Walking in Madeira: The Historic Levadas

Posted on: 25 April 2013 by Agatha Cheng

The famous levada canals offer some of the best walking opportunities for ramblers and hikers in Madeira.


Developed in the sixteenth century, this historic irrigation system was used to transfer water from the mountains to the lower valleys. The term Levada originates from the Portuguese word “to carry”, as the canals carry much-needed water supplies across the island.  Intimate footpaths run parallel to the levadas, intertwining between the cliffs and making excellent walking routes.

Enjoy the diverse countryside in Madeira with a pleasant mid-morning stroll or a full day expedition.  There are around 1400km of levadas to explore on the island, so you will be spoilt for choice, whatever your ability.  

Paradise Valley

Average Walk time:  3 Hours
Distance: 5 KM
This is an easy half day walk amongst the valleys and mountains.  The levada begins in Vale Paraiso, a stunning valley, and finishes in Rochao. Along the way you will be able to stop off at the small village of Camancha.  This village is home to the famous wicker factory, where you’ll get the chance to see wicker crafts, such as tables and chairs, made from hand.  After your visit in Camancha, continue through the valleys and notice how the green vegetation becomes more prominent.  Bananas can also be seen hanging from the trees in the summer months.  The beautiful smell of pine trees really adds to the sensory feel of this peaceful walk. 

http://owl-group-staging.s3.amazonaws.com/upload_datas/33605/landscape_large.jpg?1366899299Pico Ruivo

Average Walk Time: 5 Hours
Distance: 11 KM
This trail links the two highest mountain peaks on the island, including the Pico Ruivo which is 1861 metres high.  The trail begins in Achada do Teixira before ascending into the mountains. Enjoy looking out for rare birds of prey circling overhead, particularly as you walk along the ridge that separates the Faial and Santana cliff. As you begin to descend from peaks of the Pico Ruivo you will notice a spectacular view of the of the oldest heather forest in the world.  Please note that this walk is not for the faint hearted and will best suit adventurous hikers.

Levada do Castelejo

Average Walk Time: 2 Hours
Distance: 7KM
This is a particularly light trail, which will only take you a morning if you’re pressed for time, but you still want an authentic outdoor experience. You will notice the giant eagle shaped rock of Penha d’Auia early on in the route; this sightseeing statue separates the town of Porto  Cruz from Faila.  There are great views of local farmland and you’ll get a feel for local culture watching the farmers tend their crops. The end of the walk is particularly appealing, as you will come across small lakes formed by the pure water of the levada canal.


Ribeiro Frio - Portela

Average Walk Time: 4 Hours
Distance:  10 KM
This walk is surrounded by Laurel Forest and you will feel as though you are stepping into a different world with the low canopy of trees.  As the trail emerges from the forest, before you arrive in Portela, look to the north side of the island to see a picturesque view of Porto Cruz and Penha d’Aguia from the dominating Ribeiro Frio valley. The best part of this trail is watching the trout swimming in the levada as you walk alongside them; see them dash into the shadows as you approach.   

Vereda das Funduras

Average Walk Time:  3 Hours
Distance: 8KM
This levada begins in the rocky regions of Penha d’guia, before heading into the Laurissilva forest. Turn behind you and look down on the beautiful town of Porto da Cruz.  Once you’ve descended into the forest, the vegetation becomes full of wildlife.  On the outskirts of the Laurissilva forest you will see the Casa das Funduras, a traditional Portuguese house, which contributes towards forest based activities.  When walking through the valley towards the end of this route, look out for the famous Santo da Serra golf course in the distance.  

So, get your walking boots on and head to Madeira to see wonderful, natural views on these historic trails beside the levadas.  

By Matthew Payne

Matthew is a travel professional for Madeira, with a keen interest and extensive knowledge in walking, hiking and the outdoors. 

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