You’ve heard that Madeira is a great hiking destination and you’ve seen pictures of the crazy terrain? Yup it’s all mountains! Now you wonder if you’re fit enough to do any of those hikes in Madeira?

Fear not. Madeira has hundreds of hiking trails, and many of them are perfectly feasible, even if you haven’t seen the inside of a gym in years!

Below I describe five hikes anyone who’s healthy (and without knee issues) can do in Madeira. I did the first four and started the fifth (but had to stop because it was getting dark).

Things to know about hiking in Madeira

You will see many hikes in Madeira with the designation PR followed by a number (e.g. PR 11). PR means “pequena rutas” or small routes, which are the footpaths officially recommended by the Regional Government of Madeira. Both ends of those trails show a detailed map of the hike, with description, elevations, facilities, etc.

Detailed map at the start of PR trails (hikes in Madeira)

Detailed map at the start of PR trails

Although these paths are well maintained, it’s preferable to wear proper hiking shoes or boots to avoid slipping or twisting an ankle. There are protruding rocks, tree roots, and a lot of uneven surfaces. And it can get slippery and muddy when it rains. You may want to look into insoles for hiking to make the walks even more comfortable. Although I saw people with walking sticks, I didn’t feel the need for them on these five walks, but they may be useful if you have poor balance.

Something special in Madeira are the levadas. Levadas are human-made irrigation channels built to bring water from the mountains down into the agricultural fields (mostly terraces) around the island. Many trails follow them, and these sections are mostly flat. Although levadas are not unique to Madeira, their extent and accessibility is. Two of my recommended walks are levada walks. Although levada walks often go through tunnels (requiring a flashlight), these two do not.

Unless you are very sensitive to vertigo, you should be OK on these hikes. When the trail is exposed on one side, there is always a rope to protect you. We’re not talking about sheer vertical cliffs here either. It’s mostly steep slopes covered in bushes and vegetation angling down.

I’ve read about crowding on some trails being an issue, but didn’t experience this at the end of November. This could be another good reason to visit Madeira in winter.

If you’re a solo traveller who would rather not hike alone. Several companies organize guided hikes for an affordable price. Here are a few:

Without any more ado, here are five hikes in Madeira you can enjoy even if you don’t consider yourself fit.

Madeira levada walks

1. Vereda dos Balcões (PR 11)

This is a very easy walk in Ribeiro Frio. The trail is flat and very short, about 1.5 kilometres (0.93 miles) one way. The walk is through the forest and follows Levada da Serra do Faial. It ends at the Balcões belvedere, with superb views over the green valley of Ribeira da Metade and the parish of Faial. On clear days, you can see the central mountain chain including the island’s highest peaks: Pico Ruivo, Pico do Arieiro, Pico do Gato, and Pico das Torres. You then walk back to your starting point.

Either before or after your walk, you can stop for a fresh trout lunch at one of the two restaurants that bracket the main road, E.R. 103. (They face each other.) The trail starts about 50 metres from there. (Note: there is no dedicated parking lot; you need to park along the road itself, unless you came by bus – see below.)

Vereda dos Balcões trail (hikes in Madeira)

Vereda dos Balcões trail

View from the Balcões belvedere

View from the Balcões belvedere

Start and end point: Ribeiro Frio (E.R.103)
Highest point: 860 m
Lowest point: 830 m
How to get there: Horários do Funchal bus 56, 103 or 138
Duration/Distance: 3 kms (1.86 miles) return

2. Vereda das 25 fontes & Levada do Riso (PR 6 and PR 6.1)

This hike consists of two separate levada walks. Starting from a parking lot off the E.R. 110, a paved path goes down about 220 metres over a distance of 1.8 kilometres to Rabaçal. This part is not a hiking trail per se, but it’s surrounded by trees and still pleasant. Cars are not allowed on this path, but a shuttle bus makes the run regularly (until about an hour before sunset). I recommend it on the way back (and uphill!) if you’re tired. It costs 3 euros (2 euros on the way down).

