Nobody told me what to expect from a hike to Pico Ruivo, Madeira's highest point. I knew I need to go uphill for a few kilometres, before reaching 1862 meters altitude. I knew I need to drive through mountainous roads and always be prepared for the weather conditions. What I didn't know is that I would admire one of the most impressive 360 degrees views, which unravelled the endless ocean and white long clouds over dramatic cliffs. I wasn't aware that I would feel as if I reached the top of the world.
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Getting to Pico Ruivo
Pico Ruivo can only be accessed by foot after a strenuous hike. The easiest way to access the trail is by driving from Santana, up to the car park, at the Achada do Teixeira.
Part of the fun was the drive itself, as most of the time I had to navigate through thick cloud and narrow, winding roads. Although it was exhilarating it felt relatively dangerous, hence only a confident driver should venture on these cliffs. There were a few viewing points along the way, where I stopped the car and photographer the surrounding through the creepy mist.
Everything looked eerie, like a thrilling scene from a horror movie. Once I stopped the car on the side of the road, I could hear nothing but the deep silence. There were no birds tweeting, no other cars, no humans along the road. I was standing in front of a thick forest covered in cloud and mist. As exciting as it was, I did get a shiver up and down my spine.
After about 20 minutes of driving uphill, the cloud cleared out completely. By the time I got to the car park, the sun was scorching hot, I couldn't believe only minutes ago I was making my way through the cold, damp fog.
The hike to Pico Ruivo
Hiking to Pico Ruivo was one of the most fun things I did in Madeira. The continuous uphill hike was challenging and it did require a few breaks here and there. The path was well defined all the way to the top. The moment I reached my first viewing point, I could admire the island in all its splendour from coast to coast. Beautiful green cliffs were rising up from the white clouds, forming a surreal landscape. There were moments where I hiked on narrow paths, and both sides would reveal the vastness of the ocean and floating cloud. Even for the most experienced hikers, these outstanding views could make your knees tremble a little. It's all part of the fun.
Hiking to Pico Ruivo was incredibly exhilarating, but also quite exhausting. Surprisingly, not because of the uphill struggle, but because of the hot, dazzling sunshine. Being under the direct sun at 12 pm, at 1862 m above sea level, definitely had an impact.
After a couple of hours, I reached Madeira's highest point. Several miles above the cloud made me feel as if I reached the top of the world and not just the top of Madeira. Pico Ruivo offers 360 degrees impressive views of the island. Anywhere I looked I could see either endless ocean, dramatic cliffs or mountains covered in lush vegetation. Pico Ruivo is also an epic stop for a picnic. It's nothing better than eating with a view, at the end of a great hike. It feels like you earned it all.
The hike back was much easier and faster. It took me up to an hour to go back to the car park. Because the sun was shining bright, I had difficulties taking the sort of long exposure pictures I was after. Once I got back to the car and into the cloudy landscape, I took my tripod out for a fun landscape photography session.
What you need for a hike to Pico Ruivo
Car - In order to start the hike you will need to drive up to the car park. There are other trail options which start from Ilha for example, but they are longer and far more demanding. I suggest driving to these remote places only if you are an experienced driver and possess serious clutch skills.
Water - I had to hike for hours under the strong sunshine. Keeping hydrated is key. Bring at least 2 litres of water with you for this hike.
Food - After two hours of uphill hike, I was starving. I had a few protein munchies along the trail and two sandwiches once I reached the top. Bring nuts and berries with you, they will help you a lot.
Camera - I can't believe I had the chance to photograph such impressive views. I knew Madeira is beautiful, but being on its highest point created a dreamlike landscape. Have the camera handy, there are tons of incredible photographic opportunities along the way.
Super Tips for hiking Pico Ruivo
Sunscreen - I didn't use sunscreen for this hike, and as a result, my shoulders got a bit burnt. The UV light can be a menace at 1862 m above sea level and hiking for more than 3 hours with no shade can be really bad for your skin. Use high factor sunscreen before attempting this trail.
Hat - Bring a hat with you in case you need to hike in the sunshine. If it's cloudy or rainy, you can just leave the hat in the car, but better be prepared. Sunstrokes can happen to anyone and there is no immediate medical help on top of the mountain.
Dress for the weather - You might be lucky and get to hike in the sunshine. That's great, wear your shorts and enjoy. However, trailing on an island located in the Atlantic Ocean results in unpredictable weather and potentially dangerous conditions. Make sure you have the right gear for you and dress for the weather. If it's rainy and windy, best to turn back, as the path might get too slippery. Good hiking shoes are imperative for this hike, regardless of the weather.
What do you think? Would you go up Pico Ruivo and conquer Madeira? Let me know in the comments section below.