Explore the best itineraries with a local specialist
Explore the best itineraries with a local specialist
Experience local: An adventure on the best cycling roads !
Experience local: An adventure on the best hiking paths !
  • December 16, 2021
  • Walking

Walking and water in Madeira

Walking and water in Madeira

Madeira is an island, therefore, by definition, surrounded by water. But on this particular island of the archipelago of the same name, water plays a major role in its economic survival.

A Madeira walking holiday along the Levadas

The levadas are an irrigation system over 2 100km long that serve to feed water from the northwest of the island to villages, agricultural fields (mainly sugar cane) and the laurissilva forest on the drier southeastern side. The cultivation of sugarcane in Madeira dates to the 15th century, a time when this small island was an important sugar supplier to the rest of the European continent. The first canals were built or even dug in the mountains during the 16th century by slaves. The most recent canal was created in 1940. Of the 2 100km, some 1 000km make up the network of hiking trails throughout the island. The levadas also provide hydraulic electricity.


There are many waterfalls on the island, and you will discover some truly stunning one’s on your self-guided Madeira walking tour. Some are unbelievably high and dizzying, others are more hidden away, but whatever their size, there is always something rather magical and fairylike about a waterfall, wouldn’t you agree?
The Rabaçal waterfalls are simply breathtaking, with 25 fountains and waterfalls along the levada trail. Our self-drive tour allows you to explore this stunning and natural beauty spot with crystal-clear waters that you can take a dip in if you’re brave enough (the water is pretty cold!).
Where there are levadas and waterfalls, there is also luxuriant and endemic vegetation! The paths are often lined with forests of fern and tree heathers, and colourful flowers cling to the side of the rocks as you pass. Agapanthus, Aloe, Geranium Maderense, Bird of paradise…. There is a reason why Madeira is known as ‘The Flower Island’!  
You need good, non-slip footwear on these walks as the water can spray onto the path. We also recommend a light waterproof jacket to avoid getting too wet.

Water for rum – sample the local specialty on your walking holiday in Madeira

The levadas were used to supply water to the sugar cane fields. This sugarcane, and more specifically, the sugarcane syrup was once the white gold of Madeira as it was used by the locals to produce a high-quality rum. There is a great rum factory in Calheta that you visit as part of our Gourmet walks tour, where you learn about how the local drink was made and there is also a bar area for tastings.

Water is omnipresent on a Madeira walking trip, indeed, you follow its path along the levadas as they lead you on an exploration of this beautiful and fascinating island. 


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