Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hike or PR1 or Vereda do Areeiro is a peak to peak hike with unparalleled views to boast of. This hike is rightfully touted as the best hike in Madeira for its awe inspiring scenery and never ending vistas of mountain peaks, cloud covered valleys and brilliant blue skies merging with equally brilliant blue oceans. This exhilarating hike will have you walking over the clouds in some sections while trodding many a steps up and down on narrow ledges in others, but you will always have gorgeous scenery to gawk at!
Starting point of Vereda do Arieiro hike
Pico do Arieiro is the third highest peak in Madeira at a height of 1818 mts. But it is possible to drive up to this peak very easily with a car. While driving upto the summit, certain low sections of the road were enveloped by the fluffy cotton candy clouds passing through. This was such a surreal scene and it gave us a precursor for what to expect on our PR1 hike which is rightly touted as a walk above the clouds. Pico de Arieiro is very easily accessible by the road and hence a good place to visit on your Madeira itinerary, even if you don’t want to do the entire PR1 hike. There is a large car park, a restuarant and a souvenir shop near the summit. An air defence radar station also has been built at the top of Pico de Arieiro. We started our hike quite early in the morning so none of these facilities were actually open. I was hoping that at least toilet facilities would be open but unfortunately that wasn’t the case either
Starting section of the PR1 hike to Pico Ruivo
The sun was already up, bright and shining on this clear day. The air was fresh and crisp and the views unending. The large viewing deck at the summit offers fantastic views of the surrounding nature and the start of the hiking path that leads up to Pico Ruivo. We wanted to waste no time in starting our hike and so we immediately set out on what was our longest hikes during our Madeira trip after a quick couple of clicks from the observation deck. There was extremely strong wind close to the starting point of the hike, so much so that it literally pushed us. But fortunately the path and surrounding area here is quite wide so you don’t have to fear falling off a precipice or something. But at the same time the views here are spectacular. Very soon into the hike you get a feel of why this hike is hailed to be one with the best views in Madeira.
In the beginning part of the trail you will be doing lots of old narrow steps, mostly going down. My mind was already racing to think that i would have to climb these on the way back . Sternly told myself to be in the moment and the beautiful views immediately took my mind off. We took a small detour to the viewpoint of Ninho da Manta. This viewpoint was in the shape of a small balcony much like the one in Vereda dos Balcoes. From this small balcony we could see the stunning valley of Faja do Nogueira and the central mountain range with the shimmering blue ocean in the distance. The sun was already too bright and the photographer in me wished we had started even earlier. But the real lazy not-so morning person in me couldn’t have done any earlier. So in spite of the bright sunlight, after some photos, videos and selfies later we wandered back on to our hike path.
On a clear day you can see the neighbouring island of Porto Santo which is 30 miles off the coast of Madeira. Along this section of the hike you will see white clouds rolling by and covering the entire valley. This makes up for such a dreamy and mystical experience. We saw this in multiple places along the hike and it was such a sight to behold. The entire valley was either being carpeted in soft, fluffy clouds or in some instances the rolling clouds were just playing peek a boo with the surrounding giants. On most clear days visitors can expect to see such amazing views and look down at the clouds while doing this hike. This truly is a walk above the clouds!!!
Mid-section of PR1 Pico do Arieiro hike
After a while we passed on to the opposite side of the mountain range and hence were bit sheltered from the sun. In this section we also passed through some beautiful archways and tunnels carved through the mountains. The tunnels are really lot of fun and some can be a bit dark too. So keep your flashlight handy or just use the torch on your mobile. There are about 5 tunnels in this hike and though not extremely dark but some do have uneven floor and hence the flash light really helps.
You will also see some small caves and nooks on the side of the mountains as you pass the tunnels. But sadly this is also where most people cater to their bodily urges so it was littered with a lot of waste. After a small section of almost flat trail you will reach the metal staircase. This will be the beginning of the steep climb across Pico das Torres by means of multiple steps carved in the mountain. Once we did this steep incline there were a few downhill steps and after that we had to continue on a steady uphill path. Yes this is a long strenuous hike, definitely not a walk in the park.
It is pretty interesting to observe the vegetation in this area as well. Particularly there were these beautiful silvery white trees that made the place look all mystical but in reality these are dead trees. A forest fire a few years ago destroyed a lot of the vegetation on these slopes. Nevertheless the different shapes and forms of the barren branches of these trees added to the charm of the scenery.
Final destination of the PR1 hike : Pico Ruivo, 1862 mts
The path leading upto the shelter at Pico Ruivo continuously goes uphill, the only saving grace is that it is not steep. We were still exhausted by this steady uphill climb. You know you are close and but still not there yet, so your mind starts racing on reaching the final destination. At a certain point of this trail, you will see the path from Achada do Teixeira, PR1.2 also joining up. This is the shorter hike of about 3km which leads upto Pico Ruivo as well. Given it is shorter and guarantees the same 360 degree views from Pico Ruivo, it is a very popular one indeed. Unlike Pico Arieiro, it is not possible for visitors to drive to Pico Ruivo and hence it is only reachable by foot. Once you are close to the Pico Ruivo cafe , you are nearly there. A 10 min ascent from the cafe will get you to the Pico Ruivo summit.
