Madeira is an autonomous region of Portugal that rests off the northwest coast of Africa, smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Although renowned for its sweet wines, vacationers, expats and cruise liners all flock to this subtropical archipelago to enjoy the mild climate and beautiful scenery.
The main island of Madeira is volcanic, which gives the soil a rich mineralogy that is expressed through its lush vegetation. It also provides many interesting geological sites for those who wish to explore. The undulating topography of the island is marked by high mountain ranges and rugged cliffs that plummet down to the deep waters below. This results in an incredibly varied climate throughout the island: In high spots, you might find snow, while the seaside towns below could be a balmy 68°F. The good news is that usually some part of the island is experiencing sunny weather, so if you rent a car, you can be assured of a sunny day out.
Madeira has long been a favorite holiday destination for older crowds who are looking for mild weather and uncrowded streets; however, in recent years, it’s also become a bucket list destination for adventure travelers around the world. Rock climbing, canyoneering, hang gliding, diving, biking and hiking have all skyrocketed in popularity, giving the secluded island a much-needed breath of youthful air. Below is a list of the top five hikes to get you started on your visit to Madeira.
Catch Your Breath The Vereda do Areeiro is a breathtaking 7-kilometer hike that connects the two highest peaks of the islands. It takes around three-and-a-half hours to complete (one way) and features tunnels and a few sharp ascents and descents all while providing panoramic views of the central core of the mountain range. You’ll also pass the only known breeding ground for the Zino’s petrel, a species native to the island and considered to be the most endangered seabird in Europe. Along the way, you’ll spot various caves dug out of volcanic tuff where cattle — and the occasional passion shepherd — take refuge.
Watch Out for the Sea-Wolf Offering some of the finest cliff scenery on Madeira, the Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço hike explores the long, thin peninsula at the eastern end of the island. The paths are well-maintained but quite hilly and craggy, so make sure that you have some good walking shoes with ample grip and ankle support. The narrow peninsula is volcanic in origin and is formed primarily from basalt and limestone. Of the 138 species of flora identified on the cape, 31 are endemic (exclusive) to Madeira. Here you’ll also find one of the biggest colonies of seagulls in the region, and if you’re particularly lucky, you may even spot the world’s rarest seal, known in Madeira as the “sea-wolf.” At the end of the trail, there is a rocky outcrop from which you can dive into the Sardinha Porto, named after the previous owners of the land.
Look but Don’t Touch The Levada das 25 Fontes (or 25 fountains) follows the Levada do Risco at 1000 meters above sea level. The walk will take you past an impressive waterfall, and if you follow the track PR6, then you can visit the 25 Spring Lagoon, which is created by the waters that come down from the Paul da Serra (Mountain Marsh) and appear from behind the wall that forms the lagoon. Legend has it that if you dive in these waters, you will never be able to resurface, which is exactly what happened when an English tourist tried to debunk the supposed myth and was never seen or heard from again. This area includes the Laurisilva of Madeira forest, which was classified as a natural heritage site by UNESCO World Heritage Centre in 1999.
Feast Your Eyes on the Forest The Levada do Furado is one of the oldest state-owned levadas in Madeira and was procured back in 1822 in a bid to help irrigate the farmlands of Porto da Cruz. Another great spot to view the luscious Laurisilva, which is predominantly laurel and bay trees, lily of the valley, yellow foxglove, orchids, and chrysanthemum. Most of the walk is dominated by the Ribeiro Frio valley and features fantastic views of the traditional farming fields of Faial, São Roque do Faial and Porto da Cruz.
Take it Easy One of the routes located to the west of the island is the short but sweet Vereda do Jardim do Mar. This walk connects the high-altitude village of Prazeres with the quaint and charming surfing town of Jardim do Mar. This trail is probably best characterized by the dramatic altitudinal shift of around 500 meters, which means that even through this walk is relatively short, it should be taken at a slow pace so you can adjust to the changes in atmosphere and take in the sweeping views of the coast.
So there you have it: the five top walks in Madeira to add to your BUCKiTDREAM dairy. Don’t forget to share on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Happy trails!