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Renting A Car In Madeira: A Complete Guide To Hiring A Car In Madeira – 2023!

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Explore the natural wonders of Madeira with the perfect car rental. Our guide on renting a car in Madeira covers all the essentials, top tips, and how to get the most bang for your buck!

Many travellers and wanderlust lovers consider Madeira, in Portugal as one of the best islands to visit in Europe. The region is home to stunning waterfalls, ravines, lush jungles, high cliffs, and astonishing views over the island and ocean.

If, like us, you decide to spend an extended stay in Madeira, then we would most definitely recommend you consider hiring a car in Madeira. On our two week visit, we opted to rent a car for a couple of days so we could explore beyond the capital of Funchal.

Given that the island is so large, it is an absolute must to rent a car in Madeira. In this guide, I have put together all the necessary information and handy tips that we learnt along the way when hitting the road on this gorgeous island! 

Note: Please note that this post is designed as an informational piece that should be used as a general guideline. Please check and research governmental sites before you travel to ensure you have up to date and accurate information based on the local laws and regulations. 

Disclaimer: This post contains links to services or products that I trust and recommend and from which I may earn commissions. Read our privacy policy for more.

Benefits of Renting a Car in Madeira

Road 105 Madeira © Image Courtesy of AM-C from Getty Images Signature by Canva
Road 105 Madeira © Image Courtesy of AM-C from Getty Images Signature by Canva

Madeira, a volcanic island that is around an hour by flight from Lisbon, juts out in the Atlantic Ocean. It is blessed with a mild climate and a unique landscape that ranges from lush tropical landscapes to stunning sea vistas. 

The island is like a garden, with flowers blooming everywhere. It is located off the coasts of Morocco and Portugal, making it a popular destination for those seeking stunning natural beauty and a pleasant climate.

Now I believe there are many things to do in Madeira, and renting a car is your best option for enjoying them. Here’s a short list of the benefits of exploring this Portuguese region by car:

You’ll have more freedom.

Although Madeira may appear small at first glance, it is definitely not the case, this is a large island and it’s worth noting that its mountainous terrain means that travel time may be reduced when renting a car versus taking public transport.

For instance, while it takes around 3-4 hours to travel from Funchal to Porto Moniz by public transport, renting a car cuts that time down to just 1 hour. How? Well, the public bus route includes multiple stops for the locals living along the way, making it a much longer journey. 

On the other hand, when you hire a car in Madeira, you can take advantage of the roads and tunnels, allowing you to reach your destination more efficiently.

Also, in our view, holidays are meant for relaxation, not rushing around. Renting a car allows you to enjoy a leisurely journey where you can stop whenever you please. You won’t be bound by the bus schedule, and in some parts of Madeira, where there are only a handful of set departures per day, having your own set of wheels can be a real game-changer. 

So, when you’re in Madeira, consider renting a car for a more relaxed and convenient way to explore the island.

You’ll save time while enjoying more scenery.

Renting a car in Madeira not only saves you time but also offers you the opportunity to capture the noteworthy Instagrammable scenery too. 

Imagine starting your day by basking in the sunshine at one of the beaches in Madeira and then, come lunchtime, enjoying a meal amidst the misty mountains. Later, you can embark on a picturesque Levada walk and top off your day by witnessing a breathtaking sunset from one of Madeira’s highest peaks.

By having your car, you can effortlessly switch from seaside to mountain views in a single day. No need to worry about figuring out unfamiliar routes or dealing with the hassle of public transport. Instead, you can simply unwind and relish in the journey while taking in the beauty around you.

You’ll save money.

Choosing a rental car in Madeira can actually be a smart money-saving choice compared to relying on taxis or public transport. You’ll find that rental car rates are considerably more budget-friendly. By choosing to drive yourself, you can cut down significantly on transportation costs while enjoying the convenience and speed of getting around the island. 

So, when it comes to exploring Madeira without breaking the bank, renting a car is a wallet-friendly option that doesn’t compromise comfort or efficiency.

