Levada do Rei PR18 is one of the self guided Levada walks on Madeira island that you don’t want to miss. This beautiful lush trail located in Santana in the north of Madeira follows the Ribeiro Bonito stream through Madeira’s Laurissilva forest. You can enjoy the beautiful views of the São Jorge and Santana farmlands along this easy and flat Levada walk. During the Levada do Rei hike you will see the unique and varied vegetation of this UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site which ends in a beautiful gorge with waterfalls. In this blog post you will find all the information you need about Levada do Rei. Some history and background information as well the details and what to expect on the Levada do Rei hike.
About Levada do Rei
Levada do Rei is also known as the ‘Kings Levada’. It got this name because it was built by King D. Carlos I in the late 19th century to irrigate the fields of São Jorge and feed the existing water mills. Make sure to visit the São Jorge water mill (moínho in Portuguese), which is about three hundred years old! This mill grinds wheat, maize, barley and rye grown on the terraces of São Jorge and is still powered by the water from the Levada do Rei. Therefore its great example of preservation.
Levada do Rei is an easy walk with mostly wide and well maintained paths. Therefore it’s being done by almost every age, from younger kids to older hikers. There are some spots during the Levada walk which are narrower, at a certain point you have to pass underneath a little waterfall. There is also a short tunnel to go through, but you don’t necessarily need a torch for this. Because you go deep into the forest, it can be a bit colder at the end point. So bring a vest or jacket if you don’t want to cool off too much.
Levada do Rei PR18 key facts
Before you decide on doing the Levada do Rei hike, below some key facts!
Hike distance and duration: The total distance of the Levada do Rei walk is 9.7 km which will take you about 2-3 hours to complete. It depends how long you rest at the end point or how long it takes you to explore the gorge. This hiking trail is a back and forth walk which means you will walk the same way back to the parking lot. This might feel a bit boring for some people, but still there is enough to see along the way.
Difficulty and incline: Levada do Rei is an easy walk and is basically flat the whole way through. There are only about 30 stairs to climb in the beginning of the Levada walk and the total elevation is about 72 meters. The path is well maintained and clearly marked because it’s one of the more popular Levada walks on Madeira.
How to get to Levada do Rei
The startpoint of Levada do Rei is located in Santana, the northern part of Madeira. From Funchal, it takes about 55 minutes driving over a 50 kilometers distance. There is a cafe called ‘Quinta Levada do Rei’ at the trailhead where you can park, have a coffee or lunch and go to the toilet before or after the hike.
The best way to get around in Madeira is with a rental car as public transport won’t always take you to the right spots. For example you can catch a bus from Funchal to this part of the island, but it won’t drop you to the starting point of the Levada do Rei. The closest bus stop is ‘Chão da Felpa’ which is still a kilometre away from the start point of the trail.
Best time to do the Levada do Rei hike
Because the Levada do Rei hike is a pretty popular tourist Levada walk, it can get busy during the way. Our experience is always that the the earlier you go, the higher the chances to have a place for yourself. Because you’ll walk the whole way in the forest covered by trees, there is enough shade and it doesn’t get too hot during the day. The power of the waterfall half way during the hike might be stronger after days of rain. When we did the Levada do Rei it was only a small drizzle, so we could easily pass it without getting too wet.
What to expect on the Levada do Rei hike
Levada do Rei begins at the Water Treatment Plant at Quebradas in São Jorge and follows the Ribeiro Bonito stream deep into the Laurissilva forest. The trail ends in a beautiful gorge at the source of the levada where you can explore a few small cascades and waterfalls.
The first part of the trail winds through Madeira’s beautiful Laurissilva forest. You can admire the diverse natural flora and fauna of the island along the way. Keep your eyes out for all the different shades of green and bird life!
The majority of the walk you are in the forest without the possibility to view the valley. But there is a point where you can look down the incredible green mountains and valley. This was one of my favourite spots during the Levada do Rei hike!
After the first few kilometers the trail goes though a short tunnel. You don’t necessarily need a headlamp because the tunnel is only a few meters long. Nothing too serious or dangerous, but always mind your head in tunnels!
The trail continues along the mountain slopes with a fence and will soon bring you to the second ‘challenge’ of the hike. A waterfall that spits out on the path! Because the trail only continues underneath the waterfall, there is no escaping from a bit of splashes. So be prepared for this! Bring a cover for your backpack or a rain jacket, although it wasn’t too bad when we went. The power of the waterfall will differ per season. I can imagine that after a few days of downpour the waterfall might be much stronger with more water to conquer.
After this little waterfall adventure, you only have a few kilometres remaining until the natural gorge of Levada do Rei. You will feel and see the change in scenery as you are now going deeper and deeper into the Laurissilva forest. It might get a bit colder and you will be walking in the shade most of this part towards the gorge.
The Levada do Rei gorge and waterfalls
When you’ve reached the ‘end point’ of the hike, you will see a concrete dam where you can have a sit to take a rest, eat lunch and admire the natural surroundings. But if you love to explore, don’t head back from here! There is a whole gorge to explore, so keep walking.
A dirt trail leads to a few small waterfalls which are quite easily accessible. You can even take a dip in the pools of the waterfall if you like to cool off. But with every stream of water, there is always a source! So if you’d like to explore a bit more, then go for the big boy! There is a much larger waterfall hidden deeper in the gorge.
