Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo: The Best Hiking Guide
Craggy mountain peaks, candy floss clouds, panoramic viewpoints, dark ominous tunnels, steep staircases, narrow ledges and Madeira’s most striking landscapes; here’s our guide to hiking from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo.
Hiking from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo is the most popular hike in Madeira and it’s not hard to see why! Endless dramatic mountain peaks protrude through clouds sitting peacefully below giving way to a mystical and surreal atmosphere.
Standing at 1,818 metres, Pico do Arieiro is the third highest peak in Madeira and Pico Ruivo is the highest at 1,862 metres.
This challenging and rewarding trail is sure to get the adrenaline pumping as it leads you up steep staircases, along narrow ledges, through ominous dark tunnels and past twisted trees that look like they’ve been plucked from the pages of a creepy fairytale.
If you suffer from vertigo, which I do, you may experience it quite often but please don’t let that put you off. There are handrails at the steep and narrow sections so it’s perfectly safe and hiking from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo was the absolute highlight of our Madeira itinerary.
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What you Need to Know Before Hiking from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo
Before we dive into the detailed hiking guide, we’ll firstly cover some handy things you might want to know.
When’s the best time to hike from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo?
Madeira has a sub-tropical climate with hot summers and mild winters so hiking from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo is ideal at any time of the year.
That being said, if you’re here in the summer, be prepared to hike with the crowds, whereas in the winter, the mountains will be colder but you won’t have the masses of visitors.
With regards to the best time of day to hike, we were there for sunrise which we would 100% recommend; especially if you’re only going to be here once during your stay!
One of the best things to do in Madeira is to watch the sunrise at the Pico do Arieiro Viewpoint. It’s a wonderful and magical experience that you’ll treasure forever.
Arrive half an hour before the sun is up when the sky is on fire and lit up in reds, gold and oranges and watch the new day begin while you take in the majesty of Madeira’s central mountains enveloping you.
Our Top Tip: start the hike straight after sunrise and don’t worry if the trail is busy. At Miradouro do Ninho da Manta, 1.2-kilometres from the Pico do Arieiro Viewpoint, most people stop and we had the trail pretty much to ourselves from here to Pico Ruivo.
Where should I stay to hike from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo?
The closest place to stay is Funchal; a 40-minute drive from the Pico do Arieiro Viewpoint. If you’re starting the hike from Pico Ruivo, Santana is the closest with a 16-minute drive.
Madeira, however, is fairly compact so wherever you stay your drive won’t be too long.
Driving from Funchal you’ll have an amazing view across the lit-up city from the mountains as you enter the clouds and you can just about make out the beginning of the sunlight glow.
What direction should I hike in?
The most popular direction to hike in is from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo which we’d recommend. The tour groups arrive mid-morning and hike in this direction so if you’re hiking the other way, you’ll meet them along the route and there’ll be lots of queuing at stairs.
Unfortunately, as this is the most popular hike in Madeira, you won’t completely escape the crowds. Hiking back from Pico Ruivo we were waiting around for the groups at staircases and narrow sections of the path. However, as we left at sunrise, we had one way pretty much to ourselves.
What facilities are there?
At the Pico do Arieiro Viewpoint you’ll find a cafe, toilets (for a fee so bring cash), a souvenir shop, and an Information Centre. At the Pico Ruivo Viewpoint, there’s a cafe, toilets (again for a fee) and a souvenir shop.
Along the trail, there aren’t any facilities so make sure you bring plenty of food, water and suncream.
Our Top Tip: if you need the toilet while you’re hiking, either don’t use toilet roll or if you have to, take it back with you. Unfortunately, even in the most beautiful places on earth, there are some inconsiderate people who have left piles of toilet paper which, as well as looking horrid, also smells.
How long is the hike?
The hike is 7 kilometres one way and took us just over 2 and a half hours. Allow for approximately a 6-hour round-trip which allows time for lunch, breaks and photos.
The trail is quite difficult and throughout the return trip, you’ll incline almost 1,000 metres.
How well-maintained is the path?
As this is Madeira’s most popular hike, the path is very well-maintained. There are narrow ledges and steep staircases but there are railings to ensure you’re safe and have something to hold onto.
Do I need a car for this hike?
It’s a lot easier to have a car as it gives you the freedom and flexibility to go on your time, arrive when it suits you and hike at your own pace. However, you don’t need a car and there are a few options if you don’t have one.
