MADEIRA IS AN UNBELIEVABLY STUNNING ISLAND OFF THE SOUTHWEST COAST OF PORTUGAL. KNOWN FOR ITS VOLCANIC BEACHES, RUGGED MOUNTAINOUS INTERIOR, AND WARM CLIMATE, madeira is a hidden gem that is absolutely worth a visit. if you are only able to do one hike while on the island; this is without a doubt the one we would recommend! Keep reading for everything you need to know about the hike from Pico do Arieiro to pico ruivo.
Madeira is jam-packed with incredible hiking trails, but the hike from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo is hands down our favorite! With rugged cliffs, transcendent staircases, tunnels through mountains, and a complete 360-degree view of the island, it’s hard not to be impressed. The total distance of this hike is 11km with 1180m of elevation gain. Our biggest pieces 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.
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.
Beginning at Pico do Arieiro
Pico do Arieiro (also spelled Areeiro) is the third highest peak in Madeira and the highest point that is accessible by vehicle. Known for boasting one of the most incredible perspectives of the entire island, this viewpoint is one you can’t miss! If you get the chance, we would highly recommend going up for sunrise. The colours, the views, and your chance of seeing a cloud inversion are well worth the early morning wake-up call. Sunrise in Madeira is usually between 7:30 and 8 am. So you can roll out of bed at 6:45 and still make it to the top in time.
There is a large parking lot, which was full when we arrived at 7:40 am, and some parking along the road near the peak. You can get to the trailhead by taking a taxi or a bus, but driving your own vehicle is our preferred method. The majority of people were only there to watch the sunrise. This made and the trail quiet at this time of the morning, just how we like it!
From Pico Arieiro, you will lose about 500 meters of elevation right off the bat. While it’s hard not to dread the trek back up as you descend hundreds of feet, this is actually one of the most scenic parts of the entire hike. Make sure to stop and appreciate the serene sunrise views while making your way down the steps that are meticulously perched along rugged ridge lines and steep cliffs. I can promise the trail will not be this peaceful on your way back.
Trekking Along the Side of Pico das Torres
From there, you will cross a narrow ridge that connects Pico do Arieiro to Pico das Torres, the mountain that lies in between Airiero and Ruivo. If you’ve started early, this whole next section will be in the shade which is always a bonus! 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. The views out over the forest are spectacular and there are several tunnels that bring you safely around/through the mountain to Pico Ruivo. If you are a speedy hiker, you will want to complete this portion of the trail before it gets busy which is usually around 10:30-11 am.
We ran into several hiking tours on our way back through this section. Because the trail is so narrow, you often have to wait to let the whole group pass before you can proceed. It definitely slowed us down. We were very thankful that we weren’t stuck behind hundreds of people trying to get to Ruivo in the opposite direction.
The Final Ascent to Pico Ruivo
From here, you will climb up a number of ladders that take you up and over a saddle lying between Torres and Ruivo. You will then follow a series of switchbacks that bring you all the way to the top of Pico Ruivo. We estimate that you gain about 600m of elevation over these last few kilometres.
There is actually a mountain hut about 750m from the peak known as Casa de Abrigo Pico Ruivo. We didn’t go in, but apparently, it offers free clean drinking water, toilets, and even a bar where you can purchase drinks and snacks. You cannot camp inside the hut but there are areas nearby where camping is permitted.
From the top of Pico Ruivo, you are rewarded with views of the entire island in all directions. There are three separate viewing platforms along the top with the furthest right being our personal favorite. Plan to spend 30 minutes to an hour soaking in the views while enjoying your breakfast, lunch, or snack. The hike back is fairly straightforward until you reach the stairs that bring you back up to the parking lot. At that point, you are in for one hell of a final grind.