Hiking on Madeira
Portugal’s Mountains in the Sea
This trip is designed as a pre-tour extension to the Azores hiking trip.
Hike through the varied landscapes of Madeira where an extensive network of paths along the levadas (small irrigation channels) makes the rugged, mountainous topography of the island accessible to hikers providing thrilling and not-soon-to-be-forgotten trail experiences! Revel amidst the windswept highlands, plunging cliffs, terraced mountainsides, and peaceful, mossy laurisilva forests (which were named a World Heritage Site in 1999) of this enchanting island.
Overnight in Funchal
Introduce yourself to Madeira’s “signature” hiking experience—the levada paths. The North Coast Path combines a walk along a levada with a spectacular hike along Madeira’s rugged north coast. Follow the course of the Levada do Caniçal (the “mimosa levada”) as it makes its way “through the backyards” of settlements at the upper edge of Machico town. The path then ascends gently to the Boca do Risco where a stunning panorama of the north coast cliffs awaits. From Boca do Risco the trail, etched into the cliff face and following more or less the 1,000 foot contour, makes its way west to the town of Porto da Cruz. Alternatively, you can choose the “Ice Runner’s Path,” a route used by Madeira’s “ice runners” who once carried this precious commodity (wrapped in straw and leather) from the poços da neve (“snow pits”) in the Madeiran highlands to the population centers in the lowlands. This hike follows the course of the Levada da Negra as it makes its steep descent to the upper reaches of Funchal.
Overnight in Santana
Explore the Madeira high country along trails that traverse the island’s mountainous central spine. Hike the highland path from the summit of Pico Arieiro to Achada do Teixeira making a short detour to the summit of Pico Ruivo, Madeira’s highest summit, en route. If you prefer a longer encounter with the “roof of Madeira” continue westward from Pico Ruivo along the crest of the island on a narrow path to the mountain pass at Boca da Encumeada. Along the way, you’ll enjoy stupendous views looking down the headwalls of steep valleys that slice into Madeira’s mountain core.
Overnight in Santana
Enjoy hikes that will take you into narrow valleys walled-in by towering, fluted cliffs clad in subtropical greenery! A hike along the Levada da Serra, etched into the steep walls of the valley of Fajã do Nogueira allows you to experience this wonderful, nearly vertical landscape at close hand. For a longer hike, continue through the lengthy Ruivo tunnel and emerge into the fantastic and remote landscapes of the Caldeirão do Inferno. Here, waterfalls plunge over enormous cliffs and rushing waters roar through narrow gorges. Follow a levada to the Caldeirão Verde (“Green Cauldron”) where a thousand foot tall waterfall plunges into a pool. Continue along the levada through waterfall-filled ravines with walls festooned with mosses and ferns to trail’s end at the mountain park of Queimadas.
Overnight in Ponta do Sol
Hike through the enchanting laurisilva forests of Folhadal along the Levada do Norte. These misty, mossy forests, luminous in their greenery, are comprised of a number of indigenous species including vinhaticos, til (laurel) and folhados (“lily of the valley trees”). These forests were named a World Heritage Site in 1999 and are a Madeira highlight! Beyond Folhadal, the Levada das Rabaças leads into the waterfall-draped Cascalho basin. Alternatively, you can choose a more challenging hike—one that has been called the most beautiful mountain hike on Madeira. From the Boca da Encumeada the trail passes through the abandoned hamlet of Curral Jangão before ascending steadily to round the bulky shoulder of Pico Grande. The trail then picks its way along open ridges offering splendid views of Madeira’s high peaks to the east and the windswept plateau of the Paúl da Serra to the west. You’ll enjoy lovely views of the village of Curral das Freiras tucked into the deep valley of the Ribeira do Curral before reaching the terminus of the path at the mountain pass of Boca da Corrida.
Overnight in Ponta do Sol
Enjoy a morning hike through the arid but spectacular landscapes on the Ponta São Lourenço where colorful cliffs and rock outcroppings contrast with the deep blue of Atlantic waters. Depart in the afternoon for Ponta Delgada in the Azores to connect with the Azores hiking tour.
The Parque Natural da Madeira maintains a website (Portuguese only) containing information about nature reserves and nature protection activities on Madeira.
More information about Madeira’s world heritage laurisilva forests can be found at UNESCO’s World Heritage website.
Photos on this page are by John Osaki except as otherwise credited.