boy in blue coat on hiking trail with grass and flowers on side, hiking in Madeira
Europe,  Madeira

Hiking in Madeira

Updated 13/04/2021

 

Keen hikers travel from all over the world to enjoy hiking in Madeira.

Madeira hiking offers sheer volcanic peaks, dramatic coastal landscapes and of course, Madeira’s world-famous levadas.

There are levada walks on Madeira island to suit all ages and abilities, some of which are easily accessible from the capital Funchal.

There are so many fantastic hikes in Madeira – and gentler walks – that you will be spoilt for choice.

 

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Hiking in Madeira

 

The best hikes in Madeira are on the trails that run alongside the levadas. We have hiked in many wonderful locations on our family travels and found that Madeira hiking trails offered us something different and unique.

 

What is a levada?

 

Madeira levadas are an impressive network of narrow irrigation channels that criss cross this beautiful Atlantic island.

There are over 1,350 miles of levadas on Madeira. Most of the levadas were dug by hand in the 19th Century (many were created using slave labour) and were built to divert water from the mountains to the plantations on the drier coast.

A concrete levada channel varies in depth from one to several feet with a narrow, earthen footpath running alongside.

Basic, unobtrusive signage indicates the start of a levada walk. Occasionally, an additional noticeboard will provide a basic map and information about the trail length, ability levels and sights on route.

 

irrigation channel with earthen path alongside cutting through a green forest, hikes in Madeira

 

Due to the lack of information at the start of Madeira hiking trails, a good  guide book to hiking in Madeira or map is invaluable.

Many levada paths are flat and accessible to all abilities whereas other paths should only be attempted by experienced, well prepared hikers.

However, most hiking trails in Madeira – even the ‘easy’ trails’ – involve steep drops and inclines. Hiking in Madeira requires a head for heights!

 

Levada Hikes

 

The levada hikes we attempted were influenced by restricted Easter holiday bus timetables and bad weather. Note – Madeira weather can change drastically from the coast to the mountains.

Plus, we hike to the abilities of our youngest child so we chose mostly flat, unexposed (i.e non scary) routes of around 4 hours in length.

I hate heights so tried, and failed, to find hikes without steep drops!

 

Levada do Risco – 7 kilometres linear return (or 11.6 kilometres if you detour to Levada do 25 Fontes)

 

We complete the Levada do Risco hike on the one, perfect walking day (aka sunny) that we had during our walking holiday in Madeira.

But even in bad weather, I think this trail is one of the best hikes in Madeira. It can be tackled by all ages and offers fantastic diversity.

The hike begins through a dense eucalyptus forest with a rich aromatic smell.

The path then emerges into the open, hugging a steep hill. There are incredible views towards Calheta and the Atlantic Ocean. Wild lilies and violet agapanthus line the path in Spring, adding to the array of scents.

You then arrive at 1-kilometre long tunnel which encases a water pipe with a levada under it.

The tunnel is pitch black with a low roof in places. My 6 ft 5 husband spent most of his time in the tunnel with his light pointing at the roof!

Walk with care as the path underfoot is rocky and uneven; we stumbled several times. Unnervingly, half way through the tunnel, the usual tunnel echo sounds suddenly become muffled and eerily silent.

Our kids loved their unexpected tunnel experience and insisted we return the same route!

 

dark tunnel entrance in a stone wall, Madeira hiking trails

 

The tunnel emerges into a dense forest. The levada cuts through the trees with occasional breaks in the vegetation for fantastic views.

Overhanging, intertwined, lichen laden branches create a shaded canopy. Ferns and spotted orchids line the forest path.

After one hour, the walk joins the more trodden path that starts at Rabacal Forestry Hut. The path is paved, wider and busier.

Shortly afterwards, the path splits into two. One path continues to Levada do Risco whilst the other path leads to Levada de 25 Fontes.

Climb the steep, long steps to continue on the Levada do Risco hiking trail.

The first glimpse of the Levada do Risco waterfall is breathtaking. You will feel as if you have stepped into ‘Jurassic Park’. Continue on the path to reach the end of the valley at the base of the waterfall.

Close up, the thundering waterfall sparkles and creates rainbows. It is no longer possible to walk behind the waterfall and when you see the precipitous path you will understand why!

This levada hike is a linear path so we returned the same route. You can deviate to include the Levada do 25 Fontes on your return.

The Levada do Risco is one of the best family friendly hikes if you are visiting Madeira with kids.

 

Levada do 25 Fontes

This is one of the most popular hikes in Madeira and, as a result, is not the quietest.

Named after the waterfalls you will see on route, this is an easy and scenic trail to follow.

 

stone path through green trees, waterfall in distance, hiking in Madeira
Levada do Risco
How to get to the Levada do Risco

 

We got lost on the way to Levada do Risco from Calheta, and unbeknownst to us at the time, parked in the wrong place! That’s why stumbling upon a 1 kilometre tunnel was such a surprise!

