Madeira Hike: PR1 – Pico Do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo, One Way or Round Trip?
PR1 Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo is one of the best hikes in Madeira. This blog will tell you all you need to know about doing the PR1 hike as an one way hike.
Madeira Island, also known as the “Pearl of the Atlantic,” is a Portuguese island located in the Atlantic Ocean. It is famous for its stunning natural landscapes, including rugged mountains, lush forests, and scenic coastlines.
There are now a lot of transfer services that will drop you off at the trailhead and pick you up on the other end, making it easy to hike PR1 as a one way hike (but you can always do it as a round trip hike!)
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What is PR1 Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hike?
Length of PR1: 7km (one way)
Time it takes to hike PR1: 3.5-4 hours (one way) although it took us more than 4 hours one way because we were taking so many photos. I think 3.5 hours is fine if you don’t stop at all.
Difficulty of PR1: Moderate
Pico do Arieiro and Pico Ruivo are two of the highest peaks in Madeira with Pico Ruivo being the highest. The PR1 levada walk is a stunning trail that connects these two peaks.
For some parts of the hike you will be walking on the ledge (with railings) and other parts of the hike you will either be walking on the side of the mountain or through man-made tunnels.
Since the hike is above 1,500m (4900 feet), for the most part you will be hiking above the clouds, making the hike extremely cool and unique. Some people had mentioned they felt the air was thin but I honestly did not feel any effect of that.
The official trail map shows 2 paths from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo: the west trail and the east trail. The east trail is longer but easier as you go along Pico Las Torres, the 2nd highest peak in Madeira.
The west trail is newer and shorter but harder as you will have to climb some really steep stairs. The west trail follows a path carved into Pico Las Torres.
When we went the east trail was unfortunately closed due to landslides. It appears that the eastern part near Pico Das Torres is still closed as of Winter 2023.
How Difficult or Scary is PR1 Vereda Do Areeiro?
While I was researching the Pico do Arieiro hike, many people used words such as “thrilling”, “scary”, “difficult” and “long” to describe the PR1 trail.
And to be honest, I was a bit concerned before hiking this trail because of warnings about how you should not hike PR1 if you have vertigo and have a fear of heights.
Many others have said that the Pico do Arieiro trail can be very steep and long, which can be true depending on whether you do the trail as a one way hike or a round trip.
After doing this hike, I have to say that I didn’t find the hike particularly scary or difficult; I actually didn’t even realize we passed the really “scary” part until my friends kept telling me that we did.
So I guess that goes to show it’s not that scary. Yes you will be walking on the ledge in the beginning but there are railings on both sides of the trail so it’s super safe.
The PR1 trail is very well built and maintained, I actually don’t see how it could be dangerous (unless you go in heavy rain or something). As long as you stay on the trail and not try to climb out of the fenced area just for photos it is not dangerous.
How to Get to Pico Do Arieiro (PR1) Trailhead?
Driving to PR1 Trailhead
Renting a car and driving to Pico do Arieiro is the most flexible way! You can go at any time of the day without having to wait for the transfer and there is a large parking lot at Pico do Arieiro (although the lot does get filled up during the day so you should go early).
Taking a private taxi to PR1
If you don’t want to share a van with others, you can always ask your hotel to book you a private taxi to take you to Pico do Arieiro at any time of the day. It costs between 40-50 Euro for a one way taxi between Funchal and Pico do Arieiro but you also need to take a taxi back, so it will double the price.
Book a transfer to Pico do Arieiro
Details of Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo Hike
Before I discuss whether you should do the PR1 hike as a one way or round trip hike (and how), I will go into detail about the actual hike and you can judge for yourself whether you want to do it as a one way hike or round trip.
Starting at Pico do Arieiro
The PR1 trail technically starts at Pico do Arieiro, the 3rd highest peak on Madeira island. Although nobody will stop you from starting the hike from Pico Ruivo first, almost everyone starts at Pico do Arieiro (it’s easier to start from Pico do Arieiro).
There is a large parking lot at Pico do Arieiro that you can either drive yourself to, take a taxi, or take a tour. Although the parking lot is pretty big, if you go later in the day (10am or later) especially during peak season, the parking lot can potentially fill up.
There is an observation deck at Pico do Arieiro, along with a public bathroom (you have to pay), a cafe with drinks, sandwiches, desserts, soup, etc and souvenir shop. Many people come to Pico do Arieiro just for the view but never actually hike the trail.
