For us nordic citizen, Madeira is the perfect destination for outdoor activities during our winter season. Although the island has a pretty constant weather so you can visit anytime. I went there in late October to spend some time hiking and trail running. I did this solo, and without renting a car or taking taxis, all transportation with public buses. Which is a little bit of a project since Madeira is divided in different sections where different companies run the bus service. This is not a big problem but takes som planning to work out. My overall verdict to Madeira as a running and hiking destination is; superb. It’s affordable, great weather, nice people and awesome nature.
I did a couple of hikes and two days of running. I didn’t do really long runs or hikes, but that could easily be arranged if that is your goal.
I like paper maps, and always bring one together with a compass. I used the Madeira Tour&Trail map, in normal paper. Go for the super durable. Although most of the time I had my phone with Galileo Offline maps, where the free vector maps where great. Also OpenStreetMaps show a lot of trails and dirt roads that even Google doesn’t show. I gathered a lot of trails and put it in a Google map to get an overview of suggested trails from books etc.
Eastern Maderia Run: Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço (PR8)
Take bus 113 from Funchal to Baia d’Abra, the trail starts right at the parking. It was one of the more crowded places, but the stunning views make it worth it. For a runner I would say it’s a bit short (~8km return), not a lot of vertical gain so you can do this pretty fast. You could continue past the parking to Canical or even Machico, or connect with my last run Caniçal – Porto da Cruz.
Classic Picturesque Mountains of Madeira: Pico Arieero – Pico Ruivo – Encumeada (PR1, PR1.3)
This is the classic peaks, Pico Ruivo and Pico Arieero, both easily accessed with car or taxi. Not as easy with bus. I wanted to do both of these mountains as an A – B tour with my full backpack so I could move from Funchal to São Vicente. I took the bus to Poiso and started walking towards the radar dome of Pico Arieero. With some luck I hitchhiked with a really nice swedish couple. I did these trails with all my luggage so no running. Both these trails consists of a lot of steps, up and down and a few tunnels. So the running is not flowy, and the steps can be slippery. Still doable of course. This is just something you have to to if you go to Madeira. You can get to it by car and go back and forth, or go even further than I did. I carried almost 10kg and tracked 18 km on my gps. From Encumeada I waited for the bus to São Vicente. Look at the timetable so you can adapt your trip and won’t miss the bus with 20 min and have to wait hours like I did (there is of course a snack bar so waiting doesn’t have to be suffering). There is a snack bar at the start in Pico Arieero and at Pico Ruivo the hut was closed although there was a toilet with tap water. The streams in the mountains are probably drinkable (I had a Sawyer filter as backup) but I didn’t have to try that. I carried ~2 liters of water.
I had good weather and the views are amazing, some part of the trail is really narrow with steep cliffs down both sides. The trail runs along the mountain sides and up and turns back and forth. This is a must do! Next time I would do it with a daypack and run where I could and try to get further for example Poiso – São Vicente which would include some gravel road and concrete roads.
Misty Mountain Run: Levada Fajã do Rodrigues (PR16)
I stayed at a small Hostel in São Vicente and with phone in hand I ran along roads and trails to the start of Levada Rodrigues. They way there was fun and part of the experience, no signs. The Levada was beautiful, the rain and fog enhanced the feeling of jungle. This Levada ends in a small waterfall where you have to turn back, through the longest levada-tunnel I tried. Bring a head torch.
Beach to Bushwack: Unnamed mountain.
São Vicente is located in a valley between two steep mountains in a very picturesque environment. There’s no officially marked trail starting in the town, but I spent some time looking at a map of the area and found a trail from the town to the east leading up the mountain and over it! Perfect! I started in town and hiked along the coast east until I found the road that went up the mountain, the road turned to a gravel road which turns to a trail and the trail turns into a path through the forest. People have been here before, but not for some time. I had to spend some time looking around and going back and forth to find my way. I actually marked where I went with sticks in a pile or making a line in the path amongst the leaves. I had a feeling I could get lost. The forest is’t really dense, so you could walk almost anywhere in certain areas, but that would lead me off the trail which I wanted to stay on. It was climbing and slipping in mud and bushwhacking. I reached the plateau at 1100 m where the trail was totally overgrown. I found my way through it for a while, but it disappeared and the thorns and ferns where thicker. I could see that there was fog on the other side and where I was going. It wasn’t far to go from what my phone gps said. But I had no tools for clearing a path and I was alone (not wanting to get lost in the fog) so I turned back the way I came. Glad I had put out some marks on the trail. If the trail on the plateau would have been cleared and the trail a bit better marked it could be a great trail run with some nice vertical gain. And some really nice views, although most of the trail ran in the forest.
Running coast and mountain: Caniçal to Porto Da Cruz. (Vereda do Larano)
This was the day for some real trail running. Bus 113 to Caniçal. Most people get of just before a tunnel near Machico to take the trail north to Porto Da Cruz, but that is a little short so I went to Caniçal. There I ran back along the shore and then followed a mountain trail up some small peaks and eventually I came to the tunnel where most people start the trail called Vereda do Larano. Flowing trail running through picturesque villages on a Levada in perfect weather, this was the best running experience up til now. Arriving at the look out viewpoint Boca do Risco, after that the trail takes on a new shape. It’s still very flowy and runnable, but on some sections the trail in 1 meter wide and then a steep cliff. I walked those sections. When approaching Porto da Cruz evidence of trail running appears as there is a couple of marked and graded trails around Porto da Cruz. I was satisfied with my 21 km and ate a Bolo do caco, drank a Coral and a Coke. Then took the bus back to Funchal.