Best hikes and levada walks on Madeira island in Portugal

Hiking in Madeira – Best Hikes and Levada Walks

In Portugal by JurgaTHIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS

With a big variety of hiking trails for all levels Madeira is considered a true hikers’ paradise. But if you are visiting Madeira for just a few days, there is no way you can (or want to) do them all. So before our trip I was researching the best hikes and levada walks in Madeira and here’s my selection based on our experience hiking in Madeira.

This is in no way a complete list of hiking trails of Madeira. In fact, it’s a rather small selection of the very best hikes and walks of Madeira that bring you to some of the most beautiful places on the island. This selection includes a variety of the most beautiful hikes and walks that let you experience the incredible diversity of Madeira.

We visited Madeira with our three children (age 7 to 9) and so for each hike described below I also share our experience when hiking these trails with kids.

TIP: At the end of this post you can also find a map of Madeira with the precise location of each hike.

Hiking and trekking in Madeira Portugal

 

Vereda do Areeiro – PR 1

Without a doubt the most beautiful hike of Madeira, Vereda do Areeiro (PR1) connects two of the highest peaks of Madeira – Pico do Arieiro and Pico Ruivo. This trail takes you along the mountain peaks high above the clouds. The mountains here are so steep that you feel like walking on top of the world. The scenery is simply breathtaking!

Vereda do Arieiro is a strenuous long hike that will take even the most experienced hikers at least 6-8hrs. However, you don’t have to hike all the way to Pico Ruivo to experience the stunning landscapes. Even if you hike just a small part, you’ll be able to admire some of the most beautiful landscapes of Madeira.

Due to the weather (the clouds closing in the view) we walked just a small part of this hike. Even then, we all agreed that this was the most impressive hike we had ever done (and we have done quite a few truly stunning hikes all over the world: Oeschinensee in Switzerland, The Pulpit Rock and Florli 4444 in Norway, Delicate Arch in the USA, just to name a few). So if you are lucky with the weather and are in good shape, try to do this walk (or a part of it) when in Madeira. It’s an unforgettable experience!

Hiking Vereda do Areeiro in Madeira with kids

Walking above the clouds at Vereda do Areeiro

 

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

  • Starting point: Miradouro do Pico do Arieiro (arrive early as the parking lot fills up quickly and there are less clouds in the morning).
  • Accessibility: You’ll need a car to get to the starting point. If you can arrange transportation, it is possible to do this walk in one direction. After reaching Pico Ruivo continue on PR 1.2 to Achada do Teixera and have someone pick you up there. In this case the walk will be about 3km shorter. However, both places are rather far from anything else and there isn’t public transport available. One of the best options I found is this guided hike with transfers from Funchal included.
  • Total distance: 12-14km depending on the side you take
  • Duration: 6-8 hrs
  • Difficulty: Moderate/strenuous
  • Biggest challenge: There are lots of stairs and sheer drops, so this is not a hike for those with fear of heights. Also, this hike is not always possible due to the clouds covering the mountain peaks.
  • What to pack: Hiking shoes, hiking poles might come in handy as well, water, day backpack with a picnic, a sweater and a rain jacket, sun protection, and a pocket light or a headlamp for the tunnels.
  • Hiking with kids: This is not the best hikes for families with young kids. However, if your children are experienced hikers, I think it should be doable with kids from about 8-10 years. With younger kids you could try to walk just the first section, to Ninho da Manta viewpoint.
  • Facilities: Bathrooms and a café at Pico do Arieiro.

Vereda do Pico Ruivo – PR 1.2

Vereda do Pico Ruivo hike together with the nearby PR 1 described above is one of the most beautiful hiking trails in Madeira. It climbs to Pico Ruivo – the highest peak of Madeira (1862m.) and if you are lucky with the weather you will be rewarded with a spectacular view above the clouds.

It’s not as difficult as the PR 1 walk and much shorter too, so can be a good alternative. On top of that, the views are said to be simply amazing.

We spent 9 days in Madeira and have attempted to do this hike three times. And every time we found it covered in clouds. It’s really cold on top as well – while it was sunny with temperatures over 20°C in Funchal and other areas, the temperature at the starting point of the trail was just 4°C. On top of that it was raining on top of the mountain and the wind was just too strong for us to even attempt this hike.

