Madeira Island: hiking and wild camping
Madeira, the so called Flower Island. An autonomous region of Portugal lost in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean that will conquer your heart for its wilderness and rich vegetation. Madeira is actually four islands off the northwest coast of Africa and the capital is Funchal, a dynamic city characterised by its beautiful botanic gardens.
We only spent one day strolling in its streets to catch the island vibes, but our Madeira escapade was basically about hikes and wild camping. We really needed to be in contact with nature and to discover the savage soul of the island.
Highlights of Funchal:
Madeira botanical garden or Monte Palace Tropical Gardens
Early visit of the central market, Mercado dos Lavradores
Funchal Cathedral Sé
The street art of Santa Maria road
The old town
The Museum of CR7 if you're a football fan! Yes, Cristiano Ronaldo was born in Madeira and he's always done a lot for the island and its inhabitants.
Here, we had an amazing Poncha, the typical alcoholic drink of the island, at Poncha do Pescador. It's made with aguardente de cana honey, sugar, and orange or lemon juice, so basically a punch to which locals like to add tropical fruits. The origin of Poncha dates back to the XVI century, but the drink arrived on the island only in the XVIII century, imported by sailors.
Madeira is also known for its fortified wine, that gets its name from the island. Make a stop along the road to admire the hills covered by greenish wineyards!
After the visit of the capital, we are ready to start our hikes in Madeira! But before, let me give you some useful practical information.
If you plan to visit Madeira, this website must become your bible : Site oficial do Turismo da Madeira (visitmadeira.pt). In the section Walks, you can find all the information about the various pathways, make sure you check those who are open according to the season.
We chose some quite hard hikes with about 900/1000m elevation gain, but there are beautiful pathways for all levels. For example the so called ''Levadas'' which are trails along the irrigation canals that traditionnally brought water from one side to the other of the island for agricultural purposes.
Wild camping is allowed if you put your tent from sunset to sunrise, without of course leaving any trace behind you!
To me, the car is the best option to visit the island which is pretty small. This allows you to be autonomous and reach the various areas of Madeira.
Due to its topography, there are plenty of microclimates on the island, but in general weather is great all over the year! Avoid summer if possible which is the highest season, when prices are also more expensive.
RP1 Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo
This panoramic hike connects the two highest peaks of the island: Pico do Arieiro and Pico Ruivo. Considering, we're talking about a volcanic island, Madeira has a savage soul, but vegetation totally took over: grass, colourful flowers, butterflies and curious insects...
The hike starts at the parking of Pico de Arieiro which can be reached by car, then you'll just have to follow the signs for Pico Ruivo. It will take you between 4-6 hours back and forth with an average elevation gain of 1000m. The path is full of tunnels, so don't forget to bring a small torch with you!
You can find the details of the trail on Visiorando, for an easier and shorter hike you can start from Achada de Teixeira and reach Pico Ruivo in about 1h30.
All along the pathway, you'll be able to admire amazing views all over Madeira, to observe lizards climbing on the hottest rocks and beautiful flowers, to pass through tunnels excavated right in the mountain. It's a pure celebration to life that reminds you to be grateful, every day.
Once reached Pico Ruivo, there's a panoramic terrace to enjoy a 360 degree view on Madeira: from the rocky volcanic peaks to the crystal clear beaches on the horizon. There's even a small bar right before reaching the peak of Pico Ruivo to gain back the energies before your way back!
Wild Camping at Pico do Arieiro
Once back at Pico do Arieiro, we put our tent right on the other side of the parking, next to the Belvedere where visitors usually come to admire the sunrise in the morning. Putting our tent wasn't easy because of the strong wind which made it difficult to sleep as well. The night wasn't easy, we probably slept one or two hours, but in the morning we had the amazing surprise of a crazy sunrise: we literally woke up on a layers of clouds.
Definitely one of the most incredible moments of my life.
