Hiking Pico Ruivo from Areeiro (Arieiro) is by far the most challenging and gruelling hike we have ever completed. Don’t be deceived by the start height from Areerio of 1818m and the end height at Ruivo of 1862m because around the central peak of Torres, the height drops significantly and you have steps climbing 300m in under a kilometre. The complete walk includes six ascents totalling around 1000m in all.
Getting to pico Ariero
Getting to Pico Areeiro (which is also sometimes spelled Arieiro) is easy and there is a steep road leading from either Santana or Funchal. My understanding is that there isn’t a bus service up here but that you can get a taxi for under 10 euros from Funcal. There is ample parking, quite frequent mini-bus tours for those wanting to take selfies and there’s a cafe and shop selling the general tourist tatt as well.
it’s winter time….
THERE IS NO CAFE-SHOP AT PICO RUIVO IN THE WINTER
We bribed our children, yeh yeh terrible I know, that we’d stop for food or a drink at Pico Ruivo. So imagine our horror and their protestations when we reached Ruivo to find all the buildings closed! In typical Madeiran style there’s no notices or anything explaining why or when they’ll re-open. Lesson learnt for us! Smack on the wrists and no more ‘positive behavioural reinforcements’ lol.
Apparently in summer they only sell water and sandwiches but still, it’s better than nothing!
Starting the walk
Walking through the archway between the cafe and the tatt shop, you’ll see the ‘Golf Ball’; a NATO radar installation. To the left is where the walk starts. You’ll see the wooden signs.
Starting the hike
As we started hiking the skies were blue, the birds were chirping and the sun was warming my back.
We knew it was going to be a steep walk just from the descriptions we’d read and looking down we could see the steepness of the pathway within the first few minutes. The cloud was apparent but given the speed it was travelling at we thought it might pass.
It didn’t for a very long time.
We rounded the corner and descended into the abyss (see photo below)! Slight exaggeration maybe but it does look like something out of a horror movie. The temperature dropped by about 10 degrees C and visibility dropped significantly.
I look back at these photos and think how mad we must have been but I’d do it all again tomorrow! It’s a phenomenal hike and I’m really proud that we did it as a family. I have since read blogs recommending this walk only for over 10’s but our 6 and 8 year old managed this wonderfully with not one complaint!
The three peaks
Although this walk links the major peaks of Arieiro and Ruivo, it circumnavigates the second highest peak of Madeira; Pico das Torres (1,853m). Phew, thank goodness we didn’t have to contend with that one too.
The two peaks, 4,300ft of ascent are equivalent to Ben Nevis but with extraordinary drops on all sides.
Are you prepared?
Nothing could have prepared me for the pathways cut into cliff faces, the tunnels carved through towers of rock, the flights of steps cut into sheer crags whilst avoiding the rock slides and fallen wire rails and trying to admire the view as well.
It was our plan to walk the eastern route on the way there and the western route on the return however the eastern route was closed due to rock falls. That’s not to say that the western route doesn’t have it’s far share of rock falls too.
Some of the tunnels
The western route has a number of tunnels. From memory about four. They vary in length from a few metres to one which I think is 500m and one even has a bend in it. You’ll need a torch and not to forget a decent pair of sturdy boots and a head for heights!
Flora and fauna on this hike is bountiful. Plenty of birds and insects to keep you occupied not to mention the flowers, mosses and grasses.
Birds such as the “Freira da Madeira” (Zino’s Petrel), the “Tentilhão da Madeira” (Madeira Chaffinch), the Bis Bis, the “Melro Preto” (Blackbird), the “Perdiz Comum” (Common Partridge) and the “Pintarroxo Comum” (Common Linnet) have their habitat at Pico Ruivo.
Chaffinches are by far the more common bird but we also saw many partridge.
The common partridge – Perdiz comum
The path is generally in good condition but it could do with some work in places. There are quite a few areas where the handrail has fallen away and some of the path has eroded.