Choosing the Right Car Rental Company – Car Hire Madeira

Car Rental Benefits © Image Courtesy of IJzendoorn from Getty Images Pro by Canva
Car Rental Benefits © Image Courtesy of IJzendoorn from Getty Images Pro by Canva

To get the most out of your travel, you should be careful in choosing a car rental company in Madeira. Below are the factors you should include in your checklist as you decide which car rental service you should acquire.

Compare prices and services.

When choosing a rental car in Madeira, an important step is to compare prices and services offered by different car rental companies. Some well-known options include Budget, Avis, Insularcar, Free2move, Sunnycars, and Rodavante. 

To make an informed decision, carefully examine the costs, features, and benefits each company provides. This process will help you find the best rental car that suits your needs and budget while ensuring a memorable experience on the beautiful island of Madeira.

We personally love comparing all the available rental prices and companies by searching and booking on DiscoverCars – click here to search and book your rental for Madeira!

Check the reputation and customer satisfaction.

When selecting a rental car in Madeira, it’s crucial to assess the reputation and customer satisfaction of the rental companies. Look for feedback and reviews from previous renters to gauge their experiences. 

Reliable sources like online reviews and ratings will give you insights into the quality of service, vehicle condition, and overall customer satisfaction. Be sure to check the company’s Google and Trustpilot reviews to get a good indication. 

See availability and convenience.

Here you should check if the car you need is available for your desired dates and location. Additionally, assess the convenience of the rental company’s pickup and drop-off locations – are they easily accessible and well-suited to your travel plans?

For example, on our trip we flew into Madeira and then took a shuttle bus to Funchal. From there we then hired a car from Funchal in order to expand on our exploration of the island. It’s worth noting though that Madeira airport is situated roughly 20 minutes by car, or 40 minutes by public transport from the capital, Funchal. 

Be sure to check the correct location when renting a car in Madeira! 

Ask for the insurance.

It’s important to understand what kind of coverage is offered by the rental company. Ask about liability coverage, collision damage waivers, and any additional insurance packages available.

You should not miss this step because it ensures that you’re well-informed about the insurance aspects, helping you make a decision that safeguards you and your trip while driving around Madeira.

We opted to take a fully inclusive rate with zero excesses, and boy were we glad we did as we accidentally dented the side of the rental as we turned into our accommodation from a very busy and narrow street. The full insurance was definitely a big life-saver in this case! 

Use reliable navigation

One way of enjoying a seamless journey in Madeira is by having a reliable navigation system. Suppose you lack an international mobile data plan, I advise you to pre-download offline maps of the island prior to your trip. 

Many travellers will choose to use Google Maps on their mobile phones; however, the GPS quality of the device can affect the performance of the app. Another option is to opt for a rental car that features built-in navigation or consider adding navigation services from the rental company for a nominal fee.

Do note that when you travel through tunnels or high up in the mountain ranges, you may encounter situations where data signals are interrupted, so offline maps will come in very handy!

Driving in Madeira: Tips and Regulations

Driving in Madeira © Image Courtesy of RedRedApple from Getty Images by Canva
Driving in Madeira © Image Courtesy of RedRedApple from Getty Images by Canva

Rules and regulations

Before embarking on an epic Portuguese road trip in Madeira, it will be helpful if we will begin discussing some generic requirements you need to know in driving around Madeira. 

Driver’s license

As you plan to drive in Madeira, Portugal, understanding the license requirements and age restrictions is a key factor. For one, you should possess a valid driving license from your home country to drive legally on the roads of Madeira.

Your existing driving license must meet the following criteria:

  1. License Details: It should include your license number for identification purposes.
  2. Photograph: A clear photograph of yourself must be present on the license.
  3. Valid Date: The license should be within its valid date, showing that it hasn’t expired.
  4. Latin Letters: The information on the license must be in Latin letters.

Suppose your driving license fulfills the above requirements, you may not need an international driving permit. Having said that, you may need to obtain an international driving permit.

Although, at the time, we were travelling with a South African driver’s license, we were required to present an International Driving Permit.

Always check with local authorities before your journey to Portugal, to ensure you have the correct and valid information to avoid any hassles or disruptions to your travel plans. 

