Levada das 25 Fontes hike key facts
Before setting of to the Levada das 25 Fontes hike below some key facts!
Hike distance and duration: The total distance of the Levada das 25 Fontes hike is 11 kilometers (4.6 kilometres one way), but you can add or skip some parts of the route. You will mostly walk the same way back and forth, but there is an option to take another route. More about the different routes later. The total time this hike will take will be around 3 – 4 hours depending on your pace and how much time you take to enjoy the 25 fountains and other waterfalls along the way.
Difficulty and incline: Because the Levada das 25 Fontes hike is one of the most popular Levada walks on Madeira, the paths are well maintained and clearly marked. There is only about 300 meters of incline on the stairs, which is not a big deal but you will feel it. For more detailed information about routes and hikes in Madeira you might want to use maps.me or the walkmeguide App.
How to get to Levada das 25 Fontes hike
The Levada das 25 Fontes hike is located in Rabaçal, a nature reserve in the southwest of the island. The main starting point of the hike is easy to reach with a huge parking lot.
But there are actually two routes you can walk to end up at the 25 Fontes and Risco waterfall. They both have a separate parking lot and vary in difficulty and elevation.
Route 1: Rabaçal – 25 Fontes
This is the point from where most of the people will start the trail. Simply put ‘Levada das 25 Fontes’ in Google Maps and you will get there. From this point it is an out and back hike so you will hike the same way back to your car after exploring the 25 Fontes and Risco waterfall. This route has the most to offer because you can enjoy the beautiful green valley and several waterfalls along the way. But take into account that this part of the hike does have some stairs to conquer, although it is doable for most.
Route 2: Calheta tunnel – 25 Fontes
The other option starts at the parking of ER211 road and is also shown as ‘Rear exit – tunnel Levada das 25 Fontes’ on Google Maps. This route is a bit easier with less elevation. But it also doesn’t go along the valley and some other beautiful waterfalls. Although if you’re looking for an option to avoid the elevation, you can go via this route. But take into account that you have to go through an 800 meters dark tunnel. So you definitely want a flashlight or headlamp for this little adventure!
The tunnel at the Levada das 25 Fontes if you choose the ‘Calheta tunnel’ route.
Always be prepared with a headlamp during your hikes on Madeira!
We would advice you to do the Levada das 25 Fontes route from the main parking at Rabaçal. Yes, there are a few hundred meters of incline involved, but it’s worth it! This is the most scenic route through the forest with stunning viewpoints and other waterfalls along the way. You will see the Risco waterfall and the 25 fountains on both routes, so each decision is fine! But with the tunnel route you just skip the couple of hundred meters incline.
We accidentally did both routes, but started at the Rabaçal parking lot. After visiting Risco waterfall and the 25 fountains, we then continued to the other route through the tunnel. At that point we realised the car was at the other parking lot and it was still some kilometres of incline back to that parking lot. While I was slowly making my way up the hill, I heard a truck approaching us. I spontaneously put my thumb up, but then the driver then stopped and understood my non verbal communication. We got a hitch hike from these worker guys and they dropped us at the other parking lot. We didn’t even ask for that specifically, they clearly understood we were lost hikers haha!
Hitch hiking back to our car at the main parking spot. Thanks to the friendly local workers!
Best time to do the Levada das 25 Fontes hike
Because the Levada das 25 Fontes hike is one of the most popular hikes on Madeira, you can expect it to be very busy. But the best secret to have specific spots for yourself it to show up as (one of the) first ones. So that’s what we also did with this hike. We arrived at 8 AM and it was pretty funny to see the parking lot completely empty when we started the hike. But when we got back in the afternoon, the parking was completely full with cars even on the roadside! So the best time to do the hike is definitely (early) in the morning to avoid walking in a crowd of people later on the day.
In terms of the best season to visit the Levada das 25 Fontes you have to keep in mind that the waterfalls are only powerful after days of rain. We did the hike two times, once in August when the waterfalls were only tiny little streams. And the second time in December after a week of heavy rain when all the waterfalls were very beautiful and impressive! So to set your expectations right, in the summer time the waterfalls won’t be as big and powerful as after days of rain. Which mostly only occur in the winter period.
What to expect at the Levada das 25 Fontes hike
Once arrived at the parking lot, you will have amazing views over the Rabaçal valley on a clear day. A good way to start the hike! Overlooking the valley you are about to enter it gives a good overview of what you can expect. It is green wherever you look, and with the first waterfall already in sight it looks very promising.
But, keep in mind that the Levada das 25 Fontes hike won’t be a quiet and peaceful time in nature. Especially during the summer time or in weekends. Because it is one of the well known levada walks on Madeira, you’ll most likely have to share the trail with many other families and tourists. So therefore, the earlier you go, the better!
