Madeira is a Portuguese archipelago in the North Atlantic, just off the west coast of Africa. With a great weather, this subtropical destination offers year-round activities in a stunning scenery.
Here’s a step-by-step itinerary for you to follow on your trip to Madeira Island. It covers central and eastern Madeira, and includes viewpoints, trails and hiking tips for both experienced hikers and casual walkers.
The route can easily be done by car from Madeira’s capital, Funchal. We give directions, and include a map below.
1. Eira do Serrado Viewpoint
About 15km / 9mi north of Funchal, following the ER107 road, Eira do Serrado viewpoint is an elevation at 1,094 metres (about 3,589 feet). It offers a stunning view of the Curral das Freiras valley and the mountain range in central Madeira. There is a hiking trail from Eira do Serrado to Curral das Freiras.
2. Curral das Freiras
Continue northwest to Curral das Freiras. Located in a valley surrounded by high mountains, this remote location is right in the centre of Madeira Island. In the 16th century, it served as refuge for the nuns of Santa Clara Convent who escaped the attack of French corsairs to Funchal, seeking to capture young men and women to be sold as slaves.
With only 1,700 inhabitants, people in Curral das Freiras still live off the land. Chestnut is the key ingredient to prepare the famous chestnut soup, pudding and liquor. The Chestnut Festival takes place every year on 1 November.
3. Pico Alto Viewpoint
Your next stop is the Pico Alto viewpoint. Just follow east on the Regional Road 103. This elevation at 1,129 metres is part of Funchal Ecological Park. From the viewpoint, you can see as far as Chão da Lagoa and the Funchal Bay.
4. Pico do Areeiro Viewpoint
Once you reach Poiso, make a detour northwest towards Pico do Areeiro. This 1,818 metre elevation is the second highest point in Madeira after Pico Ruivo (1,862 metres). To get to Pico do Areeiro go through a winding road with beautiful landscapes.
The viewpoint overlooking Madeira’s central mountains is impressive, with a path that connects Pico do Areeiro and Pico Ruivo. Besides the viewpoint, you’ll find a hotel and restaurant at the top of Pico do Areeiro.
To have lunch in the area, get some fine authentic food at Abrigo do Pastor (Estrada das Carreiras, Camacha), which literally translates to Shepherd’s Hut. Regional specialities include various grilled meats on skewers or in hot pots.
Casa de Abrigo do Poiso (Camacha), formerly a mountain shelter at 1,400 metres, is another popular spot for hikers to get some lunch. Also serving regional cuisine, order a “espetada” (skewered meats) which is served with fries and vegetables. As starter, sample the Madeira garlic bread.
5. Ribeiro Frio Forest Park
You’ll have to get back to Poiso and go north on Regional Road 103 direction Ribeiro Frio. The road crosses the Ribeiro Frio Forest Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to Madeira’s laurel forest, and the starting point of some of the most famous levada walks. “Levadas” are ancient water channels carrying water from the mountains in the north to populations in the south.
For casual hikers, the 1.5km Vereda dos Balcões is wide and flat and can be covered in 30/40 minutes. At the end of the walk, there’s a viewing platform over the lush green valley. There’s a shop/bar half way in a small hut – sample the popular tomato soup or the caldo verde. Experienced hikers can venture on the Levada do Furado, one of the oldest. With 11km (about five hours), it ends in the village of Portela.
In Ribeiro Frio, you can also visit for free a fish trout farm, an attempt to populate the water channels. It’s conveniently located near the restaurants and gift shops.
Parking in Ribeiro Frio on the narrow winding road can be a nightmare during the peak season (July and August). There’s an off the road parking just a few hundred metres up the road on the Portela side.
If you continue north towards the coast, you’ll get to Faial, a small town that has the beautiful rock formation of Serra da Penha d’Águia. There’s also a natural pool, and from here also start several levada walks.
From Faial, the motorway takes you to Santana, a little village known for its traditional houses. There are 4 or 5 of them that you can take pictures of and go inside only to find out that they are tourist shops. Besides being another starting point for levada walks, Santana also has the Madeira Theme Park, devoted to the history and traditions of Madeira.
To reach Machico, take the expressway south. The town where the first Madeira explorers arrived in the 15th century has several interesting sights. The statue of Tristão Vaz Teixeira is located on the main square of the Church of Santa Beatriz. This baroque church was built in 1745 on the site of an old 16th-century chapel.
The Chapel of Senhor dos Milagres (Lord of Miracles) is a Baroque church that replaced a hermitage of the 15th century, destroyed by the 1803 alluvium. Inside, the image of the Lord of Miracles belonged to the old chapel, having been dragged to the sea and found “by miracle” three days later. The image was then returned to the rebuilt chapel.
São Roque Chapel was built by Tristão Vaz Teixeira, but the present Baroque construction dates back to 1739. Senhor dos Milagres viewpoint, 60 metres above the sea, is another attraction offering a different view over Machico bay and valley.
9. Ponta de São Lourenço
East off Machico, you’ll arrive at Ponta de São Lourenço. Arid and volcanic, quite different from the remaining lush green landscape, the easternmost edge of Madeira marks a change in scenery. The area has curious rock formations of volcanic origin, and no trees for coverage up.
Take the hike with incredible views of the rock formations jutting out into the Atlantic. Usually very windy, the hike is about 4km each way (8mi in total), taking about 2h30. Be equipped properly, with hiking shoes, sunglasses, water, and a light jacket. We do not recommend the trip with small kids. There is no restaurant or cafe up there, or toilets. But in the peak season there’s usually an ice cream and beer bus when you come back.
When to Go
Madeira is a year-round destination thanks to mild temperatures, with little seasonal variation. However, if we had to pick the perfect time to visit Madeira that would be from April to September when the chance of rainfall decreases.