So even if the weather is really nice, you never really know how it is here till you actually get to the top. Keep an eye on the weather forecast specifically for Pico Ruivo as the nearby towns or mountain peaks have very different weather. If you see a day with nice sunny weather on the forecast, head straight here.

Hiking from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo - the most beautiful hike in Madeira

Hiking from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo

 

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

  • Starting point: Achada do Teixera
  • Accessibility: by car only. Or as a part of this hiking tour that covers both PR 1 and PR1.2 hiking trails.
  • Duration: 3hrs
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Biggest challenge: The weather. It can change any time, so be prepared (there are several shelters along the trail in case you get caught in really bad weather).
  • What to pack: Hiking shoes, water, day backpack with a picnic, a sweater and a rain jacket, sun protection.
  • Hiking with kids: This hike can be done with kids from around 6 years and older.
  • Facilities: There are no facilities here

Vereda das 25 Fontes – Levada do Risco – PR 6 – PR 6.1

Vereda das 25 Fontes – Levada do Risco hike deep inside the interior of the island is probably the most popular levada walk in Madeira. It follows the famous irrigation channels – levadas – and brings you to two different places: Risco waterfall and a lagoon of 25 Springs (Lagoa das 25 Fontes). Many travel guides and brochures say that this hike is a must-do in Madeira.

Vereda das 25 Fontes is so popular among the locals and tourists alike that by noon the hiking paths are crowded with big groups of tourists navigating the narrow path.

If you want to enjoy this hike, try to get here early in the morning. The only disadvantage of coming early is that the shuttle bus that brings people to the start of the hike from the parking lot doesn’t start running till 10AM. On the other hand, the road goes down and in about 20 minutes walking you reach Rabaçal, which is the starting point of the hikes. So you don’t really need the shuttle bus.

The hike may look a bit confusing at first, with so many signs pointing to the trail from various starting points. Don’t worry – no matter which path you take, you’ll still get to the same hiking trail after a while. You can start your hike with a visit to Risco waterfall and then hike to the 25 Springs, or vice versa.

We started our hike with the longer section first – we hiked to the Lagoon of the 25 Springs. And luckily so, because there isn’t that much space there and we were lucky to experience this place pretty much alone. As we walked back towards the intersection to Risco waterfall, we passed at least 6-8 groups of 20-30 people each… It seems that all the tour groups arrive here at around 10-11AM. However, the levada trails are really narrow and not suitable for mass tourism. If you have to go with a group, try to at least look for a small group tour and avoid the days when the biggest cruise ships are in Funchal.

Vereda das 25 Fontes - 25 Springs walk in Madeira

Vereda das 25 Fontes

 

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

  • Starting point: Parking lot along E.R. 110 road near Rabaçal. From here you have to either walk down to the starting point of the hike or take a shuttle. You can also walk down and take the shuttle back up after the hike. Beware that shuttle busses only take 8 people and have a very peculiar schedule. We ended up waiting for almost an hour after one bus didn’t have enough place for our family and didn’t return to pick up the waiting passengers. We could have easily walked back up in that time.
  • Accessibility: You can only get here by car or with an organised tour.
  • Distance (not including the walk from and back to the parking lot): 9,2km
  • Duration: 3-4hrs
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Biggest challenge: Narrow muddy paths and lots of tourists.
  • What to pack: Waterproof hiking shoes, water, day backpack with a picnic, a sweater and a rain jacket.
  • Hiking with kids: Kids from +-4 years old should be able to do this hike. Beware that the paths are narrow, there are some steep sections, and often you walk really close to the water. One of our boys slipped in the mud and fell in the levada. Luckily he wasn’t hurt, but he had to finish the hike with soaking wet clothes and shoes.
  • Facilities: there are bathrooms and a café at the starting point of the hike – Rabaçal.

Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenco – PR 8

Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenco is a very different hike from anything else you will experience in Madeira. The trail follows the rocky coastline of the Eastern-most peninsula of Madeira. Along the way you pass many viewpoints with the most unexpected spectacular views behind every corner.

