Every adventure begins with an uneasy atmosphere of naivety, expectations, and a willingness to delve into the unknown. Our journey along the ‘Royal Path’ known as Caminho Real 23 was definitely set to be a week of challenges and first-hand insight into the past and the present of Madeira Island.
CAMINHO REAL 23 INFORMATION
The Caminho Real 23 was a route commissioned by the King of Portugal in the 19th century. It was essentially a road or passage designed to be used for walking, carrying items, and for sleds pulled by strong oxen. The road takes you around the perimeter of the island, with a few diversions inland for 170 kilometers with approximately 8000 meters of vertical gain on the route. Nowadays, many parts of the route are unpassable, eroded, or in need of repair. Hikers need to find alternative detours around some sections in order to link up to the original roads of the Caminho Real 23.
After completing the Madeira Island Ultra Trail in four days and three nights on a self-sufficient journey with camping gear, we decided to tackle the much longer Caminho Real 23. The Madeira Island Ultra Trail has a similar vertical gain but is 115km compared to the 170 kilometers of the Caminho Real 23. Our plan was to camp along the way but to buy food in small shops and eat at restaurants and cafes because it is quite an urban trail by design, passing through most major towns on the island.
A GUIDE: I did this hike with my local guide (also a great friend) called João. He’s lived in Madeira his whole life and knows all of the unique trails (not just the popular ones). Want to contact João to be your guide for the Caminho Real 23 or any of the hikes I’ve done on Madeira? You can contact him on Instagram here: João Let’s Hike or by email: [email protected]
Along the way, I wrote a journal each night as well as carrying my heavy camera gear, drone, and chargers with me to document the trip in photos. It was worth the extra weight because, in this blog post, I will share with you my favorite photos, but also a day-by-day breakdown of the route around Madeira Island along the Caminho Real 23. At the bottom of the blog post, I will provide some handy information like the maps I used, what gear I took on the trek, and other useful things to know before you attempt this difficult challenge. I’ll also share with you information about my guide (His Instagram: João Let’s Hike) and whether or not you should have a local guide for this trek.
MY 3 FAVORITE TOURS IN MADEIRA
- Dolphin & Whale Watching: Take a cruise from Funchal to spot Dolphins, Whales and see amazing views of Madeira’s coastline.
- Hike Pico Arieiro to Pico Ruivo: Hike the most epic trail on the island with a qualified guide!
- Level 1 Canyoning Adventure: Rappel down waterfalls in this high-adrenaline experience.
THE CAMINHO REAL 23: MADEIRA’S ROYAL PATH
Day 1: Funchal to Lugar de Baixo
On a gloomy Friday morning, I met my two friends, Joao and Chris at the beautiful cathedral of Funchal. With the first light of the day upon us and bags loaded to the brim, we set off through the streets of Funchal.
To the early risers of the city and locals on their way to work, we must have seemed a little out of place. Three bearded guys marched side by side with huge backpacks and trekking poles. Some glanced up from their morning espresso, seemingly unphased. Others looked towards us with confusion, wondering if we were lost looking for a levada.
As avid hikers, we couldn’t wait to get out of Funchal. Take us to the mountains we said. But on this trip, we would be circling the entire island of Madeira on the King’s Path. Originally the path was commissioned by the king and built to improve access and transport lines on the island. It’s one of several Royal Paths on the island but it is the most well-known due to its circumferential coverage of Madeira.
Joao, a local from Camacha pointed out that it wasn’t just the cobblestone paths that indicated the way of the ancient road. Old buildings and many chapels are attached to this path and often helped us find the way. It is 2021 after all and we had a GPS map to follow but sometimes it’s good to look up from the map and follow the clues of history.
From Funchal, we trekked past the marina, on towards Belmond Reid’s, and crossing Lido. We climbed up and over the hill to arrive in the lovely fishing village of Camara dos Lobos. Friendly Madeirans continued to greet us with a ‘Bom dia’ although the puzzled looks were a constant.
A dull pain began to grow through my neck as my body adjusted to the heavy backpack. A tent, sleeping bag, mat, food, clothes, and other camping essentials weighed me down as we continued onwards and upwards towards Quinta Grande.
