Hiking up from Curral das Freiras (Nun’s Valley) to Pico Ruivo is a journey for adventurous hikers that takes you on a steep climb to Madeira’s highest peak… and back. The route winds you up through the incline of Nun’s Valley before you burst over the ridge to join the famous ‘Pico to Pico‘ trail that links Pico do Arieiro and Pico Ruivo. Using this popular trail, the route sends you to Pico Ruivo before returning on a lesser-known forest track as you descend swiftly back into Nun’s Valley.
CURRAL DAS FREIRAS (NUN’S VALLEY) TO PICO RUIVO HIKE HIKE DETAILS
Hike Distance: The total distance of the hike was 16 kilometers.
Hike Duration: The hike will take you about 6-7 hours, especially if you have a lunch break at the summit.
Hike Difficulty: This trail is difficult and advised for experienced hikers only and I will detail why. Firstly, many of the trails and turns are not signed and you basically need a local to show you the route. I went with a group of locals who led the way and I will detail who they are at the bottom of this blog post if you want to organize a tour with them. Secondly, you have 1400 meters of incline, which is a lot for most hikers so it’s something to consider. There are many sections with exposure, big drops, and rocky, slippery terrain. It never felt too dangerous to me but it will definitely be out of the comfort zone for many.
Hike Incline: Total incline for the hike was 1400 meters.
HOW TO GET TO THE TRAILHEAD
The trailhead is deep in Curral das Freiras, which is also known as Nun’s Valley. The path begins up a small, cement stairway with a sign that says ‘Vereda do Pau Formoso’. I’ve added the pin location below so you can plan your transit to this spot. We simply parked on the street and began and finished our hike at this spot.
MY EXPERIENCE ON THE CURRAL DAS FREIRAS (NUN’S VALLEY) TO PICO RUIVO HIKE
This was my first time hiking in Nun’s Valley and I was blown away. It quickly became one of my favorite regions on Madeira due to the large volume of incredibly unique rock formations. It’s also quite steep so you are able to enjoy dramatic drop-offs and steep views throughout the trails.
This route began by heading up the Vereda do Pau Formoso stairway through a small farm. I was hiking with the guides from Madeira Wonder Hikes, otherwise, it would have been hard to find the way as there were a number of unclear turns. Shoot them a message if you need a guide for this route. You can download my map but may find it tough, so this is just a disclaimer.
The trail, known as ‘Pico Cidrão Path’ quickly gathered a few hundred meters of the vertical climb before we came to our first lookout. It would be the first of many and I quickly realized these rock formations were scattered throughout Nun’s Valley.
We had been blessed with sunny weather but it is common in this valley for the rain to float through and hang around for a while. This means that it is one of the best spots on Madeira to spot a rainbow and we were in for a show. Not only did we see a rainbow but it was basically in the valley for over an hour. I’ve never had a rainbow stick around for so long and to have an amazing trail in the foreground was just incredible and made for some great shots.
The trail rises up through the valley but then makes a few significant passes through gaps in the ridge. These sections of the trail were incredibly dense although we came across a few ancient runs and houses along the way. I definitely felt the call of the wild while hiking through these parts of Nun’s Valley and with towering cliffs on either side of us, it made me feel quite small as I trekked through.
After a couple of hours we emerged towards the central massif where we could see Pico Ruivo and the other large peaks in the center of Madeira Island. It’s an interesting trail because most people don’t really know about this access route to Pico Ruivo but it seems to just sneak up on the regular trail and all of a sudden it connects and you join the regular tourist route.
We now linked up with the Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hike, which is the premier hike of Madeira Island. We joined it about halfway through, in the valley between the two peaks and then followed it all the way up the stairs to Pico Ruivo. I’ve done this hike a few times starting at Pico do Ariero so I’ll add in a few photos from the different times I’ve hiked along this route to Pico Ruivo.
On this day, the summit at Pico Ruivo was completely inside clouds but luckily I’ve seen it before during nice weather so I can show you what to expect. These photos below are all from Pico Ruivo summit but on different days and different times. It’s great for sunrise and sunset or any time where you can be above the clouds. It’s hit and miss though and hard to predict as the clouds move so quickly.
After the summit of Pico Ruivo we took an alternate route back down into Nun’s Valley called ‘Portais Path’. It is sign-posted in some parts but mostly it is unclear and not used often as it was quite overgrown. The trail was mostly a downhill trek through the thick bush but it opened up for some scenic views about halfway down into the valley.
The most memorable vista on the descent was the rock formation known as Heaven’s Gates and it’s not hard to see why. The trail passed through the gap in this rock formation, which opens up to the entirety of Nun’s Valley. Pretty heavenly if you ask me.
The trail wraps around the cliffside and drops you back down through some small farms and finally you arrive back to your starting point at the end of Curral das Freiras where you parked the car. It was an incredible hike through some diverse scenery and I can guarantee it will be a highlight of your time on Madeira, as it was for me. I hope you enjoyed this hiking guide for the Curral das Freiras to Pico Ruivo route. Happy hiking and stay safe out there.
MY AWESOME GUIDES FOR THIS HIKE
This isn’t your regular hiking route so although I’ve given you a map and a lot of directions and advice, it’s best to link up with a local if you want to do this route. Don’t expect too many signs throughout the trail or to find most of the routes on a map. I did this hike with the Madeira Lés a Lés, which is a hiking group that does off-the-beaten-path adventures every Saturday. They offer specialized tours through their small business Madeira Wonder Hikes, where they can tour you on a trail that suits you and your group. Anyway, I just joined the group as a friend but thought you might find that information of value if you want to do some serious adventure on Madeira but aren’t sure who to get in contact with. If you meet any of the Madeira Lés a Lés crew, you will see what I’m talking about.
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.
All of my favorite hikes: MADEIRA HIKING GUIDE: 60 AWESOME HIKES ON MADEIRA
The best waterfalls on the island: 25 EPIC WATERFALLS ON MADEIRA
My favorite levada walks: 25 BEAUTIFUL LEVADA WALKS ON MADEIRA
Most epic adventure I had: HIKING THE MADEIRA ISLAND ULTRA TRAIL IN 4 DAYS (115KM)
Longest hike on Madeira: CAMINHO REAL 23: MADEIRA’S ROYAL PATH (180KM)
YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT ALL OF MY MADEIRA VIDEOS ON YOUTUBE
I created 20 adventure travel videos while on Madeira and some of them were from never-before filmed locations. From hiking in a snowstorm to running on coastal ridges, it’s a playlist of videos you will enjoy. I’ve linked the entire playlist of my Madeira videos below.
WONDERING ABOUT WHERE TO STAY ON MADEIRA?
Throughout my six months on Madeira, 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