Walk Madeira

My aunt once told me a story from when she was on a plane to Funchal and there was a young English couple next to her.  My family has ancestral ties to the island, so pilgrimages to Funchal are nothing unusual for us, but she was interested to find out what brings other people to the island, so, she asked them.  Their response surprised her: “We’ve been four times so far, we come for the levadas, we’re addicted” they said.  Levadas are the hand-cut aqueducts carved into mountainsides that criss-cross the island, transporting water from the wet north-west to the dry south-east.  Microclimates caused by the height of the island’s mountains are the reason there is such a huge discrepancy in rainfall on an island as small as Madeira.  You can literally enter a tunnel with grey, rainy weather on one side and come out the other end to a summery, cloud-free sky.

The views that the levadas offer are truly incredible and are incomparable to anything else on the island.  On an island where two-thirds of the land is national parkland, so much of the beauty is hidden out of sight of the YellowBus tour routes.  So far, I’ve done three, Caldeirão Verde, Ribeiro Frio and Pico Ruivo.

Caldeirão Verde

Caldeirão Verde levada walk, December 2015
Caldeirão Verde is the first levada walk I ever attempted and is one of the most popular.  It’s a full day trip, leaving your accommodation at 8 am and returning at around 5 pm – a significant chunk of that time is spent driving between Funchal and Santana, which is where the walking trail begins.  You start out at this old rest stop built for when the trip would require you to sleep overnight before being able to return to Funchal –  since Portugal joined the European Union, dozens of tunnels have been built across the island, replacing the treacherous, winding mountain roads on which travellers used to rely, easily cutting a trip that used to take a day down to under an hour.

The track starts off wide with a slight incline, surrounded by pine trees, presenting itself as a deceptively easy climb but turning into a narrow path bordered on one side by the levada and the other by a thin wire separating you from a hundred metre drop down the side of a mountain, making for interesting acrobatics when you come face to face with people coming from the opposite direction.  But the views are absolutely worth it, not only is your destination (in this case a 100m waterfall).  You do have the option of continuing on from Caldeirão Verde to the end of the levada, known as Caldeirão do Inferno (literally Hell’s Caldera) which in total is a 37km walk.

It’s impossible to capture the view on a camera without a drone because it’s just so huge.  If you do the climb in summer, the pool is a great way to cool down.


The cascading waterfall is beautiful

Pico Ruivo

Okay, this is the big one.  The highest peak in Madeira and one of the highest in all of Portugal.  At 1861 metres above sea level, it’s impossible to climb from the base, because you’d be starting in the city, as the whole island slopes up gradually.  But the view from the top is truly incredible.  I’m already planning my return to the peak, with new friends to share it with.  The best way to access it is to drive to Pico Areeiro, the third highest peak on the island and hike from there – it’s a tough hike, so if you’re after an easier walk, it’s best to head to Achada do Teixeira, where the trail is much shorter and much more suited to a novice hiker (like me).  Be sure to bring a bottle of water and some food.  There is a ranger’s house near the end of the climb where you can have a food break, use the bathroom and top up your water bottle.  To give you a bit more of an idea of the vistas you will experience on this walk, the feature photo for this post was taken along the path to the summit.

View from the summit 

Ribeiro Frio

Right, so this is the baby one.  If you’re not particularly fit, aren’t a fan of lots of walking or just didn’t bring the right shoes… This is the one for you!  Short and easy, the Ribeiro Frio levada delivers the goods – a great view and a beautiful path.


Gotta love a landscape
So, in conclusion.  If you go to Madeira, do not miss an opportunity to do a levada walk.  Seriously.  It doesn’t have to be one of these three but do one.  They’re too beautiful not to be seen.  I booked mine through Madeira Happy Tours, but any tourist office will be able to sell you tours.  In my opinion, a guide is worth the money, you have someone knowledgeable to follow (useful when walking one of the more treacherous routes) and also transport.



13 Comments Add yours

  1. Anonymous says:

    Great story on the levadas Josef x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with that english couple~! The levada walks on Madeira are indeed an experience with a potential for addiction, especially if you’re an outdoors’y person trapped in a large European city~ Hubby and I will be retuirning to Madeira for the second time this year, and, after the stunning experience on the Caldeirao Verde walk last year – great pictures, by the way! – , the Pico Ruivo walk is on our to-do list this time, next to several other, somewhat less travelled levadas and a Three-Peak Hike hubby picked (I’m not sure I want to know the details before I can’t back out anymore 😀 ) yep… definitively addictive~

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pico Ruivo was fantastic. Are you feeling ambitious enough to do the full walk or are you going to take the shortcut like I did?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. We’re not entirely sure yet, but it’ll probably be the full tour~! We haven’t hammered out every detail, route and hike yet, so in this particular case the length of the walk depends on what we’ve done until then… I doubt I’m up for climbing up, down and around Madeira’s peaks for two weeks straight, but the vista on top of this one is a must either way 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Courtney says:

    This all sounds amazing! I’ve never quite heard of anything like the levadas, though I have been trying to figure out what I might do on an adventure to Australia. I’m moving to Japan in a few months, which is closer than my current home in the States, and am definitely putting this on my bucket list ideas! Love the blog and the stories, thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They’re fantastic, unlike any other hiking I’ve done. Australia has its fair share of amazing walks and mountain climbs too. There are amazing walks you can do, from Far North Queensland’s Daintree Rainforest, to Bluff Knoll in Western Australia’s Stirling Ranges. Japan will be incredible, I know quite a few people who have gone recently, and it is such a beautiful country!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Courtney says:

        Sounds like I’ll have to add more of these sites to my list in Australia! I’m really hoping I can take a holiday trip during the school holidays while teaching in Japan. I’m really excited for it and can’t wait to explore a new part of the world! Thanks for all the suggestions!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. My pleasure! Are you going as a part of the JET programme?


      3. Courtney says:

        Yes, I am actually! I just got my placement the other day and have heard a lot of great experiences from alum of the programme.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Oh fantastic! My cousin is going this year as well! Where are you going to be based?


      5. Courtney says:

        That’s awesome! I’ll be in Shizuoka City! I’m really excited to get my school placement, but still waiting for that! Where will your cousin be?

        Liked by 1 person

      6. She’s going to be based just out of Tokyo in Saitama prefecture. It will he such an amazing experience. Make sure you write all about it🥂


      7. Courtney says:

        Wow that’s incredible! Tokyo is great and the experience will be awesome. I definitely will!

        Liked by 1 person

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