5 Uncommon Tips for Hiking in Madeira

Jun 5, 2024


Hiker in Madeira

Embarking on a new hiking adventure is super exciting!

While the basics of hiking are well-known; there are always things you wish you'd known before you went. Whether you are a seasoned hiker, or curious beginner, there's a treasure trove of uncommon tips, unique to Madeira, that will enhance your experience on the island.

So, lace up your boots and get ready to discover our 5 top tips for hiking in Madeira.

  1. Car Hire 

The first thing we always say to people venturing to Madeira is for God’s sake, get a decent hire car!

No joke.

Take a wrong turn in Funchal, like we did, and you may find yourself on the Rua da Barreira - one of the steepest roads in the world, with a gradient in some sections of a whopping 45%. 

Picture this. There we were in our pathetic little Fiat 500, going what felt like vertically uphill, travelling so painfully slowly that people walking up the road were overtaking us. That is not even an exaggeration.

After Paul’s slight panic that toppling the car over backwards was a very real possibility, we used the 'lean forward' method, which may have actually worked - because we somehow made it. To say the car (and we) struggled, would be an understatement. It was stressful. 0/10.

Steep roads are a running theme in some of the more remote parts of the island, typically where there is the most hiking, so do yourself a favour and hire a car with a bit of “oomph” (not 0mph) that can handle a hill in more than just first gear. 

If you don’t drive, or you aren’t able to hire a car in Madeira, don’t worry! You can still enjoy a lot of what the island has to offer, especially if you are staying in Funchal. Many of the hotels in the capital, as well as the Tourism Office, have affiliations with companies who offer excursions and guided hiking tours around Madeira. There is also the good old public bus.

Without a car, one of the best hikes to do is Ponta de São Lourenço, which can be reached by bus from Funchal in around 1 hour 15 mins.

  1. Take a Torch (& Plasters)

Those over 5ft 6, this one's for you…

If you are planning on embarking on some Levada walks or the PR1 when in Madeira, it’s a good idea to pack a torch with you in your bag. On some routes, there are various dark tunnels, many with low and uneven ceilings. 

(No, we’ve not gone all ‘health and safety’ on you!)

This tip comes from witnessing a man pretty much scalp himself going through one of these tunnels - which is why having a supply of plasters with you is also a good idea.

But it’s not just the tall who suffer…

Guess who bumped his head, and had a torch with him?

You’ve been warned, hobbits!

  1. Check the Webcam

If the weather is looking mixed during your time in Madeira, we’d recommend trying to save the clearest day for hiking the PR1 from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo. 

The views are truly breathtaking, so it’s a real shame when you find yourself stuck in thick clouds. If you only have a small window of good weather, or you are on a tight schedule, you can drive up the mountain roads to the car parks at Pico Ruivo and also Pico do Arieiro for the views, so that you don’t miss out. There is a handy webcam that shows the view from the top of Pico do Arieiro, so you can stay ahead of the game.

p.s - getting up early to watch the sunrise from the top of Pico do Arieiro is highly recommended.

  1. Snacks 

This may seem like an obvious one, but we recommend that you take plenty of snacks on any of your hikes you do in Madeira. There are not always places to eat on the routes and if there are, they aren’t always open. Many won't offer much in the way of choice for vegetarians or vegans either.

A tasty pick-me-up that we took with us on our longer hikes was a whole slab of Bolo de Mel de Cana da Madeira, or Madeira Honey Cake, one of the oldest Madeiran delicacies.

It doesn’t look appetising when squished in a bag, but does the job as a hiking snack.

Stock up at the shops when you can. The same goes for plenty of water. 

Just don’t piss in the Levadas.

  1. Wet Weather Gear

Finally, we recommend packing your bags for all weathers and to be prepared for rain. Yep, you read that correctly - I did say rain. Sorry!

Being a mountainous and sub-tropical island, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to know that the weather in Madeira, at times, can be unpredictable. We saw a lot of wet and shivering people in Fanal forest who didn’t get the memo.

Although your pre-holiday weather forecast may show the sunniest sun to ever have sunned - it’s often not the case inland where the mountainous terrain draws in cool air, thick clouds and rain. Bear that in mind when you giddily pack your bags and suncream. In general, take the online forecasts with a pinch of salt, they are not always accurate.  

However, one thing that is accurate is that Madeira is absolutely stunning, whatever the weather, and a must visit for keen hikers. 

If you are sold, check out our picks of the best hikes in Madeira.

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© The Alpines. 2024

© The Alpines. 2024

© The Alpines. 2024