The island of Madeira rests off the northwestern coast of Africa and is a particularly delightful autonomous region of Portugal. It is known for its delicious wine and incredibly scenic landscapes, created by a volcanic system. Not only is the island beautiful, it boasts a year-round summer climate. Madeira is the perfect place to escape your winter blues, soak up some sun and go on various incredible hikes. I toughed it out and survived the following hikes and walked away with some amazing pictures.

Photo by Jessica Zen.

Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo: PR 1

When the websites say that this hike is particularly difficult, they mean it. It’s 10.4 miles of stairs, up and down, over and over again. Nothing is particularly technical, but if you aren’t in good shape, the steps will suck the life force right out of you! At the end of this hike, my watch said that I did 23 flights of stairs! It took me seven hours total to go from the top of Pico do Arieiro (second tallest peak) to the top of Pico Ruivo (tallest peak) and then back to the top of Pico do Arieiro. That being said, I am a moderate hiker and apparently not in very good shape. I moved like a turtle, stopping to take pictures constantly (beautiful scenery, plus I needed a break).

Despite my physical disadvantage and being totally exhausted from hauling myself up the steps, the views on this hike were phenomenal. You can start at the observation deck on Pico do Arieiro and look out over the vast mountains and valleys. On the hike, you’ll wander through long, pitch-black tunnels. You may want to consider bringing a flashlight or headlamp if that kind of thing makes you nervous. I did find that in total darkness I tend not to walk in a straight line, which is a little trippy!

It’s easy to reach the observation deck at Pico do Arieiro by car and there is a large parking lot on-site, though it fills up quickly in the summer. There is also a cafe on site and a public restroom (pay 50 cents). The trail is very well marked along the entire thing, so no need to worry about getting lost. Though the weather on the island is warm in the winter, it is quite brisk at the top of the mountains and the wind is strong. Consider packing layers to stay comfortable.

Photo by Jessica Zen.

Levada das 25 fontes: PR 6

The 25 fountains levada hike is significantly easier than the first one. This hike takes you into the mountains to a location that is full of, you guessed it, waterfalls! There is one large one and several smaller ones. The hike is of moderate difficulty and takes about four hours and covers a distance of just under seven miles. The path is oftentimes narrow, and you might have to stop and let others pass before you carry on. But not to worry! The area is beautiful and totally worth waiting and sharing the landscape.

There is a very large parking lot at the beginning of this hike, so no need to worry about finding space. You’ll wander down a paved incline for a while, but then will get to walk along the levadas (irrigation channels) to the lagoon where all of the waterfalls await your arrival. After you’ve viewed the waterfalls, head toward an even bigger waterfall, Risco. Here you can capture amazing pictures of the cascading waterfall that starts hundreds of feet above your head!

This hike was very easy in my opinion, especially after tackling the first one. Leisurely stroll and take in the scenery, without climbing a million stairs. Though the weather is much milder on this hike, you may still want to pack layers, as the sun doesn’t penetrate through some of the denser areas of the forest.

There are many options for hikes on the island, but these are the two that I opted to take during my stay in Madeira. The picture opportunities are endless and you’ll take home memories of the astounding beauty that will last a lifetime. Find a hiking partner and start researching hiking routes today for your next trip to Madeira!

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