The endless steps of doom
We encountered a series of seemingly endless steps climbing 300m in a little under 1km. Descending these is obviously easier than climbing back up them at least you know what to expect the second time.
Some of the steps are metal, these replace steps cut into the rock that disappeared in a rock slide of 2014, but others are cut into the rock and are wet and slippy. Watch you footing here.
All I can remember from this section was how bitterly cold but sweaty I was. This is where I was starting to think ‘What are we doing?’, ‘Why are we doing this? It’s SO COLD!’. The sheer exertion of all those steps is hard work and boy did I sweat!
seeing Pico ruivo for the first time
At last, relief comes as the top of the stairs is reached and as you round the corner, Pico Ruivo comes into view for the very first time.
This was also the first time the cloud had dispersed and we caught a glimpse of the blue sky and sun.
Suddenly, here, it all seemed worth it. The end was in sight – if not quite obtainable.
Pico Ruivo is known for it’s terrible, or rather variable, weather. Even in the summer months the clouds can appear from nowhere. Apparently in the winter it can snow up there but we didn’t see any.
Being above the clouds was for me a massive highlight of the trip. It is something I have long wanted to do and I was so thrilled to have my camera with me – despite its weight and bulk.
It is hard to believe that these photos were taken about 200m apart.
The dead zone
After emerging through the clouds, we arrived at an area where all of the trees are white. We guessed at the time there might have been fires there and it seems that there were devastating fires in both 2010 and 2012. This area is recovering albeit slowly and whilst the grasses are a luscious shade of green the contrasting white of the trees gives an eerie feel to the area.
Arriving at the base of Ruivo
Another descent follows the dead zone as views open out onto the valley of the Ribeira Seca. After steadily climbing for a further 1.3km we eventually found a waymarker announcing the summit of Pico Ruivo just 500m away!
At this point on the path you can choose whether to descend down to Achada do Teixera (opens in new tab) which is a simple 2.4km hike back to Santana.
The little white houses
Seeing the little white buildings of Ruivo was tough on the kids who thought they were at least going to get a drink. To find it shut was a bummer and even though we only had 90m left to the summit of Pico Ruivo we ran out of time and I couldn’t make it up there.
I was gutted at the time but we only just made it back up to Pico Aeriro in time for sunset and so I am thankful for Rich insisting we left. We made it back up to Ruivo another time but the visibility was non-existent.
This is NOT a walk you want to do in the dark!!
A few shots from walking back to Aeriro
A little bit of panic started to set in on our way back. It was cold, really cold, and the light was fading fast. We have one member of our team who is exceptionally slow and we had to keep waiting for that person to catch up.
We made the mistake of not hiking together and in future we definitely wouldn’t leave one member to walk alone, slower than the group pace.
And then we saw the golf ball
What a huge sense of relief when we saw the Nato radar appear from the clouds and basking in the golden hues of sunset. It’s still about a kilometre from here but we were so thankful to have made it back up before the sun set and we lost the light.
admiring the view
We made it back to Aeriro just before sunset and I managed to snap these two quickies of Rich and Sophie, our eldest, ascending and admiring the view
The sunset from Aeriro
There was something very deeply moving about that sunset. Maybe because we were physically exhausted and no words can ever explain how relieved we were to make it back, not only in one piece but before we lost the light.
It was a really beautiful moment and one which we experienced all together. I remember just looking at every one in turn with a little smile and a tear in our eyes and thinking how perfect it was 🙂
Our thoughts on this walk
I can truly say that this is the most exhilarating and awe-inspiring route I have trodden in my life. It was a phenomenal hike. It sapped all my energy, it drove me to tears, it made me smile and it united us as a family. You have to try it!
One member of our party is VERY slow and whilst we completed it in just over six hours, we could have completed it easily in five. Our younger children didn’t complain once (I am just going to ignore our teenager at this moment in time) and they loved the walk.
Half of the map
I used LiveTrekker to map our hike but sadly my phone died three-quarters of the way round. You can see the black and white football marker where it died. The route is actually 15.5km.
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