The Monte Toboggan Ride is a 2 Kilometer downhill ride in a wicker basket on wooden skids powered and controlled by two sled drivers. This strange and unique mode of transportation has been happening for over 150 years on the Atlantic island of Madeira located about 450 miles west of Morocco.
During the 1850’s the toboggan ride was the primary means of downhill public transportation. Today, it is Madeira’s most famous attractions.
The ride starts in the hilltop suburb of Monte and ends in the seaside town of Funchal. The sleds are operated by drivers known as the “Carreiros do Monte”. They are well dressed in traditional uniforms of white shirts and trousers along with their iconic straw hats with a black ribbon and boots made with thick rubber soles used for steering and braking. While the drives uniforms my give the impression that the ride will be a stroll through the park, don’t let that fool you! The name “Carreiros do Monte” translates to “hill racers” and that is exactly what they are!
The 1.2 mile route has two main features, downhill and winding.
The first part of the toboggan ride starts off downhill and the “hill racers” earn their name by reaching speeds of up to 30 Kms/hr. That speed may not sound too fast but when you are setting in a wicker basket with wooden slats that glide on greased up rags that are used for wheel, it is a thrilling and unforgettable portion of the ride.
Additionally, just because the road is straight that doesn’t mean that the drivers will keep the basket straight. Their mission is to make the journey the best experience that they can for the riders and they do it by making the basket slide back and forth, sometimes almost going sideways to the street.
Curves in the road
There are lots of curves in the road and when the road curves so does the basket. The drivers always bank the basket into the curve of the road which was just as much fun for me as the speed of the downhill portion.
The route that the toboggan ride takes is not exclusively used for the toboggan ride. The ride uses roads that are in use for regular traffic. Some of the roads are on wide two direction traffic and other times the roads are narrow streets with concrete walls on both sides.
Being pushed downhill in a basket on roads that are simultaneously being used for motorized traffic may seem a little frightening. Don’t worry, there are traffic guards that will stop the vehicles when a basket slides through and intersection and if a car comes up behind a basket they will slow down until they reach a point where they can pass.
The two kilometer journey down a curvy road takes about 10 minutes depending on traffic and if the “hill racer” can pass the toboggan in front of you or not.
The Dust on My Shoes
I first saw the Monte Toboggan Ride on the TV show “Exploration Unknown” about a month before my scheduled trip to the island of Madeira. I immediately thought, wow that is something that I must do when we are there.
The toboggan ride was exciting and in some places it gave me an adrenalin rush. The entire ride was fun and I found myself laughing almost the entire journey.
To put the ride into perspective, it was more exhilarating than riding the gondolas of Venice but less exhilarating than riding a motorcycle through the streets of Thailand.
The “Carreiros do Monte” or “hill racers” were fantastic! They wanted to make our ride fun and it was fun from the beginning of the ride all of the way to the end. They provide tourist with an experience that is completely fun and is unique from any experience that I have had in my travels.
There are no limits to the experiences that we can have during out travels! Some activities may seem a little strange but they may turn out to be one of your top travel experiences.