In Rabaçal, you can have lunch at a pleasant café with outdoor seating before starting the levada walks.

From that point, the downhill trail soon splits into two parallel levada paths on different levels. The PR 6.1 goes along Levada do Risco at 1000 metres above sea level, and is flat, ending at an impressive tall and narrow waterfall. I recommend you do this branch first.

PR 6 is longer and follows Levada das 25 Fontes, taking you to a lagoon at 900 metres, which is created by water coming down from Paúl da Serra, where you can see more than 25 springs. The path goes downhill at the start, then levels off as you start following the levada through the forest.

While flat, the trail is very narrow at times, barely half a metre (1.6 feet), and you may need to walk along a stone ledge or step over roots. There is a rope to hold onto for balance on the unprotected side, and I didn’t experience any vertigo. This very narrow part of the trail requires concentration.

Fortunately, the route back follows a different and much shorter trail. You’ll have to climb around 300 stairs to get back to Rabaçal. This is the hardest part; just take your time.

Narrow Levada das 25 Fontes path PR6 (hikes in Madeira)

Narrow Levada das 25 Fontes (PR6)

Lagoon with 25 springs at the end of PR 6

Lagoon with 25 springs at the end of PR 6. This is your reward.

Start and end point: Rabaçal, Paúl da Serra plateau (E.R. 110, between E.R. 209 and 211)
Highest point: 1290 m (parking lot)
Lowest point: 900 m (25 springs)
How to get there: by car only
Duration/Distance: 4.6 kms (2.85 miles) each way

Other hikes in Madeira … mostly downhill

3. Eira do Serrado to Curral das Freiras

This all-downhill walk starts at Eira do Serrado, the location of a hotel, parking lot, and cafe/gift shop. Make sure to walk up to the viewpoint (easy 3-minute walk) before starting the hike. You’ll feel a marked difference in temperature between sea level and here at 1095 metres (3600 feet). Bring a sweater in winter.

The gift shop is quite large and interesting too and seems to have every possible Madeira souvenir and gift imaginable (from liquor to books!)

The path starts near the hotel (clearly marked) and is not too demanding, consisting of small stones embedded into neat rounded “steps”. It zigzags down the side of the mountain amid chestnut trees. About halfway, you’ll come to a small platform with a picnic table, looking down onto the village of Curral das Freiras, where you’re headed. The second half of the trail is not as well maintained, with some muddy patches and loose rocks.

After some stairs, the trail finally ends on a road. Turn right and follow the road to the village of Curral das Freiras (5-minute walk) where you can have some lunch. There are several restaurants here, and many offer chestnut dishes. I tried Vale das Freiras (look for the red umbrellas on a second floor terrace) and was not disappointed. They even let me visit the small adjacent chestnut museum for free after my meal! Sabores do Curral is another recommended restaurant.

Check the schedules posted at bus stops along the main street as bus #81 (3.35 euros) doesn’t come very frequently. A taxi back to Funchal should cost around 25 euros, which may be worth it if there are several of you.

Trail from Eira do Serrado to Curral das Freiras (hikes in Madeira)

This is what the trail from Eira do Serrado to Curral das Freiras looks like

Halfway down the trail to Curral das Freiras (hikes in Madeira)

Taking a break halfway down the trail to Curral das Freiras

Start point: Eira do Serrado – next to hotel
End point: Curral das Freiras
Highest point: 1095 metres
Lowest point: 633 metres
How to get there: Rodoeste bus 81 goes to Eira do Serrado in the morning only, before going down to Curral das Freiras (about once an hour). In the afternoon, buses take the tunnel directly to Curral das Freiras.
Duration/Distance: one hour leisurely downhill walk (more if you take lots of photos)

4. Caminho Real do Paul do Mar (PR 19)

This is another downhill hike, but longer and steeper than the one above. It’s a little hard on the knees, so I recommend giving yourself at least one-day break between the two.

The starting point of this hike, in the village of Prazeres, is a little hard to find. Look for Hotel Jardim Atlantico, where Caminho Lombo da Rocha dead ends. You’ll see the sign for PR 19.

