Madeira: Day 8 – Hiking Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo Return

The hike from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo is the most famous hike on the island of Madeira in Portugal. This 11Km return tunnel-route leads hikers along narrow pathways, up and down ominous staircases, and through dark tunnel chambers. It is an adrenaline-filled test of endurance with steep inclines, causing some serious quad and calf burning on the trek. If you are up for the challenge, I promise you it will be the highlight of your trip to Madeira.

We were up at 5:15am to ensure that we got to the parking lot by 6:45am to see the sun rise … Unfortunately this was not to be! The fog was dense and we could barely see the road as we crept along the hair pin bends. It was slow going and we only arrived at 7am – this did not matter as there was no sunrise to see! We met our guide João in the parking lot. In hindsight we would definitely NOT recommend a guide for this hike – you could not miss the trail if you tried! I had taken poor advice and booked him, then the evening before he told us that he had another two people who wanted to join our group (I’d booked him a month previously as a private guide) and that if we wanted to remain a private hike we’d have to pay another Eur100. I really regret that as we should just have let him take the other two without the 4 of us… anyway, lesson learnt…he he simply walked ahead of us for the duration of the walk…I think he would be great if attempting to do the off the beaten track technical hikes that he alluded to in our brief conversation.

back to the hike …this is what we should have seen:

But this is what we actually saw … I will say that the entire walk was entirely spectacular and highly recommended despite the weather conditions…in fact it added an eerie ambiance and maybe I would not have been quite so brave if I’d seen the steep cliffs all around us!

This trail is quite difficult due to the height incline of 1000m throughout the return-trip. It is relatively safe because of the well-maintained track including the hand-rails and support but there are areas where there had been landslides and we found out afterwards that it was actually closed to hikers due to this!! We did think it was ver quiet! You should be aware that there are lots of steps, uneven surfaces and dark tunnels that make it it tougher than an ordinary walk. At the start dramatic staircases wrap themselves along the ridge line. Although it may appear dangerous, it is very well supported by hand-rails and chains. We were rewarded with a fleeting glimpse of the sunrise …

The scenery and wildflowers are spectacular.

We stopped at a mountain hut for a hot chocolate and a toilet stop – we met some ladies who had spent the night there – before continuing to the Pico Ruivo 1,861m summit for some photos – we waited a while in the hope that the clouds would clear – but to no avail… never the less it had been an exhilarating and stunning ascent.

One would think that the return trip would be nice and easy?! No such luck – the entire trail is a constant ascent and descent and repeat … so on we marched doing it all over again on the way back and then on to the summit at Pico do Arieiro 1,818m. I have to say it was exhausting!! But well worth every step.

Everyone was pretty exhausted and wanted to head to our next hotel which our guide had said was fantastic… I however vetoed the idea as I had one more item to tick off on the Madeira bucket list: the Fanal Forest…On the north side of Madeira Island via a spectacular drive between mountains and wildflowers, you can find a mysterious fog creating an incredible atmosphere amongst the trees of Fanal Forest.

The twisted branches of the grand centenary Ocotea Foetens trees and the fog come together in this fairytale scene. It was absolutely worth the beautiful drive and detour – I expected MoonFace, Dame Washalot, the Saucepan Man or Silky to pop out at any minute!! … Or even Aslan from the Chronicles of Narnia! Apparently at 1,150m the area is covered in fog 90% of the year! The Laurisilva forest is one of nature’s most beautiful treasures because it is at least 20 million years old which means that it out survived the Ice Age! It is exotic and covered by a mantle of moss and lichen that surrounds the 600 year old tree trunks and rocks. The trees are now protected as they were almost decimated for ship building purposes. This place is simply amazing..

Well, needless to say everyone was rather pleased that we had stopped off to stretch our stiff legs in this amazing part of Madeira. It is quite easy to find as it has a dedicated parking area called ‘Faial Parking’ on Google Maps. Here you can park your car and walk a few hundred meters straight into the forest or to visit the nearby viewpoint, which is also just a few hundred meters away from the parking lot. In 1999 it became part of the UNESCO World Heritage List

I just had ONE more thing to squeeze in before we headed to our hotel: the traditional Madeiran houses in Santana where you can buy local produce.

Everyone was delighted to get to our excellent hotel: Hotel Quinta Do Furao. It is beautifully located with stunning sea and vineyard views and friendly staff. There are two swimming pools – indoor and outdoor. The restaurant is outstanding – we loved the beef Wellington! Highly recommend a stay here.

Go Back to: Madeira OR Go to Day 7 Hiking OR Go to Day 9

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