With a free-flowing attitude, we figured we would discover our campsites as we traveled. There’s a certain thrill to being out on an adventure with no idea where you will spend the night. It’s the feeling of a vagabond, to be completely unattached to your comforts and to be at the mercy of the world.
We may not have had a plan of where to stay but we were aiming to reach Ribeira Brava for a late lunch after 24 kilometers of hiking from Funchal. Our first big test was climbing up and over the stone staircases of Quinta Grande, where we would accumulate a vertical kilometer of incline. With a heavy bag and seemingly endless stairs, we marched through without looking back at Funchal.
THE ‘OFF-THE-BEATEN-PATH’ MADEIRA TOUR
Join my friends at Epic Backpacker Tours for one of their unique, off-the-beaten-path tours of Madeira.
This is NOT your typical tour and is perfect for travelers who do not normally do group tours. If you want to escape the tourist crowds, enjoy amazing off-beat hikes, take unique photos, and eat at the BEST local restaurants on madeira, this 6-day adventure is for you!
With lunch on our minds, we turned up the pace to cruise through Campanario. The soundtrack of the day was a constant barrage of barking from agitated dogs, many of which had forgotten how small they were given their overly aggressive greeting. In the early afternoon, we reached Ribeira Brava for a nice outdoor lunch by the sea. Refueled and ready to go, we grabbed a bottle of wine and some snacks for our camp dinner.
Now we began to search and hope for a suitable camping spot. Not underneath a cliff to avoid imminent rockfall, far enough away from the water to avoid the turning tide. In Lugar de Baixo we found the perfect spot. In true Madeira style, our campsite was the back of a banana plot right next to a surf beach. We sat up in our tents, watched the surfers, and then enjoyed a mellow sunset. It was time for a small fire, chorizo cooking, and a drop of wine. It doesn’t get much better.
It’s the end of our first day on this journey around the island. Spirits are high and we are off to a great start. Tonight we will fall asleep listening to crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean from within our tents, ready for another day of walking the historic steps of the Caminho Real 23.
Day 2: Lugar de Baixo to Prazeres
A boom from the nearby waves occasionally woke us as we rested in the night beside the ocean. However, it was a great sleep by the sea before waking up to an orange glow at sunrise. We swiftly packed up our camping equipment and left Lugar de Baixo, thankful for the beautiful campsite we stumbled upon.
After passing through the first noisy tunnel of the day we stopped off at the classic Ponta do Sol gas station for the staple, a Chinesa, and an omelet sandwich. Every location around the world has a combo that becomes the natural choice. In the mornings before a big day, it’s the omelet and caffeine hit that get you off on the right foot.
Descending through the quaint alleyways of Ponta do Sol, we began to appreciate the preservation of the Caminho Real 23. To see the original stones is not common on the section of the King’s Path from Funchal to Ponta do Sol. So far it’s been fascinating to witness how the modernities have impacted the rich history of the ‘Royal Path’. We have noticed that there is never too far to walk before a chapel will appear on the Caminho Real 23. The church and its importance are highly evident as we walk these historic steps.
Through more coastal tunnels, we marched on, dropping down into the unmaintained, wild path of Fajã do Mar. There are many diversions along this southern coast. The original trail is often too dangerous and has eroded beyond repair. It’s unfortunate but clearly not a priority due to the constant rockfall and landslides in the region. The coastal, original sections of the path were the highlight of the morning before we ascended up a steep hill through the land of bananas.
Our heavy packs didn’t hold us back as we powered up the hills and out of Ponta do Sol before descending into the coastal town of Calheta. We had a beautiful lunch by the sea and even had a quick dip In the chilly water to refresh the mind, body, and soul.
Our final climb of the day would be a long one as the sun began to cast a curse on us with a direct spell as we ascended out of Calheta towards Prazeres. We all agreed that there’s no other trail that gives such an honest insight into the daily life of Madeirans from all walks of life. It’s a voyeuristic journey in many ways as we peer into gardens, living rooms, and private moments on our journey through each neighborhood we pass.
