Madeira, Portugal || Hiking Around The Island

Maderia piqued my interest after videos of the famous PR1 hike made their way onto my TikTok For You Page. Having been to Peru to hike to Machu Picchu in April 2023, I have since been looking for more places where the natural beauty is truly spectacular and Madeira didn’t disappoint. Being based in the UK, this Portuguese island is obviously much more accessible than South America and so made the perfect destination for my boyfriend and me to celebrate our 8-year anniversary. We have a shared love for hiking so packed our bags and booked 10 days in beautiful Madeira.

Arriving in Madeira

After a pretty smooth landing (the island is known to have some very windy landings) we were picked up by a minivan and taken to the location of our car rental service. Although there is public transport available, we didn’t want to be reliant on this for the duration of our trip, particularly as we knew some of the days would be early starts to enable us to get on the hiking trails before they were too busy. Having a car also made the experience much more comfortable and I was able to pretend that I was a resident of this truly beautiful destination.

To further the feeling of being a local we opted for an Airbnb near Funchal in an area called Estrada Monumental. The apartment had a balcony overlooking the sea and an infinity with the same view. Overall, I really liked the location of the apartment as it was only a short walk from a good-sized supermarket and down the road from a mall where there were lots of food options available. I took advantage of the mall on the very first day by treating myself to some new clothes from Stradivarius.

On our first evening, we had a quick bite to eat and then walked down onto the beach to enjoy golden hour and sunset.  The sky was something truly impressive throughout our stay on the island, we were treated to vibrant hues of pink and orange as the sun rose and set each day.

Best Hikes in Madeira

Navigating the hiking trails in Madeira is easy, the majority of routes follow the naming system PR1, PR2, etc. You don’t need any kind of map to navigate the routes as they follow a path and any junctions are clearly signposted. The only thing you’ll need to navigate is the narrow roads to the car parks at the start of each hike if you’re travelling by car.

To avoid any parking issues we set off relatively early, between 6am and 8am, each hiking day to ensure we got a good spot in the most popular car park. Setting off at 6am is essential for PR1 which is by far the most popular amongst tourists.

PR1 Pico do Areeiro – Pico Ruivo

Starting with by far my favourite hike of the trip is PR1. This is the route with the social media famous ‘stairway to heaven’ path that leads you up the highest peak in Madeira. The path takes you along the mountain tops navigating tunnels, mountainside paths, and steep staircases. The route is challenging and took us about 6 hours to complete but it is so worth it! Don’t underestimate the length of this trail and make sure you take plenty of water. The route is an out-and-back with a café at the far end so there is an opportunity to buy food and drink if you want. Haydn and I both have water packs that we use for hiking and this was one of the trips where I am so glad we took them as I was able to stay hydrated in the heat.

In total this trail is over 10km and has an elevation gain of 1,114m, essentially all of this assent is at the end of the trail as you climb back up the first peak to make it back to the cars. After 5-ish hours of walking, ending on what feels like never-ending staircases is hard work but it did feel really rewarding to stop at the café and have an ice cream and coffee before leaving.

Haydn and I got to this trail for sunrise and were able to capture the beauty of the sun rising over the mountain at the first peak. Getting there so early also meant we were able to complete the majority of the walk before midday when the temperatures were at their highest.

PR6/6.1 Levada das 25 Fontes – Rabaçal – Levada do Risco

This is another relatively long walk which takes about 4 hours to complete. Along the way you see lots of greenery and mountains. It’s not as thrilling as some of the other walks but the Levada paths make it quite unique. These paths are narrow routes that run along the side of a mountain with waterways next to them. In some places, the path is almost too narrow for people to pass which adds to the challenge of navigating these trails. There are one-way systems in place but quite often we had to shuffle past other walkers or stand squished up against the mountainside.

Since I’m obsessed with mountain views this was an absolute treat, clouds were rolling in and out that day creating views that feel like they belong in fantasy films. It’s probably no surprise that the total number of photos and videos taken on this trip was over 1000.

