Pico Ruivo is the highest point on Madeira Island in Portugal at 1,862m above sea level. With its panoramic views of the surrounding mountain ranges, it has become a popular vantage point for both sunrise and sunset. It’s no easy feat reaching the summit of Pico Ruivo however, with several hiking options the only ways to reach the peak. Enjoying the golden hour at the Pico Ruivo summit is one of the must-do activities on Madeira Island.
HOW TO GET TO PICO RUIVO
There are multiple ways to get to Pico Ruivo, which is the highest point on Madeira Island. The most important piece of information here is that all of the options include some hiking. You cannot drive to this viewpoint so lace up the hiking boots if you want to reach the summit.
- ACHADA DO TEIXEIRA TO PICO RUIVO: The most popular for sunrise is from Achada do Teixeira because it is the shortest and has the least incline. The parking lot of Achada do Teixeira is just 2.5-kilometers from the summit of Pico Ruivo so you can reach the summit in 30-45 minutes quite easily.
- PICO DO ARIEIRO TO PICO RUIVO: This route is much more technical and strenuous. With 800m of incline on the round-trip journey and 11-km in total distance, this hike will test out your level of endurance.
- ENCUMEDA TO PICO RUIVO: This trail is 10km one way from Encumeda to Pico Ruivo so as you can imagine it is less popular but if you are used to longer hikes it can be a great alternative.
Pico Ruivo Map: I have placed the pin on Google Maps below to show you the exact location of the Pico Ruivo viewpoint so you can create your route from where you are located.
PICO DO ARIEIRO TO PICO RUIVO HIKE
The hike from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo is the most famous hike on the island of Madeira. 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 incline 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.
I did the hike for sunrise and began at Pico do Arieiro about half an hour before sunrise and watched the glowing sky on the hike over to Pico Ruivo. The best conditions for this hike are when the clouds come in and fill the valleys below, which creates a mystical atmosphere surrounding the trail.
The 11-km route involves almost a vertical kilometer of incline and some of the inclines are seriously steep such as the stairs up the pass just before Pico Ruivo. The narrow, cliffside pathway darts in and out of tunnels and is truly a unique feature that isn’t found on many hikes around the world. It really sets this route apart.
The entire hike will take you about 3-4 hours or a bit longer if you really meander your way along the route. If you wanted to be at Pico Ruivo for sunrise you would need to leave two hours before the sunrise time. Many people watch the sunrise at Pico do Arieiro and then commence the hike to Pico Ruivo after that.
PICO RUIVO WEBCAM – CHECK BEFORE YOU GO
Before you make the journey out to Pico Ruivo you may want to check the webcam at the nearby peak of Pico do Arieiro, which usually has similar cloud conditions as they are very close in proximity and height. You can view the Pico do Arieiro webcam by clicking here. Obviously, if you are going for sunrise, you may not see much on the webcam but if you are planning to visit for sunset it can be very handy. The webcam updates every fifteen minutes so you can get a clear indication of the weather conditions at the summit before driving all the way across the island.
Checking the webcam becomes important when you consider that many people are hoping to watch the sunset or sunrise above a sea of clouds. However, on many days there are no clouds and you may be disappointed. The other main reason to check the webcam before you visit is that the weather is dramatically different on the opposing sides of the island. When one side is raining and cloudy, the other side can be perfectly sunny. So, it can be a good idea to check if it is gloomy and raining before you head away from the sunny side of the island to the doom and gloom.
BEST TIME OF YEAR TO VISIT PICO RUIVO
There are a few things to consider when considering when you should visit Pico Ruivo. The key factors are Time of day, time of year, type of weather.
Time of day: Sunrise and sunset are the most popular times to visit Pico Ruivo. To watch the sunrise above the sea of clouds or set below the clouds and light them on fire is truly a bucket-list spectacle that you will remember forever. Everything is more magical during the golden hour.
If you visit during the middle of the day, you will have to contend with the possibility of the heat from the sun as you hike or explore the area. In the morning it can be cold but not freezing conditions. With a good jacket and pants, you will be okay at the summit.
Time of year: Because Madeira has a temperate climate all year, there is no good or bad time of the year when considering the weather. I visited in late summer and spring and had a mixture of moody weather and great sunny days. The months of September, October, and November are usually much quieter on Madeira so if you want to avoid the crowds then think about a trip during those months.
