One of the most incredible destinations in Portugal, Madeira is one of those destinations you can’t wait to visit again. Much like Portugal’s other island archipelago, the Azores, one short holiday isn’t enough to discover all its famous attractions, hidden gems, magical viewpoints, and its fantastic walking trails.
The more you see of Madeira, the more you want to discover. Hiking is one of the best things to do on Madeira, and with one of the best year-round temperate climates in Europe, it’s a beautiful winter getaway to escape the cold.
With over 450 hiking trails in Madeira, it can be hard to know where to start. Our selection of the most interesting hiking in Madeira is broken down into hiking styles and varying hiking levels. We have also included some valuable tips to help you plan your trip to Madeira.
Hiking in Madeira is broken into two styles of hikes – Levada Walks or Hikes and Vereda Hikes. Levada hikes are the trails that follow the irrigation channels and Vereda hikes are the mountain or coastal cliff trails which tend to be more challenging.
Madeira Levada Walks
On Madeira Island, you have a unique chance to hike along the famous Madeira levadas – small irrigation channels or aqueducts built to transport water from the mountains to the farmlands below – a system unique to Madeira.
Besides supplying crucial water and hydroelectric power supply, the irrigation channels provide a remarkable network of stunning walking trails.
There is over 2,170 km of levadas in Madeira. Many of the best-rated Levada hikes run through lush green UNESCO forests full of giant ferns, some passing under waterfalls. At specific points, usually close to the levada’s source, the landscape takes on a jungle quality.
These are some of the most popular and best-rated Levada walks.
Levada das 25 Fontes (Rabaçal 25 Fontes)
- Distance: 9km
- Duration:3-4 hrs
- Difficulty: Medium (Combine with Levada do Risco hike).
- Features: Levadas and waterfall
The most popular Levada walk on Madeira island, visitors love the fantastic waterfall and lagoon you will find at the end of this hike. Levada das 25 Fontes is usually combined with another hike located nearby – Levada do Risco, a short and easy hike where you have a chance to admire the magnificent Risco waterfall.
These two hikes overlap, and both hikes together are around 9 km and should take approximately 3-4 hours.
Being one of the most popular hikes in Madeira, expect the trail to get crowded during the day. Don’t be surprised if you encounter lots of large tour groups clogging the narrow paths by midday. The trick to avoiding the crowds on this hike is to choose a day where no cruise ships are visiting Funchal, or at least not the mega-ships. Also, most tour groups arrive mid-morning so setting off before 10 AM is a good option.
A small eight-person shuttle transports people between the parking lot on the E.R 110 near Rabaçal and the trailhead from 10 AM. I recommend walking from the car park to the trailhead to get ahead of the crowds – it’s less than 2km. You can catch the shuttle on your return if you need it.
Levada do Caldeirão Verde PR 9
- Distance: 12 km out and back (6km each way)
- Duration: 4 hrs
- Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
- Features: Levadas, Tunnels and Waterfall | Combine with Caldeirão do Inferno for a longer hike.
Starting in the Queimadas Forestry, the Caldeirão Verde hike doesn’t look like much, to begin with, but keep going and you’ll find one of the more rewarding hikes in Maderia.
From the parking lot and the quaint Casa de Abrigo das Queimadas house where you will also find toilets and a cafe, you’ll head into an enchanted forest. The trail will take you past small waterfalls, you’ll navigate through a series of tunnels (you will need a torch) and narrow levadas with incredible mountain vistas – be very careful navigating the narrow section of levadas as even though there are railings, the drop from the edge of the levadas is very steep.
Towards the end of the trail is where you will find the most beautiful part of the trail – the Caldeirão Waterfall, a sheer 100-foot drop of water into a crystalline lagoon in a lush forest setting. It is a great spot to stop for a picnic lunch.
It’s a relatively flat trail but it can be slippery and some narrow sections can be quite challenging.
Note – Access to the 100m+ high waterfall, which cascades into a beautifully coloured lagoon at the end of the hike, can be closed for safety reasons (falling rocks). It doesn’t hurt to check the status before setting off.
Continue on to Caldeirão do Inferno
Once you reach the end of the Caldeirão Verde trail, experienced hikers can continue to the even more impressive Caldeirão do Inferno. There are some steep stairs with this additional hike but overall, it is pretty flat. If you combine the two trails expect around 5.5 – 6 hrs all up.
A waterproof rain jacket is recommended for both of these hikes and a proper torch or headlamp as opposed to a phone torch. Some of the tunnels are quite long and some are very low so mind your head. A hat for protection isn’t a bad idea.
When hiking these levadas, they can get crowded, especially during peak seasons, which is why we also recommend one or two less popular but equally, beautiful levada walks such as Levada Fajã do Rodrigues.
Levada Fajã do Rodrigues PR 16
- Distance: 7.9 km ot and back ( 3.9 km each way)
- Duration:3-4 hrs
- Difficulty: Easy
- Features: Waterfalls, lagoon, lush forest and tunnels.
