Vereda do Fanal is one of my favorite moderate difficulty hikes on Madeira Island because it has a bit of everything. You have viewpoints over Rabacal Valley, strenuous stair climbs, an immersive experience in the UNESCO-listed Laurisilva Forest, and a spectacular finish at the magical Fanal Forest. It ticks a lot of boxes all throughout one trail when it comes to seeing the sights of Madeira.
Note: The photos in this blog were taken on two separate days. On one of the days, I visited Fanal Forest in the morning when it was foggy. If you want to read my guide and see all the photos from that foggy morning you can click to view the article here: ULTIMATE GUIDE TO FANAL FOREST
On the second visit, I did the Vereda do Fanal hike on a different day when it was clear weather so I could enjoy the viewpoints along the way without just seeing a wall of white fog. If you have time to make two separate visits, I highly advise two separate visits. That’s the way I was able to see Fanal as the foggy forest is incredible but the views on the hike were great so you will probably not get both on the same day unless you are incredibly lucky with the fast-changing weather conditions.
VEREDA DO FANAL HIKE DETAILS
Hike Distance: The total distance of the Vereda do Fanal hiking trail was a 11-kilometer point-to-point route (one way).
Hike Duration: The hike can be completed in about 3 hours.
Hike Difficulty: This trail was one of the more moderate trails on Madeira Island. There were no dangerous drop-offs and the hike was pretty clear for most of the journey. The stairs and sections of incline will challenge some but there was nothing difficult to report that you wouldn’t expect. Kids (who have hiking experience) would enjoy this hike and many families were out on the trail.
Hike Incline: 456m (finishing at Fanal Forest)
HOW TO GET TO THE VEREDA DO FANAL HIKE TRAILHEAD
Located on the north-western end of Madeira Island, the Fanal Forest is quite easy to find as it has a dedicated parking area called ‘Faial Parking’ on Google Maps. From Funchal, it will take you one hour via car.
Make sure to take note that this route is a ‘point-to-point’ route, which means it is one-way only. It is 11-kilometers in one direction and if you don’t have a second car planted at the finish you will have to hike back or call a taxi. Therefore you can start at either end of the trail and there are a few factors to consider when choosing which end to start at. Firstly where do you want to finish? Do you want to explore Fanal Forest in the morning and then go on the hike or do you want to enjoy your lunch after the hike at a picnic table in Fanal Forest.
The other point to consider is that if you begin in Fanal Forest, you will be hiking in the uphill direction. We finished at Fanal Forest, which meant we hiked the downhill route but we still climbed 456 meters of incline so it was a very uphill ‘downhill’ route. We planted our second car at Faial Parking (Fanal Forest) and then drove the first car back to Paul da Serra and began the hike from there. When we finished we drove back and collected the car.
The other end of the hike is in the plateau of Paul da Serra (Assobiadores) but it is simply a parking lot and a sign where the hike starts.
Below is a map of the Faial Parking lot, which is at Fanal Forest.
BEST TIME TO HIKE NEAR FANAL FOREST
The Fanal Forest is great to visit all-year-round but there are some certain weather conditions that make this place quite atmospheric. Basically, you want the entire forest to be engulfed by fog to create this mystical, moody vibe that you can see in my photos. It is common for the fog to hit this area, which is at 1,150 meters above sea level. It can be quite hard to predict when it will be clear and when it will be foggy. Often if it is clear and sunny at sea-level down by the beach, it can still be foggy conditions in the forest.
For hiking it can be nice in the fog but you may miss out on the many viewpoints along the way so you may also prefer a clear day for your trek. There was only a bit of shade on the trail with lots of open parts and the sun roasted us in many sections of the trail as we did the hike at midday.
The best tip I can offer if you want to find the fog in the forest is that it is said to be more likely to get the foggy conditions in the morning rather than the evening. We chose a day to visit the forest (not to hike) when it had been foggy for a few days up in the mountains and then went for sunrise the next morning. It was even a little too foggy and windy for us but we were grateful the fog rolled in and creating this stunning scene. As you can see below, I’ve included a photo of the Fanal Forest in foggy conditions and also when I visited after the Levada dos Cedros hike when it was clear and sunny. Big difference.
MY EXPERIENCE ON THE VEREDA DO FANAL HIKE
This review of the Vereda do Fanal will begin with the actual hike and will finish with photos and details about exploring the forest, which is where the hike will finish.
We organized to do this hike with a friend so we could have two cars. This meant we could drop one at the finish point to ferry us back to our car at the starting point. The alternative to this is to do the hike as an out and back but that would be 20km+ and quite a journey!
After careful consideration, we chose the ‘downhill’ route beginning at the plateau of Paul da Serra, which meant we would finish at Fanal Forest. At this end of the hike, there is a small parking lot and a white sign that clearly gives the details about the PR13 Vereda do Fanal hike. We just followed the map of the official Madeira hiking app to find the start and finish points.
