Walking on Madeira and Porto Santo
Friday, 11 November 2011 00:00
From the Madeira Tourism Department: One of the most fascinating features of Madeira is the vast network of open-air water canals that cover the island bringing water from the mountains to the plantations below. Known as levadas, these irrigation channels pass through breathtaking scenery, waterfalls and hidden parts of the island.
First and foremost, walking on Madeira and the adjacent island of Porto Santo is invigorating, exciting and hugely rewarding. Any regular walker will find the Madeira Islands both a challenge and a delight, and, we hope, a pleasant surprise.
Madeira is a volcanic island rising from the very significant depths of the Atlantic Ocean, and the result is a wonderfully convoluted landscape that will enchant any walker. It is breathtaking in every sense of the word. But it is so rewarding, too.
Don a pair of comfortable shoes and go for a walk along the famous water canals known as “Levadas”, these irrigation channels pass through breathtaking scenery, waterfalls and hidden parts of the island. Covering over 1500 kilometers, the levadas of Madeira were mostly sculpted by hand, and access remote villages through tunnels and cliff hugging ledges. Walking on a levada path is an unforgettable experience, be it overlooking the sea or hiking through the vast Madeira Natural Park or Funchal Ecological Park or follow the mountain trails that may take you up an impressive 1,862 m above sea level, surrounded by breathtaking beauty.
The most popular treks are the Rabaçal levada walk, towards the 25 Fountains; the Queimadas levada walk, until Caldeirão Verde; the walk between the Areeiro Peak and the Ruivo Peak; and the walk from Ribeiro Frio to Portela.
A special footpath has also been thought out for persons with limited mobility. This path, between the Pedras Peak and Queimadas, is equally stunning, despite its ease. Most walks are accessible to all, but there are several levels of difficulty, which are marked before each walk. Hiking in this magnificent setting is a treat for all generations, young or old, bringing them back to nature.
At one extreme there are walks that follow the course of the levadas, ancient water courses that ingeniously serpent their way across the island, always gently descending, and often in the most spectacular setting. At the other extreme, the summits that gather round Pico Ruivo are craggy and rugged, networked with rocky footpaths.
WALKS - It is vital that you choose only those walks that are most suited to your own standard of fitness and experience. Most walks involve varying amounts of 'up and down'; some are circular, some linear. All are outstanding, but walkers who do not have a good head for heights or are unaccustomed to occasionally steep ascents and descents, should avoid the more difficult walks.
WALK LEADERS - Leaders and assistant leaders will be available for each of the walks and will identify themselves to you at the start of the walk. All participants must comply with any directions given by the walk leader. Please note that leaders and assistant leaders are duly certified and experienced mountain guides with wide knowledge about the island and are there to supervise the walk and to pass on their local knowledge. Most of them are qualified in first aid but are not qualified to render medical assistance to anyone seriously injured on a walk.
PROTECTIVE CLOTHING - In January, it can rain and it can scorch. You need to be prepared for both, although the average temperature in Madeira rarely falls below 15˚C.All walkers must carry a day sack containing waterproofs, a hat, gloves, spare clothing, whistle, food and drink, the relevant map and a compass. On some walks you will also find a torch useful, as some of the levada walks pass through tunnels. You may also need to carry sun cream.
It is essential that walking boots are worn for all walks. Walk leaders have the right to decline to accept on any walk persons whose footwear may, in their opinion, be potentially hazardous. Please also bear in mind that some paths may be overgrown and/or are flanked by bushes and brambles.
CHILDREN - Children should be accompanied by an adult on all walks.
Code of conduct and Safety Regulations: When considering a levada walk we highly recommend that you use the services of a qualified mountain guide company. Here we shall mention some codes of conduct and safety regulations that should always be followed.
* Avoid noise or actions against nature
* Do not take plants or animals with you
* Do not throw rubbish away (tissues do not easily decompose)
* Do not light fires
* If you are a smoker do not throw cigarettes ends on the floor, keep them for the dust-bin
* Do not change or damage the signs
For your own safety...
