Madeira is a small island off the Portuguese coast and it’s an absolute paradise for nature lovers. This tropical island is filled with stunning hikes and walks for all types of travelers. If you’re looking for more information, and unsure about which ones are best for you, this post is here to help.
Madeira Hikes and Walks
- Madeira Hikes and Walks
- PR1: Vereda do Areeiro
- PR1.2: Vereda do Pico Ruivo
- PR1.3: Vereda da Encumeada
- PR16: Levada Fajã do Rodrigues
- PR8: Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço
- PR11: Vereda dos Balcões
- Madeira Hikes and Walks: What You Need to Bring With You
- Madeira Hikes and Walks – Which One is the Right for You?
We’ve written this article based on our own experience exploring Madeira and planning our days there. Even though the island is small in size, it’s filled with things to do and it’s actually hard to plan each day, due to the sheer amount of choices available. We’re not necessarily experienced hikers, but we are nature lovers and are slowly getting more and more experienced. We’ve been hiking together through stunning locations since our magical hike to the Seven Rila Lakes during our trip to Bulgaria.
There are so many Madeira hikes and walks, that you could spend a month on the island hiking every day and still not tried every trail. And to add to these, there are plenty of other activities and places worth visiting in the area. This means that you’ll have to choose wisely according to your own priorities. We tried to find a balance between the trails, and everything else there is to see and do.
Below you can read our experience in the Madeira hikes and walks we did try ourselves. One valuable thing to know is that you don’t necessarily need to complete the whole trail to be surrounded by stunning scenery. This means that if a walk is too long for you, you can choose to only do part of it. Check out if a walk is circular or linear, the distance, the difficulty, and the average duration.
The best way to travel through the island is to rent a car. Public transportation exists, but it’s sparse, and usually focused around cities. If you’re unable to rent or drive a car, your best bet is probably to find a private transfer or group tour. Taxi services are prepared to take you to the most famous spots for hiking, but it won’t be the most economical option.
If you are planning a trip to the country, don’t forget to check out our post on some of the best viewpoints in Portugal.
PR1: Vereda do Areeiro
From Pico do Areeiro to Pico Ruivo. This is one of Madeira’s most famous hikes and it’s known internationally as one of the most beautiful hikes in the world. It’s also commonly named the “Highest Peaks” trail, as it covers the island’s 3 highest points: Pico Ruivo (1862m), Pico das Torres (1851m), and Pico Ruivo (1818m).
The hike is strenuous, but along the way you can count with beautiful scenery (don’t miss the Ninho da Manta viewpoint, near the start of the trail), tunnels, and incredible rock formations.
Pico Ruivo is the highest point of the Madeira island, and on a clear day, you can see all the way to Porto Santo, another island of the archipelago. Once you arrive at Pico Ruivo you can either choose to go back to Vereda do Areeiro, or opt for the easier PR1.2 trail, that will take you to Achada do Teixeira. From here, you can call a cab to take you back to Pico do Areeiro.
Even though this is one of the hardest trails on the island, you can expect many people doing it, both in groups and guided tours. If you want the trail to yourself, you’ll need to start around sunrise. All things considered, you’ll probably need to dedicate about a day to this hike if you want to do it from start to finish.
We decided not to do the full trail, as we were short on time and didn’t want to dedicate a full day to it. We started early in the morning and hiked for around 4h total. It was enough to get to witness beautiful landscapes from the Ninho da Manta viewpoint, and to get to the island’s second highest point, Pico das Torres.
Distance and Average Duration
The distance from Pico do Areeiro to Pico Ruivo is approximately 7km. You should count on at least 4 hours each way, which will be more if you’re hoping to stop for pictures, rest, and enjoy a fast picnic along the way.
Usually considered to be of moderate to high difficulty. Even though the altitude difference from the start to finish is very small, there are many stairs and constant altitude changes along the way – which means you’re constantly going up and down. However, the path is clearly marked, and there are iron handrails to help you in the hardest parts of the trail.
There’s a support center near the start of the trail, that includes a café and restaurant, a souvenir shop, and (paid) bathrooms. It only opens at 9 am. One of the paths includes tunnels, so don’t forget your head torch.
Those who love to feel small among the mountains and aren’t afraid of heights. It’s perfect if you’re looking for stunning views. However, you need a reasonable level of preparation to be able to finish this hike, as there are constant altitude shifts.
PR1.2: Vereda do Pico Ruivo
From Achada do Teixeira to Pico Ruivo. The trail is located in the middle of the mountain massif, in one of Madeira’s most beautiful areas. It takes you along the ridge that separates the cliffs of Faial and Santana. Unless the weather is truly terrible, you are almost guaranteed stunning views. If the weather is clear, you’ll get views to most of the island. If it’s cloudy, you’ll most likely find yourself above the clouds, through a magical path that seems almost out of this world.
As you reach Pico Ruivo you get access to three other hikes: PR1, which takes you to Pico do Areeiro, PR1.1 to Ilha, and PR1.3 to Encumeada.