I suggest that you go to Pico do Arieiro early in the morning for sunrise since it’s so beautiful and you can also avoid the crowd. However if you go there that early the bathroom and cafe won’t be open.
A word of caution driving up to Pico do Arieiro
It generally takes about 45 minutes to an hour to drive up to Pico do Arieiro from Funchal. Google Maps is pretty good about giving you the best route which is mostly on the highway and about 20 minutes on the windy and steep roads.
I personally didn’t find the road that hard to drive although a bit windy but keep in mind that most of the uphill will be in the fog. Don’t get discouraged if you see fog!
When we were driving up to Pico do Arieiro for sunrise, we thought we were doomed because it was still super foggy (could barely see anything) 3 minutes from the parking lot. But magically with only 2 minutes left to go the fog suddenly cleared up and we were literally above the clouds!
Ninho da Manta (Buzzard’s Nest) From Trailhead – 10-15 min
As you follow the trail you are within a 10 to 15 minute walk to the first viewpoint Ninho da Manta (Buzzard’s Nest).
The walk to Ninho da Manta is mostly downhill till the last 3 min where it goes up for a bit. The trail is paved with a lot of stairs going down and there are railings on both sides of the trail.
If you are here early in the morning like I was, you will have the trail entirely to yourself with the cotton candy sky and clouds rolling in and out. You will have some amazing views on your right hand side.
The view from the Buzzard’s Nest is equally as amazing and best during sunrise. From Pico do Arieiro you actually see the radio tower during sunrise but from Buzzard’s Nest the view is unobstructed.
From Buzzard’s Nest you can see the valley of Faja da Nogueira and a large part of the central mountain range in Madeira.
Photo tip at Ninho da Manta: for the best photo at Ninho da Manta you either need a drone to get a higher angle or climb up a rock or take a photo from a spot AFTER the Buzzard’s Nest (discussed next). And the photo is best taken during sunrise before the light becomes too harsh.
Pedra Rija (15-30 min walk)
As you continue the hike after Buzzard’s Nest you go uphill for a little bit then the trail starts to wrap around the mountain. Whenever the trail is next to a steep drop or along a ledge there will be railings on the side.
Soon you will come to the “scary” part of the Pico do Arieiro that you may have seen on YouTube. You will be literally walking on a ledge of the mountain but there is railing on both sides.
This part is not super long so even if you have vertigo, so it’s really not that bad. Although since the ledge is exposed, it could get a bit windy.
After the exposed ledge you will come to a more open area called Pedra Rija.
This is also where you would normally choose between the two hiking path, East and West. Since the east trail was closed when we were there we had to use the only open trail.
Tunnel No.1 of Pico do Arieiro (15 – 20 minutes)
As you continue the hike the trail will become continuous steps going down (most of the trail to Pico Ruivo is actually down hill) and as usual the view is amazing.
After about 20 minutes you will see a hole in the wall. Immediately you will see the other side of the mountain on your right hand side now.
Continue on the now flat trail for another 3-5 minutes and you will come across the first tunnel of the hike! You don’t need a headlamp for the 1st tunnel since it’s relatively short and straight and you can already see the end of the tunnel.
Tunnel No.2 (Halfway to Pico Ruivo) – 15 minutes
Tunnel no.2 is about a 15 minute walk from Tunnel No.1. At this point you will also see a sign pointing to Pico Ruivo with 3.4km left to go.
After the first tunnel there is an area with steep steps going downhill but the steps are lined by really nice yellow flowers (at least in the spring).
After you descend from the flower lined stairs, the trail becomes flat and a dirt path. When we were there it was starting to get foggy but it’s beautiful nevertheless. Then you will see the second tunnel of the hike.
This tunnel looked totally dark from the outside so we turned on our head lamp but you kinda don’t need it because right after you enter the tunnel you will actually see the light from the end of the tunnel.
But if it makes you feel more comfortable do bring a headlamp for this since the ground can be wet and uneven.
Tunnel No. 3-5 (10 minutes from Tunnel 2)
There are a total of 5 tunnels on the Pico do Arieiro hike and the last 3 tunnels are relatively close together (3 minute walk apart from each other). Most of them are relatively short and don’t need a head lamp or torch to get through.
After the last tunnel the trail becomes a a nice downhill and flat walk. As you continue walking you will see another sign pointing to Pico Ruivo and depending on what time you go, it’s possible that you may also see people starting to head back from Pico Ruivo to Pico do Arieiro.
You should enjoy this nice and easy 20-30 minute walk because things are about to get harder, a lot harder.
