Best Levada Hikes in Madeira
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Madeira Island, situated off the coast of West Africa and part of Portugal, boasts extraordinary mountains that beg to be explored on foot. In this article, I will share insights into the best hikes in Madeira, drawing from the unforgettable memories of my journey on this remarkable island.
Madeira offers a well-established network of hiking trails, prominently featuring waymarked ‘PR’ routes, which include captivating levada walks. Levadas are remnants of an ancient stone irrigation system designed to capture and redirect water, fostering thriving crops. With over 1,350 miles (1,170 km) of levadas, these trails are a hiker’s delight, showcasing the island’s diverse landscapes.
Distributed throughout Madeira, levada walks lead adventurers to various scenic destinations, including waterfalls, city viewpoints, coastal panoramas, and mountainous terrains. They also traverse the lush Laurissilva forests, designated as a UNESCO-protected site and home to primary laurel forest. The inherent cultural touch adds to the allure of Madeira’s hiking network.
Given the historical paths, tunnels, and potential challenges like rock falls or adverse weather, levada routes may periodically open and close throughout the year. Prior to embarking on any of these trails, it is essential to ensure you have the right equipment, navigational tools, and supplies. Additionally, double-checking the current status of the specific levada walk you plan to explore is crucial to ensure a safe and enjoyable hiking experience.
Levadas, Veredas & PR routes
In Madeira, you’ll encounter various styles of hiking trails, with notable distinctions among levadas, veredas, and PR routes. Here’s a quick guide to understanding each:
Levada: Levadas are paths that run alongside man-made aqueducts originally constructed for irrigation purposes. These routes typically wind through lush green landscapes and may traverse diverse terrains, offering hikers scenic views and a connection to the island’s agricultural history.
Vereda: The term ‘vereda’ is a general reference to a path, encompassing a wide range of hiking routes. A trail labeled as a vereda can lead you through mountainous terrain, classic coastal paths, or forested routes. The diversity in vereda trails makes them suitable for various preferences and hiking experiences.
PR route: Madeira boasts over 20 ‘pequena rutas’ or ‘short routes,’ commonly referred to as PR routes. These are official trails meticulously maintained and marked by the Regional Government of Madeira. Each PR route is assigned a unique PR number. For example, PR1 guides you to Vereda do Pico do Areeiro, while PR21 takes you on the Caminho do Norther, from Encumeada to Riberia Grande. The Visit Madeira website serves as a valuable resource for accessing information on all PR routes, including route details and status updates, ensuring a well-informed hiking experience.
Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo (PR1)
Embarking on the hike from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo in Madeira is a truly extraordinary experience and stands out as our favourite among the island’s incredible trails. This trail offers a thrilling adventure with rugged cliffs, awe-inspiring staircases, mountain tunnels, and an unparalleled 360-degree view of the entire island. It’s an impressive journey that demands proper preparation and enthusiasm for an unforgettable day.
Our foremost piece of advice for this challenging hike is to wear sturdy hiking shoes, carry an ample water supply, and brace yourself for a day of exhilarating exploration. The trek to Pico Ruivo is not for the faint of heart, but the rewards are immeasurable.
Setting off from Pico Arieiro, you’ll initially descend about 500 meters, revealing some of the most scenic vistas along the way. This descent unfolds through steps strategically placed along rugged ridge lines and steep cliffs, offering breath-taking views of the sunrise. The dramatic landscape captivates as you navigate this section of the trail.
Following this, the trail levels off for a few kilometres along the side of Pico das Torres. This narrow pathway is built into the side of a steep rock wall, providing a unique and thrilling hiking experience. Numerous tunnels along this stretch guide you safely around and through the mountain, ultimately bringing you to the base of Pico Ruivo.
Continuing the journey, you’ll encounter a series of ladders and navigate through a set of switchbacks, all leading you to the summit of Pico Ruivo. This final stretch involves an estimated elevation gain of about 600 meters over the last few kilometres. The ascent is challenging, yet each step brings you closer to the rewarding panoramic views that await you at the pinnacle.
