Many of you wonder how many days are necessary to visit Madeira Island. Sorry to say that there is no exact answer but the general consensus is that 7 days is the minimum to get an overview of the Island. Naturally, travel plans will ultimately depend on time available, the travel budget and the interests of each traveller.
Depending on where you stay and how many days you spend on the island, renting a car for your entire stay may not be necessary. The city of Funchal, for example, is well worth a walk and is supplied with public transportion to various parts of the island. Other cities, such as Machico or Câmara de Lobos have frequent connections to Funchal, so planning your trip and knowing how many days you will need a car can guarantee significant savings to your pocket and the environment.
Intelligent mobility planning involves knowing the transport network around the area where you are going to settle and which activities you intend to carry out and how often.
The journey from the airport can be made by aerobus, if your final destination is Funchal. The journey to the centre takes around 30 minutes and the frequency of service is sufficient to cover almost any flight.
On a trip to Madeira it is essential to plan a few days (at least 2 days) to explore Madeira’s most precious natural asset: the levadas and trails through the Laurissilva forest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Catering for top athlete to couch athlete, there’s a wide range of walking options, with different levels of difficulty, suitable for anyone of any age, even for those with vertigo (while less well-known and fewer in number, there also are wide levadas with no abysses).
Public transportion on the island has a great coverage, allowing you to easily reach a considerable number of levadas and trails. It is just a matter of checking the timetables of the transport companies to ensure that the time of the return trip will allow for the duration of the hike.
The biggest advantage of taking the bus, apart from the substantial carbon footprint and cost reduction, is doing away with the return back to the car, which in the case of longer levadas will be a blessing, believe me!
A small appendix to say that if you are already trained in mountain crossings, perhaps the ecotrail is a worthwhile goal to consider. It will undoubtedly be a unique experience and will raise the bar for your holiday.
In case you are looking for alternative means of transportation, it may be useful to know that electric bicycles are gaining more and more popularity. Madeira still does not have an infrastructure designed for cyclists, except for small occasional cycle lanes, but in Funchal, even without them, you can get around safely (my husband rides an e-bike every day and loves it). Does the bicycle really have to be electric? you ask. My answer will depend on how used you are to cycling uphill, and on the location of your accomodation. Flat roads on the island don’t abound, so unless you’re a natural-born cyclist willing to excercise, the electric option will usually be more suitable.
But back to the island tours and the central question: is it actually worth it to consider a car-free holiday? I will tell you this: it is possible! It just comes down to your priorities and planning skills. There are areas outside public transportion coverage, some of which very emblematic: Pico Ruivo, Pico do Areeiro, Paúl da Serra, Rabaçal, etc…There are also some places where the bus circulation is so scarce and/or the trip is so long that it really becomes difficult to go, visit the place and return to your accomodation on the same day. For those cases, one good option to avoid renting a car is organized tours. These tours will pass through all main points of interest, including dedicated tours to the sunrise at Pico Ruivo. There are very interesting options around the island, offering unique experiences with passionate professionals willing to share their knowledge of the island.
However, if renting a car is more appealing to you, either because you want to go at your own pace or because renting a car instead of going on organized tours is financially advantageous (e.g. groups of more than 3 people), you can do a programme of 3 days with a car, to get to know the (main) places out of public transportation’s reach, and still have time to make some hikes as well.
In such cases, my advice is to opt for local car rental agencies: prices are competitive, usually without hidden surcharges or credit card deposits, and you will be helping the local economy.
Other options that can make your stay special and ensure a low carbon footprint are: walking tours in Funchal, electric micro-cars rentals, segways rentals, mountain biking, or safari tours (as carbon emissions are shared by all passengers). Finally, it is worth to know that some local outdoor sports agencies offer a transfer from your accommodation (usually departing from Funchal) to the activity location, yet another way to enjoy your Island experience to the fullest without a car.
If Madeira has captivated a place in your heart and you need more information, just get in touch!
Wish you lovely trips and hope to meet you soon!