I try and avoid doing hikes in the middle of the day as it can be very hot bad lighting, and busy with tourists. However, after sunrise at Encumeada was our priority for the day, we made it out to this hike for a late morning start. The sun was beaming as we made our way down towards the Rabacal region.
The trail is exposed more than it is in the shade but there are many cooler moments where you will find yourself under the canopy of the Laurisilva Forest. I noticed the shade on this day more than others due to the extreme heat. The thick vines created a natural umbrella as we made our way through the forest.
The trail crisses back and forth across the main road where you parked several times throughout the trail. However, unlike many hikes on Madeira, you don’t have to actually walk along the road throughout the trail. Just before one of the main crossings was a nice little picnic area, although we had just started the hike so we continued on.
For the first half of the hike, there were glimpses of the Rabacal Valley where I had hiked in the previous days on trails such as Levada das 25 Fontes, Levada do Alecrim, Lagoa do Vento, Lagos da Madeira, and Levada da Rocha Vermelha. Yes, we did all of those hikes in Rabacal! The views aren’t constant though as often you will find yourself surrounded by tall bushes. During these moments, your concentration will be squarely on marching up and down the constant stream of stairs that are spread throughout this trail.
The first main highlight of the trail is a little viewpoint after approximately 4-kilometers on the trail. It was the perfect opportunity for a snack break and do look down into Rabacal and identify the other trails we had explored in the days earlier.
After the viewpoint, you again head back across the main road and this is one you really begin to delve into the beauty of the UNESCO Laurisilva Forest. You can sense a distinct change in the flora and the trees as it becomes a little wilder. From this point on, the trail is much more natural and we even followed the wrong path a few times. This tells you that the path isn’t quite as defined as the other side of the road.
The final change in scenery is one you begin to reach the edge of the Fanal Forest. With less than two kilometers of the hike remianing, you will begin to notice something. The twisted branches of the grand centenary Ocotea Foetens trees start to dominate the scenery and seem to reach out onto the trail.
The last kilometer before you reach the viewpoint is an exposed dirt path surrounded by thorny bushes. This is the final push until you reach the Fanal Forest and the viewpoints looking down to Seixal.
After 11 kilometers, we finally reached the viewpoint. It had been a long hot day but I still had the energy to explore a lone tree on the hill, which looked out over the cloudy valley below.
The viewpoint is pretty densely covered in trees but we did find a little scrambling route to the top and then burrowed our way to the front of the viewpoint. Here we had a tiny rock to perch on as we watched the clouds envelop the valley over the next 20 minutes. It was a great way to finish the hike. I would say probably don’t head up onto the pinnacle unless you are prepared for a few scratches and can scramble up and down rocks well.
Once you have reached the viewpoint, you will see all of the grand centenary Ocotea Foetens trees in the fields behind you.
FANAL FOREST WALK AND SCENIC VIEWPOINTS
If you don’t want a big long hike what you can do is simply park your car in ‘Faial Parking’ and then walk up the stairs to the viewpoint or wander around the forest nearby. Basically, as soon as you arrive at the parking lot, you are immersed in the magic of the forest. You can enjoy the twisted trees, mystic fog, and magical scenery without going on a big trek. Even the cows are hanging out near the parking lot.
What I found is that there was no right or wrong with Fanal and I ended up having the best time just wandering around all of the different paths and viewpoints in the area. Over each new hill are some more crazy trees and stunning scenes so just set off from the parking lot and see what you find.
There are also lots of picnic tables and places to gather and relax with family and friends near the parking lot so it can be a great place to spend a few hours in a group.
PHOTOGRAPHY IN FANAL FOREST
Fanal Forest is an incredible location for photography. The twisted branches of the trees create a scene straight out of a horror movie. This is especially true when the fog is rolling through, giving that eerie atmosphere to the landscape. In terms of photography in Fanal it really depends on how much fog there is for what type of photos you might be able to create.
I wanted to capture some images with the entire trees and small people beneath them but the fog was so strong on the day I visited, that the quality of my images suffered a little bit. I began shooting with a 24-105mm lens. I didn’t even bother to take out my 400mm as the fog was too thick for a long-distance telephoto shot. In the end, I quickly switched to my 16-35mm, which meant I could get closer to my subject and avoid the quality loss due to the thick fog between myself and the subject.
Having a person in frame at this location can help to give some scale to the trees but I also loved the moody shots of the twisted trees without any human element.
One of my favorite parts of Fanal was the curious cows who seemed to stare at me, wondering what I was up to. I had a stand-off with one cow for a couple of minutes while he let me snap a few shots of him. You can see in the photos his eyes are locked onto me with a steely determination.
I hope you enjoyed this guide about the Vereda do Fanal and the Fanal Forest on the north-western side of Madeira Island.