The hike from Pico Arieiro to Pico Ruivo (PR1) is one of the most spectacular hikes you can do in Madeira (and certainly in all of Europe). The hike to Pico Ruivo takes you almost 12 km over and through mountains, along gorges and offers fantastic views of the surrounding valleys. Due to the special topology of the Atlantic island, the mountainous center of Madeira is almost always covered in clouds and since the two mountains Ariero and Ruivo belong to the highest peaks on Madeira, you are here literally above the clouds and experience views as otherwise only from an airplane.
What you can experience on the hike to Pico Ruivo, when you should start and how strenuous the hike on Madeira really is, we tell you in our detailed guide to the Ariero-Ruivo hike on Madeira. Have fun!
We are Sabrina and Andreas, two adventurous travelers who never miss an opportunity to discover the world. Whether by plane to distant countries or with our campervan Bruno, we just love to travel. We hope to give you helpful tips for your next trip on our blog.
Sabrina & Andreas Globetrotters, Travelers, Adventurers
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Facts about the Pico Ariero to Ruivo Hike
The Pico Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hike is one of the most popular hiking trails in Madeira and also one of the most physically demanding. You start from Pico do Ariero, with 1818 meters one of the highest mountains of Madeira, and hike almost 12 km to the really highest peak of Madeira, the Pico Ruivo. You will need 4-6 hours for the distance. I have needed just under 4 hours, on the way there a little less than on the way back, but have also really hurried and was never overtaken by others.
On the 12 kilometers you will overcome an incredible 1000 meters of altitude. Since the two mountains are almost the same height, you wonder where the many meters of altitude come from. But you notice that right after the start of the hike. It goes very steeply downhill and shortly before the finish again very steeply uphill. This makes the hike quite strenuous.
Also, that it can be very slippery and slippery at times, does not make it easier. Nevertheless, the views you will have during the hike are incredibly beautiful and definitely worth the effort. You don’t have to worry about your safety. There are really steep precipices on the route and also almost vertical stairs you will encounter on the way, but everything is well secured and there are always handrails or railings when necessary. Overall, there are a lot of steps on the hike, some slippery and uneven places and of course still the pitch dark tunnels.
All this costs a lot of energy, which you have to save up until the very last part of the hike to Pico Ruivo, where it goes really steep again. This hike is a huge adventure and you should not miss it during your visit to Madeira!
You can do the hike alone or alternatively with a guide*. Here you will be picked up from your hotel and get a lot of great information during the hike.
Alternatives for the Way Back
The hike from Arieiro to Ruivo is not a round trip, so you will see the same things on the way back as on the way there, although from a different perspective. Alternatively, you can walk from Ruivo to Achada do Teixeira. This trail is much easier to walk because it is flatter and only about 3 kilometers long.
Unfortunately, there is no way to get away from there except to take a cab to get back to the Arieiro. The trip will take about 1 hour and cost just under 70-80 Euro. Also, there are not necessarily cabs waiting for you there, so you should reserve one. Most people hike the same way back to the Arieiro.
If you don’t want to drive the route yourself you can book the transport there and back with a driver*.
The Hike from Arieiro to Ruivo – What to Expect
The hike to Pico Ruivo is probably the most beautiful and also the most strenuous hike you can do in Madeira. There is an incredible amount to discover here. What exactly, we tell you in the following chapter.
Great Photo Spots on the First Kilometers
After parking your car in the parking lot and possibly admiring the sunrise, you will pass the radar station and the restaurant and start the descent to the first sights on the route. These first kilometers are among the most beautiful of the entire hike and look totally different in sunshine than in clouds. In addition, the weather changes very quickly here, so that you will take completely different photos on the way back than on the way there.
First, the Miradouro do Ninho da Manta viewpoint awaits you. You won’t be alone here, but you will have a great view of the cloudy valley that lies at your feet. Directly behind it comes the so-called Stairway to Heaven. This is a narrow ridge on which you hike with the steep abyss waiting on your left and right. This gives spectacular views and depending on the weather, the atmosphere here is very mystical.
The Steep Way Down
After that it’s first a steep descent over many steps and if you need to make up time, here is the right time. But always watch out, because it can be very slippery here. And remember these steps, because they will make your legs burn on the way back. Once you get to the bottom, it’s relatively flat and the landscape around you is really beautiful. There are always new views of the massive mountains around you and it really is a pleasure to be surprised again and again by the next view.