The trail zigzagging down the steep slope with shallow steps is a genuine part of the island’s heritage, bearing witness to the hard work that communities faced in the past to overcome their isolation.

Ropes offer protection from the exposed side of the trail, and I didn’t experience any vertigo. There is also a risk of rock fall here, so I’d recommend moving at a good pace and not stopping too often. The views (of the blue sea rippling in the sun between mountain slopes) don’t change much until you get near the bottom.

As your near the end, turn around to see a waterfall tumbling down the rock wall in the distance. Some stairs take you to the fishing village of Paúl do Mar where you’ll find public washrooms, a few cafés, and the strongest waves on Madeira. Explore the narrow streets and the church if you have the time and inclination.

View on Caminho Real do Paul do Mar (PR 19)

View on Caminho Real do Paul do Mar (PR 19). You’re walking all the way to the sea!

View toward Paul do Mar at the start of PR19

Near the top of the trail toward Paul do Mar (PR19). Prepare your knees!

Start point: Prazeres
End point: Paúl do Mar
Highest point: 537 metres
Lowest point: 35 metres
How to get there: Rodoeste bus #142 to Prazeres (a couple a day) but need taxi from Paul do Mar.
Duration/Distance: 1.8 km (1.1 mile) takes about 1 h 20 mins

5. Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço (PR 8)

This walk is unlike any of the other hikes in Madeira. Sao Lourenço is a volcanic peninsula jutting out of the island’s east coast. It is a semi-arid zone due to strong northern winds, sporting low-lying vegetation and no trees. In late November, there wasn’t much vegetation at all, and everything was in shades of brown and grey.

I only did the beginning of this hike (due to the late hour) but the landscapes looked more interesting than anticipated. Given the ocean views on both sides, indentations and bays, rocky outcrops, and islands in the distance, the views kept changing.

This walk doesn’t have much elevation variation, but the challenges come from the exposure (to both sun and wind), and the numerous stairs going up and down. Don’t get too close to the cliff face as the ground is unstable in many places.

As you approach the end of the walk, Casa do Sardinha, a visitor centre/café surrounded by palm trees, offers a food break before tackling the last climb to Ponta do Furado where you get a 360-degree view, looking back on Madeira in the distance. Casa do Sardinha is only open for short hours though, from 10 AM to 3 PM (possibly a bit later in summer).

Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço trail (hikes in Madeira)

Ponta de São Lourenço trail in the late afternoon

View from Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço trail

View from Ponta de São Lourenço trail

Start and end point: ER 109 Braía d’Abra, Caniçal
Highest point: 77 m
Lowest point: 5 m
How to get there: SAM bus 113 – Caniçal
Duration/Distance: 4.0 kms (2.5 miles) each way

What about the Pico Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hike?

You may have heard of this hike, described as “the best hike on Madeira”. It’s also the most challenging, and the weather up there, over 1800 metres (5900 feet), is very variable. However, the views are unique (you’re often above the clouds) and many tourists visit the Pico Arieiro viewpoint without doing the hike itself.

You can also start the hike and go as far as you want, then turn back. I only walked to the first viewpoint, about 20 minutes away, and got plenty of stupendous views!

View from start of trail at Pico Arieiro

View from start of trail at Pico Arieiro

Toward the start of the Pico Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hike (hikes in Madeira)

Not far from the start of the Pico Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hike

So there you go. There are plenty of other easy to moderate walks you can do on Madeira, but these are the ones I tried myself. I had access to a car for most of those (except #3, which I did by bus), which helped a lot, as buses don’t come as frequently as one would hope, and schedules are mostly intended to serve the locals, not the tourists who go hiking in Madeira.

There are three different bus companies that serve the island, and a good place to start looking for information about them is the Visit Madeira website.

Otherwise, if you don’t want to rent a car and don’t have anyone to share a taxi with, consider joining a guided hike from the companies I listed at the top of this article.

Happy hiking!

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