It’s also important to note that the minimum age for driving in Madeira is 18 years. Keep in mind that some car rental companies might have additional age-related restrictions, so I will advise you to check with them before renting a vehicle.

In addition to your driving license, it’s mandatory to carry the following documents while driving in Madeira:

  1. Vehicle Registration Documents: The documents are with you as proof of ownership or authorization to drive. This is usually left in the vehicle by the car rental companies, but you can check with them upon collecting the car. 
  1. Valid Identification: Carry a valid identification document, such as your passport, at all times.

General driving etiquette

When it comes to driving in Madeira, understanding the local driving etiquette is crucial for a smooth and safe journey. Here are some important guidelines to keep in mind:

  1. Drive on the Right: In Madeira, as in the rest of Portugal, you should drive on the right side of the road. Overtake on the left when it’s safe to do so.
  1. Buckle Up: Ensure that you and all passengers are wearing seatbelts at all times while the vehicle is in motion.
  1. No Mobile Phones: Avoid using your mobile phone while driving. It’s not only dangerous but also against the law. Focus on the road and keep your attention where it belongs.
  1. Say No to Headphones: Using headphones or earphones while driving is illegal. They can distract you from important sounds on the road, so it’s best to leave them off while behind the wheel.
  1. Child Safety: If you’re travelling with children, remember that kids under the age of 12 are not allowed to sit in the front seat of the car. Make sure they are properly seated and secured in the back seats with appropriate child seats or seat belts.
  1. Alcohol Limit: The legal alcohol limit for drivers in Madeira and in Portugal is 0.5 grams per 100 ml of blood. However, it’s highly recommended that you avoid alcohol altogether if you’re planning to drive. Even one large glass of wine or beer can set you over the limit and even a small amount can impair your judgment and reaction time, making you a danger on the road. It’s always best to travel carefree and avoid drinking altogether when driving in Madeira. 

Car Equipment You Must Have

When driving in Madeira, Portugal, it’s always a good idea to ensure that your vehicle is equipped with the necessary tools and items to keep you safe on the road.

  1. Spare set of lights
  2. Booster seats for children (especially if they are under the age of 12 or those shorter than 1.35 meters)
  3. Spare wheel
  4. Warning triangle
  5. Reflective vest or jacket

Road signs and conditions

The Main Roads

When driving in Madeira, you’ll find that the main roads connecting the towns are generally fast and well-maintained, often featuring tunnels for smoother travel. These routes offer good driving conditions. 

However, if you’re heading to more remote areas (since you’re interested in discovering the best hikes in Madeira), you’ll encounter narrower and winding mountainous roads too.

Roads in Towns and Villages

The smaller towns and villages tend to have narrower and steeper roads. You will also notice that certain driveways have cobbled surfaces, reminiscent of traditional architecture. 

To further test your driving skills, cars are often parked along these roads, further narrowing the available space for passing vehicles.

Tunnels

Madeira is known for its tunnels and I believe this definitely adds an element of fun to your driving adventure. These tunnels are essential for fast travel because they allow you to bypass winding mountain routes. 

Just a word of caution: be attentive to the speed limits within these tunnels for they tend to vary, and be on the lookout for the traffic signals just outside the tunnels as these will indicate if you are good to enter or not.

Speed limits

You would not want to be caught violating Madeira’s speed limits since this could hamper your planned itinerary. For this reason, you should always adhere to the speed limits set by the local government. 

Madeira’s top speeds are placed on circular signs with red borders, measuring in kilometers per hour. Typically the speed limits are around 50 kph, depending on the road you are travelling on. Beyond residential zones, speed limits can change frequently, even within tunnels or on roads outside residential areas. 

Driving safely

Staying alert helps.

Adopting a cautious mind will help you drive safely in Madeira. You should be expectant of anything that could happen on the road.

Keep in mind that encountering road sections lacking traffic barriers or featuring only low stone barricades is quite usual. With many roads too narrow for two vehicles to pass comfortably you should exercise caution during turns. 

