Levadas and footpaths
Exploring its mountains on foot, along levadas and footpaths, is one of the most amazing experiences offered by Madeira’s exuberant countryside. Levadas are man-made irrigation channels only found on the island of Madeira (in Porto Santo there are only footpaths). Walking along levadas is one of the most traditional outdoor activities on the island. They offer an opportunity for both locals residents and visitors to enter the Laurissilva forest, UNESCO World Natural Heritage since 1999 and the only site of this type in Portugal, all year round.
The Laurissilva forest dates from the Tertiary Period and has been nominated one of the 7 Natural Wonders of Portugal. In the later Ice Age, this forest only survived in the geographic area of Macaronesia, in other words, the Atlantic islands: Madeira, Azores, Canaries and Cape Verde. This alone makes it worthy of a visit and Madeira is the region with the largest area of Laurissilva (approximately 22,000 hectares). Madeira also has a wide variety of flora, with some special treasures, such as the Madeira orchid (Dactylorhiza foliosa) and the rare Goodyera macrophylla orchid. Some of the large trees in the Laurissilva forest include the Madeira laurel (Ocotea foetens), the Canary laurel (Laurus novocanariensis), the Indian bay (Persea indica) and the Barbusano (Apollonias barbujana). Most of the footpaths are appropriate for all walkers. Footpaths of varied levels of difficulty offer interesting alternatives, from mountain walks to walks along the coast, as well as walks that combine the two settings. Some of the levadas cross the mountains from north to south through tunnels with hundreds of metres long. The recommended footpaths in the Autonomous Region of Madeira are classified as Short Routes (PR). There are 28 across the entire island, particularly on the north and southwest coasts of Madeira. They are identified and classified in order to assist walkers of all the necessary information. These footpaths are under the supervision and responsibilty of a regional governmental entity - The Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forest (ICNF).
To guarantee your safety, make use of the services of specialised companies and publications. Always use appropriate equipment and clothing. If you are interested in walking, we recommend joining an organised walking tour with a travel agency or specialised company, accompanied by a certified guide.