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 because they follow a levada. 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 in north Madeira to the drier and sunnier parts in 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 goes back to the 15th century when the first canals were created 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 precious water along far distances 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.