You should also be wary of potential obstacles like sizable rocks, tree branches, parked vehicles, barriers, and possibly animals that could pose risks to your driving safety.

Consider the local buses.

While local buses might not serve as your go-to transportation, you should still consider their presence on the road. These buses, often old and wide, can pose challenges when overtaking due to their size.

Should you be encountering one ahead, do proceed with caution from your end. 

Drive slowly.

Driving cautiously for safety reasons is a wise approach in Madeira. The island may present a complicated network of hills, steep descents, and sharp bends. If you are not well acquainted with the terrain, it may present some challenges. In such circumstances, it’s best to maintain a slow speed.

While local drivers might become impatient with a queue forming behind you, focus on your safety and well-being. If needed, find a suitable spot to allow those cars to pass securely, disregarding any pressure to speed up.

Expect roundabouts.

Navigating roundabouts in Madeira requires understanding how they use their lanes. Here is a quick overview of how to drive along roundabouts:

  • The right-hand lane is exclusive for drivers exiting at the first opportunity.
  • If your intended exit is beyond the first, enter the roundabout via the left lane.
  • While on the roundabout, remain in an inside lane until you approach your desired exit. Indicate and shift to the outside lane as you near your exit point, facilitating a safe and hassle-free departure.

It is worth noting that you may even expect to find some roundabouts local right as you exit a tunnel. This can often catch you off guard as you may have travelled at a fast speed through the tunnel and then have to suddenly stop as you exit and are faced with one of these! 

Top Madeira Highlights to Explore by Car

Now that we’ve covered some much-needed Madeira driving tips and regulations, it is high time for you to explore this Portuguese gem. Below are some of my recommended places to visit.

Levada walks

Levada Walks in Madeira © Image Courtesy of borchee from Getty Images Signature by Canva
Levada Walks in Madeira © Image Courtesy of borchee from Getty Images Signature by Canva

In Madeira, the Levadas form an ancient network of aqueducts, some tracing their origins to the 15th century. These historic water channels offer excellent exploration opportunities through various walking trails. 

Levada walks allow you to follow these open canals, meandering through both the lush northern and arid southern regions, providing an immersive journey into the island’s diverse landscapes.

Book a guided tour here.

Cabo Girao

For an awe-inspiring panorama, Cabo Girao is your go-to destination. Ranking among the world’s tallest ocean cliffs, it offers a picturesque vantage point. You’ll find a famous glass skywalk here allowing you to gaze through the floor to the water below, enhancing the already breathtaking view from the cliff’s edge.

Monte Palace Tropical Garden

Monte Palace Tropical Gardens © Image Courtesy of Andrey Khrobostov by Canva
Monte Palace Tropical Gardens © Image Courtesy of Andrey Khrobostov by Canva

Monte Palace Tropical Gardens, also known as Jardim do Monte Palace, was one of the best botanical gardens we have ever visited and extends beyond the former Monte Palace hotel. It is in our opinion one of the must-visit spots on the island. 

Housing over 100,000 plant species, the garden’s botanical diversity is remarkable. Adding to its reputation is a property that teems with free-roaming birds, encompassing swans, ducks, geese, and peacocks, creating a harmonious haven of nature’s beauty. 

Visit Monte Palace Tropical Gardens by booking a tour here.

Madeira Botanical Garden

Nestled a mere mile from downtown Funchal, the Madeira Botanical Garden, or Jardim Botânico da Madeira, is another known attraction. Due to its top position, it offers not just a glimpse of more than 2,000 plants that adorn the hillside gardens, but also panoramic views. 

These gardens house numerous native plants, yet a dedicated portion showcases exotic foreign plants that are truly rare finds.

In our honest opinion, we were not as blown away by these gardens as we were by the Monte Palace gardens, but it was still worth mentioning thanks to the incredible views you get from this high up. 

Visit this majestic garden using this link.

Vereda Da Ponta De São Lourenço

Ponta De São Lourenço © Image Courtesy of teddiviscious from Getty Images by Canva
Ponta De São Lourenço © Image Courtesy of teddiviscious from Getty Images by Canva

Another of our best experiences in Madeira was to enjoy a hike along the Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço. 

