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!
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.