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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.