The Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hike is one of the most famous hikes on Madeira Island with incredible views along the way. If you are an outdoor lover visiting Madeira, you can’t miss hiking from Pico do Arieiro to the highest peak on Madeira Island, Pico Ruivo at 1862 meters. The 11 kilometre out and back trail is tough with over 1000 meters of incline, but the views and experience on itself are totally worth it. It is one of the, if not THE, most beautiful hike on Madeira. Always make sure to check the weather forecast before starting your hike in Madeira. There are more things to take into account for the Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo which I share below in this blog post! 

Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hike key details 

Before setting off to the Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hike, below some key facts! 

Hike distance and duration: From Pico do Arieiro to the summit of Pico Ruivo and back it is 11 kilometer hiking. This will take you anywhere between 3 to 5 hours of hiking depending on your fitness level, how often you take a break and how long you will spend at the top. But if you don’t want to return to Pico do Arieiro, you can also choose to hike from Pico Ruivo to Achada do Teixeira and take a taxi back to Pico do Arieiro. In that case you see another part of the Pico Ruivo hike. The route to Achada do Teixeira is also much easier because it’s flat and only 3 kilometres one way. So this will shorten your hike in kilometres and duration but means you will need transportation back to where you came from. 

Hike difficulty and incline: Although the Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hike is one of the most beautiful hikes on Madeira Island, it is also one of the heaviest. The total incline is about 1000 meters throughout the trail. So with untrained legs it’s going to be really really tough. There are lots of steps and uneven parts, so you’ll need your energy and strength until the very end. The hike is overall quite technical with narrow cliff paths and lots of uneven surfaces and dark tunnels. The trail is safe and well maintained with hand rails and signs along the way. Most of the trail is wide enough but there are some narrow parts with steep drops. Of course here the railings are in place, but still always be cautious! 

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How to get to the starting point of the Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hike

The trailhead of the Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hike is well marked on Google Maps as Pico do Arieiro and is also the famous Pico do Arieiro sunrise spot. The car park is very big with a cafe to get some coffee before you start the hike. The easiest way to get around on Madeira Island is with a rental car. But if you don’t have a rental car, there are some other options to get to Pico Arieiro! Public transport is not one of them because there is no bus going up to the parking of Arieiro. But one of the options is to book a tour with a local guide. However if you want to do the hike by yourself, below some other options. 

Getting to Pico do Arieiro with Pico transfers

If you don’t have a rental car yourself, an option is to go with Pico Transfers. But this is actually only valuable if you do the hike from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo – Achada do Teixeira, because you’ll be picked up at the parking of Achada do Teixeira. You can book a transfer online and they will pick you up and drop you off at your accommodation in Funchal or Caniço. The price is €29. 

Getting to Pico do Arieiro by taxi

You can recognise the taxis in Madeira by their yellow colour. You can book a taxi online via the Taxin app which is the ‘Uber’ of Madeira or just stop a taxi along the road. One way to Pico do Arieiro from Funchal costs approximately €30 – €40.

Getting to Pico do Arieiro with a car

With the average sunrise time in Madeira being around 7.30 AM, you don’t have to get up shockingly early. Being some of the easiest accessible viewpoints on the island, Pico do Arieiro is a very popular sunrise spot. From Funchal it only takes you about 30 minutes to get to the top. From Calheta its about 50 minutes to the parking of Pico Arieiro. The journey up to Pico do Arieiro is beautiful as you will wind your way through the beautiful Ribeiro Frio park.

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On the right side you’ll see the radar station where the hike starts. If you’re lucky you’ll walk above the clouds!

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Best time to do the Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hike 

The best time of the day to do this exhausting hike will be in the morning. Which is perfect to combine it with watching the sunrise at Pico do Arieiro. There is almost no shade along the trail, so doing the Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hike in the middle of the day with scorching heat is something I strongly discourage. 

Another option could be to watch the sunrise from the summit on Pico Ruivo, the highest peak on Madeira Island. But in that case, the hike from Achada do Teixeira to Pico Ruivo is easier and more recommendable than to hike from Pico Arieiro to Pico Ruivo in the dark. Or you start the hike before sunrise and catch the first light along the trail. However, I think watching the sunrise at Pico do Arieiro and then start the hike is the best option. 

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Watching the sunrise at Pico do Arieiro viewpoint and then start the hike to Pico Ruivo is a great plan!