Numbers might make this hike look easy, but don’t be mislead – it’s not a walk in the park. The biggest challenge here is the burning sun (there is no shade at all), strong winds (strong is an understatement – we were literally blown off the path several times), and a constant change in elevation (you go up and then again back down quite a lot). The weather changes constantly; we were hiking in t-shirts and then a few minutes later we needed a sweater and a jacket, and then just a t-shirt again.

If you walk all the way to the end to Ponta do Furado you will be rewarded by the most unique view of Madeira. It’s definitely worth the effort!

Ponta do Furado viewpoint at Ponta de São Lourenco hike in Madeira

Ponta do Furado viewpoint

 

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

  • Starting point: Ponta de São Lourenco near Canical – parking lot at the end of the road.
  • Accessibility: By car, taxi, or bus 113 (Canical). You can also do this hike with a small group guided tour from Funchal, Caniço or Machico.
  • Total distance: 8km
  • Duration: 4-5hrs
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Biggest challenge: Wind, sun, and lots of stairs
  • What to pack: Hiking shoes, water, day backpack with a picnic, a sweater and a rain jacket, sun protection is a must.
  • Hiking with kids: We did this hike completely with our kids. While challenging, it’s definitely a hike that kids from 5-6 years should be able to complete.
  • Facilities: There are no facilities here at all

Levada do Caldeirao Verde – PR 9

Let’s be honest. The beginning of this trail doesn’t look as beautiful or as exciting as the other hikes in Madeira. Queimadas Forest Park looks like a nice area with blooming azaleas, a small river, and a couple of ducks, but soon you find yourself walking on a muddy forest path with nothing interesting to see. Keep on going! You’ll be glad you did.

The biggest reward of the Levada do Caldeirao Verde hike is towards the end. As you pass a few smaller waterfalls, you reach four tunnels (bring a torch!) and from then it just gets better and better. We all loved hiking through these tunnels! Our kids thought it was the coolest and the most adventurous hike ever.

Towards the end of the hike the path becomes really narrow. At a certain point you walk in between the levada full of water to your left and a steep ravine to your right (luckily there are some railings here). Try to not look down and don’t fall into a levada! The views of the surrounding mountains are amazing, but it’s difficult to admire them and navigate this narrow path at the same time.

Finally you reach the end of this hike – Caldeirao Verde waterfall that’s just mesmerising. The sheer drop of the wall is so high that it seems that there is no end (or beginning) to this narrow stream of water in front of you. It’s a perfect place for a picnic and if it’s warm I think you could easily go for a swim here too.

It was raining and cold when we did this hike in April, so no swimming for us. But in a way the Levada do Caldeirao Verde is probably the best bad weather hike in Madeira. It can be easily done when it rains. The biggest part of the hike is in the forest and the trees protect you from the rain.

Levada do Caldeirao Verde levada walk in Madeira

Levada do Caldeirao Verde levada walk

 

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

  • Starting point: Queimadas Forest Park (parking lot is really tiny here, although they are expanding it). It might be better to leave your car at the Pico das Pedras parking lot and start from there. The hike will be a bit longer, but it will save you lots of time and frustration of trying to park your car. You can also do this hike with an organised small group tour from Funchal.
  • Distance: 13km
  • Duration: 5-6hrs
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Biggest challenge: Parking. The hike itself doesn’t have much elevation so it’s quite easy (but long). However, muddy slippery paths and narrow sections make it really challenging at times.
  • What to pack: Waterproof hiking shoes, water, day backpack with a picnic, a sweater and a rain jacket, and a torch or a headlamp for the tunnels. In summer you may want to carry a swimsuit if you fancy a dip in a cold water at the end of the walk.
  • Hiking with kids: This is one hike I found really quite dangerous to do with young kids. Our boys did it well, but you better hold on to your kids when the path gets really narrow. I wouldn’t take really small kids on this hike.
  • Facilities: There is a public bathroom at the start of the walk.

Vereda dos Balcoes – PR 11

Vereda dos Balcoes is by far the easiest and the shortest of all the most beautiful levada walks in Madeira. Furthermore, it lets you experience some of the best landscapes that Madeira has to offer AND walk along the levadas at the same time.

Wide forest paths follow a levada and lead to a stunning viewpoint overlooking the highest mountain peaks of Madeira. The views are well worth a short leisury walk that can be done by anyone in a reasonable physical shape.

