The best independent guide to Madeira
The best independent guide to Madeira
The Pico do Arieiro is the third highest peak on Madeira, and is the most accessible mountainous location from Funchal.
Pico do Arieiro lies within the dramatic mountain scenery of the interior of Madeira. Here jagged peaks rise from lush forested valleys, and the strong winds form clouds on the upward gusts.
If you come to Pico do Arieiro on a clear day the views are spectacular, and on certain cloudy days, the peaks rise above a sea of cloud.
The Miradouro do Juncal viewpoint (to the east of Arieiro), is the best location on Madeira to watch the sunrise, while the Miradouro do Ninho da Manta provides stunning views over the deep chiselled valleys.
The view from the Miradouro do Juncal over the east of the island
Beginning at Pico do Arieiro is the PR1, the finest mountain hiking trail of Madeira, which after 4 challenging hours of hiking leads to the Pico Ruivo the highest point of Madeira.
The Pico do Arieiro is the most accessible of Madeira’s mountain peaks as a decent road (the ER202) leads directly up to the summit, and this makes it popular with day-trippers and coach tours. At the summit are cafes, souvenir shops and a NATO radar installation (the reason for the good road).
As the Pico do Arieiro offers many areas to wander, it is very easy to escape the tourist masses and discover some tranquil vantage point with inspirational mountain views.
Pico do Arieiro is also a fantastic location to watch the sunrise, as it offers uninterrupted views over the eastern side of the island and is relatively safe to drive to in the pre-dawn light.
In summary, if you want a trip to the mountains in Madeira, then Pico do Arieiro is the place to visit.
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The mountain trail (the PR1) heading north from Pico do Arieiro
There is a large radar dome facility at the top of Pico do Arieiro, but there are many footpaths to walk away from it
The peak at Pico do Arieiro stands at 1,818m, and is part of three east-west mountain ridges that line the eastern interior of Madeira.
Pico do Arieiro is 9km north of Funchal, but the twisting mountain roads add a further 10km to the route (19km, a 30 minute drive).
Once at the top of the mountain is a large free car park, but this rapidly fills during the peak hours when the tour buses arrive.
Insight: If you have your own car it is always advisable to visit outside of the peak hours (10am-2pm), when the whole site will be more calm and tranquil.
At the peak hours there will be many coach tours. In the photo, the hill to the rear is the Miradouro do Juncal
The tourist facilities at the top of the mountain are good and include two cafes (Retiro da Freira and Cafeteria Pico Areiro) which only should be used for drinks or light snacks. There are clean paid toilets (€1) along with a sensible priced souvenir shop.
Mobility access: At the site, there is disabled parking, and it is flat to the cafés and shops, but the paths around the rest of the mountain are cobbled or dirt tracks.
Advice: When visiting the mountains always bring something warm, as even in the summer there can be strong chilly winds.
The setting of the cafes at Pico do Arieiro can’t be beaten
The summit marker for Pico do Arieiro is a bit disappointing and right next to the radar dome facility
On arrival, most visitors head eastwards pasts the radar dome to the Miradouro do Juncal viewpoint. If you visit Areiro as part of an organised tour or with limited time, this is the best viewpoint to head to.
From the Juncal viewpoint, there are wonderful views over the mountains and dense forests, and on a clear day it is possible to see the Ponta de São Lourenço headland.
The view from the Miradouro do Juncal
If you have longer at Areiro, hike the first 500m of the PR1 north-west from the cafes and to the Miradouro do Ninho da Manta viewpoint. This section of the PR1 follows a steep ridge with dramatic (and scary) drops on either side of the path.
The 30-minute walk leads to the Miradouro do Ninho da Manta (Buzzard's nest viewpoint) with its stunning views over the Ribeira da Fajã da Nogueira valley.
Warning: If planning any hiking in the mountains always be suitably prepared (clothes, footwear drinks and food).
The weather can rapidly change, as the strong moisture-laden winds can form dense cloud within minutes, changing hot hiking weather into a cold and wet experience. If you plan a long hike, always check the weather before departing.
The jagged mountains looking towards the Miradouro do Ninho da Manta
The PR1 extends from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo, is the best mountain hike of Madeira, but it is demanding due to the number of steps to climb.
The route starts at the Pico do Arieiro, heads north along the Ninho da Manta ridge, skirts around the Pico das Torres (1,851m) pass through five tunnels and then climbs lots of stairs to join the PR1.2 close to the summit of Pico Ruivo. The entire route takes 4-5hours and is 15km.
When heading from Pico do Arieiro the first ¾ of the route is downhill or flat, but the real demanding section is the metal stairs which climb the Pico das Torres. This is 20 minutes of continuous stair climbing, and is tough on knees…
Insight: The return leg is mainly mostly uphill with a very steep climb on the final section to Pico do Areeiro. The return (Ruivo to Areeiro) is much more demanding than the “going” section, and is why most tours suggest a route of Arieiro to Ruivo and a pickup at Achada do Teixeira.
Just before the tunnels, the PR1 used to divide offering two paths, with a shorter route going through the tunnels and up the stairs, and a second meandering eastern route which scaled the side of Pico das Torres.
The east route is currently closed due to landslides (it has been shut for over 3 years so should be considered permanently shut). This is a shame as the footpath was cut directly into the cliffside and had fewer stairs to contend with.
The PR1 has some very high ridge walks with very severe drops on either side. The path is safe with cable rails, but is not suitable if you suffer from vertigo or there are strong winds.