The Levada das 25 Fontes is arguably the most popular hike on the island of Madeira, attracting a variety of tourists from around the world. They come from far and wide to see enjoy the iconic levada trail that leads hikers to the 25 fountains, which are the source of the levada. The weeping wall of 25 streams pours down into a pool where hikers can take a very refreshing dip in the cool water. The giant Risco Waterfall can be viewed from a viewpoint along the route and further cements this hike as one of the best on Madeira.
In this blog post, I will share with you the directions, tips, photos, and my experience on the Levada das 25 Fontes.
LEVADA DAS 25 FONTES AND RISCO WATERFALL HIKE DETAILS
Hike Distance: The total distance of the Levada das 25 Fontes hiking trail was 11-kilometers out and back in total.
Hike Duration: The hike can be completed in about 3-4 hours depending on how long you relax and enjoy the natural gorge at the halfway point of the hike.
Hike Difficulty: This trail is very safe and oen of the most popular Levada walks on Madeira so it’s very well maintained. There is 300m of incline to handle, the trail is clearly marked and there are no moments of danger on this very popular tourist route.
Hike Incline: 300 meters.
HOW TO GET TO THE LEVADA DAS 25 FONTES HIKING TRAIL
There are actually two main routes for this hike and they both have a separate parking lot. Although they both end up visiting the 25 Fontes and the Risco Waterfall they begin at different points. I actually did both routes and can tell you the difference between the two and why you should choose one or the other.
Route 1: Rabacal Route – This is the best route starts at PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes / Levada do Risco. If you put that into Google Maps it will give you the parking lot that is situated above the trail. I have pinned this on the map below. This route takes you down the hill on a paved road and then you join the loop of Risco Waterfall before finishing at Levada das 25 Fontes as the halfway mark. It is an out and back trail so you simply retrace your steps and head back to your car after enjoying the 25 Fontes area. This route is the best in my opinion because you enjoy the nice scenery of the valley and several beautiful waterfalls along the way. However, it is slightly more incline than the other route although it is very light and manageable for most. It’s the most popular and there will be a full parking lot of cars no doubt.
Route 2: Calheta Tunnel Route – This route is less elevation but also less scenic. You avoid the elevation by walking through a dark tunnel for about 800m. You will need a flashlight but it’s well maintained and nothing to fear. You will see the Risco Waterfall and Levada das 25 Fontes on this route so you really don’t miss much and excuse yourself from a couple of hundred meters of elevation.
MY EXPERIENCE ON THE LEVADA DAS 25 FONTES HIKE
Now that you have figured out which route you will take, I’ll fill you in on what to expect during the trail. Keep in mind that if you are looking for a peaceful immersion in nature this might not be the hike for you as it will likely be crowded. We went on a Wednesday morning and there were hundreds of families and tourists on the trail. Good vibes, but busy.
We chose the Rabacal route for our hike (although you will see later in the blog we ended up on the Calheta route in the tunnels). I have to say it’s one of the most scenic parking lots you will find as it overlooks the valley you are about to hike in. You will find a big sign in the parking lot explaining the hike, routes, and details to help you on your way.
The trail is all downhill on a paved road in the early stages. In fact, we were overtaken by two maintenance cars. I never like when cars are driving by me when hiking as it takes away from the feeling of going only where feet can travel but this is a highly-popular hike so that’s how it goes.
The first thing I noticed on the hike was the small fountains pouring out of the walls on the side of the road. In one section the water spilled all over the road. I can’t imagine this hike after a lot of rain but I’m assuming it is wet and wild. Below you can see two hikers at the beginning of the paved road as they head off for their hike.
Even in the early moments of the hike, there are a number of waterfall viewpoints as you make your way along the trail while parallel to the gorge below. The trail left behind the paved road soon enough and before we knew it, the forest seemed to be overflowing onto the trail. Intertwined, corkscrew tree branches reached out of the forest onto the hikers below. They made stunning tunnels with the intricacy of their interlocked appearance creating some stunning visuals.