* Before starting out make sure you have update instructions on the route
* Let someone else know where you’re going and when you expect to return
* Be sure to confirm the time it will take so that you can finish before nightfall
* Take some extra food and water with you
* Wear suitable clothes and shoes
* If possible take a mobile phone with you
* In case of heavy rain or strong winds do not go on and/or turn back using the same route
* Don’t take risks
* Emergency number: 112
* Civil Protection: 291 700 112
The recommended routes for hikes within the Autonomous Region of Madeira are considered as small routes (PR). These are duly identified and described so that the users may, right from the start, be aware of the reality they will find. The trails are maintained, inspected and signposted by regional governmental organisations, especially by the Direcção Regional de Florestas (Regional Forest Board), which has helped by transferring some content through one of their projects, the Tourmac Project.
PR 1 - Vereda do Areeiro: Linking the two highest peaks on Madeira, this is a stunning walk, involves tunnels, and some steep ascents and descents, with fabulous views of the central core of the mountains. This trail is unique in that it links the two highest peaks of Madeira Island, Pico Ruivo (1861 m) and Pico do Areeiro (1817 m), traversing part of the Central Mountain Massif, an area integrated in the Natura 2000 Network. (photo António Gouveia)
Distance: 7 Km / 5,6 Km
Time: 3h 30m/3h
Start: Miradouro (Belvedere) do Pico do Areeiro
Finish: Pico Ruivo
PR 1.1 - Vereda da Ilha: This walk begins with a relatively short ascent to the highest summit of Madeira, Pico Ruivo, from where it begins a long and almost continuous descent to the village of Ilha, a drop of 1376m. The trail crosses through two types of eco-system that are part of the network of important community sites - Natura 2000: the central mountain massif and the Laurisilva forest. This trail incorporates a drop of 1376 metres, and the climb up or down should be done slowly, taking in the landscape. (photo António Gouveia)
Dificulty Level: Medium
Distance: 8,2 km
Start: Casa de Abrigo do Pico Ruivo
Finish: Freguesia da Ilha
PR 1.2 - Vereda do Pico Ruivo: Another ‘out and back’ walk that visits the highest summit, Pico Ruivo. The trail climbs along the ridge that separates the cliffs of Faial and those of Santana.When visibility is good to the East you can see the rocky outcrop of Penha d’Águia, the Funduras mountain range and part of the S. Lourenço Point (far eastern part of Madeira island). (photo António Gouveia)
Distance: 2,8 Km (+ 2,8 Km regresso)
Time: 1h 30m
Start: Achada do Teixeira
Finish: Achada do Teixeira
PR 1.3 - Vereda da Encumeada: This energetic ridge walk begins just below Pico Ruivo, the highest summit, and heads west, high above steep, wooded slopes to the mountain pass at Encumeada.Extremely beautiful landscapes await travellers as they cross two types of ecosystems, both of which are part of the European Network of Sites of Community Interest - Natura 2000 Network: the Central Mountainous Massif and the Laurisilva Forest. (photo António Gouveia)
Distance: 11,2 Km
Time: 6 h
Start: Pico Ruivo Shelter
PR 5 - Vereda das Funduras: This trail starts at the Portela Lookout Point, with a magnificent view of the North Coast of Madeira, and then heads towards Machico, winding its way through a mountain range where one will find the best area of Laurissilva Forest of the Southern part of the island, which is included in the European network of sites of community importance - Natura Network 2000. (photo Madeira Levada Walks)
Distance: 8,7 Km
Start: Miradouro (Belvedere) da Portela
PR 6 - Levada das 25 fontes / PR6.1 Levada do Risco: Visiting a (usually) spectacular waterfall, this walks begins by descending gently to Rabaçal before continuing downhill to view the waterfall. Both trails begin on the regional road (E.R. 110), and go down as far as the Rabaçal government house. The trails diverge along two parallel levadas located on different levels. Trail PR 6.1, goes along Levada do Risco, at 1000m above sea level, taking the hiker to an impressive waterfall, which falls horizontally creating a ridge in the rock. If you go down to PR6 you can visit the 25 Spring Lagoon (Lagoa das 25 Fontes), created by the waters which come down from the Mountain Marsh (Paul da Serra) and mysteriously appear from behind the wall that forms the lagoon, where you can see more than 25 springs. (photo Madeira Levada Walks)
Distance: 4.6 Km (+4.6 Km return)
Start: E.R.110 (Rabaçal, Paul da Serra)
Finish: E.R.110 (Rabaçal, Paul da Serra)