PR6 is 9.5km long but due to less elevation gain than PR1 it can be completed faster and is slightly less popular. However, the car parks still get full so set off around 7-8 am if travelling in the shoulder months to avoid disappointment.

PR8 – Footpath of Ponta de São Lourenço

If you love coastal walks prepare to fall in love with PR8. This path takes you to the far east of Madeira where you’ll get to see a stunning coastline with rock formations and sea views that are genuinely some of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. This trail was the first one we did during our time in Madeira as we felt that it would be a good one to warm up with, the route isn’t as steep as others with only 414m elevation gain, the majority of which is at the halfway point of this out-and-back route. The climb at the end of the route before turning back is quite a scramble but it was worth it.

The route is 7.8km long and takes about 3 hours to complete. We spent longer on this route as we stopped to have a sandwich and brownie at the café which is nestled along the path. Parking here was busier than we anticipated despite arriving at about 9am, we were lucky and managed to find a sneaky spot but if you want to be a little less stressed I’d recommend getting there even earlier.

PR9 – Levada do Caldeirão Verde

For our last hike of the trip, we chose a pretty easy one.  The route was 17km and had less than 200m of altitude change which meant that there was very little incline to navigate. I liked the waterfall along this walk however, as you’re again following Levada’s it feels very similar to PR6. As the route, like all the routes we did, was an out-and-back it’s really easy to follow and take in the views.

The best parts of this hike, are the little house with a thatched roof at the start of the hike and the waterfall that’s at the end of the trail before you turn around and walk back. I think in total the walk takes about 4 hours, although I can’t fully remember! This is one of the only routes that doesn’t have a café along the way, instead, there is a place to have a coffee and get snacks at the start/end of the route.

One thing to note is that the car park isn’t free and you need cash to pay for it. Fortunately, we had change available but typically we go cashless so I’m glad we were able to leave.

More sightseeing in Madeira

Hiking aside there are so many beautiful sights to see in Madeira. As we were on the island for about 10 days we had plenty of time to fit in all the hikes and sightseeing we wanted. However, we’ll definitely be visiting again in the future as we loved the lifestyle and couldn’t get over the beauty of the mountains and beaches.

In between hikes, we saw some beautiful locations and these are the ones I’d recommend visiting if you’re on the island.

Porto Moniz

My mum has been to the island and loved this place so I was keen to see it too and see why she enjoyed it so much! This is a little coastal town that has a beautiful natural complex of lava pools that are perfect for swimming. The water is so blue and the coastal landscape is beautiful.

We found a little car park nearby and were able to walk along the coast to take in the sights before enjoying a coffee. Since it wasn’t the warmest of days we decided not to go for a swim but if you’re visiting on a day when the sun is out I think it would be the most amazing spot to spend the day.  

Funchal Cable Cars

If you’re looking for something to do in the capital of Funchal the cable cars are worth a visit. We got a return ticket and enjoyed the views in both directions. Once at the top there is a gorgeous botanical garden, however, we felt it was a little more expensive than we were willing to spend so instead opted to have lunch at one of the cafes at the edge of the mountain that overlooked the view.

If you get a one-way ticket you’d also be able to get back down using the traditional toboggans, this honestly looks so much fun! We watched lots of people set off for the ride and were a little bit jealous that we had a return ticket already for the cable cars. But, it was a hot day and the queue looked long so it wasn’t too bad.

Praia De Seixal

If you’re looking for beautiful beaches I’d recommend Praia De Seixal. The black sand beach has a great view and there was free road parking not too far from the sand. Haydn parked the car and we walked down to the sand where we set up a blanket and lazed around. I read my book and people watched which was so relaxing.

I found the spot by randomly scrolling around on Google Maps and this is actually something we were doing a lot whilst looking for new/interesting places to go and see. Since the island is so picturesque it’s hard to go wrong, just make sure you come up with a plan of where to park because that can be a bit stressful!

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