Then some tunnels await you, most of which are not very long, the longest maybe 200 meters. You can usually walk through them upright without any problems, but you should still watch your head if you are taller than 1.90 meters. A flashlight is also helpful here, but not mandatory. The flashlight of your cell phone is perfectly adequate here.
Because of the tunnels drilled through the mountain massif, you have a completely new view of the mountain world at each tunnel exit. If you have no desire, time or condition to continue hiking to the Ruivo, then you can turn back here in my opinion. Because you have already enjoyed the most spectacular views and from here it becomes really exhausting.
The Stairs of Hell
Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but these stairs will make your calves burn. Super steep it goes up here over what feels like hundreds of steps and once you’ve got the steps behind you it continues a bit flatter until you get to the next highlight of the Ruivo hike.
The Valley of the Dead Trees
Due to forest fires, which Madeira had to suffer a few years ago, numerous trees were burned also at Pico Ruivo. Hundreds of snow-white tree remains can be seen standing along the path here, but they also look quite photogenic. Some of them are also suitable as a super photo spot. On this rather flat stretch you can rest again and prepare for the last very steep piece up to the summit.
The Steep Way Up
It is not far to the highest elevation of Madeira, but between you and the summit is still a last steep climb. After a few meters you will reach the Casa do Abrigo, a nice little restaurant where you can get provisions for the last meters (or the way back). You can also use the toilet here for 50 cents.
Unfortunately, most hikers have already relieved themselves on the way, which you can see in the many used handkerchiefs in many corners of the trail. After the restaurant, it’s another 10 to 15 minutes of steep climbing until you can finally enjoy the view.
The Summit of Pico Ruivo
Finally reaching the top, the feeling of happiness is indescribable. The first way leads to the summit cross with 360 degree panoramic view. If you started right after sunrise at the Arieiro, then it is still relatively empty here. There are still 2 viewpoints up here, once (coming from below) left and once right of the summit cross.
The viewpoint to the left of the summit cross looks out over a unique mountain panorama. Here you have unfortunately not much space, because the viewpoint is relatively small and you have actually no possibility outside the viewpoint to walk around.
The viewpoint to the right of the summit cross is different. Although this is also very small, you have the opportunity to walk around here as you like and to look for a small corner just for you. During my visit to the Ruivo, I spent a total of 1.5 hours on the summit. Ate, marveled and even made a phone call. Fact, on the top of Pico Ruivo you have best 4G network. Unlike, by the way, on the hike itself, there you have only in the fewest places at all Internet reception.
The weather was really fantastic when I reached the summit and I had a view for miles all the way to the sea. I couldn’t get enough of it.
The Way Back
One knows actually what to expect, but nevertheless the many steps and steep places are extremely strenuous. Several times my knees hurt so much that I had to scream out loud. But nothing is as bad as the very last climb back to Pico Arieiro. If you already have 12 km hiked and then it goes again so really steep uphill its not much fun.
I was so happy to be back at the car. Shortly before the parking lot I used however again the possibility at the stairs to take beautiful photos, because the slowly rising clouds changed the whole into an inhospitable spectacle, which looked also completely different than with the way there.
Sunrise on Pico Arieiro
One of the most beautiful things you can experience on Madeira is a sunrise on the Pico do Ariero. Many people go to the top just for that and don’t even want to do the hike to the Ruivo. If you are lucky and the weather cooperates, then you drive early in the morning through the fog up to the mountain and break through the cloud cover at some point and are then above the clouds. When the sun rises around 07:30, it really is an incredible spectacle. You see the sun rise above the clouds, something you can usually only see from an airplane. Simply indescribably beautiful!
What to consider about the Weather?
If it is too cloudy, you will not see the sunrise. It should be perfect weather at least on the coast, so you have a chance that the clouds gather in the center of the island and then do not rise higher than the Arieiro is high. Some have gone up to the top five times and still not seen this perfect spectacle.
I was lucky enough that it looked so beautiful on my first visit. There is a webcam on the top of Arieiro (link), but it won’t do you any good if you have to leave before sunrise. So you should really make it dependent on the weather forecast.
When should you be at the Summit?
You should plan to be at the summit about 15-20 minutes before the actual sunrise (usually at 07:30). Then you have enough time to park and find a nice place to gaze.
Where is the Best Place to watch the Sunrise?
