On the second leg of our Portugal honeymoon, we needed to get back to nature. After spending a week in and around Lisbon, we were headed to Madeira Island. Our research of the island yielded one promising, not to be missed activity – a levada walking tour. The island boasts 1,350 miles of walking trails that follow a network of levadas, or aqueducts, built into the mountain and originally meant to bring water to drier parts of the island.
Specific to Madeira, these walks come in varied shapes and sizes. One of the most popular walks is the Caldeirão Verde levada walk. We joined tour company Madeira Best to take us through the Laurisilva forest, the largest surviving area of laurel forest in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The walk takes hikers roughly 8 miles through the forest, alongside one of Madeira’s oldest levadas, boasting amazing views of the expansive green forest and stopping midway at a waterfall. We are not hikers, and can honestly say this an an easy walk. However, the path is narrow at times and though there are some posts and guide rails, we do not suggest this hike for the feeble or those who have extreme fear of heights.
The hike takes about 5 hours with the tour, though we saw it done without a tour guide. If bent on going at it alone, we suggest following these specific instructions in order to find and stay on the path. For those considering the walk, we also suggest the following: wear hiking shoes, bring a flashlight (or cell phone flashlight) and bag lunch. There is a restroom at the beginning and end of the hike with no other options along the way. We also do not suggest bringing children under the age of 10, or at all, really. But we did see a woman with a baby on her back, so you do you! We joked with others on the tour that it likely wouldn’t be a legal activity in the United States. But totally worth it!
After booking our tour through Madeira Best at €36 each, we were emailed about a day later detailing where and when to meet the morning of. The tour is convenient in that it picks tourists up at their hotel, however, be prepared to ride around for an hour until everyone is picked up.
From the front of the van, we watched as we entered jurassic park. The highway hugged the side of the mountain, snaking up, down and around as we drove through valleys of towns dwarfed by the peaks above us. The van sped through the longest tunnel and came out above the clouds. We were in Santana Village, on the other side of the island.
We stopped at a grocery store and were greeted by another van of hikers and our tour guide. This is the point where you buy a quick to-go lunch and relieve yourself before starting the hike!
When we finally arrived to the hiking trail, our guide addressed the entire group explaining we would be hiking a total of 12 kilometers (about 8 miles) to a waterfall before turning back around.
The path started wide and flat, much like a trail out of Forest Park in Portland, Oregon. Beaten down from time, the path exposed a network of tree roots threatening to trip us. We kept our noses down.
Our guide stopped to point out the levadas on our left. African slaves had built the levadas, or irrigation system, around the 15th century. An engineering feat, they were cut by hand through solid rock. Fish had been transplanted into the system at one point to indicate if the water was healthy enough for consumption.
The guide stopped us once more to point out the local flora and fauna. He explained it’s not uncommon to see stray cats along the way, waiting to strike and kill rare bird species.
The trail had narrowed until we were walking along the stone edge of the levada. To our left the silent stream flowed downhill as we went up. Moisture dripped from the lichens and ferns covering the rocky mountainside. To our right the mountainside dropped to steep heights. We waited to see an avatar or pterodactyl. The guide stopped once to ask if we’d seen a dinosaur yet.
Then came the tunnels. Our guide stopped to tell us to take out our “torches” (flashlights) and watch our heads, as the tunnels would be dark and low. One by one we filed through the narrow tunnels, some longer than others, in the faint light of our cell phones.
As the hike went on, clearings in the vegetation lent expansive views of Madeira’s greenest peaks and valleys. We deliberately fell to the back of the line to safely stop and capture the views.
Midway, the trail opened up to the Green Cauldron, a rocky valley halved by a stream and nourished by a tall, slim waterfall. Others were already picnicking under the sun, atop massive boulders.
Unfortunately, there was not a bar and grill on top of the preserved Laurissilva forest, though we had been hopeful. We luckily had enough snacks to get by as we rested on the boulders and explored around the waterfall.
We rested for about 30 minutes and backtracked the way we came. It was rush hour. Others gingerly passed us on the outside as we made ourselves small and leaned against the wet, mossy mountain side, angled over the levada.
At the end of the tour, we stopped for a quick drink in Santana Village before the long ride back to our drop off points. The hike was one of the best experiences of the honeymoon and highly recommend it.
Below are the landmarks and times that we logged along the way:
11:00 – start of hike
11:02 – stay in the middle at the 3-way fork in the trail, following the Caldeirão Verde sign
11:25 – cross over a small bridge
11:40 – follow a small set of stairs that go down, and then back up
12:00 – pass by a small waterfall on your left
12:20 – walk through the first tunnel, about 20 feet long (have your flashlight/cell phone ready for the tunnels, and watch your head!)
12:25 – walk through the second tunnel, about 200 feet long (there is a right turn before this tunnel, stay straight and go through the tunnel)
12:34 – walk through the third tunnel, about 200 feet long
12:50 – walk through the fourth and final tunnel, about 20 feet long
1:10 – arrive at the waterfall, relax, eat lunch (about 30 minutes)
1:40 – turn around and walk back along the same route
3:30 – arrive back at the trailhead
Total Time = about 4.5 hours (including a 30 minute lunch at the waterfall)