The hike from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo is the most famous hike on the island of Madeira in Portugal. This tunnel-route leads hikers along narrow pathways, up and down ominous staircases, and through dark tunnel chambers. It is an adrenaline-filled test of endurance with steep inclines, causing some serious quad and calf burning on the trek. If you are up for the challenge, I promise you it will be the highlight of your trip to Madeira.
PICO DO ARIEIRO TO PICO RUIVO HIKE DETAILS
Hike Distance: The total distance of the hike is 11km out and back (return trip)
Hike Duration: The hike can be completed in about 3-4 hours depending on how long you relax and enjoy the views from the Pico Ruivo summit at the halfway point of the hike.
Hike Difficulty: This trail is quite difficult due to the almost 1000m of incline throughout the return-trip. I found it relatively safe because of the well-maintained track including the hand-rails and support. However, it is quite technical with lots of steps, uneven surfaces, dark tunnels and other factors that make it it a little tougher. For a regular hiker, they will find it safe enough and a challenge but nothing too crazy. If it is your first hike in a while, prepare to enter the pain cave.
Hike Incline: 1000 meters. (My Garmin said 1,021m although I’ve seen some other lower numbers reported)
HOW TO GET TO PICO DO ARIEIRO TO THE PICO RUIVO HIKE TRAILHEAD
There are a few different ways to get to Pico do Arieiro, which is the starting point for the Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hike. The most obvious way is to drive up in your car but don’t despair if you don’t have your own vehicle. Your Pico do Arieiro sunrise dream is still alive.
Driving: One of the reasons it is so popular is because from Funchal it takes just 30 minutes by car to reach the parking lot. From the parking lot, it is just a 2-minute walk to the main sunrise viewpoint. When the sun rises at 7:30 in August you can roll out of bed just before seven and still catch the best sunrise in Madeira without raising a sweat!
Taxi: The taxi to Pico do Arieiro will cost approximately 30-40 Euros one-way from Funchal.
Pico Transfers: The best option in my opinion (if you don’t have a car) is to use a service like Pico Transfers. They will be pick up from your accommodation and drop you at one of several viewpoints available such as Pico do Arieiro. As of 2020, the fee is 29 Euros and you will need to book and confirm in advance. This isn’t sponsored, nor do I earn a commission if you book I’ve just heard it’s a reliable and efficient service and it seems cheaper and more organized than a taxi.
Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo trailhead Map: I have placed the pin on Google Maps below to show you the exact location of Pico do Arieiro viewpoint so you can create your route from where you are located.
WHEN TO START THE PICO DO ARIEIRO TO PICO RUIVO HIKE
There are a couple of different ways you could start off the hike and all of them are pretty epic. The first option is to watch the sunrise at Pico do Arieiro with the rest of the crowd before embarking on the trail in the post-sunrise golden hour. I actually think this is a pretty good option.
The second play is to start the hike half an hour before sunrise and catch the sunbursts and colors in the sky while you are on the trail. You will then arrive at Pico Ruivo a bit after sunrise but there will still be some golden light. This is a great idea if you want to avoid lots of crowds on the trail.
The third option is the most aggressive and takes a sense of adventure. You would leave 2 hours before sunrise and hike in the dark with a headlamp to arrive at Pico Ruivo for sunrise.
Personally, I did the hike by leaving 30-minutes before sunrise but I had seen the sunrise at Pico do Arieiro on a seperate occasion. I think I would choose option 1 or 3 if I only had one chance to visit this region.
MY EXPERIENCE ON THE PICO DO ARIEIRO TO PICO RUIVO HIKE
The trail begins at the Pico Arieiro parking lot. I’ve now experienced this viewpoint and trail on several different occasions so the photos will be a mixture of different timeslots in case you are wondering about the varying lights and conditions. From the parking lot, you will head to the left of the weather station and veer directly down the paved path. You may not think much of this decline but when it is the final push on the return leg it will be etched in your mind a day later.
