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Guide to the best levada walks in Madeira + tours

Please only travel when it’s safe to do so.

The scent of lilies and mimosa flowers perfumes the warm air, and our ears ring with birdsong.

Everywhere is green and lush – giant ferns, elder trees, wild fennel.

We love hiking – everything from hiking Table Mountain, South Africa, to hiking in Jasper, Canada. Today, we’re hiking in Madeira along an historic “levada” or irrigation channel.

More than 200 levadas criss-cross the Portuguese island, and some of the best Madeira hikes are levada walks.

Indeed, these hikes and levada walks in Madeira rank among the world’s best hiking trails – and stepping out on these levada trails is one of the top things to do in Madeira!

Hiking in Madeira along the levadas is very popular on the island.
Hiking in Madeira along the levadas is very popular on the island

Levada walks in Madeira

The levada walks in Madeira take you through lovely countryside.
The levada walks in Madeira take you through lovely countryside

Dating back to the 16th century, Madeira has almost 2,000 miles of levadas, including 25 miles of tunnels.

These narrow hand-dug channels disperse water from the wetter uplands to the drier southern part of the island to irrigate crops and agricultural fields.

(In the days of the early Portuguese settlers, water from the levadas was also used to to power the capital of Funchal’s sugar-cane mills.)

levada walks on Madeira
You walk through tunnels (but, of course, not this one!) on many levada walks

Most of the maintenance paths running alongside the levadas – about one to two feet wide – make ideal hiking paths.

Offering stunning views of waterfalls, forests and mountaintop villages, it’s little wonder that walking in Madeira on these levada trails is popular.

The weather is perfect for walking and hiking – temperate and moderate – sort of like the weather you’d get if hiking in Ireland in high summer (maybe just a little warmer).

If you’re looking for adventure in Madeira, levada hiking ranks right up there!

3 Best Madeira levada walks

There are more than 200 levada trails like this in Madeira.
There are more than 200 levada trails like this in Madeira

So lace up your hiking boots! Haul out your packable daypack too.

The following levada walks are three of the best hikes in Madeira.

All of these levada hikes can be experienced while staying in Funchal (it’s a short drive to reach the start of the trails).

Bonus to basing yourself in the capital? You can easily enjoy other fun things to do in Funchal – like its famous toboggan rides.

1) Referta Levada Walk (Levada do Castelejo)

levada walks
Sign indicating the start of our Levada do Castelejo walk

Today, we’ve booked a half-day guided excursion following the Levada do Castelejo, one of the easy levada walks on Madeira.

After making our way to the trail head, we walk single file behind our guide. The dirt trail is mostly flat, sometimes downhill, as it follows the gravity-fed path of water.

In late April, the sun is shining warmly in a clear blue sky. Beautiful calla lilies grow wild – good food for pigs, our guide says!

And the cows have room service,” he adds. “The farmers feed them in these little sheds.”

He explains that the mountainsides are so steep there’s no room for the cows to roam and graze, and so they must be fed.

Madeira levada walks
A farm house with laundry hanging out to dry

We also learn that the farmers do everything by hand here.

They carry potatoes and sugar cane down the slopes by basket. The children must walk to school as there are no roads.

We pass small red-roofed farmhouses with flower-filled balconies and small vegetable gardens.

walking in madeira
Pots of colorful flowers line the balconies of the farm houses we pass

Everything grows here – from garlic and onions to avocado to bananas and strawberries. Beans are laid out to dry on shed roofs. And grape vines grow in each yard.

The farmers all make their own wine,” our guide grins.

At a little stand with fresh-picked bananas and oranges, a sign says “Help yourself: 50 cents.”

easy levada walks on Madeira
This trail is one of the easy levada walks on Madeira – flat for much of the way

Our walk ends with a stop at a local bar to taste Madeira’s traditional beverage, poncha, a blend of local rum, lemon juice and honey – a great way to finish off our morning!

Levada do Castelejo
A breathtaking vista on the Levada do Castelejo walk

Referta Levada Walk

Distance: 3.5 miles

Difficulty: Easy and flat

Walking time: 2 to 3 hours

Duration: Half day

Who looks after the levadas?

Meet the levadiero!

One of the oldest professions in Madeira, the levada caretaker is in charge of general maintenance. He opens and closes the levada entrances to divert the water to each farmer (who pays for their water by the hour).

2) 25 Fountains Levada Walk

On a previous visit to the island, we stepped out on another Madeira hike – the Levada of 25 Fountains.

A longer trail, it’s considered one of the best levada walks on Madeira.

The drive from Funchal to the trailhead takes you 4,900 feet high up craggy mist-shrouded mountains and enormous ravines, then down into the emerald-green valley of Rabacal.

Madeira levada walks
The mountainous scenery on the drive to the Levada of 25 Fountains

The levada trail first descends through laurel and heather forest to the Risco waterfall thundering down a sheer vertical cliff.

You then join a stone path, mossy and slippery in places, that snakes its way around the mountainside.

