MADEIRA IS A STUNNING ISLAND OFF THE SOUTHWEST COAST OF PORTUGAL. KNOWN FOR ITS VOLCANIC BEACHES, RUGGED MOUNTAINOUS INTERIOR, AND WARM CLIMATE, it also OFFERS some of the most picturesque HIKing trails we have ever seen. Keep reading for 4 PHENOMENAL hikes in Madeira that are GUARANTEED to blow your mind!
If Portugal is on your bucket list — and I think it should be— you have got to add Madeira to your itinerary. The quick 90-minute flight from Lisbon will drop you off in a paradise unlike anywhere else in Europe. While there are a ton of awesome activities to do around the island, hiking is our number one recommendation. The hikes in Madeira are diverse, unique, and absolutely beautiful!
First things first: How easy is it to get to the hiking trails?
Madeira is incredibly easy to travel… with one condition. You need to rent a car. Okay, technically, you don’t need to have a vehicle as there are tourist buses and taxis that take people around the island. But trust me on this one, okay? You are going to want to rent a car. It gives you the freedom to explore the island at your leisure, avoid the crowds, and hit the trails early for the best experience.
We traveled the entire island by car and were pleasantly surprised when all of the main roads were well signed and in excellent condition. They have built several tunnels through the mountains and ridges around the island that make traveling quick and convenient. Please note, however, that some of the smaller roads are steep, narrow, and can be tricky to navigate. As long as you go slow and are mindful of other drivers, though, you will be fine. Unlike the mainland, tolls don’t exist here which is an added bonus!
Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo
11km & 1180m of elevation
Madeira is jam-packed with incredible hiking trails, but the hike from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo is hands down our favourite! With rugged cliffs, transcendent staircases, tunnels through mountains, and a complete 360-degree view of the island, it’s hard not to be impressed. Our biggest piece of advice are to wear proper hiking shoes, bring tons of water, and gear up for one hell of a day!
The hike to Pico Ruivo is not for the faint of heart, but it is 1000% worth every step. From Pico Arieiro, you will lose about 500 meters of elevation right off the bat. This is actually one of the most scenic parts of the hike! You can take in the sunrise views while making your way down the steps that are meticulously perched along rugged ridge lines and steep cliffs.
From there, the trail levels off for a few kilometres as you make your way along the side of Pico das Torres. This portion of the trail is narrow and built on the side of a steep rock wall. There are several tunnels that bring you safely around/through the mountain to the base of Pico Ruivo.
From here, you will climb up a number of ladders, followed by a series of switchbacks that will bring you to the top of Pico Ruivo. We estimate that you gain about 600m of elevation over these last few kilometres. From the top, you are rewarded with views of the entire island in all directions.
TIP: Get on the trail as early as possible. This is one of the most popular hikes in Madeira and the narrow path can get tricky to navigate when it’s busy. We ran into several hiking tours on our way back to the car. This really slowed us down as you often have to wait to let the whole group pass (10-20 people) before you can proceed.
The Tail of Madeira
7.4 km & 412m of elevation
Verada da Ponta de Sao Lourenco AKA The Tail of Madeira is a hike to the most eastern tip of the island. With jaw-dropping coastal views the entire way, this is without a doubt one of the most popular hikes in Madeira. The rugged landscape and panoramic views in every direction make this hike incredibly unique. There is even a bar near the end that serves up cold drinks and runs completely off of solar power. I’ve never seen anything like it on a hiking trail! We didn’t stop in for a drink, but it could be a fun way to split up your hike.
I would highly recommend going for sunrise for three reasons. First, you will avoid the crowds and have it almost entirely to yourself. Secondly, there is zero shade on this trail. If you go for sunrise, you will beat the heat and are less likely to burn to a crisp. Lastly, and most importantly, you will get a phenomenal 360-degree view of the sun coming up over the ocean and lighting up Madeira!
7.2km & 700m of elevation
Pico Grande seems to be lesser-known and less busy than other hikes in Madeira but I have no idea why! This peak offers breathtaking views of the entire island and surrounding mountain ranges. Pico Grande is one of our favourite hikes in all of Portugal! The best part? If you go early in the morning, you are likely to have it all to yourself.
There are a few different places you can begin, but we would recommend parking at Miradouro Boca da Corrida. The first half of the hike is relatively mild in terms of elevation gain and full of spectacular scenery. The trail is well maintained and you will follow it around the side of a ridge before veering up to the right at a sign that says “Pico Grande” in spray-paint.
From here, your elevation gain really takes off and remains consistently steep all the way to the top. In order to make the final ascent up to Pico Grande, you will need to climb up a large boulder with a rope attached to the side. Don’t let this part intimidate you, though, it’s not as technical as it looks at first glance. David and I barely needed to use the rope to summit the peak and it takes only a few minutes to do.
Lagoa do Vento Waterfall
7km & 300m of elevation
Lagoa do Vento and Cascada de Risco make up a massive two-tiered waterfall on the east side of Madeira. There are hiking trails that will bring you to the base of each one and to viewpoints that overlook them. Our personal favourite was the trail to the base of Lagoa do Vento Waterfall. It was quiet, secluded, and absolutely serene.
TIP: Do this hike instead of the popular Levada das 25 Fontes. We found that hike to be insanely crowded and completely overrated! They both begin at the same trailhead, so save yourself some time and effort and head straight for Lagoa do Vento!