However, this was a fortunate error as I think this route made the hike all the more exciting and varied.

The initial stages of the walk through the eucalyptus forest was picturesque and devoid of people.  Plus the 1-kilometre long tunnel was the highlight of all our levada hikes for our difficult to please mini hikers!

To begin the Levada do Risco from the same location as us, do not park at the Rabacal parking spot which is the usual starting point for the hike. Continue past Rabacal, go over the hill and take the next left onto a narrow cobbled descending road. After a few winding turns you will  reach a small parking area on your right.

Alternatively, if you are travelling from Calheta to Rabacal by the rural back roads (as I say, we got lost!) you will reach the small car park on your left before you join the main road to Rabacal. The starting point looks like this –

 

wooden sign posts, path through trees, hiking in Madeira

 

This drive from Calheta is up a very steep, white knuckle 10% gradient road. Though this is wide by most Madeira roads standards (!) you will still be praying you don’t meet another vehicle travelling in the opposite direction.

Levada de Alecrim – linear route 6.8 kilometres return. Can be combined with Lagoa do Vento.

 

This unplanned Madeira hike was very different to the Levada do Risco and proved challenging for our children due to the terrain and appalling weather.

The weather had changed dramatically from our starting point on the sunny Calheta coast. In the mountains it was 10 degrees cooler with dense fog, wind and heavy rain.

So we quickly changed our planned exposed hike and opted for the reputedly sheltered Levada do Alecrim.

Our normally adventurous children were NOT happy to leave the warm car and start hiking in 6-degree Celsius wind and rain.

 

children walking up stone steps between trees,Madeira walks

 

The Levada de Alecrim hike hugs an elevated section of valley wall running parallel with the Levada do 25 Fontes path far below.

A dense tree canopy provided some shelter from the wind and rain but even on a sunny day, this means limited viewpoints.

The path was rocky (and slippery in the rain) and it was tiring to pick our way along between rocks, rather than walk.

On one side there was a drop into the levada of 2-3 feet.

On the other side of the path, overhanging vegetation debris hid the steep drops. We had to constantly remind our children not to stand on the vegetation as it was not solid underfoot.

The weather continued to deteriorate so unfortunately, after just two hours we turned back.

The Levada de Alecrim hike leads to a pretty, swimmable waterfall which would be a lovely reward on a sunny day. But it was not to be for us on this day.

 

Lagoa do Vento

 

The short Levada do Alecrim hike can be combined with the longer and more challenging Lagoa do Vento.

Follow the signs from the Levada do Alecrim path to descend to the Lagoa do Vento path. This quiet and lesser trekked path will lead you to a beautiful lagoon near the top of the Risco waterfall.

Be prepared to burn those muscles on the ascent back to Rabacal.

 

muddy path with yellow gorse, hiking in Madeira

How to get to the start of Levada de Alecrim hike.

 

Park in the main Rabacal car park which is well signposted from the main coastal routes. Rome 2 Rio suggests a drive time of just 40 minutes from Funchal to Rabacal but with the winding roads it will easily take longer.

Several hiking trails depart from the car park so make sure you choose the correct path.

 

Prazeres to Calheta Levada – linear route 14.4 kilometres return

 

This Madeira hike is a must for nature lovers. Plus, it is easily accessible and as it is mostly flat,  it is suitable for all abilities. We met very few hikers on this path.

The levada/trail runs along the hillside following the contours of the valley. As you don’t hike over the top of the hill, the views do not change much but there is so much to look at on the path itself you will not complain!

The valley was an explosion of Spring colour and sweet scents. Eucalyptus varied in hue from the husky blue leaves of young saplings to the deep green leaves of adult trees.

Purple balls of blooming Agapanthus lined the paths, nestled amongst vivid green ferns. The slopes were packed with bright yellow Broom.

Throw in the Springtime birdsong and it was a delight to walk this beautiful Madeira hiking trail.

The path is flat and smooth but was very narrow in places.  There are very few sheer vertical drops but there is a consistent, very steep incline so if you are hiking with kids, keep them close by.

We loved this hike and despite another day of cloud and rain, it was one of our favourites. Hiking in Madeira doesn’t get much better than this!

people walking on hiking trail in grey and green forest, Madeira hiking

 

How to get to the start of Prazeres to Calheta levada

 

This Madeira hiking trail can be walked in either direction. We started from Prazeres.

From the pretty rural village of Prazeres, follow the brown tourist signs to the start of the walk. There is limited parking available on the side of the quiet residential road at the start of the hike.

Start walking against the flow of the levada. You will pass several houses and a farm before rounding the hillside into a magnificent forest of eucalyptus trees.

Read our 22 essential Madeira hiking tips. Even if you are an experienced hike, I guarantee at least one of these tips will be useful!

 

Other popular Madeira hikes

 

There are so many incredible hiking trails in Madeira to choose from. Here is a selection of the diverse trails available.