Before heading upto Pico Ruivo or on your way back you can take a break at the cafeteria and refuel if needed. But keep in mind that the cafeteria does not have many options in terms of food. We were extremely hungry after our long hike but to our dismay they only had some muffins and drinks available. Unfortunately they had some issues with their cooler that day and hence to most hikers disappoint there was no cold beer available either. Fortunately we had got some fruits and snacks with us which along with the muffins and drinks we bought at the cafe made up for our lunch that day.
There are also toilet facilities available near the cafeteria, cost 50cents. So after the much needed toilet break, refreshment break and some resting time we started our hike back. The sun was shining in all its glory on this bright summery day and we wanted to make our way back at a decent hour so that we could enjoy our evening just relaxing. If you are taking the public transport or using a pick up service then you do have the option to hike back to Achada do Teixeira and save a lot of time. But in our case we need to go back to the summit of Pico do Arieiro as our car was parked there.
The hike back from Pico Ruivo to Pico do Arieiro
Given this walk is not a loop we returned back the same way and this time a bit faster. Mainly because i didn’t take as many stops to take videos and photos😉 . The many ascents and descents will definitely challenge you and make you gasp for breath while the tunnels, vegetation and surrounding nature will keep the hike interesting. Sometimes it is interesting to see the same scene from the exact opposite perspective and notice new things that we hadn’t the first time around. Similarly the change in lighting also dramatically changed the mood in the scenery in certain viewpoints.The ‘photo-crazy me’ still wanted to grab the camera at every given opportunity but the tired hiker was more focussed on finishing the hike faster and hence kept the ‘photo-crazy me’ in check. As you get closer to Pico do Arieiro you will be doing a lot of uphill climb via steps, yes the same steps that i was dreading going up while on our hike out.
Should you do the PR1 hike one way and head on to Achada do Texeira?
Vereda do Areeiro aka PR1is an out and back type of trail and hence you are forced to walk back the same way as you first hiked. But there is indeed another option for you to head to Achada do Teixeira after reaching the Pico Ruivo summit instead of making your way back to Pico do Arieiro. So you would be doing the return leg of PR1.3 which is a 3 km and moderately easy walk. This is definitely the ideal option as it can be a bit tiring when you need to walk at least 3.5 hours with plenty of ascents and descents just to reach the starting point again via the same route. Don’t get me wrong, the nature here is spectacular so we didn’t mind it much but still somehow the fickle human mind starts racing back on getting to the destination and longing for some creature comforts especially in a strenuous hike like this one. So we always find it a bit more exciting and engaging to do loop trails as you get to experience something different throughout the trail.
Unfortunately the big challenge here is that there is no public transport or shuttle service available between Achada do Teixeira and Pico do Arieiro. Neither of these places are serviced by public transport so it is a bit of hassle if you want to head on to your home base from Achada do Teixeira or come back to Pico do Arieiro to pick up your car. So unless you can arrange for a private transfer service or a taxi, this option is pretty much ruled out. Taxi and private transfers can be pretty pricey so do your research well if this is the option you want to go for. In our case we had rented a car for our entire Madeira trip and hence we hiked back to Pico do Arieiro. It would make so much sense for Madeira tourism to arrange for a shuttle service between these 2 points and then it would so easy for hikers to do the Vereda do Areeiro one way and finish at Achada do Teixeira.
Back at Pico do Arieiro summit
A sense of satisfaction and exhaustion washed over us all at the same time as we reached our final destination of Pico Arieiro. I was still in the mood to capture a few photos from the viewing area but all Sridhar wanted to do was get some food and rest his legs. After convincing him to pose for a ‘hike completion selfie’ we headed straight to the cafe restaurant. It was a bit of odd timing as we were well past the lunch time but luckily they were still serving soups, drinks and some snacks. We enjoyed our snacks and coffee while enjoying the view of the stunning mountains. Finally our long yet extremely enjoyable day of hiking PR1 had come to an end and we headed home with a smile on our faces🙂
Quick tips for PR1 hike – Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo & back
- Starting point : Pico do Arieiro summit, easily reachable by car
- Hiking distance : 7km one way, total 14 km
- Level of difficulty : Moderate
- Time required to hike : It took us easily 4 hours on our way out, including all the photo stops. On the way back it was a bit quicker. But you need a minimum of 3.5 hours to hike this one way. We also took a 30-45 min break at Pico Ruivo cafe. This hike will take up almost your entire day with the evening to spare for relaxation.
- Best time of the day to hike: Start as early as possible in the morning, this hike is quite popular and the sun is quite strong during the day
- Things to take with you : Bring lots of water and snacks, bars, fruits etc. with you. It is a long hike so you will need to keep hydrated and energised. Also carry a flashlight or your phone torch for the tunnels. Don’t forget your sunscreen.
- What to wear for the hike: Sturdy hiking shoes, dress in layers, rain and sun protection depending on the weather. Even if you are doing this hike during summer you might want to carry a light jacket or windcheater as it can be a bit nippy in the morning. It can also be very windy in certain sections of the hike. Majority of this hike is completely is exposed to the sun and hence highly advisable to wear a hat or cap to prevent sunburn.
- Do you need hiking poles? : This hike has lot of steps and hence if you have weak knees it might be useful especially for the descents. Otherwise the hike is pretty doable without hiking poles.
- Toilet facilities : Available at Pico do Arieiro and near Pico Ruivo cafe, both cost 50 cents
- If you have vertigo or a fear of heights, certain sections of this hike that are along narrow ledges or steps might be difficult for you. But it is a very well maintained trail and even in these sections there is always a secure railing on one or both sides.