beautiful island and especially the north coast has some fantastic scenery and places that are not build up yet. I have had some of the best views of my entire travel life there and stayed in some really nice little hotels without paying an arm and a leg for it. Madeira is not the most obvious place to go cycling, but it can be done and it can be very pleasant if you prepare yourself a bit.

Madeira has some steep roads.

Madeira has some steep roads.

Cycling Madeira.

Cycling Madeira.

It’s a vertical island.

Madeira is only 800 square kilometers, so it’s not very big as such, but it’s almost vertical as the island rises from the bottom of the atlantic and is almost 2000 meters high, despite being so small. This means that you are in for some climbing when you cycle the island, unless you cycle through all the tunnels, which I do not recommend as they can be dangerous for cyclists, so you better like to climb if you plan to go cycling around Madeira.

Madeira is beautiful.

Madeira is beautiful.

I had a monster climb between Sao Vicente and Santana on the north coast, where I was up really high, but the road was quiet and it was actually really nice, even if it got so steep that I had to walk parts of the way. I have no problem walking my bike by the way. I like walking too and I am not interested in injuring myself and my trips are not some macho thing I am doing, but slow cycling trips, where I take my time to enjoy the place, so my pride is not hurt, just because I walk the bike from time to time.

Another Madeira tunnel.

Another Madeira tunnel.

Try to avoid the tunnel nightmare.

Madeira has almost 200 tunnels going through the mountains on this relatively little island. This is great for cars who like to get around the island quick, but for a cyclist they are really a piece of shit. I would strongly advice you to avoid them whenever you can and try to take the old roads up in the mountains instead. I think it’s better to be tired on a mountain top than get run over in a dark tunnel. I went through tunnels a few times during my trip, but tried to keep it to a minimum and a couple of time that I went through a longer tunnel, the I got off my bike and walked, as I felt that driving through was unsafe.

Rural Madeira rocks.

Rural Madeira rocks.

Get away from the Funchal area.

When you are cycling around Madeira, you do not really have much interest in the region around Funchal, as from a cycling perspective, this is pretty bad. It’s build up and congested and the roads were only created with the car driver in mind and cycling there is often problematic. Good news is that it’s quick to get away from there, to places that are more suited for cyclists.

Cycling around Madeira.

Cycling around Madeira.

Cycling from Funchal to Ribeira Brava.

When I cycled from Funchal to Ribeira Brava, I decided to avoid the tunnels and go the hard way over Cabo Girao. This is a long climb, but the views are amazing and the road has little traffic and you have plenty of small cafes and grocery stores along the way, where you can refuel if you need to. The alternative is a very busy road with some long tunnels that are no good.

Be ware of rock slides when cycling around Madeira.

Be ware of rock slides when cycling around Madeira.

Cycling along the north coast.

The great thing about the north coast, is that they have left most of the old road along the sea as it was and then blown some tunnels in to the mountain, where all the cars are driving now. Thi means that large part of the north coast of Madeira has a road that runs right by the sea, which is barely used by motorized traffic. Just be ware that there is a lot of rock slides there and you are often navigating around fallen rocks on these roads, but that is just part of the charm for me.

 

Cycling the west coast of Madeira.

Cycling near Porto Moniz.

Cycling near Porto Moniz.

The western part of Madeira is probably the part that is most suitable for cyclists, as they have not yet blown it all to pieces to make tunnels. It’s a very rural part of the island and is very suitable for cycling, again if you do not mind that there is a lot of elevation. I spend one day cycling from Prazeres to Porto Moniz and it was really a nice ride. Only hard thing was the decent to Porto Moniz, where I had to do part of the downhill ride by foot, because it was so steep and winding. I think it’s the first time I have ever been to a place, where I actually had to get off my bike for a downhill ride, because it was too steep and winding.

Accommodation along the way.

I decided to stay in a new place every night, as I like to have the road trip feeling when i am tour cycling and I found very nice single rooms along the way in the price range from 20 to 35€ per night. I think this is a good price, especially considering that i was cycling around Madeira during easter week.

My final verdict about Madeira as a cycling destination.

Madeira is for sure not your typical cycling destination and I did not meet a single other tour cyclist during my trip, but it’s doable and when you figure it out, then it’s actually a really cool place to go tour cycling. Just be prepared to be flexible and take a shitty tunnel here and there, when this is the only option and then walk through the tunnel if it’s a long one. But it’s a really pretty and unique island that deserves to be explored by bike.

Waterfall dropping on to the road on Madeira Island.

Waterfall dropping on to the road on Madeira Island.

Tunnel with the old road next to it.

Tunnel with the old road next to it.

Madeira rocks.

Madeira rocks.

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8 Comments

  1. Gonçalo Peres

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m from Portugal (continent) and never occurred to me to go cycle touring in Madeira. Also because there’s still so much do discover by bike in the continent – I do a one week cycle tour every year.
    But because of your nice post, I just might reconsider.
    Well done 🙂

  2. Hey there. Thank you very much for your feedback. I really enjoyed reading this post. 😀 I’m glad you also enjoyed this piece of Portugal. I have to ask, did you track your route by GPS? Someday I’d love to do the same as you did here.

    Kind regards

  3. Bicycling around Madeira looks like an epic experience.

  4. Thanks for sharing your experience. I ran into your blog because I plan to visit Madeira, and plan on cycling at least one day while there on my vacation next month. As you stated, more cyclists that like climbing can now take advantage of the old roads that are still up and no longer are used by drivers as much to get “around” Madeira.

    Ride & Smile!

    Joe

  5. Thanks for sharing your experience.
    Every year I spend a week cycling around an island and trying to hug the coast road as much as possible.
    I am off to Madeira in January (first time) to do exactly this – your blog has been the most useful thing I’ve read.
    Some questions please
    Q1. I am planning to swim in the man made rock/sea pools in Porto Moniz and elsewhere. Is the sea warm enough ?
    Q2. What is the variation in temperature from coastal road to mountain top ? .. re taking clothes, which as you’ll know I keep to the absolute minimum
    Q3 I have a choice of mountain bike or road bike (cyclo cross ie standard road bike with 28c tyres). Which do you suggest taking ?
    Thanks
    Graham

    • Hi’ graham.
      Thank you for your comment.
      Regarding your questions:
      #1: The sea pools should be warm enough to swim in as long as you can take the Atlantic temperature of around 17-18 degrees celcius. If you have a strong wind coming from the north, then it might not be possible to swim there due to waves, but otherwise you should be fine.
      #2: That depends on how many clouds you have really, but there can be a significant temperature change, so it’s a good idea to have a jumper and a waterproof windbreaker. be ware that you can encounter rain on Madeira all year round really, but it will mostly be sunny.
      #3 You should be fine with both really. As you cn see on my photos, there can be a little bit of rock slide, but it’s not too bad really. I cycled around the island myself with a standard touring bike and had no problems.

      Have a nice trip.

      Claus.

  6. thanks – i’ll let you know how i get on

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