Madeira is a lush green island somewhere in the middle between mainland Portugal, Africa, and the Canary Islands. It is an ideal getaway for Europeans in all four seasons due to its mild Atlantic climate. Nature lovers and hiking enthusiasts love this rugged island. Although many elderly package tourists from countries like Germany or Britain come here, it is easy to explore the island on your own as an independent traveller using public transport. Madeira is perfect for a one-week-holiday and we are going to explore some of the best hikes for first-time-visitors to see the best of the island.
The capital is the city of Funchal. Transport connections and shopping as well as dining options are best here, so it pays off to book your accommodation in the city and make day trips from here. Location is important in Funchal. The city is steep. The further down the better. There are different bus companies. One has its terminal close to thefunicular station, others stop at the main boulevard at the waterfront. Lots of restaurants line the pedestrian zones in old Funchal. Other than usual in smaller towns in Portugal it is no problem locating restaurants specialising in vegetarian and vegan cuisine in Funchal.
Major European airports offer direct connections to Madeira’s airport all year round. If there is no direct connection, you might connect through Lisbon. There is an inexpensive public bus leaving every hour or so to Funchal, taking approximately 30 to 60 minutes depending where you want to go in Funchal.
1 Funicular and Levada dos Tornos
This is an easy trip for beginners to start your hiking adventure in Funchal. In order to spare you from climbing all the way up, just take the cable car from downtown Funchal up to Monte. You are offered intriguing views over Funchal. Visit the Igreja do Monte church and go back from here the hiking trail just walking west. There is one steep stretch. After this part the hiking trail runs almost even.
Large parts of the trail you walk next to the Levada dos Tornos. Levadas are typical to Madeira and were originally used as irrigation channels. Nowadays walking along Levadas is part of the essential hiking experience in Madeira. On the way you pass the burned-down ruins of the Choupana Hills Hotel and you might have a tea, coffee, or a snack afterwards in the Hortensia Gardens Tea House. The next stop would be the Palheiro Gardens. A little further down you get to the main road and from here take any bus going back to Funchal.
2 Nun’s Valley – Curral das Freiras
This trip again is an easy one although it is recommended to do it as a half-day trip. The mountains are majestic and the views are spectacular. We would suggest you to take bus #81 from Funchal to the Hotel of Eira do Serrada. It sits on the top of the valley and offers comprehensive views over the valley. From here you only hike down to the village in the valley. If you want more challenge, you might of course walk up and down here. Down in the village there are a few options for having lunch or a coffee break. From here you can take the same bus back to Funchal.
3 Ribeiro Frio to Portela
To experience the rugged center of the island we suggest to walk this comprehensive day trip. Take bus #56 or #103 to Santana and get off in Ribeiro Frio. The first part of this trip is very popular with tourists. From the bus stop at the entrance of the village you take a short walk to the spectacular viewing point of Balcões – the balcony over the valley.
After enjoying this view you take the same way back to the village, cross the road and start the long walk alongside a Levada through the lush green forests. The walk may be long, but it is not that difficult since there are hardly any steep stretches. The trail ends in Portela, a tiny village with a restaurant. From here take any bus (#20, 53, 78) back to Funchal. Plan ahead carefully. We would advise to walk this trail on a regular weekday. If you go on weekends or on public holidays, there are very limited bus services to take you back to Funchal and you might be stuck for hours. Sometimes taxis are waiting here, sometimes there aren’t any.
4 Pico Ruivo
The Pico Ruivo is the highest mountain in Madeira and the third highest in all of Portugal. You might climb all the way up and down, but we suggest an easier way. As in trip #3, take a bus from Funchal towards Santana, but stay in the bus until you reach the end of the bus journey. Either take an express bus with lesser stops, or take a longer one and enjoy the drive through spectacular green and steep mountainous landscapes. Santana is situated at the northern coast and is famous for its distinct style of traditional houses. There is also a nice choice of restaurants and cafes.
Unfortunately there is no public transport up to the mountain, but you can take a taxi from here to the parking lot of the Pico Ruivo called Achada do Teixera. Tell your driver to come back in two hours to pick you up to get back to town. You probably need one hour or less to get up to the mountain, and much less to get down. There is a well-marked trail in a good condition to take you up. This hike is probably the most challenging one of the hikes suggested here and you will probably be sweating a bit, but it is certainly not really difficult. If the weather is fine, the views are amazing. And if you have enough of everything, you get back the same way you came up – same with the bus.
5 Peninsula of Ponta de São Lourenço
This part of Madeira is totally different from the others. The narrow peninsula offers a barren landscape bordered by the sea on both sides with a lot of exposure to wind and sun, but with a smaller probability of rain than in the interior of the island. Its beauty attracts a lot of visitors. From Funchal take bus #113 to Baia D’Abra.
This is the direct starting point of the trail. It takes you up and down. You might skip the last stretch on the Ponta do Furado which is a bit steeper, yet offers fantastic views. To get back, you take the same way you came.
On other than your hiking days you might want to relax or stay in Funchal for shopping or sightseeing. Your week will be over quicker than you might think. For the frequent or experienced Madeira visitor there are enough hikes that are more challenging or show you more of the interior of the island.