Chão da Ribeira is an incredible plateau in the mountains above Seixal on the north coast of Madeira Island. It’s such an incredible valley of lush forest that it’s known to locals as ‘The Sanctuary’. As soon as I arrived after the winding drive up from the coast, I could sense it was a special place. We hiked on one of the common trails to a series of waterfalls and streams, often passing through small tunnels along the way. In this guide, I’ll share with you my route, photos of the journey, and what you can expect on this hike and in this region in general.
CHÃO DA RIBEIRA WATERFALL HIKE DETAILS
Hike Distance: The total distance of the trail was 10.5 kilometers.
Hike Duration: The hike will take you about 4 hours. It is only 10 kilometers and just one section of incline so you can really power through this hike after the initial climb. The stream and waterfall are worth a stop and a good place for lunch but otherwise, you can keep moving through this forest trail at a good pace.
Hike Difficulty: This hike isn’t too dangerous but also not entirely easy. The hike isn’t very well signed at all so you will need my map or to be with a local guide. There were almost 500 meters of elevation all at once up the initial climb, which was pretty steep. There are a few drop-offs but I never felt like I was in danger as the path was always wide enough or with railings. You will want a headlamp for the tunnels but they were quite safe and had good clearance overhead. The toughest part of the hike was the optional stream exploration at the halfway point. Here we had to scramble and boulder up the stream to explore and find the extra waterfalls.
Hike Incline: Total incline for the hike was 560 meters.
My Strava Map Upload: Chão da Ribeira
HOW TO GET TO CHÃO DA RIBEIRA WATERFALL HIKE
To get to Chão da Ribeira, you will first head to the Seixal region and then travel up the winding roads into the mountain. You will eventually end up in the valley and here there are a few lodges and farms and many places to park. I’ve pinned the ‘Nature’s Inn’ on the map below, which is where we parked to start our hike.
MY EXPERIENCE ON THE CHÃO DA RIBEIRA WATERFALL HIKE
Up in the valley known as the ‘The Sanctuary’ it can get quite chilly. We started off our waterfall trek in jackets at a brisk pace to warm up. We made our way past the trout farm, which my local friend João assured me had been there for generations. The hike begins by progressing from the dirt road until it reaches a small stream crossing. Once you cross the stream, the steep incline begins and it is time to climb.
Like much of Madeira, we were immediately immersed into the lush, UNESCO-listed Laurissilva Forest. The trees seem to have a life of their own on this island, branching out across the path, almost reaching for other trees. We crossed boulders the size of houses and ferns the size of cars, although by this point we were felt so far from civilization.
After the 500-meter climb up the steep, dirt paths you will find a cliff-side levada, which is well maintained with safety railing and will lead you towards the first tunnel of the trail. However, before you reach the tunnel, first you must pass under several waterfalls that pour down over hikers as they scurry past underneath. It’s quite a unique section of trail and quite memorable. It’s not often you run through a waterfall on the edge of a cliff and then dart into a long, dark tunnel on a hike.
At the five kilometer mark of this trail, you will find the stream. You can simply enjoy the small waterfall that pours down near the levada or you can head off the trail and explore upstream. Having explored this stream myself, I can highly recommend adventuring up to find more waterfalls and pools. It is very slippery and there are a number of sections with easy bouldering and some ropes but it’s nothing too extreme. We had a great time exploring this off-the-beaten-path stream and chose this for our lunch spot.
After the stream exploration you head back onto the levada you originally walked in through and carry on following this levada. Shortly after leaving the stream, you will pass through another short cave.
The trail continues to weave its way through the dense forest all the way back to the starting point to complete the loop. After the stream, it’s basically all downhill although the trail can be a bit slippery and muddy in some parts so while it’s easy-going, you still need to take care. This section of the trail in the video below was one of my favorite parts of the hike back.
Overall this was a great hike that ticked all of the boxes with beautiful forest scenery, waterfalls, tunnels, and some challenging incline. I hope you enjoyed this guide about the Chão da Ribeira Waterfall Hike near Seixal on Madeira Island. Happy hiking and stay safe out there.