This out-and-back levada in the north of Madeira is famous for its tunnels, with the last one which is a kilometre in length and narrow in parts will take approximately 20-25 minutes to cross. A flashlight and a raincoat are a must on this hike.
Once you cross the last tunnel, you will be able to enjoy impressive, lush forests, incredible canyons, waterfalls and lagoons – a beautifully serene place to enjoy a snack before the return hike.
This is an easy hike on a well-maintained path. The only difficulty is the kilometre long tunnel which requires a headlamp or torch. Some people may feel a little scared, especially in the narrow parts but it is perfectly safe.
Levada’s and Trails Suitable for Kids
- Levada do Risco (Rabaçal – Risco Waterfall)
- Vereda dos Balcões (PR11)
- Levada do Alecrim
These are three relatively easy and safe hikes suitable for families with older kids.
Um Caminho Para Todos
However, if you travel with toddlers, Um Caminho Para Todos is a levada walk you should consider– this trail translates to “A walk for everyone” and the name says it all. It’s a nice, relaxed levada walk suitable for families with small kids.
The trail is 2.1 km long on a very easy, flat and wide path wide. You might even be able to do this walk with a stroller.
Madeira Mountain Trails
As well as the lush forest levadas, Madeira has many stunning mountain trails. The mountain trails are called Veredas or Vereda Trails. These trails are often more challenging than the Levada Trails but offer incredible panoramas.
Vereda do Pico do Areeiro PR1
- Distance: 14 km to the top of Pico Ruivo and back (shorter option listed below)
- Duration: 6-8 hrs
- Difficulty: Moderate – strenuous
- Features: Mountain peaks, incredible Atlantic Ocean views, cloud landscapes.
The difficult Vereda do Pico do Areeiro trail is one of the best hikes in Madeira. It connects two of the three highest peaks of Madeira Island – Pico Ruivo (highest – 1862 m) and Pico do Arieiro (3rd highest – 1817 m). A stunning hike, but it could prove to be challenging for the less experienced hikers.
It is usually done just one way – 12-14 km depending on which way you go. Experienced hikers take around 6 hours for the full hike. It is possible to only do a section of the trail without going all the way to Pico Ruivo and you will still experience the complete beauty of Madeira from the mountain top.
This hike takes you up into the sky along the mountain peaks above the clouds. You can expect lots of stairs and sheer drops so this is another hike that may be a problem for people with a fear of heights. Cloud cover can also mean it is not possible to hike this trail so be prepared to change your day for this one.
Wear good hiking shoes, the path is well maintained but there is a lot of up and down with steep stairs. Hiking poles are helpful on this hike. Also, take a headlamp or torch for the tunnels.
You will need to get transport to this hike as there isn’t a bus service. And then, you will need to arrange a pick up if you do the point to point hike.
Take a Guided Hike
Different tour operators offer a drop-off on Pico do Areeiro and a pick-up from Achadas do Teixeira after reaching Pico Ruivo peak at the end of the day. This Pico Areeiro to Pico Ruivo Hike includes a hiking guide and transportation.
Vereda do Pico Ruivo from Achada do Teixeira to Pico Ruivo PR 1.2
- Distance: 5.4 km out and back (2.8 km each way)
- Duration: 3 hrs total
- Difficulty: Moderate, strenuous in parts.
- Features: Mountain peaks incredible views over Madeira island, cloud landscapes.
If you don’t think you are up for the Pico do Areeiro PR1, the Vereda do Pico Ruivo – Achada do Teixeira to Pico Ruivo is a better alternative for beginner & casual hikers.
You will still experience the incredible mountain range views but without the length or difficulty of the PR1.
The trail starts at the parking lot Achada do Teixeira and takes you to the highest peak on Madeira Island – Pico Ruivo (1862 m). The round trip hike will take approx. 3 hours.
Do be aware of the extreme micro-climate of the mountain. Even if the weather is fine and mild in Funchal, the top of the mountain can be freezing, raining or too windy to even attempt the hike. Make sure you have breathable layers and a lightweight rain jacket. If you get caught in sudden weather changes, there are shelters along the trail. Check the weather situation before you leave on this hike.
Much easier and shorter than PR1, it is a good alternative for sunrise mountain hikes.
We would highly recommend starting both of those mountain trails in the early morning, where you have an amazing opportunity to observe the sun rising above mountain tops wrapped in clouds.
Coastal Hiking Trails
Madeira is an island, so aside from levada walks and mountain hikes, there is no shortage of stunning coastal hikes.
Vereda do Larano (Levada Do Caniçal Coastal Hike)
- Distance: 13 km point to point hike (shorter out and back is possible)
- Duration: 5-6 hrs
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Features: Coastal cliffside trail with ocean views.