Again, the views are stunning, but if they start to overwhelm, look the other way at the small rainbow trout darting up and down the levada trough.

Levada of 25 fountains
Lots of fresh running water on this levada walk on Madeira

After a picnic lunch by a cool lake splashed by many waterfalls (the “25 fountains”), flashlights are needed to walk through a 2,600-foot tunnel, which takes you from the fertile northern part of the island to the drier southern half – and the end of this exhilarating hike on Madeira.

Levada of 25 Fountains

Distance: 6.8 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Walking time: 4 hours

Duration: Full day

3) Levada do Furado

Built in the 1870s, this levada walking trail begins in the lovely Ribiero Frio Forest Park and weaves its ways through Madeira’s rare laurel forest high above the Frio Valley.

All around, you see laurel, bay, lily-of-the-valley and mahogany trees.

There are stupendous views over farm fields towards the coastal village of Porta de Cruz, and you pass through several tunnels.

Following the Levada do Furado is another one of the best hikes in Madeira.

Levada do Furado

Distance: Almost 7 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Walking time: 5 hours

Duration: Full day

Other good Madeira hiking trails

There are many stupendous hikes in Madeira!
There are many stupendous hikes in Madeira!

See the Madeira Regional Tourism Board website.

Canada has some awesome hikes too! Check out the Joffre Lakes trail (you might even see bears)

Tips for hiking in Madeira

The network of levadas isn’t all that well-marked, and if you’re not familiar with the trail, you could get lost.

For a safe and pleasant Madeira hike, see the following tips:

Planning a levada walk in Madeira

Guided tour:

Go with a reputable Madeira walking tour operator. We joined guided tours on our Madeira hikes.

Transportation is typically provided from Funchal – and in addition to avoiding the stress of driving winding mountainous roads, you get the added benefit of a local guide who passes along interesting information about the island, its flora and fauna, and historical tidbits.

Levada walks are rated:

They’re rated according to length and difficulty, and operators offer different Madeira hikes on different days, so you can choose according to your ability and interest.

Heights:

Some Madeira hiking trails skirt soaring slopes. If you dislike heights, ask before you book.

Wear the right footwear:

Good footwear is essential. You should wear hiking shoes or boots for all but the easy walks on Madeira.

Visiting Lisbon before Madeira? We loved our stay at the Olissippo Lapa Palace hotel – read our review next

Madeira
Madeira is often called the “floating garden in the Atlantic” because of all its beautiful flowers and gardens

Guided Madeira walking tours

The following three companies get good reviews for their guided levada walks and Madeira walking tours:

Madeira Explorers:

This Portuguese company does nothing more than guided leisure walks on Madeira, and they offer a range of half- and full-day levada walks of differing ability. Madeira Explorers can provide hiking poles upon request.

Lido Tours:

A local company, Lido Tours is a leading Madeira tour operator (in business since 1996). They offer a full range of tours from jeep safaris to boat tours, as well as guided walks.

Madeira Island Tours:

Operated by the Travel With Us company, Madeira Island Tours offers guided Madeira walks in addition to other tour services, such as airport transfers and sightseeing excursions.

Madeira walking and travel guides

You may find one or more of these Madeira travel and walking guides useful. They’re available on Amazon. (As an Amazon associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.)

Experience more of Portugal and Spain!

Read our posts on:

Canary Islands | We enjoyed an awesome day hiking on La Palma at Caldera de Taburiente.

Porto | Is Porto worth visiting? Discover all the reasons why you’ll want to go (and tips for avoiding the crowds).

Mallorca | Check out 29 delightful things to do in Mallorca, Spain.


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Levada walks in Madeira

Photo credits: 1, 5 to 8, 11, 13 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase


About the authors:

Janice and George Mucalov

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George are the owners and founders of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, luxury hotel reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!

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Suzanne

Tuesday 8th of September 2020

Madeira Island is a favourite European destination for tourists from all over the world - both in the winter and summer months. Madeira offers a big variety of things to see and do! We holiday there from the UK.

Janice and George

Tuesday 8th of September 2020

Yes, Madeira is a lovely island! We loved how lush it is... The weather is nice and mild year-round, though still nicer in summer :-). Thanks for taking the time to comment :-).

Frank

Sunday 9th of September 2018

Madeira is a place I want to get to. A few years back we spent a month in Lisbon and wanted to go to Madeira - but it was the year they had those horrible fires. Would love to do those walks and hikes. And I love the Madeira wines.

Janice and George

Wednesday 12th of September 2018

The weather is temperate year-round, making Madeira ideal to visit any time. You could certainly put together a nice trip combining levada hikes with sightseeing in Funchal (the botanical gardens are beautiful!) and wine tasting :-).

Irene Levine

Monday 30th of July 2018

What a fascinating post! Never heard of levada walks and learned a lot!

Janice and George

Monday 30th of July 2018

Madeira is a lovely island, with gardens, wicker toboggan sledding and Madeira tasting. Reid's Palace is a fabulous place to stay too. But the levada walks are what we love best about the island :-).