Vereda dos Balcoes PR 11 key facts
To be well prepared for the hike to Balcoes viewpoint, below some key facts!
Hike distance and duration: The Balcoes hike is one of the shortest and easiest walks in Madeira. The total hike is 2,7 kilometre which will take you less than an hour back and forth. Of course the total time you spend at the Balcoes viewpoint is not included in this time. Make sure to calculate at least 20 minutes to spend at the viewpoint, especially on a clear day. It’s just so beautiful, and you definitely want to take it all in. There is also another reason to spend some more time at the Balcony viewpoint, but more about that later in this blog post!
Difficulty and incline: A said before, the Balcoes hike is one of the easiest and shortest hikes on Madeira. There is no incline involved, the paths are wide, flat, well maintained and clearly marked. It really is a family activity as this walk can be done by young and old.
How to get to Vereda Dos Balcoes
Balcoes is located in the Ribeiro Frio forest park which is the starting point of various levada walks. From the main town of the island, Funchal, it is about 50 – 60 minutes driving to the starting point of Vereda dos Balcoes. You can either drive on the highway of the island which is the coastal route, or take the road up the mountains which is 20 kilometers shorter than the highway but with more turns and incline, so in terms of time it doesn’t matter, in terms of kilometres it does.
Once arrived at the parking area, you will see various restaurants and other facilities which belongs to Ribeiro Frio. This tourist attraction offers lush gardens, trout ponds and a few streams and small waterfalls. Before or after the Balcoes hike you can take a coffee at one of the cafes and make use of the restrooms. You will see that parking is limited here, so it’s very normal to park the car on the street side.
If you’re short in time and you want to combine as many highlights on Madeira as possible, you can combine sunrise at Arieiro with a visit to the Balcoes viewpoint right after.
Best time to go to Balcoes viewpoint
We’ve been on three different times of the day to the Balcoes viewpoint, so we definitely can talk out of experience in what the best time is to visit Balcoes.
Because Balcoes is located in between the mountains it can get misty between the peaks easily. Our first time visit was an hour before sunset, and even though it cleared up a little bit, we’d never seen the peaks of the mountains that time.
Our second time visiting Balcoes was during midday when it looked clear up there. But then mist surprised us when entering the Ribeiro Frio forest. It was so thick that we couldn’t see anything, leaving us again with the big question how the view on Balcoes would be on a clear day.
Because we were located for a few months on Madeira we could luckily go for a third time to see if the weather Gods were on our side that time. We choose to go right after sunrise, because going with sunrise didn’t really make sense because you won’t see the sunrise and it’s still too dark in the valley to take pictures.
So we arrived around 8.30 AM and the light was beautiful, but the balcony still a bit in the shade. This might differ per season, our experience was in October. But oh boy what a luck we’ve had that day! There was no-one else around and we had a stunning clear sky with the impressive view on the highest peaks of Madeira! We quickly started to fly the drone and take pictures as long as there were no other people around. Only at about 9.00 AM the first other people arrived at the viewpoint.
Watch our short cinematic video about Balcoes
What to expect during the Vereda dos Balcoes hike
The Vereda dos Balcoes hike is one of the shortest but also most popular levada walks on Madeira. The 1,4 kilometre one way takes you through the beautiful Laurissilva Forest and follows Levada da Serra do Faial all the way to the incredible Balcões viewpoint. It can get crowded with people, so the earlier you go, the better. When we went right after sunrise, we were for about 45 minutes alone at the viewpoint. Only around 9 AM people started to arrive at the Balcoes viewpoint.
Once you’ve parked the car, simply follow the “Balcões” signs to the path. You will slowly make your way deeper into the forest with some beautiful views along the trail. At a certain point you will pass through a narrow pathway accompanied by huge rock walls covered in vines and moss which creates a beautiful natural hallway.
Despite Vereda dos Balcoes is just a short walk, there is a lot to see if you look around. In specific seasons the flowers along the trail are in bloom and you can spot different kinds of birds. There are a few lookout points along the trail from where you can look down into the valley.
The real highlight of this hike is the view from the balcony which is, on a clear day, tremendously stunning. As said before, we had to go three times to get a clear view on the third try. So if you’re the one catching the clear view on your first visit, you can be very lucky!
From the Balcoes viewpoint you can see the highest peaks of Madeira consisting of Pico Ruivo (1861m) and Pico do Areeiro (1817m). The valley below the balcony is the Ribeira da Metade valley with the island’s central mountain range behind it. If you look to your right you can see all the way towards the ocean with the Penha D’Águia cliff as another landmark.
The Balcoes birds and cat
Besides the incredible views at Balcoes, there are other fun things to do and see. The little Madeiran chaffinch birds are always around at Balcoes and live in the trees around. They are so used to people at the balcony that they are friendly welcoming you, waiting to eat some seeds out of your hand. So if you have some nuts or seeds with you, you can feed them right from the balcony! But as with everything involved with animals, please respect their habitat and don’t feed them anything else then little seeds.
All the three times we went to Balcoes, we also saw the white grey cat. He was hanging around all the time. Asking for attention from the people, checking out the birds and just enjoying the view. He must be living around, but I don’t know if its a cat from someone or a ‘wild’ cat. But if you see him, give him a hug from me 🙂
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.