The cheapest and easiest option after driving is a private transfer. With this option, you’ll be picked up and dropped off at your accommodation at your chosen time.
Another easy option is to book a taxi which should cost around €30-€40 one-way from Funchal.
You can also book a group tour which can be a great option if you’re travelling solo and don’t want to hike by yourself!
Now that we’ve covered everything you need to know before hiking from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo, here’s our detailed guide.
Hiking from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo
The Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo Trailhead starts to the left of the weather station at the Pico do Arieiro Viewpoint. The first kilometre has some of the hike’s most incredible scenery as you’re immersed in Madeira’s craggy central mountain peaks while looking down over the candy-floss clouds.
You really feel like you’re on another planet!
The path is well-maintained and has railings on either side at most parts so although it looks very narrow with steep cliffs, it’s pretty safe.
The decline at the start of the trail won’t feel like much at the moment but on your way back, this is a killer!
After 1.2 kilometres, you’ll reach Miradouro do Ninho da Manta. If the trail feels quite busy, a lot of people will stop here so it should quieten down.
This viewpoint has a balcony that overlooks the valley and is also a great place to watch the sunrise. It doesn’t face directly to the sun but it’s nestled amongst jagged mountains creating spectacular landscapes!
After Miradouro do Ninho da Manta, you’ll descend down a staircase that wraps its way around the side of the mountain and connects to a ridge that acts as a bridge to Pico Ruivo.
Every corner you turn reveals a different view!
Be prepared for a lot of ups and downs on this hike. We assumed that as we were hiking from a lower to a higher peak, it would be uphill in one direction and downhill in the other. We couldn’t have been more wrong!
The entire route has steep ups and downs and even on the way back when you’re hiking from Madeira’s tallest peak, you’ll cover 500 metres of incline!
You’ll then head through the first of many dark tunnels so bring a head torch with you. We used our phones but the tunnels can get quite wet and narrow and it would have been handy to have use of our hands to keep our balance and feel out for the roof above us. There were a couple of bumped heads!
Coming out of the tunnel we were suddenly shrouded in cloud!
This section of the trail is relatively flat which is a nice break on the legs. It’s been carved out the side of the mountain with the railing on your left and the cliff wall hugging you to the right. Every now and again you’d head back into a tunnel.
After a while, the nice flat path ends and you’re about to reach what we found to be one of the toughest parts of the Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hike!
It’s a very steep set of winding stairs up a pass in the mountain. It creates the impression you’re on your way to Mordor as we were buried in clouds and couldn’t see what we were hiking towards but it didn’t look fun!
At the top of these stairs is a perfect rest spot before heading down another narrow staircase on the other side.
This time, however, the views were much different!
Sweeping green valleys now dominate the landscape and the clouds gave way for us to appreciate Mother Nature and all her magnificence!
We were both now very tired of the incessant ups and downs of the stairs. Every time we ascended we thought we were on our way up to Pico Ruivo and then all of a sudden we were heading down again. The summit seemed to keep getting further and further away from us!
This next section, however, was my favourite part of the hike!
It was fairly flat, you had panoramic views out across the valley and the twisted branches of the trees looked like they’d been plucked from the pages of a fairytale!
From here you’re so close to Pico Ruivo but you’ve still got some incline to get through!
You’ll soon reach Casa de Abrigo Pico Ruivo; the mountain hut just below the summit. Continue on up the trail winding its way up the side of the mountain and after about 5 minutes but what feels like an eternity, you’ll reach the summit of Pico Ruivo; the highest point in Madeira!!
Unfortunately, the clouds were a lot higher than at Pico do Arieiro so we couldn’t see much from the viewpoint but it was an incredible sense of achievement and the scenery along the way was absolutely breathtaking!
We had some lunch, recharged and mentally prepared ourselves to do it all over again in reverse!
Our Top Tip: you can hike to Pico Ruivo one way and arrange to be picked up. However, we’d recommend hiking back as, although it’s the same path, the backdrop is entirely different and you’ll have a very different experience!
You’ll also need to have quite a bit of patience on the way back. There’ll be a lot more people hiking to Pico Ruivo now so you may have to wait at some of the staircases and narrower sections of the trail for people to pass.
Use it as a good excuse for a rest. We were exhausted so it was quite nice to have a break now and again.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this guide to hiking Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo. Make sure to check out some of our other Madeira guides below!