Tip: I personally think at this point of the hike you’ve seen the most amazing views and valleys along Vereda do Areeiro.
If you do not want to hike up the steep stairs or if you plan to hike to Pico Ruivo on PR1.2 (a separate trail), you can just turn back to go back to the starting point. I personally didn’t find the view that amazing after the tunnels.
Steep Stairs – Prepare Your Body and Your Mind
After you enjoy your 20 minutes of downhill/ flat walk the hike starts to go uphill and get more difficult. When we went it was quite foggy and wet at this part of the hike so the trail became quite slippery since it was made of stones.
We actually were thinking about turning around since we literally couldn’t see anything anymore and the steep stairs looked really crazy.
Good thing we were still debating whether to turn around or not and the fog actually cleared up and revealed the beautiful valley hidden underneath. This shows how fast the weather changes on the hike!
Soon you will come to the most steep part of the Pico Do Arieiro Hike, the stairs of death! These metal stairs made me dizzy just by looking at them and instead of calling them stairs I think ladders would be a more appropriate term.
It took me 20 minutes to climb up these steep metal stairs but I actually didn’t even stop that many times. If you are not super fit it may take you 25-30 minutes to climb up the stairs.
Also remember that if you are hiking this trail as a round trip you will eventually need to come back down these stairs and when it’s wet they could potentially be a bit slippery and scary.
The great news is that once you make it to the top you can enjoy a nice view and the trail onward is a nice downhill/flat walk for another 20 minutes.
The landscape after the stairs changed quite dramatically. Now we are on the other side of the mountain, suddenly the trail is full of dead trees. It’s so different from the lush green valley you’ve been seeing all throughout the hike but it’s still pretty.
The Last Battle Uphill (30-40 minutes)
The last portion of the hike to Pico Ruivo is an uphill battle. As you continue to walk past the dead trees, the trail starts to slope upward gradually. Although the incline was gradual, we were still getting quite tired since it was quite long and getting really sunny.
After about 25-30 minutes of this continuous “gradual” uphill, we finally reached the sign pointing to 3 different directions: “PR 1.1 – Ilha”, “PR 1.2 – Achadas Teixeira” and “PR 1.3 – Encumeada ”. When you are at this sign you know that you are almost there….almost!
At this point of the hike you can take a break at the public bathroom (costs money) or stop by at the Café at Pico Ruivo for a quick snack before heading up a steep hill to the peak.
The last stretch of the hike from the bathroom/ café at Pico Ruivo to the peak is a 10 minute steep climb up the stairs. However, compare to the stairs you had to climb earlier, this is not so bad.
Once you reach the peak of Pico Ruivo you will have a nice panoramic view of the surrounding area and the peak area is very wide and flat.
PR1 Hike: One Way or Round Trip?
Now that you’ve reached the peak of Pico Ruivo, the important question to ask is whether you want this to be a one way hike or round trip hike going all the way back to Pico Arieiro.
One thing to note is that although PR1 ends at Pico Ruivo, it’s not really the end of the hike if you are thinking about doing a one way hike.
Pico Ruivo continues onto Achadas Teixeira, where the parking lot is. The portion between Pico Ruivo and Achadas Teixeira is actually another hike called PR1.2.
As you can see, the starting point of PR1 is at Pico do Arieiro and the end point is at Achadas Teixeira. These are two different locations and car park and there is no established public transportation in between.
Given this logistical inconvenience, some people end up hiking back to Pico do Arieiro from the peak of Pico Ruivo and they then do PR1.2 from Achadas Teixeira to Pico Ruivo as a separate day hike.
This was our original plan and we actually hiked PR 1.2 the first day we were in Madeira. Part of the reason was because we couldn’t figure out a way to get a ride back to Pico do Arieiro since we drove ourselves and parked at Pico do Arieiro.
Of course this round trip hike back to Pico do Arieiro is not an ideal scenario for many reasons:
- You will be looking at the same view going back so it may be boring
- Most of the hike from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo is actually downhill, going back to Pico do Arieiro means you have to hike uphill for most of the hike
- The steep stairs would be a challenge because the trail will be more crowded later in the day and it could be slippery if it’s wet (not ideal for going downhill)
- Another 7km (3.5-4 hours) that you need to hike back
For all of the above reasons, I think hiking PR1 as a one way makes much more sense and it’s a lot more efficient.
Logistics of Arranging Taxi Pick Up from Achada Teixeira to Pico do Arieiro
Where to Eat Near PR1 Pico do Arieiro/ Pico Ruivo?