A medium-difficulty trail expected to last around 2 hours and 30 minutes, Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço presents panoramic vistas spanning both north and south. This path, which winds along the eponymous peninsula, offers a delightful walking experience thanks to its favorable conditions. 

The peninsula, formed by volcanic activity, showcases primarily basaltic terrain, adorned with sporadic limestone sediment formations and offers absolutely stunning views! 

Parking and Safety Tips

Parking can indeed pose a challenge when driving in Madeira. In mountainous regions and small villages, locating parking spaces is relatively straightforward. However, around Funchal’s hotel zones, finding parking can prove to be difficult. 

An essential rule to heed: Park your vehicle in the same direction as the traffic flow, as parking against it is prohibited. In the Funchal vicinity, international traffic signs explain parking regulations, easily understood by those holding a driver’s license.

Also consider booking your accommodation in Funchal at a hotel or apartment that offers free onsite parking too. 

Budget-Friendly Car Rental Options

Here is a short list of car rental options that I believe will not break the bank. These include, Ilha verde, Guerin, Centauro, Europcar, 2Rent, Sixt, Thrifty, Budget, Autatlantis. 

As mentioned earlier in the guide, be sure to compare the various car rental options and prices by searching here on DiscoverCars. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Renting a Car in Madeira! 

Madeira scenery © Image Courtesy of Thomas Demarczyk from Getty Images Signature by Canva
Madeira scenery © Image Courtesy of Thomas Demarczyk from Getty Images Signature by Canva

Can you still explore Madeira without a car?

Yes, you can! 

Exploring Madeira without the need of renting a car is entirely feasible, even for solo travelers. The island’s well-organized local bus services and a wide range of available day tours ensures you have every opportunity to explore the island with ease. 

For those hesitant about solo travelling, these tours offer a good chance to connect with fellow adventurers, enhancing the experience and making new friends along the way.

What are my options to pick up my rental car?

When it comes to picking up your rental car in Madeira, there are a few options available: the ferry port, main towns (with Funchal being a prominent choice), and the airport. 

However, for a convenient and seamless start to your journey, I highly recommend collecting your rental car at the airport upon arrival. This option provides you with the widest selection of vehicles and most practicality.

Which car transmission should I choose?

When deciding between a manual or automatic transmission car for your Madeira journey, keep in mind that the majority of rental cars on the island are manual. By planning ahead and booking in advance, you’ll discover that automatic options do come with a slightly higher cost. 

However, if you do delay booking your car rental in Madeira, it could result in considerably higher prices for automatic vehicles. This fact stresses the importance of making arrangements ahead of time to secure the best deal for your preferred transmission type.

When should I book my car hire in Madeira?

The short answer is, as soon as possible! Depending on the time of year that you plan to travel, prices may be at a premium. Especially at the peak summer months. Be sure to bag yourself a good deal but plan well in advance.

How else can I save on my car rental in Madeira?

Other top tips include hiring a smaller car. Not only will this cost less but will have the added advantage of also allowing you to more easily navigate the narrow roads you’ll encounter along the way.

Another top tip is to always pick up and drop off your rental at the same location. Many of the car rental providers will end up charging a one-way drop off fee if you return it at a different location.

Will I need to present a credit card to the rental agency?

Yes! Most car rental companies, if not all, will require you to present a valid credit card, usually in the name of the renter, in order to place any security or fuel deposits. The amount they hold will depend on your type of rental and insurance coverage.

Also be sure to note that some company’s may not widely accept Amex or Diners Club International. Visa or Mastercard is always a safer bet.

Be sure to check your rental terms beforehand to know the amount of deposit the company will likely hold on your card. In some cases, where limited insurance is selected, this may run into hundreds of Euros! 

A Guide and Top Tips for Hiring a Car in Madeira, Portugal! Hiring a Car in Madeira, Madeira Car Rental, Rental Car in Madeira, Driving in Madeira!
A complete travel guide to Renting a car in Madeira! Hiring a Car in Madeira, Madeira Car Rental, Rental Car in Madeira, Driving in Madeira!