6 unforgettable walks in Madeira

Known as the ‘Nature Island’, Madeira’s staggeringly diverse scenery is best witnessed on two feet. Here are some of our favourite walks…

Team Wanderlust
13 July 2023
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Have An Adventure With Exodus Travels

Sub-tropical Madeira is a walker’s paradise, offering surprises at every turn. The island’s ancient levadas snake around volcanic mountain sides, fairytale villages sit surrounded by misty laurel forests, and every dizzying ascent offers a new vantage point over the island. Spring-like throughout the year, Madeira’s beaches, natural pools and seashores are washed by warm, clear waters, and its flower-filled gardens offer dramatic contrast to rocky mountain trails. Here are six walks to see it all…

1. Ponta de São Lourenço

View from Ponta do Rosto on the Ponta de São Lourenço trail (Shutterstock)

A wind-beaten peninsula jutting into the ocean at Madeira’s easternmost extreme, Ponta de São Lourenço is a natural reserve known for the flora and fauna that thrives in its rocky, red-hued terrain. It might feel like walking on Mars, but this arid headland attracts abundant bird life as well as hardy plants like wallflowers and stalwarts. Nature has carved curious rock formations on a peninsula known locally as ‘Dragon’s Tail’, and the shades of red and black contrast dramatically with the blue ocean below. The terrain can be challenging, but Exodus’ guided walking tours such as Walking the Island of Madeira ensure visitors feel at ease to take in the unspoilt beauty of the area. More confident walkers may prefer to take things at their own pace, hiking the Ponta de São Lourenço as part of the self-guided Marvels of Madeira itinerary.

2. Levada do Caldeirão Verde

The Levada do Caldeirão Verde passes under cooling cascades (Shutterstock)

Unique levada water channels snake their way around the Madeiran mountainsides, offering astonishing views at every twist and turn. No two levadas are the same, and the Levada do Caldeirão Verde is one of the most beautiful routes on the island. It’s a stiff uphill climb to the start of the trail at Parque das Queimadas, but Exodus’ walking tours preserve walkers’ energy by providing a comfortable transfer to this fairytale-esque park known for its picture-book thatched roofed cottages. Shaded by laurel forest, the Caldeirão Verde levada winds through tunnels and trickling waterfalls to leafy Lapa Valley, and onwards to the famous cascading falls at Caldeirão Verde. En route, you’ll take in unforgettable views over Madeira’s central peaks and villages perched precariously on the hillsides.

3. The hills of Machico

The Francisco Alvares Nobrega viewpoint in Machico (Filiepe Mendonca)

To walk the hills of Machico is to take a walk through Madeira’s history. Now a seaside town famed for its sandy beach and warm, turquoise waters, Machico was the landing point for Portuguese discoverers Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira when they arrived at the island in July 1419. As part of Exodus Travels’ Villages and Waterways itinerary, visitors can take a self-guided hike towards Pico Castanho, through the misty hills and mountains overlooking this historical spot on the eastern side of the island. Relax and take your time to enjoy this sometimes-challenging route towards the traditional village of Canical, where walkers are richly rewarded with views over the Martian-esque peninsula of Ponta de São Lourenço.

4. Levada do Furado

A tunnel along the Levada do Furado (Shutterstock)

Walking the Levada do Furado as part of Exodus Travels’ Marvels of Madeira itinerary, you’ll follow a woodland trail filled with tumbling waterfalls and heady scents of pine, laurel forest, and heather. Keep an eye out for the tiny Madeira firecrest it’s the smallest bird in Europe and a regular visitor to these trails. Breaks in the woodland reveal glimpses of the Ribeiro Frio valley and whitewashed villages on the hillsides. The trail continues to the small, high-altitude parish of Santo da Serra, half of which sits in the municipality of Santa Cruz, and the other half in the Machico municipality. The scent of wood smoke drifts across the municipal border, inviting hungry walkers to try the local speciality meat speared onto laurel twigs and cooked on outdoor grills.

5. Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo

Get a natural high on the Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo route (Shutterstock)

Guided walks such as Exodus Travels’ Walking the Island of Madeira are a safe way to explore terrain that can be tricky and technical at times, and Exodus provide early morning transport to the start of the trail, so walkers can enjoy the unforgettable sight of seeing the sunrise from Pico Arieiro. At 1,818m it’s Madeira’s third-highest mountain.

A series of stiff ascents, rocky descents, dark tunnels and endurance-challenging steps leads to the highest point on the island – the mist-shrouded Pico Ruivo (1,862m). Your legs may be on fire by the time you reach the top, but prepare for an endorphin-boosting sense of achievement as the entire island spans out beneath your feet and you begin the more gentle descent to Achado do Teixeira.

6. Levada do Alecrim

You’ll walk through atmospheric heather tunnels along the Levada do Alecrim (Shutterstock)

Prepare to see Madeira at its most lush on the 3.5km-long Levada do Alecrim, as you walk through the island’s emerald-coated, UNESCO-protected laurisilva forest. Beginning in Rabaçal, you’ll be joined by a watery levada for much of the way as you hike through heather tunnels and admire cinematic views over the Rabaçal valley and the jagged sea stacks of Ribeira da Janela. But the Levada do Alecrim is a good walk to save for a particularly hot day, due to the trio of refreshing waterfalls you’ll discover along the way. The walk isn’t strenuous, but you’ll be unable to resist diving into the limpid-blue waters of Dona Beja lake, fed by the Lagoa do Vento waterfall. As Exodus Travels’ Walking the Waterways and Villages of Madeira trip suggests, make sure you stop in Rabaçal for a well-deserved snack and drink when you return back along the trail.

Make it happen

Madeira is a walkers’ paradise of volcanic peaks, lofty levadas and black sand beaches, and the expert guides at Exodus Travels know every hidden trail and viewpoint that the island has to offer.

Multi-day itineraries with Exodus Travels offer a chance to really get to know an island that unveils something unexpected at every turn. Whether you choose a guided or self-guided walking holiday, Exodus Travels’ in-the-know team ensure your transport and accommodation are taken care of, leaving you free to enjoy your walking adventures in this Portuguese island paradise.

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