Best time to go to Pico do Arieiro
Pico do Arieiro is famous for being the ‘best sunrise viewpoint in Madeira’, so obviously you want to check it out with sunrise! But take into account that there won’t be a sea of clouds every morning. You have to be a bit lucky to get the very best weather conditions at Pico do Arieiro, therefore you should take into account a few things.
Best season to visit Pico do Arieiro
Each season on Madeira has its own beauty. We lived for 6 months on Madeira and went many times to Pico do Arieiro. After the summer period you can expect the ground to be a bit orange brown. But after a few rainy weeks, the soil turns green and looks like a different landscape! During spring time the flowers start to bloom, creating again a different atmosphere. Chances of low hanging clouds is in every season, and you just have to be a bit lucky the get the perfect conditions. So a ‘best season’ to visit Pico do Arieiro is hard to say because every season has its own beauty!
Best time of the day to visit Pico do Arieiro
Both sunrise and sunset is a good time to visit Pico do Arieiro. But witnessing a sunrise at Pico do Arieiro above the clouds is something memorable. How the orange, red sun lights up the brown green landscape and white clouds is something so unique. You can eventually combine the hike to Pico Ruivo together with watching sunrise at Arieiro. So this would be a great half day adventure. But of course it depends on the weather circumstances if you will get the perfect conditions. With sunrise you can’t check the webcam upfront to see how the weather is, so it’s always a gamble. After so many visits with perfect outcome and complete fails, we said to each other for every time we were doubting: “You’ll only know when you go” haha!
The pro with sunset is that you can check the webcam before you go up there. In that way you can estimate your chances on having clouds or not. Or maybe Arieiro is completely covered in fog so you won’t see anything. But then at least you can ‘abort the mission’, because it’s a bit of a pity to drive all the way up and find out you’re IN the clouds instead of ABOVE the clouds.
Best type of weather to visit Pico do Arieiro (with low hanging clouds!)
Madeira has a micro climate. This means that all the small regions within the general climate zone have their own unique climatic conditions. They exist specifically on Madeira because of the varied landscapes such as hills, mountains and water. Therefore it can be warm and sunny with clear skies along the south coast, but cold and foggy in the mountains. This also means that it’s very difficult to predict when you’ll have the best conditions at Pico do Arieiro. You can check the webcam daily to follow the development of clouds at Pico do Arieiro or just go to the peak and hope for a good sunrise! We’ve heard from other photographers that they went up to Arieiro for 12 times in a week (sunrise and sunset), but still didn’t got the very best conditions…
Pico do Arieiro webcam
All over Madeira are weather webcams installed so you can check the weather conditions before you set off to a different part of the island. It does not apply for sunrise of course to check the webcam before you depart because it will be dark. But if you want to watch sunset at Pico do Arieiro it’s a perfect tool to predict the clouds. The webcam updates its view every 30 minutes and you can even watch a time-lapse from the last 24 hours. This will give you a good insight of the last conditions on the peak.
If you’re staying for a longer period of time on the island, you might even get better in predicting the clouds by just looking up to the mountain peaks. But as always, there’s nothing as changeable as the weather!
Best viewpoints at Pico do Arieiro
There are a few viewpoints at Pico do Arieiro which you can check out. The first one is located right next to the parking lot. The other two include a little hike to the balconies. Below are all the three viewpoints at Pico do Arieiro specified with accompanied photos of what you can expect.
Miradouro Juncal is the viewpoint next to the parking lot which is very, very easy to reach with only a 5 minute walk on a dirt trail. The viewpoint itself is a balcony with a few natural seats. But there is a hill next to the balcony where you can find your own spot. Also for photography the hill is a better place to install yourself than on the balcony. You can easily bring your whole family from (very) young to old to this viewpoint. This is THE popular sunrise spot on Madeira, so you can expect it to be busy. There is a chance you have to share the sunrise hill with tens, if not a hundred other people. But not in low season of course.