PR 7 - Levada do Moinho: At the north-western end of the island, the Levada do Moinho once served several watermills, and was a ‘private’ levada for the use of those who paid to have it constructed.The Levada Grande or Levada do Moinho (Mill Levada) is known as such because along its route there were several water mills, the ruins of three of which can still be seen (Achadas Mill, Cancelas Mill and Levada Grande Mill). (photo António Gouveia)
Distance: 10,3 Km
Time: 3h 30m
Start: Ribeira da Cruz (E.R. 101)
Finish: Junqueira (Tornadouro)
PR 8 - Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço: Visiting some of the finest cliff scenery on Madeira, this walk explores the long thin peninsula at the eastern end of the island. The paths are good, but undulating - whether you get close to the edges is up to you.At the end of the trail, you can dive in the Sardinha port, named after the old owners. The Sardinha house is the base for a group of Rangers who work for the Madeira natural park, and who are responsible for watching over the area. On the horizon to the South you can see Ilhas Desertas (Deserted Islands) and to the North the Porto Santo Islands. (photo Erika Carolina De Sousa)
Distance: 4 Km (+4 Km return)
Time: 2h 30m
Start: E.R. 109 (Baía d’Abra - Caniçal)
Finish: E.R. 109 (Baía d’Abra - Caniçal)
PR 9 - Levada do Caldeirão Verde: Beginning in the Queimadas Forestry Park, this walk is ‘out-and-back’, and crosses some spectacularly steep slopes, but is one of the finest ways of penetrating the deep valley of the São Jorge brook on foot; you’ll need a torch on this walk, which passes through a tunnel.The levada of Caldeirão Verde is an impressive work of art built in the 18th century that begins in the main stream bed of the Caldeirão Verde brook. Passing through steep cliffs and mountains, it carries the water that runs off the highest mountains of Madeira, to be used to irrigate the farm lands of the parish of Faial. (photo Madeira Tourism)
Distance: 6,5 Km (+6,5 Km return)
Time: 5h 30m
Start: Queimadas Forestry Park (Parque Florestal das Queimadas)
Finish: Queimadas Forestry Park (Parque Florestal das Queimadas)
PR 10 - Levada do Furado: This levada, which begins in Ribeiro Frio, is one of the first acquired by the State to irrigate the farmlands of Porto da Cruz. The walk ends with a descent to the village of Portela.Along this levada you will note the manifold tones of green presented by this well-preserved zone of the island’s native forest - the Laurisilva - made up predominantly of the laurel. The landscape is dominated by the valley of Ribeiro Frio, with the amazing farm fields of Faial, São Roque do Faial and Porto da Cruz. The spectacular rock formation of Penha de Águia protects the bay of Faial to the east, and to the west the Ponta dos Clérigos. (photo Madeira Tourism)
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Distance: 11 Km
Start: E.R. 303 (Ribeiro Frio)
Finish: E.R. 102 (Portela)
PR 11 - Vereda dos Balcões: Starting at Ribeiro Frio, this short walk follows the levada of Serra do Faial, and gives access to the Balcões viewpoint with superb views over the valley of the Ribeira da Metade.On days when the visibility is good, you will be able to see the Central Mountain Chain of the island, with the highest peaks of the island standing out, Pico do Areeiro (1817 m), Pico do Gato, Pico das Torres, Pico Ruivo (1861 m) and the majestic geological display of the Penha d’Águia rock formation. (photo Madeira Tourism)
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Distance: 1.5 Km (+1.5 Km return)
Time: 1h 30m
Start: E.R. 103 (Ribeiro Frio)
Finish: E.R. 103 (Ribeiro Frio)
PR 12 - Caminho Real da Encumeada: Crossing part of the central mountain massif, this walk crosses the foot of some of the highest peaks on Madeira, and gives a glimpse of Curral das Freiras in its mountain stronghold. This is an old ‘Royal Path’, that was paved and used as one of the main routes across the island by the landed gentry. (photo Madeira Tourism)
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Distance: 12,5 km
Time: 6h 30m
Start: Miradouro (Belvedere) da Boca da Corrida
Finish: E.R. 228 (Encumeada)
PR 13 - Vereda do Fanal: This trail starts near the E.R. 209 on the Paul da Serra plateau and ends near the Forest Police Station in Fanal. This trail connects to other paths, allowing access to the Ribeira da Janela parish through the trails PR 14 Levada dos Cedros e PR 15 Vereda da Ribeira da Janela. Enjoy the magnificent area of Fanal, a small volcanic crater classified as a resting reserve ót tne Parque Natural of Madeira, to get a good dose of relaxation therapy.Warnings: This area is also frequently crossed by fog. Danger of disorientation, do not leave the trail. The weather in this area can change very rapidly. (photo Direcção Regional de Florestas)
