Exploring Madeira with the locals

Madeira is a wonderful, diverse, steep, green, young volcanic island with so much to offer to walkers that it’s hard to know where to start.

On our recent visit, in order to get the most out of the short time we had on the island we spent three days in the company of our local guides. Each day was distinctly different in terms of scenery, terrain and technicality but we always felt safe in the knowledge that our guides were helping us to squeeze the most out of our short time exploring Madeira, their island home.

If you’d like to explore Madeira with our local guides then you might like our itinerary suggestion >> Private guided walking week


Walking the Levada do Canical, Boca do Risco and cliff path to Porto da Cruz

Our guide Jenny met us in the morning at the wonderful Quintinha Sao Joao. On the 20-minute drive to the start of the walk, Jenny filled us with knowledge about the island and the views we could see from the vehicle. There was time to stop above Machico and gaze at the view over to the bay and town.

Madeira Holidays

We parked up above Machico where the Levada do Canical meets the old road. Jenny explained the history and current use of the levada network. The levadas in Madeira were created to move water from the wetter north to the drier south of the island. The first levadas were created in the 15th century when the Portuguese began exploring Madeira. At the start of the levada there’s a small building for the maintenance team and equipment. The network is kept operating by the levada maintenance ‘Levadeiros’.

Part of Madeira’s charm is the integration of humans in the landscape and we experienced this as soon as we left the road. Jenny led us along the trail, taking us seemingly through people’s gardens – houses have been built right up to the water channel, and of course it’s beside and below the channel where the ancient terraced field system was constructed.

Madeira Holidays - Guided walking

Along the way we noticed clothing and rocks in the water channel. Jenny explained that the levada operates now as it always has done – people have a time slot within which they are allowed to extract water from the main channel. During their allotted time slot, people dam the channel with old clothing and stones, forcing the water level to rise and run into the over-spill channel that irrigates their land. This timing system is policed by the Levadeiros.

As we walked, Jenny explained how much this small-scale agriculture has changed in recent times. Working the land is hard physical labour and it’s not quite so appealing any more in a world with seemingly easier opportunities elsewhere. This can be seen in the many deserted fields in amongst those still being tilled.

Madeira Holidays - guided walking

The landscape is steep but the levadas are not. We spent a very pleasant hour walking and chatting as the channel wound it’s way in and out of the valleys, maintaining it’s height and always providing spectacular views down the fields and over the houses below. Jenny explained the walking group levada etiquette: smaller groups step aside for larger ones. A few of times we stood aside to let walking tour groups go by – groups of 25, sometimes 40 people – and this made us appreciate even more the time the two of us had with our guide.

Guided walking
A rather large walking tour group!

We rounded into the Ribeira Seca valley, leaving the levada and the groups behind. Heading for the hills took us to a wilder, greener natural landscape of trees and deep valleys.

Exploring Madeira with a private walking guide

Steep at first but soon levelling out, the well graded single track path led us to the Boca do Risco overlooking the north east coast. Jenny pointed us at the way ahead: we were stood at a height of some 350m and from here impressive cliffs dropped to the Atlantic ocean. Our way ahead was a path cut into the side of this slope, contouring high above the Atlantic west towards Porto da Cruz.

Exploring Madeira with a private guide
The view east from Boca do Risco

Dropping from the Boca do Risco, we met this path and disappeared into the greenery. Madeira is alive – every gradient is covered with shrubs and trees and even these steep sea cliff slopes are covered with forest. The narrow path presented plenty of opportunities for the unwary walker to miss their footing but Jenny paid attention and kept us safe.

We had lunch close to Porto da Cruz, on an open section of path boasting spectacular views to both east and west. Our bountiful lunch was prepared for us by the Quintinha Sao Joao – plenty of sandwiches and fresh fruit for hungry walkers.

Exploring Madeira
Porto da Cruz from the cliff path

Our guided walk finished above the town and we met our driver of the morning’s transfer. The combination of Jenny’s guiding and transfers made this one-way walk a very smooth experience. Jenny took us into Porto da Cruz where we had time for coffee and a swim in the pools before driving back to Funchal.

Exploring Madeira with a local
Taking to the pool at Porto da Cruz!

The rum distillery was closed the day we were there but, as we offer these experiences as bespoke and privately-guided days out, it’s easy to imagine combining the walk with a tour of the town and distillery, before returning to Funchal tired from walking but happy from rum.

Stay tuned to hear about our further adventures!

Archipelago Choice Madeira specialists

We specialise in personalised holidays to the archipelago of Madeira and Porto Santo. Our team of experienced specialists are ready to put together your personalised trip – just give us a call on 01768 721040, or drop us a line via our contact form.