 

Levada Caldeirao Verde – 11.8 kilometres return

This moderate hike offers a taste of everything hiking in Madeira has to offer.  Dense green forest, sweeping views, tunnels, waterfalls and culminates in tranquil lagoon.

What more could you ask for?

 

Levada da Riberia Da Janela – 23 kilometres return

This is one of the longest hikes in Madeira and starts on the island’s north coast.

 

Vereda do Areeiro to Pico Ruivo – 10.5 kilometres return

This is Madeira’s highest hiking trail and is not for the faint hearted or inexperienced hiker!

You will visit Madeira’s three highest peas on this spectacular but challenging trail. The trail includes elevation changes of over 1000 metres. Be prepared for walking in – or above – the clouds.

 

 

Easy Madeira Walks

 

If you decide that hiking a rural levada is not for you, there are lots of other Madeira walks you can explore. Here are some that we enjoyed.

 

Vereda do Balcoes – 3 kilometres return

 

The Vereda do Balcoes is one of the most popular levada walks in Madeira due to its ease, accessibility and fantastic views over the Ribeira da Metade valley. On a clear day, you will be able to see Madeira’s highest peaks from this walk.

The path starts in Ribeiro Frio and is different to most levada walks. The path is mostly smooth, flat and wide so is suitable for all ages and abilities.

Plus, Vereda do Balcoes is only 23 kilometres from Funchal so it can easily be visited as a half day trip from the capital.  If you do not have a car, this is one of the easier routes to reach by bus from Funchal.

However, the accessibility and ease of this beautiful walk makes it very popular, especially with cruise ship visitors.

The walk takes around 1 1/2 hours to complete and is a fantastic walk to do in Madeira with kids – even the most reluctant walkers will enjoy it!

 

 

conrete promenade between tall cliffs and sea, Madeira walks
Jardim do Mar

Jardim do Mar Promenade

 

We were visited here on a whim as we happened to be driving past. This charming village and dramatic seafront is definitely worth the detour.

At the end of the steep, winding descent, park in the villages’ designated car park. Explore the pretty village as you wander down walk down to the promenade.

The promenade is a lovely stroll, especially at sunset. Colourful Bird Of Paradise plants and palms line the seafront.

Walk right to the end of the promenade for impressive views of the dramatic cliffs that seem to rise vertically from the sea.

There is also a fantastic view in the distance of little Paul do Mar; an isolated village huddled together on a flat strip of land jutting into the sea.

 

Um Caminho Para Todos

 

As the name suggests, a lovely walk suitable for everyone of all ages and abilities including pushchairs.

It is an easy one-hour nature walk starting in Pico das Pedras.

 

Calheta Marina

 

A very short, flat, fully paved walk suitable for all ages, wheelchair users and pushchairs.

The promenade stretches alongside Calheta’s man-made sandy beaches and harbour and culminates in the small marina.

Don’t miss the nearby sugar cane factory which you can read about here. 

 

Funchal Marina to Praia Formosa and Cabos do Lobos

 

The marina in Funchal is a flat, pleasant stroll. There will be cruise ships to ogle and live music on bar terraces to provide a distraction for weary feet.

You can walk all the way from Funchal marina to Praia Formosa but I wouldn’t recommend it. This part of the walk was not scenic or fun. It was busy, built up and was just walking on hot pavements.  Catch a bus and skip this section!

Get off the bus at the lido and join the much more pleasant promenade walk into Praia Formosa.

There is access to the beach through a tunnel in a beachfront bar.

Unfortunately, when we visited the tunnel was closed so we had to do a long, boring detour through a built up hotel area in order to gain access to the beach.

Praia Formosa beach is not the prettiest beach in the world and is not the place to visit if you want to lie in the sand, build sandcastles of play beach games! But if you like a paddle in the sea then it is worth a visit.

 

grey sandy and rocky beach lined with big hotels overlooking the sea, hiking in Madeira

 

The beach has free to access toilets and changing room facilities plus three seafront bars.

From the beach there is a wooden walkway hugging the shoreline around the base of the cliffs to Cabos do Lobos.  From Cabos do Lobos you can catch a bus back to Funchal.

If you like people watching and gawping at posh hotels, this is the walk for you. We found it a bit dull and a slog on a hot day!

 

 

And finally …

If are planning on doing lots of hiking in Madeira, I would strongly recommend purchasing the latest Sunflower ‘Guide to Hiking in Madeira’.

I hadn’t seen these guidebooks before but we found one at our Funchal accommodation.  The descriptions of the levadas were the most accurate and comprehensive that we found, either in print or online.

This brilliant book proved invaluable in planning the right trips to suit our family. Check out the latest version here. 

 

I guarantee you will love hiking in Madeira. Don’t forget to read our Madeira hiking tips here. Learn from our mistakes!

If you discover a fantastic Madeira hike that I have not covered, please tell me about it in the comments. Happy hiking!

 

 

 

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