Hiking on Madeira: PR1 Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo

The PR1 Vereda do Arieiro is the most famous hike in Madeira and one of the most beautiful day hikes we have ever done. If you’re lucky with the weather, this hike will not only be a literal but also a figurative highlight of your trip. The views over the island’s highest peaks are phenomenal, and the hike itself is an exciting and challenging journey full of variety and natural beauty. You start at an altitude of 1,818 meters (5,965 feet) at Pico do Arieiro, where you can first enjoy a sunrise high above the clouds. After that, the hike to Pico Ruivo, the highest mountain in Madeira, begins. Continue reading for all our tips!

The PR1 Vereda do Arieiro hike in a nutshell

Officially, this is a point-to-point hike, which means you don’t walk in a circle but rather towards a final point and then back the same way. The numbers below are based on the assumption that you walk both ways. However, you can also arrange transportation through this one-way tour so that you don’t have to walk back. In that case, you choose the one-way route and at the end, you only walk a few miles on an easier path to where cars can reach to pick you up. This is certainly a good option for less experienced hikers who still want to see the PR1 but don’t want to walk the entire way back with the steep changes in altitude.

Distance: 13 km or 9 km one-way route
Duration: 6 to 7 hours or 3.5 to 4 hours one-way route
Elevation difference: 1,650 meters (5,413 feet) or 900 meters (2,953 feet) one-way route
Challenging due to the changes in altitude and duration, but with the one-way route, it becomes easier.

What does the PR1 Vereda do Arieiro hike look like?

It’s best to start the day early and watch the sunrise at Pico do Arieiro. This is actually the most beautiful spot on the island to see the sun rise. Right by the parking lot, you’ll find the Miradouro Juncal viewpoint. It’s often crowded here during sunrise because many tours also start their day here. Fortunately, not all of these people are going to hike the PR1. Most of them get back in the van to visit other places. If you prefer a quieter spot, make sure to arrive half an hour earlier and walk to Miradouro Do Ninho da Manta (see photo below). It’s along the PR1 route and tends to be much quieter. Plus, you’ll be ahead of many other hikers, so you’ll have the trail mostly to yourself for the rest of the day.

Tip: From the parking lot, walk uphill towards the large round building. The Miradouro Juncal viewpoint is to the right of it, and the hike starts to the left of the building.

The route is clearly marked, and it’s difficult to get lost. The first hour is actually the most beautiful part of the trail. You’ll walk on a path with spectacular views on both sides, occasionally with a significant drop behind the railing. Flowers and green bushes adorn the mountains everywhere. This first part, until the first tunnel, is a continuous descent with a number of stairs. The rest of the route includes multiple tunnels, more beautiful viewpoints, additional stairs, and eventually the final ascent to the top of Pico Ruivo. Just before this last climb, you’ll find a café where you can have a drink, use the restroom, and refill your water bottle. The way back follows the same path but feels even more challenging because your legs are already tired. Especially the final uphill climb is tough but at the same time, a great workout! Our tactic was to climb the stairs extremely slowly. This keeps your heart rate somewhat low, and you don’t have to catch your breath constantly.

The shorter ‘one-way’ variant of the PR1

We walked the route both ways because our car was parked at Pico do Arieiro. Hiking the entire route back makes the hike quite challenging. We found it to be a great challenge, but we understand if you prefer to skip the return journey. For those who prefer to walk only one way, there’s the option to be dropped off by a driver at Pico do Arieiro, do the hike, and have them pick you up at the endpoint. This way, you don’t have to walk all the way back, yet you still get to experience the entire PR1. This transfer is the perfect solution. You’ll be at Pico do Arieiro at sunrise and then walk, without a guide and at your own pace, to Pico Ruivo where the van will be waiting to take you back to Funchal.

If you have your own car and don’t want to incur additional costs for a transfer, you can walk only the first part of the hike and then walk back to the parking lot. However, you’ll unfortunately miss a significant portion of the hike and Pico Ruivo, so it’s actually a pity.

How to get to Pico do Arieiro?

By rental car: It takes about 30 to 40 minutes to drive from Funchal to the parking lot of Pico do Arieiro. The road uphill is a winding mountain road where overtaking is difficult. If you happen to be behind a slow driver, it will take a bit longer.

With a tour: If you don’t have your own transportation, there are several options. If you want to do the hike during the day with a guide, you can book the guided tour. If you prefer to hike only one way at your own pace and be dropped off at Pico do Arieiro and picked up at Pico Ruivo, then the one-way transfer we mentioned above is ideal.

Tips for the PR1 Vereda do Arieiro hike

Here are some useful things to keep in mind.

Wear layers

The weather in the mountains can literally be different every day. We’ve been to Pico do Arieiro three times and had completely different weather each time. One time, we were shivering in layers, a windbreaker, and a hat due to the cold, while another time we were enjoying the sun in a t-shirt. So make sure you’re prepared for all types of weather. In early spring, fall, and winter, thin gloves can come in handy. If it’s not cold, you can always leave some extra clothing in the car.

Don’t make the PR1 your first hike

The PR1 is probably the most challenging hike you’ll do in Madeira. It’s wise to first do one or more shorter hikes to get a feel for it.

Wear good shoes

This tip might be obvious, but there are still people who do this hike in sandals. Proper hiking shoes are highly recommended, but sturdy sneakers can work if you don’t have hiking shoes. The paths are well-maintained. However, they can be slippery, so having some extra grip is definitely helpful.

Don’t forget…

Just before the climb to Pico Ruivo, you can buy food and drinks, and they only accept cash. Bring enough water and snacks with you. You can refill your water bottle at the café just before Pico Ruivo. Also, sunscreen is essential on a clear day.