Madeira – what’s worth seeing?
Madeira is well-known for its exceptional nature and amazing landscapes. And because it’s green practically all year round with vegetation, waterfalls, cliffs, and mountains, it’s also known as the Island of Eternal Spring. The routes along the levadas are the most popular among travellers.
Rent a car and book attraction tickets before you go!
In fact, the first levadas were created in Madeira as early as the 13th century and functioned as an irrigation system for fruit and sugar cane cultivation in the southern part of the island. Overall, there are 200 levadas with a total length of 2,500 km.
1. Vereda dos Balcões
- Level of difficulty: easy
- Distance: 3 km round trip
- Walking time: approximately 1.5 hours round trip
- Designation: PR 11
The PR11 Vereda dos Balcões route starts in the mountain village of Ribeiro Frio on the eastern part of the island. It takes about 40 minutes by car to get there from Funchal. This is one of the easiest and least exposed routes. And its path is just about flat, so it’s ideal for all walks of life!
The start of the trail – Ribeiro Frio – is an attraction in and of itself, as you’ll find gardens, streams, tiny waterfalls and trout ponds. First, the path runs through a dense laurel forest and eventually narrows down between high rock walls covered in moss and vines – a true Alice in Wonderland experience! After a 45-minute walk, you’ll reach the viewpoint. And if weather permits, Balcoes offers views of the green valley of Ribeira da Metade. You’ll also get to see the rock formation Penha d’Aguia and the panorama of the three highest peaks of the island: Pico do Arieiro, Pico das Torres, Pico Ruivo.
2. Levada das 25 Fontes
- Level of difficulty: medium
- Distance: 9.5 km round trip
- Walking time: approximately 3-4 hours round trip
- Designation: PR 6
You’ll find the start of the route leading to 25 Fontes near the parking lot on road ER110. After this, there’s a 2 km asphalt road to cover until you get to the location where the levada actually starts. But fear not! There’s a bus that you can take that runs every few minutes. At the Rabacal hut, the PR6 trail begins. It’s rather easy, but it’s longer and has more significant climbs than the Balcoes trail. Occasionally, the path becomes steep and exposed, but these parts are properly secured.
Here, the trail winds through the laurel forest, creating beautiful tunnels of trees and bushes. Chirping birds will accompany you on your way to several viewpoints with panoramic views of the wooded hills. At the end of the path, you’ll see the Lagoa das 25 Fontes – a lagoon and its many waterfalls that fall down the moss-covered rocks. The high,green wall where the water seeps into the lake is something you’ll never forget!. You can also extend the trip with a walk to the Risco waterfall.
3. Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço
- Level of difficulty: medium
- Distance: 6 km round trip
- Walking time: approximately 3 hours round trip
- Designation: PR 8
Vereda da Ponta do São Lourenço is a hike along the easternmost part of the island, the St Lawrence Peninsula. The trail starts in Baia d’Abra at the end of the ER109 road. You can leave your rental car at the free parking lot or take bus no. 113. Check out this route first thing in the morning to avoid crowds and get a glimpse of the spectacular sunrise! The St. Lawrence Peninsula almost has a semi desert climate with little vegetation and no trees. Be prepared for a sunny adventure and remember to bring water, a hat, and sunscreen.
The peninsula is of volcanic origin and is distinctly different from the rest of the island. The trail starts by going downhill and then climbing uphill again only to find where the real magic begins! The winding trail offers views of vertical cliffs, waves crashing against rocks, and the rugged landscape of a peninsula battered by strong winds. Appreciate the power of Mother Nature and its breathtaking scenery!There are some strenuous climbs and sections right next to the edge – so remember to stay focused and cautious.
4. Levada do Caldeirão Verde
- Level of difficulty: medium
- Distance: 13 km round trip
- Walking time: approximately 6 hours round trip
- Designation: PR 9
Levada do Caldeirão Verde starts and ends in the Queimadas forest park – making it a round trip trail! The best way to get to the start of the trail is by car. You’ll find a large parking lot right next to the route for your convenience. Because most of the route runs through a forest, you won’t have to worry about the sun so much. But you might want to bring a flashlight with you as you pass through four dark tunnels.
The levada takes you deep into the São Jorge Valley. Crossing many steep slopes, it offers extraordinary panoramic views of green hills and waterfalls. At first, it leads through the forest, where you can admire lush vegetation along the way. After 2-3 kilometres of hiking, the trail becomes much more spectacular, revealing the valley and numerous waterfalls. Some parts of the PR 9 route pass through tunnels that were hand-carved. But the most exciting view is the waterfall that stands over 100 metres high. Large fern leaves and luscious green trees also surround the lake and waterfall, making it feel like you’re in the heart of the tropics.
5. Pico Areeiro to Pico Ruivo
- Level of difficulty: hard
- Distance: 12/14 km round trip
- Walking time: approximately 6-7 hours round trip
- Designation: PR 1
The trail connecting Pico Arieiro and Madeira’s highest peak – Pico Ruivo – is the most exciting and beautiful mountain trail on the entire island. The only way to get to the parking lot at Pico Arieiro (the start of the PR 1 trail) is to rent a car, carpool, or take a tour with a local travel agency. Unfortunately, no bus can get you here. And heads up! This route requires a lot of energy as there are over 1000 m of elevation to trek. The path also leads through unlit tunnels, so bring a flashlight.
Shortly after the first kilometre of the trail, you’ll reach the Ninho da Manta viewpoint. Depending on the weather and the time of day, you may see white clouds right under your feet or a typical mountain landscape with soaring peaks. As the path goes on, it straightens over the narrow ridge of Pedra Rija – though it’s secured, it’ll still make your palms sweat! You’ll then reach a fork in the trail near Pico do Gato. The western path is shorter (5.6 km) and easier than the eastern variant (7 km), but both traverse the slopes of Pico das Torres. The entire route is rich in dramatic mountain landscapes, so be sure to stop and admire these impressive views!
Madeira – weather
What’s the best time to visit Madeira? You might think that there’s no wrong time to visit Madeira for the holidays – it is the Island of Eternal Spring after all! But it’s worth noting that the weather here changes quickly. During the winter, rain and strong winds can become a troublesome. And in the summer, you should protect yourself from the sun. If you visit higher parts of the island, remember to bring some warm and windproof clothes.