Type of weather: As mentioned above, you should never be ridiculously cold or hot on Madeira but the midday sun while hiking can get a bit much for some. The morning chill during sunrise viewing is mild enough for most to handle. However, it is the clouds that are the most important part of the experience so try your best to visit when the cloud cover is creating a white layer through the mountains for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
TIPS FOR A SUNRISE AT PICO RUIVO
It’s hard to know what to expect when it’s your first time to Pico Ruivo so I hope this helps. When you are heading up for sunrise these are the things you need to know.
- Whatever time sunrise is, get to the summit a minimum of 30-minutes early if not more. The glow will begin well before the official sunrise time. The glow on the clouds is beautiful and when I was there, everyone waited half an hour and then clapped when the sun finally burst over the horizon to begin the day!
- There are several routes to Pico Ruivo. The most popular for sunrise is from Achada do Teixeira because it is the shortest and has the least incline. The parking lot of Achada do Teixeira is just 2.5-kilometers from the summit of Pico Ruivo so you can reach the summit in 30-45 minutes quite easily.
- If you are up for an adventure you can hike from Pico do Arieiro and arrive at Pico Ruivo for sunrise. You will need about 1.5-2 hours at minimum to reach Pico Ruivo in time for sunrise. Make sure to pack a headlamp for that route.
- There is a mountain hut called Casa de Abrigo Pico Ruivo just before the final climb to the summit. While it is not accessible for sleeping overnight, they do provide clean drinking water, a barbecue facility, toilets and you can buy drinks from the bar. So make sure to bring your own snacks but toilets and drinking water are all sorted at the hut.
- I thought it would be colder than it was. I wore pants, a beanie, and a down jacket but was never cold and took off all the layers as soon as the sun was out. I had expected it to be very chilly but it was mild. If it’s a windy day it may be a different matter.
ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY AND FULL MOON PHOTOGRAPHY NEAR PICO RUIVO
With very little light pollution this far up in the mountains, Pico Ruivo and Pico do Arieiro are great places for astrophotography and for witnessing the full moon. One night we set out on a mission from Pico do Arieiro to photograph the full moon as it rose over the peaks on the ridge just near Ninho da Manta viewpoint. We set up about 2km down the trail from Pico do Arieiro looking back towards the ridge in an easterly direction. This would be about 3-kilometers along the trail from Pico Ruivo to Pico do Arieiro but I’m sure there are other nice spots closer to Pico Ruivo summit.
It was a pretty crazy mission and one that definitely involved some sketchy climbing in the dark but we managed to create an amazing set of images that are pretty unique. It was great to shoot at night out on the trail because all the tourists and hikers are gone so it is incredibly peaceful while you are shooting the stars and the moon.
You will need a tripod for the astrophotography but you can actually shoot the moon handheld just like in the second photo you see below. Good luck and stay safe out there during the night when it’s dark, cold, and a bit scary out in the mountains!
SUNSET AT PICO RUIVO
For those who aren’t keen on an early wake-up, you can still get some magical views at Pico Ruivo as the sun sets and lights up the top of the clouds before diving beneath them. Because Pico Ruivo has panoramic views it is great for sunrise or sunset. Keep in mind that wherever you have to hike back to after sunset will be in the darkness so make sure to pack a headlamp.
TRAIL RUNNING TO PICO RUIVO
For those of you who are keen trail runners, you will be in your absolute element on Madeira. The trail running community here is very strong and it’s not uncommon for a runner to whizz past you on a hike. The route from Pico do Ariero to Pico Ruivo is quite a technical trail run with lots of stairs but it will have your adrenaline going! Make sure you have your headlamp on for the tunnels. You won’t need to carry water as it is available at the Casa de Abrigo Pico Ruivo mountain hut below the summit of Pico Ruivo. The trail has about 800m of incline for the 11-km return journey. The current record as of 2020 on Strava for Pico Ruivo to Pico do Arieiro is 37-minutes from a highly experienced runner. You will want to avoid peak times and run just at sunrise to avoid crowded trails as it was quite busy after 9 am on the trail.
MOUNTAIN HUT AT PICO RUIVO
The mountain hut at Pico Ruivo is known as Casa de Abrigo Pico Ruivo and it’s a bit of an interesting focal point near the summit. 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.