Madeira, step by step
This celebrated Portuguese island is an authentic Atlantic paradise, a lush natural setting less than two hours from continental Europe that will delight any adventure lover. From the ocean shore to the mountain peaks, we suggest five hiking routes to follow, taking in a subtropical Eden of caldera volcanoes and spectacular landscapes, charming villages, centuries-old levadas and a laurel forest, now a World Heritage Site.
1 Vereda do Areeiro
This route – which connects Madeira’s three highest peaks (Pico do Areeiro, Pico das Torres and Pico Ruivo) – is one of the island’s most epic. The trail is quite intense and requires hikers to be in good physical condition, but the effort is worth it. You’ll pass through tunnels drilled into the mountain, peaks bathed by clouds and caves and stairs carved into the rock. Pico Ruivo, the island’s highest peak, is home to the Casa de Abrigo refuge, a meeting spot where the Achada do Teixeira route also ends. This alternative route is less demanding for those who want to reach the summit – from which visitors can see the Homem em Pé (Standing Man) monolith – more easily.
2 Vereda da Ribeira da Janela.
If you want a short, easy route (about 2km) that will still allow you to enjoy Madeira’s extensive natural surroundings, this is the one. It follows the path of an old trail used by the inhabitants of Madeira to transport all kinds of goods through the forest. It formerly connected the towns of Ponta do Sol and Calheta with Ribeira da Janela, a small, picturesque farming enclave on the shores of the sea inside an impressive valley. Some tourists find peace among its terraced crops and pebble beach before going on to complete one of the island’s most iconic routes: La Levada dos Cedros.
3 Caminho Real do Monte
The path of this route – some 8km long and of moderate intensity – links the mountainous landscape of Funchal Ecological Park with Monte’s historical heritage. Along the route, visit the Mirador de Pico Alto – located 1,129m above sea level, you can see Funchal Bay. The Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora do Monte is at the end of the rail. The remains of Charles I of Austria rest here, near the Monte Palace Botanical Garden, one of the most beautiful in Europe.
4 Ponta de São Lourenço
This route – one of Madeira’s most extraordinary – covers a unique peninsula located at the island’s extreme northeast. It was declared a Natural Reserve due to it being the habitat of the monk seal, among other reasons. The impressive cliffs lead to a landscape of volcanic origin that contrasts with the lush greenness of the rest of Madeira. This route is slightly more than 7km long. Though it is suitable for all levels, hikers should be aware that it is in an area with strong winds. Many hikers choose to finish their adventure with a dip in the crystal-clear waters off the Sardinha wharf.
5 Levada do Rei
Levada do Rei. Some 10km long (on a return trip) and of medium difficulty, this route along Madeira’s famous levadas begins on the northern part of the island and gradually enters its heart. The trail begins in São Jorge, a verdant enclave with an imposing viewpoint and a 300-year-old mill that still works with the water from this levada. The path ends in Ribeiro Bonito on the banks of a spring inside the lush Laurisilva of Madeira, which was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1999.