When you think of Portugal, no doubt visions of sandy beaches, football and cocktails come to mind – hardly the destination for an adventurous hiker. Yet you might be surprised to hear that there’s a walker’s paradise, hidden just off the coast of Portugal.
Madeira, known as the floating garden due to the exotic plants and fruits that grow there, not only enjoys tropical weather, but its highly mountainous landscape makes it the perfect destination for anyone who likes to go for walks.
Whether you want to go on guided group tours or prefer going solo, below are some of the best trails to plan for your Madeira trip. Keep in mind too, that Madeira has lots of local homes dotted around the hiking trails, so once you’ve planned what trails you would like to try, you can choose suitable accommodation close to those trails.
Levada das 25 Fontes
The Levada das 25 Fontes trail is a 4.6km (and 4.6km back) hike that is suitable for hikers of all abilities. There are actually two trails here, both of which give impressive views and run parallel to each other, just on different levels. The trail PR 6.1 will take you along the beautiful Levada do Risco – which is 1000m above sea level – and ends in the impressive horizontal waterfall.
Going down PR 6 will lead you to the equally impressive Lagoa das 25 Fontes, which is a highly unusual formation of 25 springs that come together from Mountain Paul da Serra. Superstition has it that any person who dives below the surface of the lagoon will never be seen again.
Pico do Arieiro
Taking in the third highest point of Madeira, the Pico do Arieiro trail will take hikers above the clouds to a peak of around 1800m in the sky. Giving spectacular views of the island, and on a clearer day you may even spot Porto Santo, a neighbouring island to Madeira.
A difficult hike, perhaps only suited to seasoned walkers, this trail can be steep and laborious. Taking around 5 to 6 hours and 13km for a round trip, the views at the top more than make up for the tough hike. Be sure to bring plenty of supplies like water, waterproofs and suntan lotion though.
If you don’t fancy such a long and tiring trek to Pico do Arieiro, it’s also possible to reach the peak by car. A 4×4 jeep will take you up the mountainous landscape and once you reach the top, you’ll be able to take in the spectacular views and perhaps opt to hike the Pico Ruivo trail that starts here, which will take you to the highest peak on the island.
Vereda do Pico Ruivo
Beginning at the Achado Teixeria – which as mentioned above can be reached by car or jeep so you can take in the wonderful views of Pico do Arieiro – the hike up to Pico Ruivo is steep but also a short 1.5 hours so isn’t as exhausting. Around 2.8km in distance, this hike takes you to the highest point of the island, 1862m in the sky. You can imagine just how wonderful the views are at this height!
This trail can be very unpredictable weather-wise, so although the weather might be sweltering in Madeira, as you travel higher into the atmosphere temperatures tend to plummet and rain is common. So, make sure you not only have comfortable hiking boots, but also bring a backpack packed with waterproofs and layers for warmth.
While up there expect to see numerous heather species that has adapted to survive the tough climate up there, views of the Ribeira Seca valley and the Santana mountain range.
Ponta de Sao Lourenco
After all these tough hikes up mountains, it’s nice to choose a more relaxing walk. Ponta de Sao Lourenco is not only a short and pleasant walk, but it’s also filled with gorgeous sights, so you’ll never feel like you’re compromising.
Taking around 2.5 to 3 hours, covering 7km, this hike is perfect for an afternoon or evening outing strolling around one of the island’s peninsulas spotting lots of local wildlife. If you can, combine your walk with sunset views – just be wary of walking too far in the dark as the trail is very close to the edge of many cliffs.