You can choose to follow the stream upwards to the end of the gorge spot the waterfall. But if you choose this route, then be prepared to get wet till your chest. So if you’re not in for a muddy and wet adventure you can choose the safer and drier route. Follow the river above and go slightly to the right up the hill. There is no real path so you really have to find your own way. On top of the gorge you can look down onto the waterfall through the forest which is very nice ending of Levada do Rei!
Precautions for levada walks and hiking in Madeira
For a safe hiking experience in Madeira it is important to take the following safety precautions. There have been accidents in Madeira on levada walks and in the mountains in the past, which doesn’t directly make hiking in Madeira dangerous. But you do always have to keep in mind that the weather in Madeira can change suddenly. Or that landslides take place, branches can fall or paths can be slippery. In case of any emergency you can call 112.
Below some of our tips for a safe Madeira hiking experience
- Wear suitable clothes, always bring an extra jacket and put your hiking boots / shoes on with good grip.
- Take enough water and some snacks with you such as nuts, (dried) fruits etc.
- Always bring a headlamp on your hikes in Madeira because some of them include walking through a tunnel.
- Take a whistle with you in case you get lost or slip from the path.
- Book a qualified guide when you want to be sure on your first levada walk. Most of the levada walks are flat and easy, especially the well known levada’s in Madeira. You can find a detailed description in our blog about the 20 best levada’s in Madeira. But if you prefer a qualified guide next to you when walking in Madeira, you will not only learn more about the nature but you will also be 100% safe and don’t have to worry about navigating your way through the forest.
- When hiking alone on Madeira, prepare yourself and collect all the updated information about the trail you plan to follow. Are the trails open? No landslides? On the website of Visit Madeira you can find the up to date info of the walks which are open and closed.
- Calculate the time you’ll need to finish the hike so you’ll be back before dark.
- Inform the hotel or accommodation you are staying which walk you are going to do.
- Do not go off the designated path.
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.
Best Madeira guided levada tours
If you want to explore some of the best levada walks in Madeira, then it is highly recommended to book a guided tour. Your guide can tell you everything about the flora and fauna, you can’t get lost and you don’t have to worry about any preparation except the right shoes and clothing, All of these tours include air conditioned transport with hotel pick up and drop off, certified guides and sometimes also lunch. You can reserve now and pay later, with cancellation up to 24 hours in advance to receive a full refund.
Our recommendations of levada tours
- Book here your private guided Levada do Rei hike including transport. Explore the beautiful Laurissilva Forest and waterfalls of Levada do Rei with your private guide and get picked up and dropped off at your accommodation.
- Book here your private guided Vereda dos Balcoes hike including transportation. Explore the beautiful Ribeiro Frio with your private guide and enjoy the views on the highest peaks of Madeira and private transport from and to your accommodation.
- Book here your guided Levada dos Cedros hike. The lesser known Levada dos Cedros brings you to a beautiful waterfall at the end of the trail. A must do if you like the more hidden gems.
- Book here your private guided Levada do Castelejo hike including transportation. Hike through the stunning trails in Porto da Cruz surrounded by abundant vegetation native to this zone.
- Book here your guided walk along Levada Caldeirão Verde including transportation. This is one of the most popular levada walks in Madeira as you will see many waterfalls along the way, such as the famous Caldeirao Verde waterfall.
- Book here your guided Levada das 25 Fontes walk. Another famous levada walk in Madeira leading you to the beautiful Risco waterfall and 25 Fontes waterfall. A must do!
- Book here your guided Levada do Moinho to Levada Nova hike including transport. The unique waterfall pours down a cliffs over the levada path. Be prepared to get a little wet!
- Book here your private guided Levada dos Tornos hike. North Madeira is super lush and the Levada brings you along a scenic path to some beautiful waterfalls.
- Book here your private guided Levada do Alecrim hike including transport. This levada walk is perfect for families and during the summer months you can even swim in the natural pool of the waterfall!
- Book here your private guided Lagoa do Vento hike including transport. The beautiful, tall waterfall of Lagoa do Vento is a must visit. You can even swim in the natural pool for a refreshing dip after the hike down.
General travel must haves for Madeira
Before we dive into some of the best levadas in Madeira, let’s check a few things to make your travels in Madeira easy and safe.
Have you thought about how to get around in Madeira? A car is the easiest way to drive around the island.
Read in our complete guide everything about car hire in Madeira
- Book your rental car here and compare the providers to get the best deal.
- Book your scooter or motorbike here to get around in Madeira. Most of the scooters you can drive with driving license (A1/A2/A) from 18 years old, or from 25 years old with a car (B) license. The motorbikes have a minimum age of 20 or 21 with A (moto) license.
Do you prefer a private driver for the day and the freedom to create your own itinerary?
Did you already book your accommodation?
- Check out this great tool to compare prices of hotels on different platforms from around the world and book your favorite hotel
Are you insured during your travels?
- Buy your travel insurance here. Safetywing not only includes coverage for travel delay, lost checked luggage, emergency response, natural disasters and personal liability. But also covers all your medical expenses for hospitalisation.
More Madeira travel inspiration
I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about Levada do Rei.
This is definitely one of the levada trails in Madeira you have to see! For more Madeira travel inspiration and the must visit destinations, head over to our other blog posts about Madeira island.