Vereda dos Balcoes is the easiest levada walk on Madeira island in Portugal

Vereda dos Balcoes viewpoint

 

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

  • Starting point: Ribeiro Frio (E.R. 103 road)
  • Accessibility: by car, a bus (56, 103, 138), or an organised Madeira East Island tour.
  • Duration: 0,5-1hr
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Biggest challenge: Parking. This hike is really popular and there is limited parking available next to the road.
  • What to pack: Walking shoes and some water.
  • Hiking with kids: This hike can be easily done with young kids.
  • Facilities: there is a public bathroom at the small restaurant nearby. There is a tiny café/ souvenir shop along the trail itself too.

As promised, here is a map of Madeira indicating the starting points for each of the hikes described in this article. Unless done in an organised group (where sometimes they drop you off at one place and pick you up somewhere else), all these hikes start and end in the same place and are not circular walks. So you walk the same path in two directions. The only exception is the 25 Springs – Risco waterfall hike where you have some alternatives for parts of the hike.

The times and distances shown in the practical information above are for the entire hike.

So, these are six most beautiful hikes in Madeira. Of course, there are many more walking trails and thousands of kilometres of levada walks on Madeira island. But if you are visiting Madeira for the first time and want to do the very best hikes, then pick any trail out of this selection and you won’t be disappointed.

**If you are looking for more inspiration for your trip, check our guide to the hidden gems of Madeira. Also, don’t miss the chance to see whales and dolphins in the wild!**

Have you been hiking in Madeira? What was your favourite hike? Feel free to share your experiences by leaving a reply below.

If you found this post useful, please share it with your friends. Are you on Pinterest? Pin these images!

Most beautiful hiking trails and levada walks on Madeira island in Portugal
Best hikes and trails in Madeira Portugal

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Comments

  1. Hello Jurga,
    Reading your post made us decide to buy tickets for Madeira for 25 days of visiting and hiking. We are planning on doing most of the hikes you recommend. As we would rather not spend too much time driving around, we are thinking of spending 5 nights in 5 different locations. I found a lovely one in Ponta do Pargo. I thought of spending 5 nights in Santo Antonio da Serra, May be in Ribeiro Frio and then on the north coast near Sao Vicente and also on the south coast near Ponta do Sol. Does this make sense??? Thank you so much! Johanne

    1. Author

      Hi Johanne, I really don’t know what to say as 25 days seems much too much for Madeira in my eyes. But then of course if you like walking, there are plenty of possibilities to keep you busy.
      I think that Ponta do Pargo will cover the West and the North-West of the island, Ponta do Sol is ok for the South and to visit Funchal. Ribeiro Frio is centrally located, but the roads there are crazy and I really have no idea what I’d do there for 5 days… Sao Vicente was really nice and we loved it, but it’s also very quiet. If you are looking for a place where you won’t feel alone, then maybe try Porto Moniz, which is more touristy, but also has nice natural pools where you could go for a soak in the evening when the day tourists are gone (in warm season only). But then it’s really close to the first place you’re planning to stay at, and I really think that 10 days is too much for North-West.
      We haven’t been to Santo Antonio da Serra, but it also looks like a place that’s hard to get to.
      If I can give you one piece of advice is try to stay within easy access to the main roads. Because it can be that the weather is bad in the area where you’re staying, but other places are ok and you might want to drive more than you now think. Also, research your locations really well so that you know for sure that you can keep yourselves busy at/near each place for 5 days… Maybe some areas need more time and others less, depending on the walks you plan to make.

      1. Thank you Jurga for your comments. Don’t worry about the duration of our stay. We are into “slow travel”, we enjoy just being there, we don’t mind doing the same hike again if it is beautiful. And then, yes, you are right, we tend to go where there are few tourists. We enjoy peace and solitude and surrounding beauty.
        Ribeiro Frio was for the hiking. I read there were good hikes there and there is a trio of lovely cottages that seem to go fast : )
        It is useful to read that Porto do Sol is a good location to visit Funchal
        But your comments are well received. I hear about the importance of remaining sort of close to the main
        Thank you for your enlightening answer. It was quite useful.