The first part of the hike goes downhill along a paved road where little streams of water are pouring out of the walls covered in moss. On your left side you will have the incredible views over the green lush valley with several ‘open gaps’ in the bushes which creates natural viewpoints. We had to stop at a few of these ‘natural viewpoints’ to take in the beautiful scenery.
When continuing the hike there are already a few waterfalls along the trail to spot. The most impressive one is the one on the second picture. When sunlight hits the waterfall, you might even have a chance of seeing a rainbow! After this little stop you will make your way deeper into the forest. Interesting tree branches that create ‘tree tunnels’ are some of the highlights during the hike. We did the Levada das 25 Fontes on a sunny day, so there was lots of sunlight coming through the trees. But imagine this part of the hike with mist or on a cloudy autumn day! It will give you the feeling as if you’re on a movie set for sure! Just like Fanal forest which is another enchanting forest in Madeira.
After about 2 kilometres into the hike you will reach an intersection. You can head to the Risco waterfall on your right which is just an 800 meters detour and really worth it! The path on the left goes straight to the 25 fontes, so you can choose which one to visit first on your hike.
The intersection in the path with the Risco waterfall route on your right and the 25 Fontes route on your left
Risco waterfall is one of the stunning and high waterfalls in Madeira that you have to see. Especially after heavy rainfall Risco is powerful and impressive. But unfortunately in the summer times it is a bit underwhelming with less water flowing down the mountainside. See the difference in the two pictures below! The first one is when we visited Risco waterfall in August when it hasn’t been raining for months. The second photo was in December after days of heavy rainfall in Madeira. Quite a difference don’t you think?!
When Risco waterfall is full of water, you will see beautiful details in the waterfall if you look closely. That is when I love to use a zoomlens to capture these little details. See below one of the pictures I made when Risco waterfall was full of power!
Risco waterfall is about 100 meters high and is actually part of a group of different water streams. If you have a drone or stand a bit further away from the viewpoint, you can see the other waterfall in the distance above Risco. This waterfall is part of the Lagoa do Vento hike, which you also can include on this hike if you want to.
In rainy season there is even another waterfall trickle flowing down onto the path towards Risco waterfall. You will have to cover your valuable stuff when walking underneath but you won’t get soaked. It’s a fun little extra adventure when hiking the Levada das 25 Fontes after days of rain!
25 Fontes waterfall
After about another 2.3 kilometres from the intersection to Risco, you will reach the amphitheater with the 25 fountains wall. This is where Levada das 25 Fontes got its name from because these 25 fountains and its waterfall are the source of the levada. This place makes you feel completely immersed in nature with the vines and moss hanging down the walls. You can swim in the natural pool, but expect it to be very cold water! It comes straight from the spring in the mountains, so it almost can get more natural than this.
When we visited the 25 fountains in August, there was not much water flowing down the walls. But a few months later after some heavy days of rain, we visited the 25 Fontes again, and the waterfall was super powerful and beautiful! It didn’t look comfortable anymore to swim in the natural pool with the water gushing down along the rock wall. See the difference in the pictures below.
This little canyon is a great place to sit down, get yourself refuelled for the way back and enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings. It can get busy quickly here, especially in the summer time, as more people take a break at the 25 fountains. So in terms of photography at the 25 fountains, it might be a challenge to get as less other people in your shot as possible. But the more you head towards the pool with the little streams, the less people will be in front. Also take into account that the sun is for a long time behind the mountain which makes it pretty dark with lots of shadows. So you will need a higher ISO or edit the picture so you can adjust the shadows.
What is a Levada?
If you’re coming to Madeira for the first time, you might question what the word ‘Levada’ actually means. This word is used a lot to specify the different Madeira hiking trails. But what is the origin of these Levadas and what is their purpose?
Levadas are little canals of water that wind through the mountains and translates as “carriageway”. These water canals are irrigation systems developed to distribute water from the wetter regions on the north of Madeira to the drier and sunnier areas of the south where lots of plantations are located. The levadas cover a total distance of about 2500 kilometer from the heart of the Laurissilva forest to the most rocky slopes.
The origin of the levadas dates back to the 15th century. The first levadas where then created to provide water to irrigate the sugarcane plantations. Back then sugar was also known as the “white gold” because it was considered as the main engine of Madeira’s economy in the 15th & 16th century. The narrow water canals have ever since the important task to deliver water along far distances. Mainly to banana plantations, vineyards, fruit orchards and vegetable gardens, as well as to hydro-electric power stations on the island.
But nowadays, the levadas are also a great way to discover Madeira’s stunning nature with landscapes and species of flora and fauna that are unique in the world.