The dogs of each town either hate us or love us, barking till they tire from the rooftops of their house. The locals continue to greet us with that unassuming Madeiran warmth I’ve come to know and love. A thumbs up from a truck driver can really warm your heart as you climb a hill. He may never realize but it moves you forward with the energy you didn’t know you possessed.
Our final destination for the day was in lower Prazeres. The friendly team from Soul Glamping had invited us to stay for a luxurious night in their dome tents. Inside the dome, we found a bed, fireplace, and kitchen. On the patio a hot tub and sunset view had us feeling like we were no longer savages on a camping trip. A few bottles of wine and a soak in the hot tub had our muscles relaxed and our minds recharged for a big day three when we would journey all the way to Porto Moniz. Tonight we sleep like kings in our domes, tomorrow we March on as we continue our journey along the Caminho Real 23.
Day 3: Prazeres to Achadas da Cruz
An early wake-up saw us leave Soul Glamping and head up the aggressively steep hills towards the town center of Prazeres. Incline would be the overriding theme of the day as we clocked 1700 meters of vertical gain. The church bells of Prazeres rang over the town as we made our descent down into Paul do Mar. The lush switchbacks led us down to the eastern end of Paul, where the locals were enjoying a morning coffee on the promenade. Heads were turned as our gang rolled through. Two friends had joined us for the day so we caused a stir wherever we were.
Paul do Mar has some very narrow and well-maintained sections of the Caminho Real 23. The European cobblestone alley vibes were undeniable and the multicolored shopfronts and cute windows made this one of the most picturesque moments along the trail so far.
We wandered along the promenade of Paul do Mar before commencing the steep, switchback climb of Fajã do Ovelha. With no cover from the sun, we battled the heat up this ancient coastal path. The hills continued to undulate as we never truly had a chance to rest on a flat stretch of the path. After six hours on the trail made it into Ponta do Pargo to find our lunch spot at O’ Forno. What we didn’t account for was that it was a gloriously sunny Sunday so it was packed.
A one-hour wait for our food was worth a great meal but had us needed to hustle to reach our destination for the day, Achadas da Cruz.
With barely a moment to digest our lunch, the hills attacked us. Imagine a path so steep you cannot see more than 50 meters in advance. With our heavy packs, we marched in the hot sun as we hoped to close in on our campsite.
After defeating the hills of day three, we rolled into Achadas da Cruz only moments before sunset. With the last light of the day, we located a campsite with water, toilets, and a barbecue oven.
Dinner was chorizo, cheese, and bread over the fire as we discussed our heavy legs and aching backs. All is well and nothing too sore that a good night’s sleep won’t heal. It’s a little chilly up here at 900m of altitude in Achadas da Cruz but I’m happy to be here inside my tent and ready to reach the halfway mark of our Caminho Real 23 journey tomorrow as we try and reach São Vicente the north coast of Madeira.
Day 4: Achadas da Cruz to São Vicente
A fresh chill swept over my face as I sat up inside my tent at 6:30 in the morning on the fourth day of our journey. The clatter of a coffee pot had awoken me before my alarm. At 900 meters above sea level, nestled between the forest trees it was our coldest night so far. A quick mug of coffee on our gas stove and an even swifter pack up of our gear has us departing our roadside camp spot in Achadas da Cruz at eight on the dot.
To kick off the morning we headed downhill for eight kilometers into the north-western town of Porto Moniz. The final few kilometers of this path were a well-preserved section of the ‘Royal Path’. For years, grass has tried to outgrow the stone path but gentle use has kept this historic walkway in a beautiful state. Today, more than ever, I found myself imagining a worker placing each stone in position by hand. This path is truly a work of art.
In Porto Moniz, the waves were booming and even pouring into the road. No time for swimming in the natural pools today. The shots below were from a trip in the previous year to the Porto Moniz Natural pools during a day of sunshine and calm waves. We grabbed a Chinesa and an omelet sandwich before heading off along the grand north coast of Madeira, our new coastline for the next couple of days.
