Walking in Madeira: Explore on foot
With landscapes beautiful enough to wow any traveller, Madeira is a walking paradise. There are fantastic routes spread across this idyllic Portuguese island, allowing you to explore its natural wonders at your own pace. The only difficulty will be choosing which ones to follow during your stay!
Thankfully, we’re here to help. Below, we’ve put together some of our favourite Madeiran trails – along with useful information to help you make your decisions. Here goes!
Pico Ruivo Shelter - Freguesia da Ilha
Area: Central Madeira / Length: 5 miles / More info
Madeira is known for its views, and to get the best, you need to go high. That’s exactly where this walk takes you, as it begins with a short ascent to the tallest summit on the island, Pico Ruivo. From here, you’re descending pretty much all the way to the village of Ilha – around five miles away.
The descent – or ascent, if you’re up for a challenge – is around 1,736 metres, so you’ll need to be relatively agile for this one. It’s also worth taking your time, which won’t be difficult given the scenery on offer.
On this route, expect to take in a mix of different landscapes, from the mountainous terrain of Pico Ruivo to the lush Laurisilva forestry below. You may even catch a glimpse of the firecrest – Madeira’s smallest bird.
Pico Ruivo Shelter – Encumeada
Area: Central Madeira / Length: 7 miles / More info
If you’re after something a little longer in the same region of Madeira, this six-hour hike may be the one for you. It too begins just below the famous Pico Ruivo summit, before heading west towards the magnificent, 1,000-metre high Encumeada pass.
Fitness is crucial, as the trail takes in several climbs and ascents, with an overall decline of around 700 metres. There’s no shortage of distractions, however – expect to come across plenty of caves and fauna on route, with plenty of awe-inspiring scenery to capture and take in.
Baía d’Abra - Baía d’Abra
Area: Eastern Madeira / Length: 5 miles / More info
This return journey covers much of the thin peninsula at the Eastern end of Madeira, known as Ponta de São Lourenço, and offers some breath-taking coastal scenery.
Unlike many of the walks available, this route has a distinct lack of trees – due in large part to the dry climate and strong northern winds in the area. As a result, it’s possible to see for miles, so get your camera ready.
Ponta de São Lourenço’s natural appeal is astounding – of its 138 different plant species, 31 exist only on the island. There’s also a significant bird population, made up of seagulls, goldfinches, canaries and kestrels. The walk should take around 2.5 hours but with all the wildlife and scenery to marvel at, it’s worth planning a little longer.
Ribeiro Frio – Portelo
Area: Eastern Madeira / Length: 7 miles / More info
Madeira is famous for its levadas – mini-canals spread across the island, some of which make perfect walking routes. One example is the Levada do Furado, which links the villages of Ribeiro Frio and Portelo.
Along the way you’ll get to enjoy some of the best-preserved parts of Laurisilva forest, which contains a diverse range of flora and fauna. Expect to see everything from bay trees and Madeira mahoganies to foxglove, chrysanthemum and orchids. There are some truly beautiful natural sights to behold.
Many animals call this part of the island home, too, including birds like the tiny firecrest and the endemic Madeira long-toed pigeon.
At seven miles, there’s a fair bit of ground to cover, but the climbs are small by Madeiran standards.
Lombo do Mouro – Encumeada
Area: Central Madeira / Length: 9 miles / More info
This high trail follows the Serra and Norte levadas, and provides stunning views of the São Vicente Valley below. You’ll also take in examples of the island’s unique heritage on the way, such as the stone tunnels once used to transport goods from north to south and vice-versa, and the stone pathways that divert from the levadas.
At close to nine miles, this walk is more than just a leisurely stroll – you’ll need comfortable footwear with grippy soles, as well as warm clothing and enough water to last. Set aside at least 6.5 hours with a decent lunch break in the middle.
Ponta do Pargo – Lombada Velha
Area: Western Madeira / Length: 5 miles / More info
This route covers ground on the western side of Madeira, starting in the Ponta do Pargo parish before heading north in the direction of Achadas da Cruz. You’ll stop a little short of the latter, however, with the journey ending near the quaint village of Lombada Velha.
Another walk filled with nature and fantastic scenery, you can expect to see a host of beautifully green landscapes, as well as some great views of the Atlantic Ocean.
The trail goes in anything but a straight line, so be sure to plot your walk on a map beforehand, and carry a GPS device if possible. At five miles, it’ll likely take around three hours to complete.
Quinta Grande – Ribeira Brava
Area: Southern Madeira / Length 7.5 miles / More info
Back those famous levadas, and specifically, one of Madeira’s largest: the Levada do Norte.
A significant section of the Norte accompanies you on this walk from the small town of Quinta Grande to Ribeira Brava, close to the southern coast of the island – and just seven miles from Funchal.
You’ll take in some incredible views of the southern coast, while also seeing some of the region’s traditional parishes, including Câmara de Lobos and Campanário. Seeing as it’s located in the southern part of the island, where the climate is ever so slightly milder, this walk can be completed at almost any time of year. It should take around four hours.
Chão dos Louros - Chão dos Louros
Area: Central Madeira / Length 1.2 miles / More info
Looking for something easy? They don’t get much simpler than this 1.2-mile loop!
This walk, which can be started at various points, will take you around part of the Chão dos Louro forest park. It may be short, but you’ll get to enjoy some fantastic views of the São Vicente valley.
The trail takes you through some of the famous – and huge - Laurisilva forest too. Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, it’s home to all kinds of flora – perfect for nature lovers young and old.
The compact nature of this route makes it ideal for more mature walkers and those with young families. It can be done in 45 minutes but take your time to enjoy everything it has to offer!
Encumeada - Ribeira Grande
Area: Central Madeira / Length 2 miles / More info
Starting at Boca da Encumeada in the middle of the island, you’ll head north towards Ribeira Grande, following the traces of an old footpath that was once used by locals to move between the region’s tiny villages.
This one starts high, with the 1,000-metre altitude giving you a chance to see so much of Madeira from one spot. It’s all downhill from here, however – only in the literal sense – as you move towards your destination, with a total descent of around 700 metres.
Once at your destination, take time to enjoy the wicker plants, the materials from which are used by local craftspeople to make furniture and baskets. Set aside around two hours to complete this walk.
Prazeres – Jardim do Mar
Area: Western Madeira / Length 1.2 miles / More info
The western region of Madeira is full of picturesque villages, and this trail allows you to experience two fantastic examples: Prazeres and Jardim do Mar.
Despite being so short – at little over a mile – this walking route includes an ascent of around 500 metres, so it’s important to take your time. You’ll be rewarded for your hard work, however, with some stunning views of Jardim do Mar and nearby Paul do Mar at the end. Be sure to pack your camera.
On this walk, you’ll also get a feel for how Madeirans have lived in the past – there’s a working water mill towards the end, and the trail used to be the only way for Prazeres locals to access the coastline.
The perfect base
Believe it or not, we’ve only scratched the surface on Madeira’s walking opportunities – there’s so much to see and do. And, if official routes aren’t for you, you can always wander freely!
At just 35 miles from west to east, and even shorter from north to south, Madeira is an easy place to explore. Wherever you’re going on the island, Village Cabo Girao provides the perfect base – our luxury hilltop resort has everything you’ll need after a long day hiking. Browse our website or get in touch for more information.Book your stay today