Upon reaching the top of Pico Ruivo, a breath-taking spectacle unfolds – unobstructed views of the entire island in every direction. The sense of accomplishment combined with the expansive vistas makes the effort expended during the climb well worth it. The summit of Pico Ruivo provides a vantage point that encapsulates the diverse landscapes and beauty of Madeira, offering a truly memorable experience for those who dare to conquer its heights.
Undoubtedly, the hike to Pico Ruivo is an invigorating challenge, but every step is rewarded with spectacular scenery and a sense of accomplishment. Be prepared for an awe-inspiring adventure that showcases the rugged beauty of Madeira’s landscape.
Read more about Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo Hike (PR1 and PR1.2)
Levada das 25 Fontes (PR6)
The ‘Levada das 25 Fontes’ trail is a delightful journey that leads you to 25 fountains, springs, and water sources, making it one of Madeira’s most popular and accessible hikes with rewarding sights.
Commencing from ER 105 in Rabaçal, this trail guides you through a landscape adorned with vibrant greenery, offering expansive views of the Ribeira da Janela valley, and immersing you once again in the renowned Laurissilva forest. While the entire route is captivating, the true highlight awaits a bit further.
A half-hour detour, well-marked on the PR6.1 trail, leads you to Risco, the largest waterfall on Madeira. The journey continues along the main route, tracing the levada, until you arrive at the enchanting 25 Fontes Waterfall, gracefully cascading into a dreamy basin. This picturesque spot makes for an ideal lunch break before retracing your steps back to the starting point.
The Levada das 25 Fontes trail is celebrated for its relatively easy hike, making it accessible to a wide range of hikers, while still providing the remarkable rewards of breath-taking landscapes and impressive water features.
Read more about Levada das 25 Fontes (PR6 & PR6.1)
Levada do Caldeirão Verde (PR9)
Ranked among the best levada hikes in Madeira, the trek to Caldeirão Verde is one of the longer but undeniably most rewarding walks on this list. As you embark on this journey, near the initial stretch of the route stands the Casa de Abrigo das Queimadas, a triangular and charming traditional house now nestled within the Queimadas Forest Park. This historical site sets the tone for the adventure that follows.
Continuing along the trail, you’ll encounter a terrace that unfolds into a beautiful lookout point, providing scenic views of the surrounding landscape. Your journey through the Laurissilva forest, known for its lush greenery, leads you to the stunning Caldeirão Verde lake. Further along, you’ll discover Caldeirão do Inferno, where a waterfall gracefully spills into a pool beneath an imposing cliff, creating a captivating natural spectacle.
While this hike may be longer, the rewards lie not just in the physical journey but in the breathtaking sights that unfold along the way. From historical landmarks to picturesque terraces and natural wonders, the Caldeirão Verde trail is an immersive experience into the beauty of Madeira’s landscapes and its rich natural heritage.
Location: PR9 Levada do Caldeirão Verde, Santana, Portugal
Read more about Caldeirão Verde Levada Walk (PR 9)
Ponta de Sao Lourenco (PR8)
Ponta de Sao Lourenco in Madeira is a haven for hikers, offering a unique experience distinct from the rest of the island. This trail guides you along cliffs, providing panoramic views of the endless ocean on both sides. The terrain is characterized by lava rock formations, creating a desert-like environment that stands out amidst Madeira’s diverse landscapes.
The path itself is relatively easy, featuring some undulating sections, so sturdy footwear is advisable. The final 500 meters present a sandy, slippery, and notably steep path, providing a challenging option for those seeking an adventurous conclusion to their hike. Before this last stretch, a café awaits, offering a perfect spot to pause, catch your breath, and savor the breathtaking views.
The hike typically takes around 3 hours for a round trip, but the duration may vary based on your pace. Additionally, there’s an optional path leading down to a rocky beach at the trail’s end, adding an extra 30 minutes or more to your hiking time. Ponta de Sao Lourenco promises not just a physical journey but a visual feast, with its unique landscape and stunning ocean vistas.
Location: Ponta de São Lourenço, Estr. de São Lourenço, Caniçal, Portugal | From Funchal: Ponta de São Lourenço/Caniçal Full-Day Hike
Read more about Vereda da Ponta de Sao Lourenco (PR8)
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