The most popular place to watch the sunrise is the small hill next to the radar station. So, you can park in the official parking lot and then walk past the radar station to the turnaround ramp or park right there. This is not allowed, but many people do it anyway.
You just have to climb over a small wall and join the others on the hill. If you want it a bit quieter, then look for a small spot for yourself somewhere along the road. On the hill you have the best opportunities for photos, but of course you are not alone and have to share the place with a few dozen other summiters.
What should you Wear?
Early in the morning it’s cold on Pico Arieiro, and cold as hell! Even if it is summery warm down at the sea, it will be 0 to maximum 10 degrees cold and windy at sunrise up on the mountain. So wrap up warm, even if you want to do the hike to the Ruivo afterwards. Here, onion clothing is again very advantageous.
Is the Sunrise only worthwhile if you do the hike afterwards?
No, you can do it completely separately. Many people only go up to the mountain for sunrise and then back down to the sea for breakfast. You can also try your luck several times if the weather did not cooperate with your first attempt.
By Car to Pico do Arieiro | Arrival and Parking
You can drive to the Arieiro totally relaxed by car. There is a perfectly asphalted serpentine road leading up to the radar station, which is also very nice to drive. At the top there are only a few proper parking spaces, but people know how to help themselves and park on the side of the road along the winding road. If you come at sunrise, then you will pretty much get a parking spot right at the restaurant next to the radar station.
If you arrive later then you will probably have to find an alternative place to park. The parking is free, but on a very steep part of the road. So be careful when you open the doors, otherwise the person next to you will have a problem with his car, because the door opens very easily due to the steep location of the parking lot.
Tips for the Pico Ruivo Hike
Best Time for the Hike to Pico Ruivo
You should definitely start hiking early in the morning right after sunrise. That way it’s still super cold, but there are the fewest people on the trail. Of course, in the beginning it is a bit crowded, because many people start hiking right at sunrise, but this gets lost very quickly. The vast majority run only in the morning or at noon and these people meet you then on your way back. It is much nicer to have the path and especially the summit of the Ruivo for you or to have to share it only with a few others.
Also, in good weather it gets warm quickly, even at this altitude of well over 1000 meters. Walking in the shade of the morning sun is much easier and less tiring than in the blazing midday sun. You also have a much better chance of finding one of the few official parking spots. At what time of the year you make the hike to Pico Ruivo does not matter, because the weather in Madeira is actually the whole year spring-like beautiful.
How Strenuous is the Hike from Pico do Ariero to Pico Ruivo?
Really very strenuous. Due to the uneven path and the many slopes and steps, you should be physically in good shape. The path is very hard on the knees and of course on the condition. But you will always be compensated by the spectacular views and great mountain panoramas. For every reasonably fit person, the Ruivo hike should still be manageable. But remember to bring good hiking shoes and walking sticks. On the particularly steep parts I have learned to appreciate my trekking poles very much.
Is there Shade, Toilets or Water on the way?
You should take precautions, because there is no possibility to provide you with food or drink until you reach Casa do Abrigo, the restaurant just before the summit of the Ruivo. There is not even a stream as a natural water source. So take enough provisions with you. There are also no toilets in between. Of course, many hikers use nature as a toilet and then unfortunately leave used toilet paper on the way
There is enough shade on the route, just because of the many tunnels. Not only do you have cooling shade in the tunnels, but you also come out again and again on the other side of the mountain through the tunnels drilled through the mountain. So if you were in the blazing sun before, you’re usually in the shade after a tunnel.
How narrow are the Tunnels on the Pico Ruivo Hike?
There are a total of 5 tunnels on the hike from Arieiro to Ruivo and they are all very close to each other about halfway up the trail. As a normal sized person you should have no problem walking through these tunnels. However, it is really pitch black and at least in one tunnel you might get your feet wet. A flashlight and waterproof walking shoes can be helpful.
Do you have to Walk the Entire Route?
Not in our opinion. If you have very little time or fitness, we think the first few kilometers to the stairway to heaven before the steep downhill is enough. You will see the Ninho da Manta viewpoint and the great views of the steep slopes of the Stairway to Heaven. This alone is already madness!
If you want to walk further, but have only 2-3 hours time, then you should at least walk to the tunnels and then turn back. Then you have already seen a large part of the enchanting views and save yourself the stairway to hell and the steep climb to Pico Ruivo.
Do you have a question about the hike or want to leave us a comment? Just tell us!