Seven Madeira walks
From short and easy to more challenging.
Queimadas to Caldeirão Verd
4 hours round-trip
Passing through steep cliffs and mountains, this is probably the most spectacular walk on the island and – as a result – the most popular. The trail can be very narrow in places, and you’ll need a torch since it’ll take you through four dark tunnels. There's little change in elevation, so this walk is not too physically strenuous, but the narrow and slippery sections add drama, demanding a sure-footed walker with a focused mind. It’ll take you approximately two hours to get to the finishing line – a lovely waterfall (where you can take a swim!). Turn around and repeat the procedure to get back.
Note: Anti-slip footwear recommended. Start and finishing point: Queimadas Forest car park (which can get very busy at times) in the municipality of Santana.
Ribiero Frio to Balcoes viewpoint
About 45 minutes round-trip
The small mountain village of Ribeiro Frio is the starting point for several levada walks, including a short and easy one to Balcoes (balcony), a viewpoint situated 870 above sea level, opening up to valleys as far as the eye can see. The laurel forest trail leading to this spectacular spot is so flat it’s even suitable for baby buggies, and there are a couple of cafés along it. Balcoes is a good birdwatching spot – look out for endemic spieces such as the Fringilla Madeirensis finch and the Trocaz Pigeon, or the long-toed pigeon as it’s also known.
From Camacha to Monte
Max 4 hours
The cultural village of Camacha is the heart of Madeira's arts and crafts industry, and there’s plenty of goods to admire (and buy) at the starting point of Cafe Relogio on the central square. And given that this walk is relatively easy, you can weigh yourself down with a few purchases. The route mostly follows the disused Levada da Serra, before descending on a steep road to Levada dos Tornos in the Funchal suburb of Monte, high above the capital. There are kiosks and snack bars at either end and en route, which will come in handy since this walk is likely to take about 4 hours to complete. Return to Funchal by cable car or bus 20 or 21, or hail a taxi to take you back to Camacha.
Ribeiro Frio up to the plateau of Chão das Feiteiras
This three-hour walk will take you up to the open plateau of Chão das Feiteiras, starting and finishing (conveniently) at the trout restaurant at Ribeiro Frio – which stands at an 860m elevation in the midst of the laurel forest. In the first section, you'll be following the pretty Levado de Furado, which is relatively flat until your get to a steep ascent of steps (often slippery) taking you to the source of the levada. The walk tops out at 1170m at the plateau of Chão das Feiteiras where, weather permitting, views open out onto Madeira's highest peaks.
Note: Good news – this is one of the less crowded walks.
From Monte to the Jardim Botanico
Max 2 hours
This fairly short and easy walk will give you plenty of time to enjoy the attractions at either end. The world-renowned botanical garden in Funchal speaks for itself, but the initial sections of this route has its own merits. Starting at Largo do Fonte square and continuing along the Caminho das Babosas, you’ll get a glimpse of the “main station” of the wicker toboggan rides; the famed pilgrimage church of Nossa Senhora do Monte is nearby, as well as the entrance to the Monte Palace Tropical Garden (definitely worth a visit). Once you reach Largo dos Barbosas square, you'll start descending, enjoying brief ascent views over Funchal harbour. Continue descending until you reach the botanical garden, where you might well want to spend the rest of the day. Taxis are usually parked outside to take you back to Funchal.
From Cristo Rei to the Fátima Chapel
About 2 hours return
Beautiful and remote, with meadows of fern and yellow gorse, cows may be the only sign of civilisation you’ll come across for parts of this walk, with views down to the south coast (weather permitting). The route mostly follows the Levada do Paul, which is very narrow in places – but at least there's no gradient. You’ll reach the route destination – the Fátima Chapel – in slightly over an hour. The return route is back the way you came.
Vereda das Funduras
About 4 hours
Madeira’s native Laurisilva forest is a UNESCO-listed natural wonder, and you’ll experience its depth and magic on this easy walk. Trees you’ll come across include Til, Laurel, Indian bay, Barbusano and Lily of the Valley Tree. At the half-way point, you’ll get to enjoy views across the central massif. The trail is well signed, and there is a restaurant, Miradouro, at the starting (and finishing) point of Portela. Parking is at the side of the road adjacent to the restaurant.
Important general note
As idyllic as they are, these walks often involve wet and slippery terrain. Weather conditions can change quickly, and even in the summer months it can be cold at higher elevations, while fog can make route-finding tricky. The tips we’ve included are designed to point you in the right direction, but we strongly recommended that you get a proper walking guide as it’ll include more detail on the routing (including possible the link-up routes) and the gradients of each walk.
Text by Emma Holmqvist Deacon