We decided to leave in the afternoon for our second hike, so the the morning was dedicated to the discovery of Porto Moniz. Driving here is incredible: vegetation everywhere, amazing falls right next to the road. Madeira actually reminds me so much of Reunion island.
Click here to discover this natural paradise with some useful responsible travel tips!
Porto Moniz is a quaint village in the North of Madeira characterised by natural pools created over the years after the volcanic eruptions in the area.
Here you can swim in the pools (the access is free) or simply enjoy the relaxing sound of the rough ocean.
Following tips from locals is always the best choice!
We were buying some stuff at the pharmacy and we asked for a place to eat in the village. The pharmacist kindly suggested us Polo Norte, his favourite restaurant in the area and it actually ended up being a special discovery! We enjoyed the hot sun on the panoramic terrace while trying some tasty local dishes.
Madeira is chacterised by a very Mediterranean cuisine with a tropical taste. Here a list of traditional specialities of the island :
Bolo do caco: bread with butter, garlic and herbs
Bife de atún: tuna steak
Filete de espada: sword fish steak
Espedata: meat sticks
Sopa de peixe: fish soup
After lunch, time to start our hike up to Pico Grande. We slept there and came back the following morning quite early.
Miradouro do Encumeada to Pico Grande hike
We reached Miradouro do Encumeada by car and started our hike with the help of this article to find the right pathway to Pico Grande.
Madeira natural park actually covers 2/3 of the island and the Laurel Forest is a particular rainforest that characterises Macaronesia: Madeira, Azores, Canary Islands and Cape Verde. All along the pathway, we admired the rich vegetation and many batterflies were literally following us, never seen so many of them at the same time! It felt like being in a fairytale.
We weren't expecting such a hard hike, probably one of the hardest ones ever.
After about 4h30 of grass, stairs, gravel and rocky scrambling we made it up to the top. From Pico Grande it felt like being literally in the heart of the island.
Shaky legs, fast beats and the eyes full of beauty.
Those moments that make you feel totally alive.
Wild camping at Pico Grande
We found a flat spot for our tent in the early evening while the sky was turning pink.
Another beautiful day was almost over and we felt grateful, again.
When doing wild camping, you need to be well equipped while paying attention to the weight of your rucksack at the same time. This is extremely important because you have to bring it with you for many hours.
Here a list that will help you to prepare your first hike and wild camping escapades:
Water is essential: bring a jar or a camel back and count about 2L/day (you'll also need it to cook). Sometimes it's hard to find water sources along the pathways!
Comfortable hiking shoes and socks
Sleeping bag: the choice depends on the season and the temperatures in the destination
Pocket stove and alcool 90° that you can easily buy in a pharmacy
2 lighters (you never know!)
Cooking kit (pot, forket and knife...)
Snacks: energetic bars, fruits, dried fruits
Pasta and souces (tomatoe or whatever) or dehydrated meals, the advantage is that they take only a small place in your rucksack. You just have to put boiling water inside and in 5 minutes they're ready! We usually buy those from Decathlon.
After a good sleep, we started our way back to Miradouro do Encumeada early in the morning. Much easier than the way up!
Camara de Lobos & Cabo Girao
Camara do Lobos is an adorable fishing village where to eat delicious seafood right on the picturesque pear. It's not far from Cabo Girão, a dizzy cliff of 580m with a glass belvedere, strong emotions guaranteed!
Other areas that I suggest you for your trip :
Seixan, a charming pier with black beaches
Santana and its traditional houses with the typical thatched roof
Sao Lourenco and the volcanic cliffs, a real masterpiece of Mother Nature
Levada do Caldeirao Verde and the enchanting forest
Madeira was our first official trip about hikes and wild camping, and I actually realised how much I love this way of travelling. Being so much in symbiosis with nature, living a simple life, dealing with problems, efforts and tiredeness that at one point are rewarded by infinite satisfaction and pure gratitude.