Pico Ruivo, hiking on Madeira’s roof

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We begin and end today in Santana. It is the best access road to the highest point of Madeira, Pico Ruivo, at 1862 m above sea level. The name of the village of Santana is a shortening and reduction of the name Santa Anna.

Miradouro do Picaroto

When we got out of the car, we had no idea of the beauty of the view that the very first observation deck had in store for us. We lingered here for a while, mainly because the tops of the mountains were in the clouds, and we (half desperate) didn’t even believe we could see anything in those clouds anymore.

The prospect of Picaroto, however, brought us optimism. By the time we climbed it, the clouds had broken and revealed the tops of the mountains. Little did we know what views awaited us at the top.

Achada do Teixeira

This place is the last transport waypoint on the map. The large Achada de Teixeira parking lot comprises cars, buses and taxis. They drop off and pick up tourists here. Pico Ruivo hiking starts right at this parking lot. Seeing the rocky trail before me, I thank my stars for stopping at Decathlon and rebuying the cheapest trekking poles. We start.

The trail does not have steep inclines at the beginning. A child would walk the first few kilometres. However, we stop shortly. After the first hill, we get an unmistakable view of the airport radar on the top of Pico do Arieiro. However, a much more attractive spectacle is put on by the clouds that roll from valley to valley. Changing the scenery is typical for the Madeira postcards.

Casa de Abrigo do Pico Ruivo

We walk along the ridge to the tourist signpost to Madeira’s most beautiful trek, a 7km crossing of a rocky hill with a few bridges and tunnels and 680m of elevation gain. We planned this trail from the other side of the island as the crown of the trip for the day after tomorrow. There is a hut a short distance past the signpost. We’re grateful for the canned beer, but seeing those serpentine hilltops ahead, we decide we’ll have it on the way down.

The peak of Pico Ruivo is monumental,

Pico Ruivo

Although it’s a challenging trail, almost anyone can climb to the top. The views from the mountain belong to the category of divine, unique and unrepeatable. Even though we see the no drones sign, two buzz around. Who could resist? Everybody is fraternizing. If only because each group needs a photo together, they need someone else to snap them.

The clouds, ravines and ridge tops offer an unusual, ever-changing spectacle.

On the roof of Madeira

If you’re on the highest point, you logically have a circular view of the island. And if you want to capture the sea, you play a simultan with the clouds. Where the sky it opens up and where it darknes. And so everybody’s running around looking for their perfect shot.

You’d think the roof of the world would be quiet. But it’s not like the Fanal forest. Hundreds of people everywhere remind us of the magistrals of the High Tatras in the middle of the season.

We are slowly descending. Maybe only I feel it, but the same landscape looks completely different on the descent than before. One notices other things. We have a can of beer at the cottage and slowly walk to the ecar. We have three hours on the roof of Madeira behind us and one famous Levada ahead of us, which we happen to have on the way.

Hiking Madeira

Active hiking in Madeira takes many forms. From the rock cliffs and caves of Canical, through dozens of tourist-accessible levadas, the rainforest Fanal Forest, the northern inhospitable beaches around Sao Vincente, Seixal and Porto Moniz, to the lighthouse in Ponta del Pargo. They laid on my heart, not to forget to mention the swimming in the sea. If you want to experience a warm and friendly sea in the off-season, your destination should be mainly the village of Ponta do Sol, which has the slightest wind, the most sunny days and the warmest sea of the whole island. It is also the unofficial centre of Europe’s digital nomads.

But you can hike it only with a car in these mountains. Buses only go around the island near the sea and rarely.

Parque das Queimadas

About a third of the way from Santana to Pico Ruivo, you’ll find a small parking lot leading you to one of the most famous levadas in Madeira, the Queimadas. It is one of the few hiking trails where they will ask you to pay an small entrance fee. But it’s worth it.

The scenery around Parque das Queimadas is in stark contrast to the rocks and clouds you’ll experience on the trails to Pico Ruivo. Sample the local speciality drink, Poncha, upon entering.


The small town of Santana has long been cut off from the world. Today, it is a Madeiran open-air museum. The typical feature of Santana is more than a hundred triangular plank houses. The first written mention of them dates back to the 16th century. These simple A-shaped folk houses are characterised by their distinctive red, blue and white colouring.


Pico Ruivo hiking

If you want to discover the magic of the Pico Ruivo, start in Santana. If you live on the other side, use the tunnel between Ribeira Brava and Sao Vincente. It will significantly shorten and simplify your journey through the island’s centre. The Pico Ruivo hiking trail is also ideal to combine with a visit to the Queimadas levada and the Santana open-air museum. You will experience an extraordinarily sporty and active day.

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Pavel Trevor
Pavel Trevor

Active traveling, exploring and discovering new worlds totally fulfills me. The feeling of being thrown into the water. When you don't know what's coming next and it's all up to you.

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