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Madeira is an island of dramatic beauty. Here's how to navigate this Portuguese outpost safely.


Photo © Getty Images/Marko Stavric Photography

Madeira is spectacularly beautiful and ideal for adventure, but how safe is it? This island, off the northwestern coast of Africa, is a fantastic destination for travelers of all ages. It’s long been most popular with retirees but now Madeira is quickly becoming one of the world’s digital nomad hotspots.

As of June 2021, Madeira is open to all travelers, provided they have a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours of boarding. The island now also accepts proof of vaccination, or proof of recovery from COVID-19, as alternatives to the PCR test.

Crime in Madeira

Madeira experiences very little crime, and what there is does not usually target visitors. Even typical traveler concerns, such as pickpocketing, are rare on the streets of Madeira. In spite of this, I still recommend taking your usual safe-traveler precautions;

  • keep valuables close by and/or hidden, especially at night.
  • when walking after dark, stay close to main or familiar roads – it’s always best to be smart while in a new country.
The fishing village of Cámara de Lobos in Madeira. Photo credit: Getty Images/ Eduardo Ramos Castaneda

Scams in Madeira

The only real scam concern in Madeira (specifically in the capital Funchal) is the possibility of being overcharged by a taxi driver. To avoid this, always insist on using the meter, or better yet, grab an Uber.

Drugs and alcohol in Madeira

Overall, drug abuse and drink spiking are not big issues in Madeira. Drugs are not sold openly but are available in some circles. Alcohol is of course common and can be found at any local bar, restaurant, cafe and even petrol stations.

If you do plan on partying on Madeira, do what you normally should: remain in control, know where your drink is at all times, and if it’s drugs that you plan to dabble in, keep in mind that drug possession is illegal on Madeira and that there are stories of drugs such as cocaine being cut with less savory ingredients such as speed or crystal meth. Your best option is to simply not use drugs.

Transport: getting around safely

In order to drive in Madeira, you need to be very confident and experienced. It can be surprising to see local drivers hitting tight spots at speed, and if you’re not used to it, it can feel pretty aggressive.  

To stay safe and have a trip without mishaps, never try to overtake on dangerous curves. If you find drivers trying to overtake you, let them – there’s no point in getting into a road war. 

If you plan on self-driving, don’t exceed the speed limit, never drive under the influence, and be extra careful on mountain roads and during inclement weather. Roads in Madeira are notoriously steep and winding. I also recommend you avoid driving at night, when you’re more likely to encounter reckless driving.

While Madeira’s climate is consistently mild, gnarly storms can blow in without warning. Always check the weather in the morning before you set out for a drive, especially if you plan to head to more remote areas.

It’s also a good idea to have some sort of offline map of the island downloaded on your phone – I personally think does the job well. If you don’t plan on self-driving, hire a driver from a reputable company.

Staying safe on hikes

Madeira is hiking heaven, and there are some seriously epic trails to get acquainted with. But, with incredible views can often come a bit of danger, and Madeira is no exception.

The island is known for its iconic levadas (water irrigation channels), many of which now are linked by hiking trails. Even so, some of these might be dilapidated and possibly hazardous so be careful. Make sure you carry enough water, a quality rain jacket and warm layers in case the weather turns. Be sure to only attempt hikes that fit your skill level, and if you want to push your limits, take a local guide along.

Weather and climate

Located in the Atlantic Ocean, Madeira’s weather is changeable and you might find yourself caught in a storm.

Keeping a rain jacket close by is always a good idea. Although major flooding occurred in 2010, such events are rare.

Rip currents are possible, though not common. If you plan to swim, make sure the beach is safe and obey any flags or advice from lifeguards. And if you’re considering water sports (as you should) always check company reviews and wear a life jacket when applicable.

The sun in Madeira can be fierce – always wear sunscreen and a hat.

Overall, Madeira is a very safe destination for families, backpackers, adventurers, solo travelers and retirees. As long as you use your commonsense travel safety knowledge, you’ll have a great time enjoying the island known as the Pearl of the Atlantic.

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