Originally used by locals as a quick way to get down the hills of Monte to the heart of Funchal in 1850, wicker tobogganing has quickly become Funchal's claim to tourism fame, attracting thousands of visitors to the island each year. The premise is simple: you hop inside a two-person wicker sled on wooden runners and two men (carreiros) dressed in all white (and the most adorable straw hats!) push and pull the sled down the narrow and winding streets of Funchal using their rubber-soled boots as brakes. The whole idea seems impossible, right? How in the world do wooden sleds slide down asphalt so easily? And the only way to stop you from crashing into stone walls and moving cars (yes, there were still cars driving down the streets!) was for a man to stop the sled with his rubber boot? If someone were explaining this to me without seeing it firsthand, I'd tell them they'd better have their life insurance policy up to date.
Truth is, wicker tobogganing down the winding roads of Funchal was one of the most fun activities we'd ever done while cruising. It ranks high up there with the Santorini donkey riding. We can't get enough of weird modes of transportation, I guess! It was super interesting to be riding the way the locals did so many years ago, all the while staring at the newly built cable car (that we previously rode down) shuttling people from Monte to Funchal in the distance. What's even cooler is that the famous American author Ernest Hemingway described Funchal toboggan riding as "the most exhilarating experience" of his life. Not sure I'd quite go that far, but it was a lot of fun. I'll admit, there were a few times during our 10 minute ride when the sleds really got going (48km per hour!) that I was convinced there was no way two men were going to be able to stop us…but these guys knew what they're doing and safely guided us down the mountain. No broken bones, just a lot of laughs and "OH MY GOSH!" moments! If you ever have the opportunity to visit Funchal, DO NOT MISS this 'old-fashioned' and adventurous means of tourist transportation. No better way to experience Funchal culture!
Pricing: €30 for 2 people (but is included in many cruise shore excursions)
Location: Sled start point is just below the Nosso Senhora do Monte church.
[Totally freaking out because this seems super unsafe yet totally cool all in the same weird moment.]
[In this video you can see how they push the sleds…and how ridiculously close to stone walls we were!]
[Our reactions to sledding down asphalt…plus I really wanted you to see what the two men were doing behind us. Hard work, for sure!]
Missed previous Portugal posts? You can catch up here!