This was our favorite hike during our time on the island. It’s not a walk in the park, but it’s still relatively easy if you’re in good physical condition. The scenery was incredibly green, sometimes reminding us of the pictures we’ve seen of Hawaii. We started around two hours before the sunset time, as we wanted to experience the sun setting above the clouds at Pico Ruivo. It was a truly magical moment.
The whole hike was stunning, as we walked on top of the clouds. We did the walk back from Pico Ruivo to Achada do Teixeira with the help of our head torches. The night was falling, and the sky full of stars. In total, it took us more than the average duration, as we constantly stopped to enjoy and capture the stunning views.
Distance and Average Duration
This trail is approximately 2,8km each way, making a total of almost 6Km. The average duration depends a lot on your speed and number of stops, but it’s usually about 1h to 1h30m each way. It’s possible that you find information online (like we did) that you can easily do the hike in 30 or 45 minutes, but that was honestly not our experience. It is a short hike, but not that short!
This hike is considered of moderate difficulty. Along the way, the altitude varies between 1535m and 1862m. There are some steep inclines but usually followed by easier parts, which will allow for a bit of rest.
There are several shelters along the way, as there are sudden weather changes. However, there are no support centers (cafes or bathroom) along the trail.
If you’re short on time but are looking for breathtaking views, this is the hike for you. It will take you to Pico Ruivo, the island’s highest summit, with much less effort when compared to PR1. It’s perfect if you’re hoping to get there for sunrise or sunset, as you can do so in about one hour and a half.
PR1.3: Vereda da Encumeada
From the shelter house near Pico Ruivo to Encumeada. To get to the starting point of this hike you have to first do part of the hike PR1.2 (Vereda do Pico Ruivo). It’s also possible to start at Pico do Areeiro and do PR1 (Vereda do Areeiro) first, but this is the longest and hardest option, especially considering that the hike to Encumeada is quite long and strenuous on its own. This hike will take you to the center of the island of Madeira, through the central mountain range, the Laurissilva forest and the remains of volcanic activity in the region. It’s filled with stunning viewpoints to some of Madeira’s most iconic locations such as Curral das Freiras and São Vicente.
Distance and Average Duration
This hike is 11,2km long and takes around 6 hours each way. However, you have to consider that you also need to hike to the starting point, which means you have to add up that time and distance when planning your hike to Encumeada. The hike ends in the town of Encumeada so you don’t necessarily have to hike back to the starting point and can instead find alternative means of transportation.
This hike is considered of moderate difficulty, but you really need to be physically prepared due to how long it is. It also requires endurance due to the change in altitude (from 1000m to 1800m).
Those looking for a challenging full-day hike they can have mostly for themselves. Unlike the trail to Pico Ruivo, there aren’t many organized tours to Encumeada, which usually means the hike is quiet throughout the day. Vereda da Encumeada is also unique for the diversity of views and environments it offers to those who choose this hike in Madeira.
PR16: Levada Fajã do Rodrigues
From Ginjas to Ribeira do Inferno. Levadas are unique trails in Madeira that are accompanied by channels of waters that were created to transport the water from the north of the island to the south, where the climate is drier. Levada Fajã do Rodrigues takes you to the origins of this particular channel of water at Ribeira do Inferno. On the way, you can not only appreciate the stunning Laurissilva forest, but also chase waterfalls, enjoy beautiful panoramic views to São Vicente, and explore some of the island’s tunnels.
We did only part of this Levada, but we can’t wait to go back and finish it. We felt fully immersed in the nature around us, and soothed by the water by our side. São Vicente ended up being one of our favorite regions of the island, and the views to the mountains are just breathtaking.
Distance and Average Duration
The trail is about 3,9km each way, with a duration of at least 4 hours in total.
Levada Fajã do Rodrigues is mostly flat and of moderate difficulty. The whole trail can be quite slippery, and some specific areas can be challenging: parts of the trail are quite narrow, and the last tunnel is quite long. If you suffer from claustrophobia you may want to start hiking back to Ginjas before entering the last tunnel, and you’ll still be able to enjoy the great beauty and views the levada has to offer.
The hike includes a few tunnels, so don’t forget your head torch. The trail can be quite wet so it might be a good idea to take waterproof hiking shoes and even a rain jacket (for the tunnels).
This hike is perfect if you’re looking for a more off the beaten path levada that most tourists don’t know about. It’s a relatively short levada, but very characteristic of the island, with its tunnels and unique flora.
PR8: Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço
From Baía d’Abra to Cais do Sardinha. This stunning walk takes you through Madeira’s easternmost point, while you marvel at beautiful seascapes that include both the rough sea of the north and the quiet south sea. This area is part of a nature reserve and stands out from the rest of the island due to its unique fauna and flora. The first part of the walk ends at Cais do Sardinha, a support center for the nature park, but you’ll need to hike back to your original point of origin. This is said to be the island’s sunniest region, so be prepared for the sun when you hike.