        1. Author

          Enjoy the slow travel, Johanne! Maybe one day when we are no longer bound to school holidays we’ll have the time to do the same ;)…

  2. Thanks for sharing.
    I am considering a trip to Madeira in April, and these are exactly the kind of hikes I am interested. in.
    I have considered the Azores also, and may do both, but now I am narrowing down my choice a bit.

    Take care

    1. Author

      Hi Richard, glad you found this info useful. We have been to the Azores as well, almost 10 years ago now, but we visited in August – beautiful. I’m not sue how the weather is there in April though. It’s also becoming such a popular destination, probably much busier now, so in that sense April might be a good choice.
      Happy travels!

  3. Hi Jurga,
    I’m so excited to visit Madeira now I have read your blog! We will be there for 7 full days and do a lot of hiking and get inspired by your hidden gems article. Where would you recommend to stay? Did you stay at the same place over your trip?
    Thanks 🙂
    Berenice

    1. Author

      Hi Berenice, Madeira isn’t big and it’s quite easy to visit everything by staying at just one location. Sometimes it means driving 1-1,5hrs, but it gives you flexibility to go hiking when the weather is beast, or visit the city when there are no cruise ships.
      Before our trip, we read people recommending to not stay in Funchal, rather to the West of the city.
      We stayed 9 nights at a beautiful house in the hills near Calheta. I can’t find it anymore, so maybe it’s not for rent at the moment, but anyway, there are many great choices there, including two really nice hotels from Savoy – perfect if you are traveling as a couple, not ideal for big families like ours (Savoy Calheta Beach and Savoy Saccharum).
      The location was good for many places, the only place I found really far to drive was Santana, and especially the starting point of PR1.2 Vereda do Pico Ruivo hike. Which we coulnd’t do in the end, because two times we tried, the place was covered in the clouds…
      Other nice location is in between the airport and Funchal. There are a few nice hotels there, and it’s somewhat easier and better located for everything than the West side of Funchal. At the same time, this area is also where tourist groups stay, so the hotels are much more meant for mass tourism. But location-wise, it’s great. If we would go back, I think I’d consider staying here, especially if hiking is your main objective. For this area, try Canico area. There are lots of accommodation options, so it’s also possible to avoid the biggest hotels if big groups and buffet dinners aren’t your thing.
      I would only stay in Funchal city if you are not planning to rent a car, as it’s obviously the easiest choice for people who like to take organised tours and day trips.
      Otherwise, just go there for a day. We parked our car at the Parking Plaza CR7, next to Christiano Ronaldo museum. From there it’s just a short walk to the town centre, and also for boat trips like whale watching.
      Hope this helps.
      Edited to add. After a long search I managed to retrace the place where we stayed. It’s apparently so popular that many dates are sold out, thus a bit hard to trace it back. It’s Villas Sao Antao in Arco da Calheta, just above Calheta village.

  4. Dear Jurga, thanks for sharing this. I have 12 full days in Portugal, would you suggest doing the 10 days as per your other post and adding 2 days for Madeira? Or would that be too cramped up and Madeira needs more?

    Thanks

    1. Author

      Hi Sanemate, if you are thinking of following our 10 day itinerary for Portugal, I’d say spend those extra days in Algarve. It would make much more sense than flying to Madeira for just 2 days. If you rather visit Madeira as well, I’d try to split your time 50/50, so lest say 5-7 days in mainland Portugal and 5-6 days in Madeira.
      Often you enjoy the trip more if you don’t try to squeeze too much in your itinerary, but also leave some time for unexpected finds along the way, a long lunch, a swim in the sea… rather than spend all your time driving and flying…
      Either way, you’ll love Portugal – it’s beautiful anywhere you go.

      1. Thanks a lot Jurga. Based on your recommendation, I have decided to do Algarve plus the 10 days plan. I am sure it will be worth it!

        1. Author

          I think it’s a good choice. You’ll love it!

  5. Dear Jurga,

    thank you so much for sharing your tips and precious information on these hikes.

    really beautiful photos… I especially love the very first photo on the top of the blog post (with your son on the side walking).

    would you be kind to share where it was taken exactly?

    Thank you,

    Bernadett

    1. Author

      Hi Bernadett, glad you found this information useful. The featured image of this article was taken on the Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenco – PR 8 hiking trail.
      Hope this helps.

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