Thanks to a low crime rate, Madeira is considered a very safe travel destination. However, there are some serious safety considerations besides crime (that often go unmentioned on blogs) that are important to be aware of.
The first thing to know is that driving on the island can be challenging if you’re an inexperienced driver or not accustomed to driving on the right. Madeira is VERY mountainous so you’ll be facing many twists and turns, especially once you get off the main roads.
But even if you won’t drive, the mountains can still be perilous. Some tragic accidents have happened involving tourists falling from tall cliffs on hiking trails or even when posing for pictures and taking one too many steps back.
Madeira is safe in a general sense, but it’s sadly not uncommon for the local news to report on accidents due to unsafe behaviour from tourists. Madeira can be unsafe if you’re not mindful.
In this article…
Crime and safety
Portugal is a low-crime country in general, but even more so in the small island community of Madeira. Violent crime involving tourists is extremely rare in Madeira and so you have little to worry about in terms of personal safety.
But as with any travel destination, it’s important to take basic travel safety precautions such as keeping your valuables close by and/or hidden, especially at night. Pickpocketing is rare but always remains a possibility, particularly in Funchal.
Are there areas to avoid?
There are no specific areas that travellers should avoid due to crime. While there are not really any ‘bad areas’, it’s always wise to take basic precautions and to keep an eye on any valuables.
Hiking is a very popular activity in Madeira, in part thanks to its somewhat adventurous trails featuring mountain cliffs, waterfalls, and many levadas (irrigation channels). Despite the hiking trails being generally safe and well-maintained, it’s not unusual to read reports of tourists going missing or worse.
For example, in 2023 a person died while hiking the Levada das 25 Fontes. While there are only some small cliffs along this path, it’s a reminder that accidents that happen anywhere. In 2023 another tourist died while taking photos at the famous Cascata dos Anjos waterfall. It seems the person may have stood on the stone traffic barriers along the edge before falling 30 meters down the cliffs.
Injuries and accidents are a realistic possibility while hiking, so this is just to emphasize being careful.
Tips for staying safe while hiking
- Check the official trail descriptions for difficulty levels and any potential warnings. Trails are sometimes closed (for example following mudslides). You can check the status of all the hiking trails here. You can also click the info icons in the left column of this table to download the brochure with official information.
- When hiking along levadas, be aware of potential hazards, such as loose rocks or slippery surfaces. Stick to designated paths only (there are many unmarked levadas that are actually not intended to be walkable — don’t ignore any signs telling you they’re prohibited)
- Don’t take photos from cliff edges or take risks to get the ‘ultimate selfie’ or you may end up with a Darwin Award situation
- The weather can be unpredictable, so check forecasts and be sure to pack appropriate gear.
- Take care when doing the famed Pico de Areiro to Pico Ruivo hike, which has some very narrow stairs on the edges of a mountain rim. In some parts, there is only a single horizontal rope preventing you from falling off a cliff. This is quite manageable for a fit and responsible adult, but it may be a bad idea if you have mobility issues or, say, a baby in tow. (We don’t recommend this trail at all in this case.)
Beach and swimming safety
Madeira is not necessarily known as a beach holiday destination, but there are several beaches, and you may take the chance to enjoy some of the water activities on the island.
Some of the beaches in Madeira are supervised by lifeguards. One of the best-guarded beaches is Machico Beach. This man-made beach features golden sand and is particularly suitable for families.
For a unique swimming experience, some areas in Madeira offer natural pools, such as Porto Moniz. These pools are formed by lava rocks and provide a protected environment where you can swim in shallow waters while being shielded from the waves.
Madeira’s sea waves also attract surfers and adventurers, however, who often favour locations such as Praia da Prainha and Seixal Beach.
The flag system indicates the safety conditions for swimming. A green flag signifies that the sea conditions are suitable for swimming, while yellow implies caution due to possible strong currents or waves. Finally, a red flag means bathing is forbidden due to hazardous conditions.
Is it safe to drive in Madeira?
The safest way to get around is arguably by taxi, bus, or private tour services, as the local professional drivers will be best at navigating Madeira’s roads.
If you decide to rent a car in Madeira and explore the island independently, you should know that the driving can be challenging at times due to narrow, winding roads and steep inclines.
To be honest, we expected far worse on our first-ever trip in Madeira after we’d read so many warnings online. In fact, most of the main roads in Madeira are easy to drive, such as the motorways and the direct main roads that go through straight long tunnels.
However, the side roads and old ER101 coastal roads can admittedly be a little more adventurous. This is why it can be helpful to already have some mountain driving experience. Your views on what the driving is like will surely depend on your personal driving experience, whether you’re used to drive on the right, and to what extent you’ll drive the smaller mountainous roads.
You can read more about the driving conditions in Madeira.
Solo travel safety in Madeira
Can you travel solo in Madeira? You bet! The island is known for its safety and welcoming atmosphere, making it a great choice for anyone embarking on a solo adventure.
Madeira is also perfectly fine to visit as a female solo traveller. Many women have rated Madeira highly in terms of solo female travel suitability.
Be careful if you decide to go hiking solo; it’s usually best to pick a popular trail or join a group. You may wish to book tours so you can join others in an activity (such as guided hikes or boat tours).
If you’re planning to explore by yourself, don’t miss our tips for solo travel in Madeira.