The day we hiked Ponta de São Lourenço was our last on the island of Madeira, and one of the most beautiful we’ve ever had. We woke up early to watch the sunrise from Ponta do Buraco, a viewpoint located right by the beginning of the trail. There was no one doing the trail when we started, but both locals and tourists started to arrive a few hours later. We were completely stunned by the views but decided to go back before we reached the final part of the hike so that we could still enjoy a couple of hours at the nearby Prainha beach.
Distance and Average Duration
Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço takes a total of around 4km each way, and you’ll need around 3 hours to complete it roundtrip without any stops. If you’re hoping to stop and appreciate the views, make sure to have plenty of time. There are beautiful stops along the way, and depending on the tide you may be able to reach a beach and have a swim along the trail.
The hike is of moderate difficulty, due to some steep climbs. However, it’s great to do with kids as everything is clearly marked and well taken care of.
There are no support centers or facilities in the beginning or along the hike, but you can find cafés and restaurants at the nearby town of Caniçal. Be aware that as mentioned above, the sun is usually quite strong, as may be the wind.
This is the perfect Madeira walk if you love to be close to the sea and feel its breeze and the sun along the way. It’s easy to reach and filled with beautiful views and unique seascapes.
PR11: Vereda dos Balcões
From Ribeiro Frio to the Balcões Viewpoint. This is one of Madeira’s most visited trails and for good reason. This easy trail is filled with beautiful sights and scenery along the Levada da Serra do Faial. Though the walk is short, be prepared to be wowed many times along the way, and as you reach the cherry on top: the Balcões viewpoint. This magical belvedere shows you the typical Laurissilva forest in its full glory! On a clear day, you may also be able to view the island’s two highest points: Pico Ruivo and Pico do Areeiro.
Distance and Average Duration
Vereda dos Balcões is about 1,5km each way and it should take you well under 2 hours in total to complete it. If you’re a fast walker and just doing it for the Belvedere at the end, you can do it in under 1 hour.
This hike is of easy difficulty.
There’s public transportation available to the start of the trail, which may be especially useful considering parking can be a challenge due to this trail’s popularity. There’s a restaurant in the vicinities and a small café along the way.
This is the perfect trail if you’re looking for a beautiful, yet short and easy hike across Madeira’s stunning greenery, and into a wonderful viewpoint. It’s also a great choice for bird lovers, as it has a vast variety of species and a great environment for bird watching.
Madeira Hikes and Walks: What You Need to Bring With You
There’s not one comprehensive list of things that includes everything you need to bring with you for hiking and walking across Madeira, as a lot of the specifics depend on the trails you choose. As you’ve seen from the above list of hikes and walks, there’s a vast array of choices on the island, and with each one may come a different gear necessity.
One thing that we absolutely recommend is that you bring adequate shoes with you. We know traveling with a carry-on is limiting, and maybe you’ve never truly invested in good hiking shoes, but the reality is that if you love adventure and want to be safe, you need to. I (Maria) have noticed an impressive difference since I’ve bought my hiking shoes. They’re much more comfortable and truly grip the terrain, unlike my former Nike shoes, which in some hikes felt like roller skates. My next goal is to invest in truly waterproof hiking shoes, and if you have a specific recommendation, I would love to read about them in the comments.
Another thing that is necessary in any of these activities is sunscreen – yes, even if it doesn’t look that sunny! A few Madeira hikes and walks include tunnels, which means that you’ll need to carry some sort of light with you. Many people rely on their phones for this, but head torches are relatively inexpensive and much better suited. We used these ones to return from Pico Ruivo at night and they were an absolute must.
A light jacket or raincoat is also something very useful for your whole trip on the island of Madeira. Weather changes rapidly, especially when you’re in the mountains, so it’s best to be prepared. I also carried a warm scarf with me, that came in handy more than once. We did not take our hiking poles for this trip, but we did wish we had them with us a couple of times. If you’re short on appropriate hiking gear, make sure you choose easier trails, there are many easy options that are still incredibly stunning.
Don’t forget to bring plenty of water and some food with you as well when you go on these hikes. There are plenty of markets across the island, but not many support points near the hiking locations, so you better be prepared beforehand. We wanted to make the most of our trip so we never stopped at restaurants during lunch, to make sure we had plenty of time to explore. We ate plenty of sandwiches and a lot of fruit. Don’t forget to bring a refillable bottle: just because you’ll be drinking lots of water, it certainly doesn’t mean you’ll need to consume loads of plastic. There’s drinking water in most of the island’s taps, but if you want to be prepared for all types of situations, why not bring a bottle that filters out everything you don’t want in your water?
Madeira Hikes and Walks – Which One is the Right for You?
From this post, you can hopefully see that there are plenty of stunning hikes and walks in Madeira. They vary in type, length, and difficulty. Hopefully, from our tips, you can see which one is better suited for what you’re looking for. If you love hiking, it is a huge challenge to choose just a few of these, which is why we would absolutely love to live in Madeira for a couple of months so that we could properly try out all the hikes and walks it has to offer.
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