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Distance: 10.8 Km
Start: E.R. 209 Assobiadores
Finish: E.R 209 Fanal
PR 14 - Levada dos Cedros: This trail has as starting point the only plateau existing in Madeira Island: Paul da Serra. Quiet and relaxed stroll, we can find along the way several species from Laurissilva which resisted the settlement, as well as, follow Levada dos Cedros, the water canal built in the 17th century. From the start, the route of the Cedros levada follows the steep slope of the right bank of the Ribeira da Janela to the parish of Entrosa, from where it veers off in a northerly direction to its end at Curral Falso. (photo Madeira Rural)
Distance: 5,8 Km
Start: E.R 209 (Fanal)
Finish: E.R 209 (Curral Falso)
PR 15 - Vereda da Ribeira da Janela: This walk follows the course of an old footpath used by local people to bring wood from the forest. The general trend is downhill. At Ribeira da Janela you can come in contact with this traditional and unique agricultural area with its typical terraced farm plots, held in place by laboriously built stone walls, where sweet potatoes, potatoes, beans, maize and the indispensable vineyards of Ribeira da Janela are cultivated. (photo Madeira Rural)
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Distance: 2,7 Km
Time: 1h 30m
Start: E.R. 209 (Curral Falso)
Finish: Ribeira da Janela
PR 16 - Levada Fajã do Rodrigues: Tunnels are common along this levada, and as you pass between the many, long tunnels, you will have a chance to appreciate the beautiful panoramic views of the São Vicente Valley landscape.This levada lies at an elevation of 580 metres and has its source in the bed of the Ribeira do Inferno stream, which separates the lands of Seixal from those of São Vicente and winds across ridges and through small valleys up to Rosário, to be used for the irrigation of the farm fields of São Vicente. (photo Madeira rural)
Distance: 3.9 Km (+3.9 Km return)
Time: 3h 30m
PR 17 - Caminho do Pináculo e Folhadal: This walk follows the levadas of Serra and Norte between the elevations of 1000m and 1600m. It offers lovely views of the São Vicente valley, and passes areas of high altitude vegetation as well as laurissilva forest. Cascades and tunnels are found all along this route and when you come out of the last tunnel, you reach Folhadal, a name referring to the abundance of Lily-of-the-valley trees (Port., folhados) (Clethra arborea) found here. (photo António Gouveia)
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Distance: 14 km
Time: 6h 30m
Start: Lombo do Mouro
PR 18 - Levada do Rei: In the northern part of the island, this route is linear but makes a return by the outward route. There are tunnels on this walk, for which a torch is essential. The first part of the trail follows the levada through an afforested area, but offers spectacular views of the São Jorge and Santana farmlands.The trail that follows alongside the Levada do Rei begins at the Water Treatment Plant at Quebradas in São Jorge, ending at the source of the levada in the spectacular Ribeiro Bonito stream.Be sure to visit the São Jorge water mill (moínho), which is about three hundred years old. This mill is a good example of preservation, and powered by the water from the Levada do Rei, it grinds wheat, maize, barley and rye grown on the terraces of São Jorge. (photo Madeira Tourism)
Distance: 5,1 Km (+ 5,1 Km return)
Time: 3h 30m/3h
Start: ETAR de São Jorge
Finish: ETAR de São Jorge
PR 19 - Caminho Real do Paúl do Mar: A lovely, short walk that is almost entirely downhill from the village of Prazeres to the sea shore at Paúl do Mar. The descent is made along the cliff face, winding between terraced farm plots held in place by stone walls.This walk is located in the western area of Madeira Island, linking the parish of Prazeres with Paúl do Mar, dropping from an elevation of 550 metres to the sea shore.Designated as a “municipal path”, it is an example of the difficult access routes that were traversed many times with heavy loads on the back, but which were the only alternative to the access by sea, which was too expensive for many and impossible when the sea was raging.When you reach Paúl do Mar, be sure you explore this small parish on the seashore and wonder at the high cliffs that surround it. At one time, it was an important fishing village, and due to the great abundance of fish, in 1912 a canning factory was set up here to export tuna. (photo Madeira rural)
Distance: 1,8 Km
Time: 1h 20m
Finish: Paúl do Mar