From Porto Moniz, we rounded the coast to enter Ribeira da Janela before beginning our main climb of the day, up the cobble-stone stairs out of the village. Before long, we were deep in the forest on the way to Ribeira Funda.
Light rays occasionally poked their way through the dense canopy, which provided us with some much-needed shade for our journey. A healthy layer of leaves covered the path amidst the trees, but the stonework was ever-present even in the depths of the forest.
The Caminho Real 23 was once a magnificent path. But with erosion and dilapidation, there are many ‘impassable’ sections. The north coast is a great example of this and while I’m a big advocate of this route, it’s important to note you will spend significant time on modern roads and inside new tunnels to link together the accessible parts of the Caminho Real 23.
The other very important factor to note is that on many of the old sections of the Caminho Real 23 that are accessible, you will be at risk of rockfall. Often we are stepping over hundreds of boulders and rocks, hoping that no more will fall as we pass through. Usually, it’s during a storm and heavy rain or wind that a rockfall is most likely so it’s best to pass in this section on a fair-weather day.
Regardless of the dangers or the detours, the north coast is spectacular and the Caminho Real 23 comes to life with epic coastal views from along the cliff-side path. Passing above Seixal is always a pleasure and this stunning black sand beach is one of Madeira’s best. Towering waterfalls on the lush mountains on our right, a black sand beach full of surfers on our left. It was an epic scene, which reminded us of Another volcanic island, Hawaii.
The final stretch of the day was from Seixal to São Vicente. The incredible cliff-side tracks continued to amaze us. We began to imagine how they were built and could only believe it was with great difficulty and determination.
Arriving in São Vicente after 28 kilometers on the trail was a pleasure. Here we stopped at Calamar for dinner and wine but first, we visited the freezing-cold natural pool and showers below. Like a gypsy clan, we swam and showered before walking into the restaurant smelling fantastic. A great meal had us revitalized and ready for an easy night.
We walked a few hundred meters down the road to a small patch of grass overlooking the beach. Our tents went up as the sun went down on another day. Soon the only light was that from a small fire we made to finish off our fourth day on the Caminho Real 23.
Day 5: São Vicente to Santana
In the shadows of dusk, we packed our gear into our backpacks and set off towards the glow on the horizon in the East. Through the sleepy town of São Vicente, the path was peaceful in the early morning as we walked our way along the coast to Ponta Delgada.
An omelet sandwich and a Chinesa at a cafe by the old church hit the spot as we looked up to the mountains to see our route after breakfast. Day five would prove to be the most scenic and beautiful of all the days on the Caminho Real 23. The switchbacks of São Cristóvão and in Calhau São Jorge were simply breath-taking.
We departed Ponta Delgada and headed over the hill, passing by a number of landslide-impacted sections. Down into Boaventura, we headed although always sticking close to the sea.
It was time to meet São Cristóvão, one of the most famous sections of the Caminho Real 23. A series of switchbacks zig-zag up the sharp ridge in dramatic fashion. The narrow path looks down over the Atlantic Ocean with just a small railing keeping you safe. It’s hard not to let your mind wander back in time to imagine this type of cliff-side path under construction.
Down into Arco de São Jorge, we ventured but not stop for long. Under the hot midday sun, we marched up a seemingly endless confrontation of stairways through the forest until finally stopping to rest at the Viewpoint over Arco.
After descending down into São Jorge, the next beautiful section of the Caminho Real 23 was upon us. The zig-zagging trail of Calhau São Jorge is stunning and very well preserved, much like São Cristóvão. This steep track will challenge you physically but reward you with an amazing section of the Royal Path.
Once we finished the climb up the switchbacks it was time to arrive at Santana. Without a plan, we looked for a campsite and despite our best efforts, we continued for another five kilometers on the Caminho Real 23 while looking for flat, public grass to camp. It’s a hilly area with many farms but we never found a suitable place. In the end, we gave up on camping for the night just before darkness and rented a small room in Santana, just before the big drop down to Faial. A hot shower and a bed for the night will help to prepare the tiring body for two more days on the Caminho Real 23.
