Why are Madeira walking routes and “Levadas” world-famous?
One of the best ways to explore Madeira’s fantastic nature is on foot. On Madeira, you can walk along beautiful “Levadas” or conquer mountain paths or go hiking. All in all, there are different types of walking paths for every sort of walker, whether you like to take a heavy hike, are someone that doesn’t have the best physical condition or whether you are someone who likes to just explore new and beautiful sights, Madeira has it all.
What is a Levada?
We were talking about the so called “Levadas”, but before we can show you some of the most beautiful Levada walks, you must first understand what a Levada is.
Levadas are narrow irrigation channels which can be found all over the island in a cleverly designed network. They are a sort of maintenance paths built as far back as the 16th century by locals, and they were and are still used to irrigate pieces of land. Nowadays, they are still used for this reason, but they are also used to show tourists the most beautiful landscapes and views of the island.
They lead through fertile farmlands with sugar cane, banana trees and vineyards, but also through the mountains to disperse the rainwater that falls in the peaks of the center of the island to all parts of the island. The paths go past cascading waterfalls and gorges but also steep cliffs.
The subtropical vegetation of the Laurissilva forest in the mostly untouched valleys of the north is also filled with sprawling Levadas. Here, these paths lead you through the middle of the densely packed forest and then, occasionally, offer you a brief sight into a valley and towards the sea. The unique Levada walks on Madeira are a must for nature and cultural lovers, because they have such a rich history behind them. These paths are truly one of the island’s richest heritages.
Levada walks are mostly flat with maybe some very gentle in- / declines here and there. This makes them perfectly suited for everyone, even the novice walkers.
Other stunning walking paths of Madeira
While the Levadas are the most famous type of walking paths and everyone who visits Madeira should try at least one Levada walk during their stay, the island is also an excellent location for various types of Madeira walking routes. The almost 1900m high central massif has walks suited for everyone. The “Three Summit” walk from Pico do Arieiro via Torres up to Pico Ruivo gives off a distinct alpine feeling. This path is spectacularly cut out from the volcanic rock and it is considered a particularly outstanding walk. Together with remote shepherds’ paths and adventurous coastal paths there are also the so-called “Veredas”, these are old linking paths, which, up to a few decades ago, were the only approach to isolated villages.
As previously stated, Madeira offers walking routes for all types of walkers and a wide variety of different types of paths can be found from Ponta de São Lourenço all the way to Ponta do Pargo. Most walks go along distinct paths and tracks and are perfectly suited for everyone. However, some of the walks require a high level of physical fitness. You should also be aware that some paths may become poorly or completely inaccessible due to weather conditions. Therefore, make sure you check the weather in advance of planning a walk on Madeira. It is also advised to see if the walk you are planning to take goes along any steep drops in case you suffer from Vertigo.
The most popular walks on Madeira
Rabaçal – 25 Fountains | Walk
The 25 fountains walk, starting in Rabaçal, follows a Levada that leads to, as the name states, a lake with 25 fountains (waterfalls) coming out of a cliff on the side of the lake. This walk is surely one of the most popular trails on Madeira and is definitely worth a visit.
Queimadas – Caldeirão Verde | Walk
The Caldeirão Verde (Green Cauldron) walk is located a bit up the mountain between Santana and Faial. On the north side of the island. It follows a Levada that starts in the Queimadas forest. After a 2-hour walk along a cliff on the side of a valley, you will reach the “Caldeirão Verde”. This is a very tall half-spherical cut out of rock with a lake at the bottom. This lake is fed by the waterfall that comes down this half-spherical rock cutout.
Ponta de São Lourenço | Walk
The Ponta de São Lourenço walk is a 3.5 hour walk starting at a parking lot just past Quinta do Lorde. This is at the eastern point of the island, past Machico. This walk leads to the tip of Madeira’s distinctive tail on the eastside.
Pico Arieiro – Pico Ruivo – Achada do Teixeira | Walk
This Walk is only for very experienced hikers and requires a very high level of physical stamina. You can start either at Pico do Arieiro or Achada do Teixeira. Pico Ruivo is the highest point of the island, therefore it’s not accessible by car. You can choose whether you want to do one of 3 parts, or combine them. Between Achada da Teixeira and Pico Ruivo, between Pico do Arieiro and Pico Ruivo, or both.
The walk between Achada da Teixeira and Pico Ruivo is relatively short but with a steep incline. The part between Pico Ruivo and Pico do Arieiro is a 4-hour very difficult walk following very difficult paths. Along with very steep inclines on tough surfaces, this a perfect walk only for the very experienced hikers. This walk requires excellent physical condition.
In conclusion, Madeira is world-famous for its walking routes. This is, because it allows tourists to discover the best sights and nature of the island in an active way. Those who have participated in a walking tour on Madeira say that it is the best way to “really” experience the beauty of the island. Not only because of the flora and fauna you can find along the paths. Also because you get to learn about the history and culture of the Island. The way the population irrigate(d) their land, what kinds of fruits and vegetation can be found along the way etc. These walking paths were one of the most important parts of the Madeiran history. So, you will surely learn something you didn’t know about the island yet while participating in a walking tour.