From Miradouro Juncal you’ll look straight into the valley of Fajã da Nogueira with wonderful views on the ocean. íf you can see the ocean. I actually hope not for you, because this means you’ll have a blanket of clouds beneath you. On a clear day without clouds the sunrise is also beautiful, don’t get me wrong. But the special effect is definitely the clouds in combination with the golden light of the sunrise. It will take your breath away when the light touches the clouds and paints the landscape in an orange tone. Below two pictures of the sunrise at Pico do Arieiro, obviously taken on two different mornings so you can see the difference.
Above a picture during an amazing sunrise at Pico Arieiro with a blanket of low hanging clouds
Below a picture during another sunrise which was beautiful as well, but the clouds were only above the ocean
There are many creative angles to find at Miradouro Juncal, especially if you work with different focal lengths which gives a new perspective to the scene every time.
Miradouro do Ninho da Manta
This viewpoint takes a bit more effort to get to. The balcony of Miradouro do Ninho da Manta looks out over the Fajã da Nogueira valley with the ocean in the distance. The 1,2 kilometres you need to walk to get here isn’t something many people want to do before sunrise. Therefore this viewpoint is a quieter option than Miradouro Juncal.
At Miradouro do Ninho da Manta are many creative angles to find. The scenery is different and maybe a bit more interesting than at Miradouro Juncal. But it depends what you have in mind if you want to take THE perfect Pico do Arieiro sunrise photo.The path and stairs towards the viewpoint can be a great leading line. But also the balcony on the viewpoint itself is a great spot. Especially with low hanging clouds in the valley!
There are also many outcrops here and the perspective seen from the hill opposite of the balcony is beautiful as well! Here you’ll have more a raw mountainous landscape or the valley in your foreground. While at Miradouro Juncal you’ll look straight upon the blanket of clouds, or the ocean. Depending on the weather circumstances of course.
Which one is better? Miradouro Juncal or Miradouro do Ninho da Manta?
My experience at both viewpoints was that at Miradouro Juncal you can shoot more ‘minimalistic’ pictures with a sea of clouds and eventually a person in your frame. There is no real foreground here, except when you use the tall grass or other natural attributes. But you can be more creative with different focal lengths, creating a different perspective of the scene every time you change focal length. While at Miradouro do Ninho da Manta you can be more creative with the surroundings, making use of the mountains as foreground or backdrop. Changing position to get another perspective, making use of the path as leading lines and so on.
Miradouro da Pedra Rija
This third viewpoint is a bit further than Miradouro do Ninho da Manta and looks over towards the west and on the east side to Ninho da Manta viewpoint. Because you’ll have great views towards the west, Pedra Rija viewpoint is also a good spot to watch sunset. Besides that, you’ll look up to an impressive set of stairs on top of the mountain ridge. Another great photo spot, especially if you have low hanging clouds in the valley!
Go here with sunset, and you’ll be in for a magical colour game if this view point is not covered in clouds. If you’re lucky with low hanging clouds at Pico do Arieiro, you’ll be lucky to walk above the clouds and witness a magical sunset with a blanket of clouds beneath you.
What to prepare and bring for sunrise at Pico do Arieiro
Whether you only watch the sunrise at Pico do Arieiro or also plan to do the Pico to Pico hike, below a list of things to bring and general tips for your best sunrise experience at Pico do Arieiro!
- Bring an extra jacket because the weather can be colder in the mountains, especially before the sunlight is able to warm you up. It also can be very windy on some days, so you might even want to tuck a scarf around your neck and wear a hoodie to mute the wind around your ears.
- Wear comfortable shoes, hiking shoes are the best (especially for the hike itself). But sturdy sneakers are good as well for sunrise at the viewpoints.
- Bring water (and food when you plan to hike). There is a cafe and information centre near the parking lot, so you can always grab a coffee before you start the hike. Here are also toilets for €0,50
- Use a headlamp, flashlight or your phone in the dark. Some parts of the path can be a bit uneven. So walk with caution and use a light for your own assistance.
