From the Epic to the Magical: The Best Hikes in Madeira

Jun 6, 2024


Nicknamed the “Hawaii of Europe”, the Portuguese island of Madeira is both epic and magical, in equal measures. We don’t tend to use words like these lightly, but Madeira really is that impressive. 

Sure, the beaches are cool but it’s the hikers that are the real winners on Madeira and will have the privilege of exploring the best of this beautiful island.

So, if hiking in a lush green 20 million year old subtropical rainforest, or scaling rugged peaks surrounded by breathtaking panoramic views sounds like your cup of cocoa - it’s time to grab a pen and take some notes.

PR1 from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo (and back)

  • Distance: 12 km (there and back) 

  • Difficulty: Moderate - Hard

  • Duration: 5-7 hours

  • Start/End: Pico do Arieiro car park

The PR1 route should feature high on your list of hikes to do in Madeira, so it’s the first one we’ll mention. The route connects two of Madeira’s highest peaks, Pico do Arieiro (1818m) and Pico Ruivo (1862m). 

Things you should know:

  • Expect crowds. The PR1 is a popular hike and one of the most popular things to do on Madeira, which can make parking a problem.

  • The PR1 is a moderate to hard hike with steep ascents/descents; however, there are handrails to help you out when you need them.

  • It’s a ‘there and back’ hike unless you organise a taxi from the car park at Pico Ruivo to take you back to the start.

  • If you plan to complete the round trip, note that it’s a steeper climb up on the way back. 

So, why is it so special?

The views from the top of Pico do Arieiro are truly breathtaking. Watching the sunrise from up here is one of the highlights on the island, and words cannot adequately capture the stunning beauty of the scenery. The mist and clouds that often sweep in swiftly along the route only enhance the drama. Numerous viewpoints along the route will make it very difficult to put your camera away. Gazing out, you get a sense of being on the edge of the world. This hike ranges from moderate to hard, and can be demanding when it gets steep, but every step is undeniably worth it.

Next up we have…

Rabaçal - PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes & PR6.1 Levada do Risco

  • Distance: 16km

  • Difficulty: Easy 

  • Duration: 4 hours

  • Start/End: Rabaçal

Take in the views over the Ribeira da Janela valley and the vibrant greens of the Laurissilva, or Laurel forest. The PR6 route can be walked without a visit to the Risco Waterfall, but it would be a shame to miss it.

Things you should know:

  • Expect crowds. This is one of the most popular Levada's on Madeira.

  • It can get cold and wet walking this particular route, so make sure you have some extra layers with you.

  • Don't expect to see 25 waterfalls on this route. 25 Fontes means "25 water sources" coming down the mountains of Paul da Serra.

  • If you straighten your hair, don't bother.

So, why is it so special?

If you like chasing waterfalls and are partial to a cold water dip, this hike is a real treat. The detour to the Risco Waterfall is well worth it too. Twisted tree branches form around the Levada path in this enchanting forest and it's so lush and wet that the rocky walls are literally leaking. Look hard enough and you might catch a glimpse of the Madeira Firecrest, a small bird that’s endemic to the island.

If chasing waterfalls isn't your thing…

PR8 Ponta de São Lourenço

  • Distance: 7km (there and back)

  • Difficulty: Easy - Moderate

  • Duration: 3 hours

  • Start/End: Baía d'Abra

The PR8 route on Ponta de São Lourenço is a ‘there and back’ peninsula hike on the East coast of Madeira. There is a good chance you will get a glimpse of it from the plane window when you arrive on the island. It can easily be reached from Funchal and, if you don’t have a car, there is a bus route to the Baia d’Abra car park, where the route begins and ends. 

Things you should know:

  • Be prepared to pay an entry fee of €1, except for residents and children up to 12 years old.

  • There is little to no shade on the route due to a lack of vegetation.

  • Take your trunks. There are a couple of secluded beaches on the route to take a dip.

  • Taking a picnic with you is highly recommended. Casa do Sardinha Sea Spot Cafe is the only restaurant on the route, reserve in advance.

So, why is it so special?

If it’s possible to get sick of Levada walks, then the Ponta de São Lourenço route couldn’t be more of a contrast to those lush green trails. It’s exposed, which means panoramic views and spectacular scenery in abundance. The rocky landscape is arid and, at times, it feels like you're walking on the planet Mars. There are secluded beach spots on the route to take a dip in the inviting emerald coloured water and as a partial Nature Reserve heritage site, you’ll find rare plants, protected seabirds and plenty of Madeiran wall lizards basking in the sun. 

Need a bit more green in your life….

PR9 Levada do Caldeirão Verde

  • Distance: 13km 

  • Difficulty: Easy 

  • Duration: 3-4 hours

  • Start/End: Queimadas

The PR9 route is pretty straightforward as there is only one path. Navigate through dense jungle and dark tunnels that lead to the beautiful Caldeirão Verde waterfall, one of the highest waterfalls on Madeira. The route also offers beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and the São Jorge valley.

Things you should know:

  • The Queimadas Forestry Park car park is payable (roughly €3)

  • Expect crowds. This is one of the most popular Levada's on Madeira.

  • There are some very dark tunnels on the route that will require you to have a torch of some kind.

  • Check for route closures. At the time of writing this, the route is closed between Caldeirão Verde and Caldeirão do Inferno.

So, why is it so special?

Welcome to Jurassic Park! This place is about as magical as it gets. The lush green mountainside will ignite your imagination. If not dinosaurs, the enchanting little nooks make it easy to imagine fairies flying around the ferns, or a troll in the dark tunnels.

Madeira has so much to offer a hiker. If you are lucky enough to spend more than a week here, there is so much more to be explored.

Now you know which hikes to do, why not check out our 5 tips for hiking in Madeira.

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© The Alpines. 2024

© The Alpines. 2024

© The Alpines. 2024