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Madeira is a hiker’s paradise, without doubt one for that bucket list of yours. Walks in Madeira have something for every inclination. If you’re hankering for multi-day treks across precipitous ridges to wild camps on airy mountain summits, you’ve come to the right place. Perhaps, it’s the coast that floats your boat. If so, you’ll love the trails that wind along the island’s dramatic cliff tops.
If this sounds like there’ll be a bit too much adrenaline surging around your body, fear not. The awe-inspiring scenery of this uncompromising, striking landscape can be gained on relatively flat routes that follow Madeira’s unique irrigation channels: the famous levadas.There are subtropical forests, crashing waterfalls, jagged rock towers, dreamy lagoons, towering cliffs and so much more to discover. And due to its subtropical climate, hikes in Madeira are enjoyable all year round. That bucket list just got heavier.
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Rising out of the North Atlantic, some 430 miles (700 km) west of Africa, the Portuguese island of Madeira is an adventurer’s dream. Effectively, the zenith of a gigantic shield volcano that rises 20,000 feet (6,000 m) from the ocean floor, it is a lavish botanical paradise where almost anything grows from the fertile volcanic soil.
Many walks in Madeira venture into the island interior’s lush, subtropical Laurisilva forest, characterised by evergreen and glossy broadleaved trees. The naturalist in you will revel in the endemic species found here, such as the colourful Madeira firecrest and the Madeiran wall lizard. Such is the importance of this beautiful habitat, it has been afforded UNESCO World Heritage status.
The besthiking trails in Madeira, or veredas, are those that explore the unforgettable beauty and cooler air of the mountains at the island’s centre. High-point Pico Ruivo, at 6,109 feet (1,862 m), makes for a challenging but spectacular hike from neighbouring Pico Arieiro, itself an awesome, jagged rock tower. The views across the shimmering, neighbouring islands and the ocean stretching away indefinitely are absolutely awesome.
Not all hikes in Madeira’s high places are strenuous though. The island is criss-crossed by around 200 historic irrigation channels called levadas and many of them are accompanied by wonderful, flat trails. The levadas allow you to access truly inspirational scenery without the attrition usually associated with such spectacular situations.
Meanwhile the experience of Madeira’s coastal trails will leave you stunned. Some are pleasant, scenic ambles, others are vertigo inducing cliff-huggers. Towering 1,900 feet (580 m) above the blue, Cabo Girao boasts Europe’s highest cliff top skywalk. Whilst in the very east of the island, the gorgeous Ponta de Sao Lourenco peninsula stretches out to the cerulean sea.
Scheduled buses transport you to the main trails from the island’s major centres and routes are clearly signposted and easy to follow. Madeira enjoys a very mild climate, with extremely dry, warm summers. In the still relatively mild winter months, the island’s north west and its mountains see a large amount of rainfall, sheltering the south east, which sees little. However, the weather can be unpredictable any time of year, so always be prepared for rain.
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