Madeira: A Hiker’s Paradise

Portugal is hands-down our favourite country in Europe. In fact, we’re here right now on a three-month road trip from the Algarve’s sun-drenched beaches north to the forested palaces and surf towns on the Silver Coast and onward to Porto. Although we’ve visited Portugal multiple times, there’s one trip we’ve never shared on the blog before: our 2022 trip to the volcanic island of Madeira, which we soon discovered was a hiker’s paradise.

Hiking on a mountain top in Madeira

We were blown away by Madeira. Picture black-sand beaches, sea-view mountain tops and walks through UNESCO-listed Laurisilva (laurel) forests, protected for their rare collection of flora and fauna that includes ancient heather species and the Madeiran long-toed pigeon. During our week on the island, we went on a bit of a hiking frenzy, trekking to waterfalls, dizzying peaks and through eerie tunnels in the woods that dripped with water.

Madeira’s famous hiking trails

Honestly, we could have spent weeks exploring Madeira’s network of hiking trails. The island is most famous for its vein-like levadas, a series of narrow, stone irrigation channels first developed in the 15th century to channel water from the north to the arid south. There are up to 3,000km of levadas on Madeira, many have paths running alongside them that have been designated official walking routes.

The PR 1 trail in Madeira through the island's mountains

It can be overwhelming trying to decide which trails to walk, so we’ve listed the three that we liked best. If you need more help deciding or prefer to trek with a guide, we’d recommend booking an organised Madeira walking trip, which will include many of the top levada, mountain, and beach trails. Remember to schedule a few days to explore Madeira’s capital, Funchal, too, which we loved.

Our top 3 Madeira walking trails

PR 9 – Levada do Caldeirao Verde

Length: 17.4km round trip

Time: 6.5 hours

PR 9 forest trail marker in Madeira

We dedicated nearly an entire day to this trail, which follows levadas through a 20-million-year-old Laurisilva forest in Queimadas Forest Park. At the start of the walk, you can see an example of a typical Casa de Santana, a colorful triangular structure with a thatched roof, typical of the island. Follow an 18th-century levada built to funnel water to the Faial farmlands, passing through four spooky tunnels and hiking alongside a deep river gorge.

Tunnel on the PR 9 trail in the forest of Madeira

The turnaround point for this trail is at the Caldeirao Verde, a waterfall that plunges into an emerald pool. We had our picnic lunch here before continuing to the Caldeirao do Inferno up a steep, spiralling path with even wider levadas to the inferno, which sits at 2,200 meters. There were far fewer hikers on this section of the trail and we loved the Jurassic-Park-like viewpoints.

PR 1 – Vereda do Areeiro

Length: 12.2km round trip

Time: 3-3.5 hours

The PR 1 route marker in Madeira

We walked just part of this steep trail that traverses Madeira’s Central Mountain Massif and is part of Europe’s Natural 2000 network. Parking at Pico de Areeiro, which offers sweeping views of the mountainous landscape all the way to the ocean, we hiked down steep stone staircases and along sheer cliff edges. We turned around after passing through the first of the trail’s long, dark stone tunnels, which you’ll need a torch to negotiate.

Clifftop trail on the PR 1 hiking route in Madeira

Expect high altitudes, changeable weather, and bird sightings – we spotted colourful partridges among the alpine fauna. Other birds to look out for include chaffinches and the Zino’s petrel, which is endemic to Madeira. If you complete the entire trail, you’ll visit Madeira’s three highest peaks, the 1,818-meter Pico do Areeiro, 1,851-meter Pico das Torres and the 1,862-meter Pico Ruivo.

PR 6 – Levada das 25 Fontes

Length: 8.6km round trip

Time: 3 hours

The 25 Fontes in Madeira

This was the first trail we tackled in Madeira and it offered a great introduction to the island’s landscape and levada history. From the car park, where you can fuel up and use the toilets at a cute café, you’ll descend through shady forest with views over the Riberia da Janela valley, alongside levadas flowing with water.

Walking along a levada in Madeira

Eventually, you’ll reach a fork in the road; we followed a sign down to the 25 Fontes first to have our picnic at the waterfall. Here, water flows into a wide, clear pool from 25 springs (hence the name), cascading from the Paul da Serra. Afterwards, we hiked back to the fork and followed the signs for the PR 6.1 Levada do Risco trail, which leads to a viewpoint overlooking the 100m-high Risco waterfall.

Have you been hiking in Madeira? What was your favourite trail?  

  • Rhonda
    Posted at 16:50h, 06 June Reply

    Wow. Added to my bucket list!

    • Amy
      Posted at 09:49h, 07 June Reply

      Yes, you guys would love it!

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