There is a café at Pico do Arieiro and another café at Pico Ruivo. When we went early in the morning for sunrise the café at Pico do Arieiro was not open. It’s best if you prepare some snack or even a sandwich yourself for the hike.
The café at Pico do Arieiro is quite big with outdoor seating. They sell a variety of sandwiches, dessert, and soups. The bathroom technically costs money (there is someone sitting in the front collecting money) but when I was there around 4pm the person left and someone else told me to use the employees’ bathroom for free.
The café at Pico Ruivo offers fewer options and most of the food was already prepared (cakes, chips, soda, etc). The bathroom also costs money and they tend to run out of toilet paper later in the day.
There is no other bathroom on the trail although many people go in the nature after the last tunnel.
What to Pack for Pico do Arieiro Hike?
Since the hike is high in the mountains where weather could change drastically, I have the following suggestions on what to pack for PR1 hike.
Layers: The temperature can change drastically throughout the hike so I suggest that you bring at least 3 layers with you with one layer being a rain jacket in case it rains.
Hiking Shoes: Although the trail is well built and maintained, there are still parts where it’s not paved and could be slippery when wet. Hiking shoes would make the hike more comfortable on your feet and safer.
Hiking Poles: You can do the Pico do Arieiro hike without hiking poles, but since there are a good amount of downhill and uphill, it’s better to have poles with you to save your knees.
Money: Bring cash (at least 90 euros)!! Especially if you plan to take a taxi back from Pico Ruivo. You will need cash to use bathroom and buy food from the cafes too.
Tissue Paper & Trash Bag: If you plan to use the bathroom in the wild…
Head Lamp/ Torch: Bring head lamp for the tunnels. Even though we didn’t use them that much it was good to have them since the tunnels were pretty dark with wet and uneven grounds
Sunscreen/ Hat: Sun protection is important and most of the hike is exposed.
Gloves: While gloves are not absolutely necessary if you are going early in the morning they could definitely be useful
Water & food: Water is essential for the PR1 hike since it’s long long. You can fill out your bottle near the bathroom near Pico Ruivo. You should bring some snacks since you won’t see a food vendor for 3.5-4 hours.
Other Things To Know Before Hiking PR1 Pico do Arieiro
Can you hike Pico do Arieiro with Kids?
If your kids are 9 years or older, it’s definitely do-able especially if you have done other long hikes before. Although the trail looks scary, it really isn’t and there is railing along the entire trail so I don’t see any danger really.
It’s not ideal to bring a toddler or younger kids because there are some steep climbs which could be challenging with younger kids.
Can you use a drone at Pico do Arieiro or Pico Ruivo?
While this may change as Madeira gets more and more popular, when I was in Madeira I didn’t see any signs restricting drones. I have also seen photos of Pico do Arieiro that’s clear that it was taken from a drone. But this guidance may have changed.
What Camera Lens Should You Bring to Pico do Arieiro?
Both wide angle and standard zoom lens would work great at Pico do Arieiro since the landscape is so vast.
What’s the Weather at Pico do Arieiro?
Since Pico do Arieiro is high up in the mountain above 1600m, it is much colder than down in Funchal near the water. While Funchal could be sunny and 80 degrees F (27C), up in the mountains the weather could be 50F (10C) or even lower with fog and rain.
Is the drive to Pico do Arieiro really bad?
I think everyone has their own definition and tolerance when it comes to how hard a drive is. After driving the Road to Hana in Maui or even around the hills of Funchal, I didn’t find the drive to Pico do Arieiro THAT bad. Yes it is windy and steep but I honestly thought it was ok; road to Hana was 100x worse.
Is Pico do Arieiro worth it?
If you don’t want to hike the entire thing to Pico Ruivo, my advice is to just hike till the tunnels and turn back.
In my personal opinion you would’ve seen the best view on the trail already. Honestly speaking even if you just hike 30 minutes you will see amazing views. So yes, Pico do Arieiro is so worth it!
Final Thoughts on Hiking Pico do Arieiro
Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo is one of the most beautiful hikes you can do in Madeira or even in the world. From the sunrise at Pico do Arieiro to the stunning valley and peak view throughout the hike, PR1 to Pico Ruivo is beautiful beyond words.
I am seriously jealous of you if you are doing this hike for the first time! Just make sure you are prepared for the weather, the long walk, and the steep uphill throughout the hike.
Additional Madeira Hiking and Trip Planning Articles
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