Day 6: Santana to Machico
I’ll be honest. Yesterday was hard. Each new day on the Caminho Real 23 seems to be easier than the previous day… until it isn’t. No matter how flat a section could be, it will be steep. After all, it is Madeira.
After a great night’s sleep in our budget triple room in Santana, we had a continental breakfast at the mountain inn before packing up and hitting the road at 8:30 am. Our journey began softly on day 6, as we meandered down the hill from Santana to the picturesque town of Faial. Like so many locations on the Caminho Real 23, the route does a quick visit to the main church before whisking you off to exit the town. You often need to make your own diversions if there is a particular point of interest you would like to visit.
The barking dogs of Madeira continued to cheer us on with constant yapping as we walked by. Locals greeted us without a doubt, it’s a friendly island in all corners. From Faial, we headed around Penha de Águia, also known as ‘The Big Rock’. I couldn’t quite believe we hadn’t experienced a single drop of that even as we neared Porto da Cruz, known as a haven for clouds and stormy weather.
After a small climb, we dropped down into Porto da Cruz. Sat outside the church, we had a shot of espresso as we sprawled out with gear and trekking poles on the benches in the street. A bunch of gypsies on a tour of Madeira
Our main challenge of the day was about to begin. The Caminho Real 23 has stayed quite close to the coast but from Porto da Cruz, we headed inland up to Santo Antonio da Serra. A steep 700m incline led us up through the neighborhoods and into the forest. The lush greens and quiet sounds of a bird chirping were welcome sensations compared to the commotion of urban towns and busy streets.
The Caminho Real 23 is truly beautiful and rich in history but much of the trail is on modern roads so it’s not all scenic coastal tracks made of cobblestone. You have to endure the long, grueling walks to enjoy the scenery. Any time you begin to complain, think back to those who built this ancient path by hand.
From the top of the climb, we had a long descent down into Machico, first passing through the small town of Maroços. The final few kilometers into Machico seemed to go on forever but finally, we sat our tired legs down at a beachside restaurant for a rejuvenating meal.
We were determined not to fail at finding a camping spot again. With several hours before the sunset still remaining, we climbed up the switchbacks out of Machico and found a wild hillside looking out over São Lourenço and Machico. Hidden away, this would be our resting place for the night.
Today was a 25-kilometer hike with 1,250 meters of incline. It felt easier than the days before but our legs are now weary. Tomorrow is the final day, with a relatively flat trek back to Funchal via Santa Cruz and Caniço. Relatively flat meaning it will be steep but not Madeira’s biggest mountains. Tonight we will rest well.
Day 7: Machico to Funchal
After six long days on the road, our final day of hiking the Caminho Real 23 had arrived. We had now found a rhythm and packed up early, setting off for Santa Cruz around 7:30 am. Machico is quite a beautiful town in the blue hour with the city lights framed perfectly by the ridges on either side and the bay out in front.
We hadn’t had a drop of rain so far on our tour, which was a minor miracle when you consider we hiked in January. However, as we trudged along the highway at 8:30 am our luck ran out. The rain started to engulf us and we had to rip out the rain covers and ponchos. Luckily it was short-lived and we soon made it into Santa Cruz for breakfast and a coffee.
While there are many beautiful moments along the Caminho Real 23, not many of them come on the final day. The beauty of this trail is that it connected the whole island. Nowadays the first and last days of the route, when departing and arriving at Funchal, are quite stressful. We needed to navigate on and off highways, often walking on main roads. We had to keep a watch for cars coming around corners and often ran out of footpath. All of this while dogs are barking at us nonstop.
It wasn’t a bad day by any means, but the last day isn’t pretty, you just get it done. Despite all of that, it’s still interesting to see the old buildings, fountains, and signs along the route that have survived the urbanization of Madeira. Below you can see our beautiful hiking trail on day seven.
It was a 24-kilometer final day and despite it looking quite flat on the map, as always it turned out to be a vertical kilometer of walking. The final five kilometers were downhill and we now had a view of Funchal, which was a great sight after leaving a week earlier.
