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Trilhos, Pico Ruivo, Ilha da Madeira
©Krzysztof Sinica/UnsplashPico Ruivo

These ten walking trails in Madeira will take your breath away

If you don't know what a levada is, you will quickly learn on a trip to Madeira. These are the best hikes to do on the island.

Written by
Inês Garcia

Here’s a little lesson right off the bat, because you probably don’t know what a levada is and we’re here to point you in the right direction and not to judge. Levadas are small irrigation channels made of stone that channel water from one area to another. They date from the 15th century, when they were created to carry and distribute water from the wettest parts of the north of the island to parts farther south. During one of these walks, you will enter the countryside on the path that follows the levada. Many of the levadas run through the Laurissilva forest, a UNESCO world heritage site since 1999 and one of the seven wonders of Portugal. They have different levels of difficulty – depending on your level of physical fitness and your group’s fitness level: some are ideal for families while others are only suitable for those who are more fit.

There are also people who come to Madeira from all over the world to take part in the Madeira Island Ultra Trail (MIUT) – a mountain trail run that takes in the island’s tallest peaks, on trails starting at 16 km. You don't have to be a professional and get into this business straight away (but you can set a goal now). For fans of walking, jogging, running, trail running, trekking, people-watching and bird-watching, we recommend routes in various parts of the island to get you lacing up your boots. With greater or lesser intensity, under or over the clouds, these trails will help you discover some of the most beautiful places on Madeira. Just don’t forget to wear comfortable footwear.

Levada dos Balcões

1. Levada dos Balcões

This is the perfect walk for families, even if you have kids who are always asking to go back to the car or to the beach because they’re fed up with walking. It’s short and flat and only 3 km there and back. It is in Santana county and easily reached by car. It ends at a beautiful viewpoint, which is perfect for shouting out “world, I’ve arrived.”

Levada do Rabaçal and Levada das 25 Fontes
©Luís Cardoso/Unsplash

2. Levada do Rabaçal and Levada das 25 Fontes

This route begins with a descent to Rabaçal, Calheta, from where it takes about three hours to do the 9 km round-trip. It leads up to one of the most spectacular lagoons, the 25 Fontes, which is fed by a several waterfalls from Paul da Serra. This is a medium difficulty levada.

Levada do Caldeirão Verde
©Thibault Mokuenko/Unsplash

3. Levada do Caldeirão Verde

The Levada do Caldeirão Verde begins at the Queimadas Forest Park in Santana, and is 13 km round trip. This is an intermediate-level walk: it isn’t the most difficult, but nor is it the easiest. Bring a torch and suitable footwear as the surface is often slippery and there are a number of tunnels along the way. At the end of the levada there is a lake with a 100-metre vertical waterfall.

Levada Fajã do Rodrigues

4. Levada Fajã do Rodrigues

Also known as the Levada Fajã da Ama, this one starts at Ginjas, São Vincente, and leads to the Ribeiro do Inferno. The total distance is 8 km, and you will be serenaded by finches all the way. Some parts are very slippery and some are very dark, so wrap up well and take a torch (your phone’s torch might not be enough). If this is your first time hiking, don’t start with this one.

Pináculo-Bica da Cana
©Colin Watts/Unsplash

5. Pináculo-Bica da Cana

This is a circular route that starts and ends in Paul da Serra on Route 110. It begins with some descents on uneven ground until the levada begins, from where the trail is flat until Pináculo. In between you will be rewarded with panoramic views over São Vicente and the waterfalls. It is 4.5 km in length.

Levada da Ribeira da Janela

6. Levada da Ribeira da Janela

This trail is 22.8 km there and back. It is rated as very difficult and only for experienced hikers. It begins at Lamaceiros in Porto Moniz, and takes you through the interior of the Ribeira da Janela valley. The path is uneven and there are very slippery tunnels on the way. The Ribeira da Janela, with its crystal clear waters rising from the imposing rocks, is at the end of the trail. Bring a rucksack and lunch, water and a swimming costume so you can dive into one of the lagoons and recharge your batteries in readiness for the return trip.

Levada do Rei

7. Levada do Rei

This levada is slightly more than 5 km long and offers spectacular views over the farmlands of São Jorge and Santana. The path starts and ends at the water treatment plant in São Jorge. The route should take about three-and-a-half hours to complete, depending on your pace and how often you stop to take photographs, and you will walk between 530 and 710 metres above sea level.

Levada do Furado

8. Levada do Furado

While it is easily accessible, the paths are quite uneven and a bit slippery, which will increase the adrenaline rush. Added to this, it is usually misty. The path follows the Levada do Furado, which was one of the first on the island to be mapped, and leads to the Portela viewpoint in Machico. This 10.7 km route usually takes from three to four hours to complete as it passes through the fields of Penha d’Água. Pay attention, because you may just come across a bis-bis: the Madeira firecrest, a bird that is native to the island.

Vereda Pico Areeiro – Pico Ruivo
©Monika Guzikowska/Unsplash

9. Vereda Pico Areeiro – Pico Ruivo

This is not a levada, but a beautiful (and demanding) trail that links the island’s three tallest peaks. Measuring 7 km, with a lot of ascents and descents, it eventually leads to Pico Ruivo, passing Pico das Torres on the way - so budget for four hours and be ready for lots of wonderful viewpoints along the way where you can rest and enjoy the views.

Cais do Sardinha trail

10. Cais do Sardinha trail

This is in the driest part of the island, from where you can see the primitive volcanic rock (which is about five million years old) down at the shore. Once you pass Machico, the vegetation becomes stunted because of the wind and sandy ground, and before reaching your destination you will pass by the Quinta do Lorde, a very popular tourist development. Once you arrive at the Ponta de São Lourenço you will experience an interesting phenomenon - the gift of omnipresence - as it is one of the few places where you can be in both the north and the south of the island. The path begins near the Cais do Sardinha car park, which is in honour of the family that once owned a house on the very end of Ponta de São Lourenço. Whether walking or jogging, you start from Baia D’Abra. You come to a beach half way along the trail (but be careful, because it is a steep descent). There you can have a dip in the sea and visit the viewpoint and head back. If you run, you can complete the 8 km trail in 90 minutes. If you are walking it will take around three hours.

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