The first 1-kilometer of the trail is probably the most epic in my opinion. I really love the dramatic staircases that wrap themselves along the ridgeline. When there are low-lying clouds, this section truly looks like you are on another planet. Although in some photos it may appear a little dangerous, it is very well supported by hand-rails and chains. Therefore, despite the drop-offs it is relatively safe.
Miradouro do Ninho da Manta: This is the first major viewpoint you will reach. It has a balcony section that looks out over the valley. While it doesn’t face directly to the sun, you can catch the sunrise from this balcony if you wanted. What’s great about this viewpoint is that most tourists can’t be bothered walking 1.2km from the parking lot to the balcony so you have hundreds of people at Miradouro Juncal and hardly anyone at Ninho da Manta.
After a quick stop-off at Ninho da Manta, you will quickly descend down the stairs and onto the connecting ridge, which acts as a bridge to Pico Ruivo. This section is beautiful at sunset as the cliffs can grow a rich, fiery orange in the last light. It’s in this section that you will encounter the first of the tunnels that have been drilled into the mountains. You will need a headlamp or at least a phone torch (this was enough for us) to make it through these tunnels. The longest one was about 150m in length.
As you continue along the ‘bridge-ridge’ it’s quite a fun bit of trail because it has literally been carved out of the mountain. If you are any taller than 6ft you will have to watch your head because the trail is almost like a bit of a cave with railing on your left and the cliff wall almost swallowing you on the right. Every now and again you pass through another tunnel before jumping back out onto the narrow path. This was a really unique segment of trail and was on a bit of a plateau so you had a break for any steep climbing or descending. That is about to come.
This section would be best for sunset as the glow on the wall will hit directly from the west. However, if you are in this region for sunset I’m not sure you would want to be down at the lowest point of the hike. Basically don’t expect to see too much action here during sunrise but you won’t be on the ‘wrong’ side of the sun for long if you keep moving.
Now comes one of the toughest parts of the journey from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo. As we were hiking I named it the gauntlet of death, which was a bit dramatic but basically it is a very steep set of winding stairs up a pass in the mountain. When you reach the top of the path the view will open up again to the east and we were greeted with a beaming sun lighting up the layers upon layers of ridges. This was one of my favorite moments on the trail.
You are now within touching distance of Pico Ruivo, but you will still need to put in 180-meters of incline. However, it is more gradual than the ‘gauntlet of death’ stair section that has undoubtedly left your legs burning and your lungs gasping. Enjoy the morning sunlight as you slowly crawl your way up the Casa de Abrigo Pico Ruivo, which is the mountain hut just below the base of Pico Ruivo.
The sign on the front of the mountain hut said it was constructed in 1939. It now offers basic facilities such as free clean drinking water, toilets, and a functioning bar where you can purchase drinks. By all reports, you cannot sleep in the mountain hut, which was newly re-opened in 2019 although camping nearby is permitted.
Once you reach the mountain hut the summit of Pico Ruivo is within touching distance. Just another five minutes on the trail, which winds up around the side of Ruivo and eventually leads you up to the mighty summit, which is the highest point on Madeira island at 1,862m above sea-level. The best part about Pico Ruivo is that you have panoramic views, which means you can really get a sense of the island. I spent some time at the summit looking at my maps and identifying certain regions and other peaks to gain some knowledge on the geography of the island.
Below you can see a couple of photos of the summit and a drone video of when we made it to the top!
Even though you are at the highest point on Madeira, the journey back is not downhill. You will pick up another 500m of incline on the return leg back to Pico do Arieiro from Pico Ruivo. The route back is quite challenging because the final 2-kilometers are almost all uphill on the very steep section back towards Ninho da Manta, which is the balcony viewpoint.
Even though you are returning on the same trail, it is a much different experience when you are facing the other way as the backdrop will be entirely different. Even in different lighting conditions at a different time of day you can have an entirely unique experience.
I hope you enjoyed this guide about the Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hike and have a safe and epic journey on the most famous trail on Madeira Island. Happy hiking!