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 specifies 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. They are 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 kilometre from the heart of the Laurissilva forest to the most rocky slopes.
The origin of the levadas dates back to the 15th century when the first levadas where created. Their purpose was 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. But also to let the hydro-electric power stations on the island work.
But nowadays, the levadas are also a great way to discover Madeira’s stunning nature. You will see landscapes and different species of flora and fauna along the levadas that are unique in the world.