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 kilometers 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!
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 a pick up and drop off transfer
If you don’t have a rental car yourself, a great option is to book a transfer that picks you up from the hotel, brings you to Pico do Arieiro and then picks you up again at Achada do Teixeira to bring you back to your hotel. So the hike from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo is still self guided. Book your transfer here and they will pick you up and drop you off at your accommodation in Funchal or Caniço.
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 so booking the transfer with the link above is way cheaper.
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.
On the right side you’ll see the radar station where the hike starts. If you’re lucky you’ll walk above the clouds!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
Pico Ruivo viewpoint facing north west
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.
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.
Best Madeira island tours
If you want to explore the best of Madeira with a guide then here some great tours I recommend. During these tours you will pass by some of the best viewpoints which I share in this complete guide. All of these tours include transport with hotel pick up and drop off, certified guides and sometimes the entrance fees if applicable. You can reserve now and pay later, with cancellation up to 24 hours in advance to receive a full refund.
- Customized 6 hour Madeira tour. On this six-hour tour you can choose the different areas you want to visit on Madeira island. Pick the landmarks and iconic places to make your own itinerary with the help of your local guide/driver.
- West Madeira private tour. Starting in the fishing town of Câmara de Lobos you will drive via Cabo Girao, the highest cape in Europe, to the beautiful view of Serra d’Agua valley. From there you will head to São Vicente to explore the Laurisilva forest. Continuing north, you will visit Porto Moniz, known for its natural lava pools where you can swim. As last stop you will visit the famous rocks at Ribeira da Janela.
- East Madeira tour. Visit Pico do Arieiro viewpoint, make pictures at the Santana houses and the beautiful viewpoints at Porto da Cruz to finish the day at the impressive volcanic landscape of Ponta de São Lourenço.
- Canyoning adventure with transfer from Funchal. Get the thrill of canyoneering and explore Madeira’s untouched nature. follow a river as you walk, rappel, slide and jump through hidden waterfalls with streams that cross endemic forests. A super fun and adventurous day!
- Ponta de São Lourenço hike with pick up in Funchal. Explore the most eastern tail of Madeira island with its unique volcanic rock formations to understand how the island was created.
- Funchal 48-hour hop-on hop off bus tour. Explore the lush landscape of Madeira and the sights of Funchal at your own pace with a 2 or 5 day ticket for the hop-on, hop-off bus.
- Tuk-Tuk tour to Monte Tropical Garden with Toboggan ride from Funchal. Explore Funchal Old Town with a Tuk Tuk before making your way to the mountains to the stunning Monte Tropical Garden. There you will explore over 70,000 square meters of exotic plants. At the end of the tour you will enjoy the thrilling ride down the hill with a Toboggan ride.
- Funchal Old Town walking tour. Learn about the history of Funchal and Madeira on a guided walk through the city’s medieval center. Visit the farmer’s market, the Campo Almirante Reis. The Fortress of St. James, and a number of other sites as your guide provides commentary.
- Dolphin & Whale watching Luxury Catamaran Cruise from Funchal. Enjoy the views of Funchal from a luxury catamaran. Look out for whales and dolphins in their natural habitat as your relax on board and explore the underwater world with a snorkel.
- Scuba diving Madeira. Explore the underwater world of Madeira island. A theory lesson and practice in swimming pool is included. This before you will dive about 12 meters for 45 meters in the Atlantic Ocean.
- Sunset tour from Funchal by Catamaran. Watch the sunset off the coast of Madeira on a 3-hour evening catamaran cruise from Funchal and spot dolphins (guaranteed, or you get a 2nd trip for free).
General travel must haves for Madeira
Have you thought about how to get around in Madeira? A car is the easiest way to drive around the island.
- 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.
Where to stay in Madeira
There are several towns in Madeira that are great to stay while exploring the island. Funchal is the capital town of the island with the most restaurants around. It has a charming old town and all sorts of facilities you might look for such as a boulevard, shopping centre, cafe’s and nightlife. It is a great place to base yourself with plenty of culture and beautiful old buildings and charming streets to explore. There are also a few beaches in Funchal to enjoy the ocean. However these beaches are from pebble stones.
We have stayed in The Vine hotel and Okulus villa which are both beautiful locations. The Vine has the comforts of a hotel including breakfast and is located right in the city centre. Okulus villa is located in the Old Town with the most amazing ocean and city view.
If you want to be based near a sandy beach in Madeira, then Calheta is a great place. While Funchal is more to the east of the island located, Calheta is more to the west of the island located. So eventually you can also stay a few days in both towns depending the total length of your stay in Madeira. Calheta has an atmospheric marine with restaurants offering great spots to watch the sunset and enjoy a meal.
We have stayed a few weeks at Calheta Boutique Houses during our 7 months living in Madeira. Highly recommend these private villa’s as you have all the amenities you have at home as well. The modern design and amazing ocean views makes it a perfect vacation home.
Small villages in nature
If you want to experience really small towns to stay in Madeira, then check out the accommodations in Seixal, Porto da Cruz, Sao Vicente or Ribeiro Frio. Take into account that there will be less restaurants around but you will be completely immersed in the local life and nature.
More Madeira travel inspiration
I hope you enjoyed this blog post about the Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hike in Madeira.
For more information about Madeira, head over to our other travel blogs.