As we moved through the final streets of Funchal a sense of achievement swept over us and the walk felt quite surreal. A bunch of smelly, tired guys ambled through the outdoor seating of upmarket cafes in the tourist district. We were back but we weren’t sure if we belonged, or if we wanted to belong. As we made the final turn to end our journey, we looked up at the cathedral where it all began.
It was a wild ride with great weather, incredible views, remarkable history, and even better company. It was a perfect way for me to finish my six months of Madeira and I enjoyed walking through the island, greeting locals along the way, and seeing how different people live throughout the diverse regions. Thanks for the memories, Madeira.
DO YOU NEED A GUIDE FOR THE CAMINHO REAL 23 TREK?
The answer to this question depends on many factors such as your hiking experience, camping experience, and experience with Madeira. If you are not 100% comfortable in all three of those areas I would go with a guide. I did this hike with my good friend who is a local Madeiran hiking guide: João Let’s Hike
João has decided to run tours of both the Caminho Real 23 around the island and also the Madeira Island Ultra Trail that we did in 2020. If you are interested in either of those treks just shoot him a message on Instagram or via email
Instagram: João Let’s Hike
Email: [email protected]
Firstly, you will need to navigate. I will put the map I used below, but even with the map it isn’t easy and it helps a lot to know most of the routes in advance as João does I also have a good grasp of the Madeiran geography and hiking routes. We used an offline GPS map that I will detail below.
The hiking aspect to consider is that this is damn hard. 8500 meters of elevation in a week. Ask yourself if you have ever done that before. I hadn’t. It’s also 180 kilometers in distance. This is serious stuff. So while it may not seem like a dangerous trek, it’s tough. I’ve trekked to Everest Base Camp and this was much, much harder, especially with all of the gear. A guide makes sure that everything is running smoothly and lets your focus on getting through the mission without having to lead the crew.
It’s not a safe hike. There are lots of moments of exposure, landslides on the trail, and tough areas to get through. It’s not something I would say is death-defying but there were many points along the route you could have a deadly accident. The rockfall sections are risky and the landslides and missing railing along the north coast make it questionable. Having a guide in these sections means they will be vigilant and know when everyone needs to pay extra attention.
THE CAMINHO REAL 23 MAP
There are literally hundreds of turns to make on this route. It’s actually a little stressful as you hike and need to hold your phone to make sure you don’t miss any roads. The reason for all of the turns is that the route runs through the regular modern streets and you need to try and stay on the old path. It ends up being a mixture of new and old. There are also diversions due to the path being broken in some sections. I used a map from Wikiloc that I found very, very accurate. I will attach the map below. You will need a premium version of Wikiloc to download the GPX file.
The best way to use the map is to download the GPX file and then upload it into the Track Viewer application on your phone. You’ll need the premium version of Track Viewer, which was just $3 USD. I really like this app and used it for the Madeira Island Ultra Trail as well because it is offline, very detailed, and doesn’t use much of my phone battery even though it is using GPS and is open all day! I will link to the Wikiloc map here: Caminho Real 23 Wikiloc Map
I will also attach my map below, but I missed a few turns from the original Wikiloc map. Not many but over seven days you make a couple of mistakes and I would say the original map is more accurate although you can download my GPX from Strava for free. I will link my map here: Caminho Real 23
CAMPING OR STAYING IN HOTELS?
Our original plan was to stay in hotels and eat at restaurants along the way for this tour. Basically, we wouldn’t have to carry a thing. However, with the Covid curfew, we decided to camp so we would have more flexibility and not have to meet hotel deadlines and rules. It would be much more relaxed if you stayed in hotels as you could shower and sleep well each night and wouldn’t need to carry a heavy load. The route passes through major towns each day and they all have luxury, budget, and Airbnb-style accommodations. Even for us, one night in Santana we couldn’t find a good spot to camp and it was getting dark so we stayed in a budget triple-room including breakfast for 70 Euros total so just 23 Euros each. It can be very cheap and fun to do the tour in hotels and you can have wine and a nice dinner each night and really rejuvenate before hiking each day.