After about 2-kilometers, you will reach a fork in the road. You can either head to the Risco Waterfall on the right or you can head to follow the Levada das 25 Fontes to the end of the trail. The ‘detour’ to the Risco Waterfall is just 800-meters each way and is definitely worth it as you can see in the following photos. I suggest at this point, to visit Risco Waterfall and then return to the fork on the trail here and continue on to 25 Fontes. Below the fork in the road is pictured but you will have no problem as the trail is very well signed.
800 meters after the fork in the road, you will reach the giant Risco Waterfall. After heavy rains, it booms down into the valley. However, during the summer it is slightly less powerful although even in the dry-spell when we visited it was still pumping pretty well. There used to be a trail underneath the waterfall but landslides have forced its closure and it is now padlocked and blocked off. We hung out at this viewpoint for about 1-minutes enjoying the view before heading off to the main trail Levada das 25 Fontes.
Make sure to keep your eyes active as there are lots to observe on this trail. Lizards, butterflies, bees, and insects can be spotted at almost any part of the trail. Wildflowers bloom, especially in the spring but even during the summer, there was lots of vibrant colors to be found in the lush coverage on either side of the trail. Here are some of my favorite finds throughout the hike.
The trail between Risco Waterfall and 25 Fontes is probably the best part of the hike, with some fun ledges, thick forests, and a few cheeky waterfalls on the side of the trail to keep you entertained on your way to the centerpiece of the hike. You also enjoy the downhill during this part of the hike, which you will pay for on the way back.
LEVADA DAS 25 FONTES VIEWPOINT
With 5-kilometers of the trail now behind you, it’s finally time to drop the bag down as you arrive at the 25 fountains. The weeping wall of waterfalls is the centerpiece in this small amphitheater. Vines and plants drape over the walls in what is a truly magical scene. As with many waterfall hikes on Madeira, it is best to visit this spot after some rains but even in the summer, there was enough water for the 25 fountains to flow.
This is a great place to grab your snacks and lunch, sit down and take it all in. There’s plenty of shade and a big boulder for everyone to sit on. Keep in mind, everyone will be doing exactly the same and this little amphitheater can become very crowded very quickly. When I was visiting I counted 75 people at one stage.
The water is freezing in the pool so most people don’t swim but brave guys like me duck in for a quick ice bath. This was in the middle of summer so I imagine it is freezing year-round. I have this saying WOHO for when I travel. We’re Only Here Once. Basically, if you are second-guessing jumping in the pool, diving off the cliff, hiking up the hill, or any other activity you should just go for it because it is probably the only opportunity in your entire life to swim in that freezing cold pool. Just go for it. Needless to say, it took me 10-minutes of sun-baking on my boulder to warm up again.
In terms of photography at the 25 Fontes/Fountains, you will need to keep in mind the light is difficult to master. As you can see above, the light creeps over the edge of the cliff above at around midday. It’s pretty dark in the amphitheater before that. Also, keep in mind you will have to navigate the crowds so see how you go. I managed to get a few snaps without big crowds without having to arrange the mobs of tourists. Good luck at this spot, it isn’t easy.
THE WAY OUT
If you parked at Rabacal parking lot, you simply retrace your steps now and you will be back to your car in just over an hour. However, if you are crazy like me, you can try and take an alternate route and end up slightly lost. Basically, we wanted to go through the tunnel so we ended up at the Calheta route parking lot, which is 500m of elevation along the main road below the Rabacal parking lot. We had a great experience through the tunnel but then found ourselves regretting our decision when we were at the wrong parking lot.
With no other choice, we began to walk up the road in the hot, afternoon sun. We calculated it was going to be about 1.5 hours for us to reach the Rabacal parking lot because it was just so steep. Luckily, after 15-minutes of slowly staggering up the hill, we heard the noise of a pick-up truck. Two local workers came around the corner and we threw out the hitchhiker’s thumb. Luckily the island spirit was shining strongly on that day and the boys chucked us in the back of the truck. They dropped us all the way to the Rabacal parking lot even though they were going a slightly different route. Thanks, legends. The key takeaway from this episode is that for the Levada das 25 Fontes hike you should return the same way you came!
I hope you enjoyed this guide to the Levada das 25 Fontes & Risco Waterfall hike in Rabacal on Madeira Island. Happy hiking!