Quite a long hike at 13 km but it is far from a difficult hike.
Although officially classified as a hard hike, the difficulty is not in elevation gain but with the distance and the height. A fantastic hike for casual hikers and photographers, it may be challenging in parts for hikers with vertigo issues.
One of the best hikes on Madeira, this point to point hike follows a cliff-side trail along the north-eastern side of the island offering some of the best coastal views on the island. When entering Porto da Cruz hikers can enjoy an amazing view of the emblematic Penha d’Àguia rock formation and town of Porto da Cruz.
Most people start this hike from Caniçal finishing in Porto da Cruz. There are a lot of options in Porto Cruz for a post-hike drink or meal whereas there is nothing in Caniçal. You can of course do an out and back hike if you wish to start and finish in the same place.
Being a point to point hike can prove logistically difficult but there is a public bus service with SAM during the week, otherwise, an Uber or taxi is a relatively inexpensive way to get back to your car – or to and from the hike.
Do note that parking at the Caniçal start point is limited.
Vereda da Ponta do São Lourenço Hike PR 8
- Distance: 7.2km
- Duration:2-3 hrs
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Features: Rugged rocky coastline with epic views
An out and back trail located near Caniçal, which is good for different skill levels. It is an especially popular hike at sunrise as Ponta de São Lourenço follows the rugged coastline on the easternmost point of Madeira where the land meets the sea.
This hike offers magnificent coastal views, jagged cliffs and hills, and unique rock formations formed over millions of years of being battered by the Atlantic.
The Ponta de São Lourenço hike is around 7 km out and back and takes around 3 hours. Sunrise is also best for this hike as you will encounter fewer people than during the day.
Not an overly challenging hike but not easy either. The trail is very exposed to the elements so be prepared with plenty of drinking water and sun protection and don’t be surprised if the wind literally blows you off the path. Layers are key with this hike as the temperature and conditions will change constantly.
There are continual changes in elevation so expect a lot of up and down with this hike
You can reach this trail with bus #113 (Bus company: SAM).
Note: if heading out on this hike for sunrise, be sure to have a headlamp or torch and check the weather before setting off. Conditions can change suddenly in the Atlantic and sudden downpours or storms are not uncommon. Be prepared, especially if setting off in the dark.
Other Interesting Madeira Hiking Trails & Walks
Easy Madeira Hikes
Banana Route Trail
Another short and easy but interesting walk worth mentioning is the official Banana Route Trail through the banana plantations. Located in Madalena do Mar, it offers lovely scenery and is an easy attraction for families with children.
Vereda do Jardim do Mar
If you are an experienced hiker looking for a challenge – check out the trails located in the southwest of Madeira, such as the Vereda do Jardim do Mar, where you descend a 550-metre high cliff to reach a seaside village. It is an easy hike if you only make the 1.9 km descent. The challenge is on the return cliff climb if you want to do it both ways.
Planning Tips for Madeira
When planning your hiking trip to Madeira, here are some valuable sources to help make the most of your time on Madeira:
WalkMe – a paid app (€4.99 for full access) with Madeira Island’s recommended trails, maps, ratings, pictures & more. Frequently used by hikers on Madeira.
Visit Maderia – the official source for all hike maps and brochures, worth regularly monitoring as it also contains information on temporarily closed trails & safety regulations.
Calheta Viva – website with useful information on hikes located in the south-western region of Madeira, including a couple of steep cliff-side “veredas” such as the Vereda do Jardim do Mar we recommend as a challenging hike.
More Hiking Tips for Madeira
- Do you enjoy camping? Madeira has a couple of free campsites in nature conveniently located near some great trails. You can camp there for free, but you need to get a camping permit from Instituto das Florestas e Conservação da Natureza. You can also try out glamping on Madeira.
- Pack a solid pair of shoes, a raincoat and a flashlight. You may even benefit from a set of trekking poles. Even if you don’t think you will hike a lot, that might change when you arrive and see the beauty of Madeira’s landscapes and its wonderful trails. You can get some tips on what to pack for a hiking and walking holiday here.
- You won’t be able to get to most of the best hikes with public transport. Your own car will be extremely convenient; however, if you are intimidated by Madeira’s roads, you can easily book different guided tours and private transfers from one of the many local tour operators. You can find a full selection of guided hiking, caving, and levada walks here. You can also join Facebook groups for people visiting Madeira and look for co-travellers to split the costs.
- And most of all: Do not do the riskiest hikes on your own. Hiking in Madeira is generally safe but levadas can be slippery and accidents happen. It is better to be with someone who can raise the alarm. Consider hiking with a professional guide as a part of an organized tour especially for some of the mosre challenging hikes.
If you are looking for more information about Madeira’s hikes, attractions, and hidden gems, Say Yes to Madeira Blog is a great travel resource for information about Madeira Island & Porto Santo. Find them on Instagram @sayyestomadeira