What to expect during the Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hike

Starting at Pico do Arieiro on 1818 meters height, you will make your way through the heart of Madeira’s mountain range, conquering many steps and tunnels to the highest peak of Madeira Island. Pico Ruivo on 1862 meters. With over 1000 meters of incline throughout the hike, this Madeira mountain trail is not for everyone. From the car park of Pico Arieiro you’ll head to the left side of the weather station. Here you’ll already see some incredible mountain views. The first kilometres are a mix of decline and incline so you’ll get a nice warming up for the rest of the hike. Maybe you’ll think this first decline is not too much, but on your way back these final meters will burn your legs! 

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The first kilometre is probably some of the most impressive parts of the complete Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hike. Around every corner the view is different, so take your time and don’t forget to look around as you make your way further up the trail. 

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Miradouro do Ninho da Manta

The first official viewpoint you will encounter is Ninho da Manto which has a balcony overlooking the valley. Depending on the season and position of the sun, you can also watch the sunrise from this spot. However if you just make a quick stop here before continuing the hike, it is absolutely a great photo spot and worth taking in the views for a moment. If you look towards your left and squeeze your eyes, you might be able to see the trail. A great adventure is awaiting you for the rest of the hike! 

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Staircase to heaven

You will then make your way descending the dramatic staircases that make this hike really epic. And if you’re lucky with low hanging clouds, it makes you feel as if you’re on another planet. If you look from the bottom up, it feels like the staircase to heaven. Definitely worth a photo stop! 

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It can also happen that the clouds are too high covering these stairs completely. In that case you won’t see a lot from the landscape, like we had on our way back from a sunset shoot along the trail.

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Miradouro Rija

The next viewpoint is called Miradouro Rija from where you can see the eastern and western side of the island. This is also a great sunset spot if you plan on doing the Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hike in the afternoon towards sunset. 

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Tunnel and plateau section of the Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hike 

In the next section you will encounter the first tunnel that has been drilled into the mountains. The name of this tunnel is Pico do Gato and here you will need a headlamp or the light of your phone to find your way through the tunnel. It’s really cold inside, so we also called this the ‘recovery tunnel’ as you can cool off a bit here on the warm days. The length of this tunnel is about 150meters. 

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There’s always light at the end of the tunnel… And a beautiful view in this case!

As you continue along the ridge you’ll see that the trail has been carved out of the mountain. This makes the path quite narrow, but along the complete trail of Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo are hand rails and chains attached so overall the hike is very safe. But if you are any taller than 6ft or 1.80 meters you will have to watch your head. The cliff wall is at some parts pretty low and the rocks don’t give in. You’ll pass through some other shorter tunnels on this flat part of the trail to kind of prepare you for the steep incline that’s about to come! 

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Staircase to hell 

Well, this might be a bit dramatic to call it the staircase to hell, but I found it a funny joke as counterpart of the earlier called staircase to heaven. This section of the Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hike is really tough and will push your legs to the limit. The steep stairs bring you further up towards Pico Ruivo but it’s not the last steep incline. So be prepared for more! However, after this part it’s a bit flat again so you can recover before you’ll get to the last section and last incline. 

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Path along the white dead trees

After the heavy incline at the metal staircase you’ll get to a more flat section accompanied by dead trees. Unfortunately these trees have died after a wild fire, so now there is a white dry dead tree forest along this trail. It’s still a beautiful part of the Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hike though, the dead trees are kind of artsy! 

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The final battle uphill to Pico Ruivo

The last part up to the summit of Pico Ruivo isn’t an easy ending. You’ll get challenged until you reach the highest peak of Madeira Island! When you continue the walk along the dead trees, the trail goes upward gradually. But as soon as you reach the intersection at the Casa do Abrigo mountain hut, you will get to the grande finale staircase of this hike! Yes, as I said before, you don’t get the best view on Madeira Island for free 😉 

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Casa do Abrigo mountain hut

When you’ve reached the Casa do Abrigo mountain hut know that you are almost at the summit! Only a little 10 more minutes hiking up the stairs. If you want to you can grab a coffee or little snack the the hut before you make your way to the summit. But we had our own lunch with us and ate it at Pico Ruivo with the best lunch view you can imagine! If you need to, you can go to the toilet at the mountain hut for a small fee of €0,50. You can also refill your water bottle with fresh mountain water from the tap.

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Pico Ruivo summit

The last stretch of the hike up to Pico Ruivo summit is a 10 minute steep climb up the stairs. The views along this last section are breathtaking, but once you’re at the peak, you will have a panoramic view over the whole mountain range in the heart of Madeira Island. The summit is very wide and flat so you can easily walk around between the two main viewpoints. 

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Pico Ruivo viewpoint facing north west

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There is one viewpoint facing south east and another viewpoint facing north west both with incredible views on the mountains. If it’s a clear day, you can see all the way to the ocean. 

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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. 

Happy hiking!!

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