- Take a blanket with you if you want to tuck yourself and your lover in while watching the sunrise. You can also use this to sit on, while sipping on your self brought coffee in a can.
- Arrive half an hour before sunrise time. This gives you the time to find a good spot to install yourself. Also the glow before sunrise is magical as well to witness. If you want to go before sunrise to Miradouro do Ninho da Manta, take into account an extra 20 minutes to hike to this viewpoint.
- Of course bring your camera (eventually tripod) and a drone if you have one. This will be a memory for your lifetime! In the next paragraph some photography tips for sunrise at Pico do Arieiro to help you find the best spots and angles.
Photography tips for Pico do Arieiro
With three amazing viewpoints and so many great angles to shoot from, it might feel a bit overwhelming when you’re going to shoot sunrise at Pico do Arieiro for the first time. Below our photography tips for sunrise at Pico do Arieiro!
- Make sure to arrive about 30 minutes before sunrise. This will give you the time to search for a good spot and set up your composition. Take into account that if you want to watch sunrise at Miradouro do Ninho da Manta you’ll need to hike for about 20 minutes to that balcony. Miradouro Juncal is only a 5 – 10 minute walk from the parking lot.
- Use different focal lengths, if you have different lenses. You will see that you can create a completely different perspective of the scene with several focal lengths. This will also give you the opportunity to make the best of your sunrise mission. Even if it’s not the very best sunrise at Arieiro. For example, if the clouds are a bit further out on the ocean and you have a tele zoom lens such as a 100 – 400 mm for example, you can compress the background. This will bring the background closer to your perspective, giving the result as if the clouds were closer than in reality! See below the comparison of a picture taken with a tele zoom lens, and with a wide angle lens. Both at exactly the same spot, but giving a completely different result.
- Try different angles in combination with several focal lengths. The natural playground will give you lots of options to get yourself on a higher perspective. In this way you’re not limited to one angle but you can shoot three or four different angles giving your pictures a different view every time. Of course always make sure to stay safe when exploring around on the rocks!
- Use the natural surroundings as foreground such as a part of the rock or the tall grass. This will give your photo more depth and perspective.
- Make a time-lapse of the moving clouds.
Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hike
One of the most beautiful but also heaviest hikes on Madeira island is the Pico to Pico hike. With other words, the 7 kilometre (one way) hike from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo. This stunning hike connects two of the highest peaks on Madeira and leads you through the central core of the mountains with fabulous views along the way. The hike involves tunnels, some narrow paths and a few steep sections and descents. One way from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo will take you about 2.5 – 3,5 hours depending on your pace and fitness level. The total incline of the hike is 1000m making it one of the hardest hikes on the island. If you want to get to Pico Ruivo but you’re not in for this heavy hike, you can do the Achada do Teixeira to Pico Ruivo hike.
Full Moon photography at Pico do Arieiro
If you love to do night photography and you’re fascinated about the stars and moon, then Pico do Arieiro is a great place to head to. With little light pollution this high in the mountains, and only on 30 minutes driving from Funchal, Pico do Arieiro is an easy and beautiful place for night photography.
I had the idea, inspired by one of my photography idols Chris Burkhard, to shoot the rising Full Moon right above a peak with a person frame as silhouette.
So we set off for this ‘Chasing the Full Moon adventure’ in the dark after we had explored Pico do Arieiro a few times during sunrise. It was pitch black and very special to be up in the mountains with no one else around.
With the help of PhotoPills, an app that shows you the exact position of the moon per hour, we found a peak where the moon would rise from behind. After about 30 minutes from the parking lot we found a perfect setup for this shot. Around 10 PM the moon would make her appearance behind the peak. Once we saw the peak lit up, we knew we had the right spot! The only question was if our model for this shoot would be in time on the mountain peak… Luckily it all worked out and we could shoot the rising moon with a person in silhouette in front of the Full Moon! What a photography adventure! Considering the short time we had for the moon being in the exact position above the peak, we are very happy with our pictures! Have a look below!