Camping was also very fun although it isn’t really legal. We camped next to the beach in Lugar de Baixo and São Vicente. In Machico, we kind of hid in some long grass and camped up on the hill and there was a nice little picnic site with an oven next to the road in Achadas da Cruz. By law, you need permits apparently and should camp only in the specified areas. We had a view most nights, cooked chorizo and enjoyed some wine. Basically, we lived the gypsy life but didn’t make noise, leave litter or bother anyone.
GEAR FOR THE CAMINHO REAL 23 HIKE
The gear list is basically what you would need for any through-hike. If you are choosing to stay in hotels, you really can access food and water all the way along the trail so you don’t need to carry much except a few snacks and your pajamas. There are ancient water fountains you can drink from all along the route and many cafes, coffee shops, and restaurants every few kilometers.
If you are camping like us you will need the following:
60L backpacking bag: 60L is probably a good size as you have all the camping gear, a few changes of clothes, rain jacket, and some food. The space goes quickly. Unless you are an ultra-light traveler, 60L would be the lowest I’d go.
Lightweight tent: My friends had the 25 Euro tent from Decathlon but I had an ultra-lightweight tent, which was handy because I had lots of heavy camera gear to fit as well.
Sleeping bag: It gets cold at night up in Achadas da Cruz, Prazeres, and Machico. This is essential.
Sleeping pad: We slept on grass and gravel. But we all had an inflatable sleeping pad that is the size of a small water bottle when deflated and weighs hardly anything. Helps you get a good night’s sleep.
Inflatable pillow: You can just put a jacket under your head but I am a big fan of an inflatable pillow. They are the size of a tennis ball when deflated and weigh just a couple hundred grams so it’s a no-brainer inclusion for me.
Hiking boots: You could do this in trail running shoes, but generally when you have a heavy load on your back, you want high-cut hiking boots to give you ankle and Achilles support. We all had high-top hiking boots. Lots of the trail is on the road so a comfortable sole is key.
Rain jacket and Rain poncho: Madeira is comprised of micro-climates and if you do this hike any time other than the summer, you want a rain jacket. I also take a poncho that goes over my entire backpack so I can just throw it on and it keeps my bag and entire body dry including shorts.. It looks stupid but it’s the most effective and just 10 Euros from Decathlon. I’ve used it a lot on Madeira.
Sleeping clothes: You want to have a set of clothes that never hike. They are just for sleeping in. Warm sweater, pants, socks and underwear. Never be tempted to keep them on the next day, change back into your dirty, hiking gear. You want to keep these dry and warm at all costs for a comfortable sleep each night.
Hiking clothes: Thick comfortable socks x2, Underwear x3, T-shirt x2, Shorts or pants x2, Thermal Jacket, Cap or Beanie, Flip-flops for camp. You may have a chance to wash some clothes under a tap and dry them but it depends on the weather and what time you arrive to camp each day.
Wet wipes: wet tissues can be great when you don’t have shower access. It’s known as a ‘dry’ shower.
Head torch: Handy around camp at night but you probably don’t need it for hiking. You can just use your phone light too.
Power bank: If you are camping, you might not have power sources except at restaurants while waiting for your meals. If you are in the hotels each night you may not need this.
Toiletries: Toothbrush, Toothpaste, and Soap are the main essentials.
Two water bottles: If you have 1.5-2L of water bottle storage, you will always have enough water until the next fountain. I had 1.5L and was able to fill up the whole way and never bought any plastic bottles. The water is good to drink directly but you can filter it if you want.
I hope you enjoyed this guide and blog post about my experience on the Caminho Real 23 on Madeira Island in Portugal.
WONDERING ABOUT WHERE TO STAY ON MADEIRA?
Throughout my six months on Madeira Island, I stayed in multiple accommodations. My favorite regions to stay in were Funchal and Canico de Baixo. I’ve created several guides to help you find the right region for you and a great hotel or apartment.
- The ultimate guide: WHERE TO STAY ON MADEIRA: WHICH REGION IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
- If you want luxury: BEST 5-STAR LUXURY HOTELS ON MADEIRA ISLAND
- To feel at home: TOP 10 BOUTIQUE HOTELS ON MADEIRA ISLAND
- If you want to base in Funchal: WHERE TO STAY IN FUNCHAL: 15 TOP-RATED HOTELS
HAVE YOU READ MY OTHER MADEIRA BLOGS?
I spent six months exploring Madeira and the nearby island of Porto Santo. These are some of my most popular guides about the region that you may be interested in.
- My favorite hikes: 65 AWESOME HIKES ON MADEIRA
- My favorite levada walks: 25 BEAUTIFUL LEVADA WALKS ON MADEIRA
- The best waterfalls on the island: 25 EPIC WATERFALLS ON MADEIRA
- Guide to the best Accommodation: WHERE TO STAY ON MADEIRA
- Hardest hike: THE MADEIRA ISLAND ULTRA TRAIL IN 4 DAYS (115KM)
- Longest hike: CAMINHO REAL 23: MADEIRA’S ROYAL PATH (180KM)
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TOP 3 PLACES TO STAY IN MADEIRA
- Ultimate Luxury: Les Suites at Cliff Bay best location and view
- Best Value: Hotel Alto Lido – Funchal rooftop swimming pool under 100 Euros
- Budget Hostel in Funchal: Santa Maria Hostel is easily the top hostel in Funchal
Tuesday 11th of October 2022
First of all - thank you for this! You inspired me to attempt half of this trail. I'm walking this rn - anticlockwise form Porto da Cruz. Currently on my day 3 in Paul do Mar... And I do have a few disagreements! First of all - I tried to follow the wikiloc gpx day 1 and got on some super exposed path - I saw you went all around that path - so I started following your path. Then between sao Jorge and Porto moniz - theres a number of old closed roads that go on the sid eof the mountain and traffic is directed through the tunnels now... Well I went on the first road - was alright, gave me some confidence. Went on the second - literally walked through rivers - thank god I rewaterproofed my boots before this trip! I really made me panic a bit so on the third bit, which actually had a good chunk of the road already fallen down, I was as still shaky and just went all the 1.3k through the tunnel. I was curious though when our and looked at view of the other end of the road and saw a sizable waterfall going through there - your Strava shows as if you hiked there ! Have you actually ?!I can't believe this waterfall is actually that new..
Anyway hopefully the most dangerous bits are past me... Although on Saturday starting the Ultra trail so I guess the worst still ahead !
Sunday 25th of July 2021
You should make your blog posts printable! I have tried printing the webpage, and converting to a pdf to print and it won't print right. But I would really love to print this to bring it on my travels to Madeira with me.
Wednesday 4th of August 2021
There are some chrome extensions that will allow you to do so. Not something my website has the function to offer :)
Wednesday 10th of February 2021
Hi Jackson Well done in exploring our little Island’s heritage paths, dating back to some of my ancestors “ Bartolomeu Perestrello “ First Captain to represent King João I & his son King João II during 1420’s onwards. We should apply for World Heritage Status, showing all of us the endurance & courage, that our fellow citizens of Madeira had to endure. As bazar it may be, the two books printed in early 1500’s illustrating all Portuguese families that carried a title in a form of a crest ( Brazão ) is Kept in Brisbane, you would have noticed a common feature in our current landscape seen across Australia the good old guns, ( Eucaliptos ) Thank you for sharing your journey. In my 27 years that i lived in Australia i also got to explore almost every corner, of that magnificent continent. Obviously Madeira is a beautiful Island, but i still call Australia home. Safe travels.
Sunday 7th of February 2021
I’m eighty now and still camping, but not likely to do more than ten km on a hike. I look forward to visiting some of the caminho. I added a Suzuki Vitara off reader tit he list of camping gear! Congratulations!
Saturday 6th of February 2021
Really great photos - and nice to read. We have done the CR 23 two years ago in ten days and stayed in small hotels. So it was more comfortable. With this trip I've got the "far-hiking-virus" You may have a look on our experience https://paradies-goes-madeira.blogspot.com/p/caminho-real-23.html Thanks for all your blogposts. Have a good time furthermore on your journeys! Issi