Hiking Pico do Arierio to Pico Ruivo, Madeira’s most famous trail otherwise known as PR1, is an unforgettable experience. Expect spectacular mountains, steep inclines (and declines) and mysterious cloud formations that make you instantly think of the misty mountains.
It’s a calf-burner but it’s worth it, especially on a clear day.
As you’ll see from this guide, we weren’t the luckiest with the weather but hopefully this will give you a realistic idea of what it could be like to do the Pico to Pico hike – as well as a glimpse of the spectacular peaks when the clouds cleared!
Up for the challenge? This guide will answer all your questions and help you to prepare!
Pico to Pico hike summary
Distance: The out-and-back hike is around 11km (10.8km according to Alltrails!).
Duration: You could complete the hike in as little as 3-4 hours, or take longer to enjoy the views at a leisurely pace.
Difficulty: It’s a steep hike both ways, making this quite a difficult hike but it’s safe and has a nice flat section in the middle to prepare you for the hills. Regular hikers won’t find it a particular challenge, as it’s not a technical walk, but get ready for some serious leg burn!
How long is the Pico do Arierio to Pico Ruivo hike?
The out-and-back hike is just under 11km so it isn’t massively long – especially if you choose to do the one-way hike at around 6km.
However, the steep ascents and descents mean it could take you around six hours both ways, especially if you want to stop and admire the views at each end!
If you want to save your knees and skip the return journey, you can pre-arrange a lift or transfer back to your car at Pico do Arierio from Pico Ruivo or book a one-way guided tour. Get Your Guide has tons of highly recommended options!
If you choose to hike one way, you can get a transfer from Achada do Teixeira which is a 3km flat walk from Pico Ruivo and a lovely hike in itself!
When is the best time to hike in Madeira?
Honestly, Madeira’s weather is pretty good all year-round so there’s no bad time to do the Pico to Pico hike. However, there are some factors that you may want to consider.
Time of day
Sunrise is the most popular time to hike Pico do Arierio to Pico Ruivo and with good reason. On a relatively clear day, watching the sun peek above the clouds is completely spectacular. It’s also not too busy compared to the rest of the day, so you’ll be able to go at a more relaxed pace without being surrounded by people for the entire route.
The explosion in popularity of this hike and Madeira in general means that I’d be lying if I said there’s a quiet time to visit. Most recently, I did the sunrise hike in May and we only just bagged a spot in the Pico do Arierio car park. A few years back, you’d easily be able to park here at midday but times are changing fast!
That being said, many of the tour groups arrive for the Pico do Arierio trek slightly later in the morning and if you hike at this time, you run the risk of being stuck in a long, slow-moving queue down the steep stairs.
As the hike weaves between Madeira’s highest points, it can be up to 10 degrees cooler at the hike’s highest points compared to lower or coastal areas of the island. Come prepared! Even if the weather is glorious in Funchal, you can be shrouded in chilly clouds when you reach Pico do Arierio.
Layers are your best bet: wear something to keep you warm at the start then you’ll be able to shed your jackets as you break a sweat on the steeper sections.
How do I get to Pico do Arierio?
There isn’t any public transport to Pico do Arierio so I’d recommend driving, taking a taxi or a private transfer. The drive is windy, but easy to find on a well-maintained road.
Taxis cost about €40 one way from Funchal, or private transfers have the added benefit of being able to pick you up at the other end of the hike, saving on the return journey.
What can I expect from the route?
The hike to Pico Ruivo from Pico do Arierio basically falls into three sections:
- Firstly, you’ll descend from Pico do Arierio down the most spectacular cliffs and staircases – including those seen on Instagram all the time, but more on that later! – before it flattens out and winds towards the other side of the valley.
- You’ll head through a few short-ish tunnels here (make sure your phone torch is at the ready or bring a headtorch with you) which will take you away from the sunrise. The flatter sections still have some slight gradients, but make the most of your chance to recover as you’re about to start going up again!
- Finally, the climb to Pico Ruivo is super steep and would usually open up onto absolutely breathtaking views behind you. Unfortunately, when I visited, there was absolutely no visibility beyond a metre of my face which was pretty devastating. However, on a clear day, you’ll get unbelievable panoramic views from the summit – well worth the pain!
Is hiking Pico do Arierio to Pico Ruivo dangerous?
The hike is not a technical climb so you’ll be fine if you’re relatively fit with a head for heights.
While the path looks narrow and is surrounded by vertical drops at some points, there are handrails along the vast majority of the walk. You’ll find it looks narrower in photos and videos than it feels in real life too – I didn’t feel unsafe once, even with a slight fear of heights.
The trail is well-maintained and mainly wide enough to pass people going in the other direction. The only issue you may have is the paths becoming a bit slippery during cold or wet weather – it’s been super foggy most of the times I’ve been up to Pico do Arierio and you don’t want to go sliding down that track!
Do I need walking boots for this trail?
For the most part, you’ll be fine doing this hike in sturdy trainers with a decent grip. I wouldn’t recommend any other footwear like sandals or flip-flops, even if you’re only walking the first part of the trail, as the stairs are steep and rocky.
While I haven’t hiked to Pico Ruivo in the winter months, it may be a good idea to consider walking boots if there’s the possibility of colder temperatures, but I think that’s rare.
Other than that, you don’t need any other specialist equipment – just bring water as you’ll want to stay hydrated ready to take on those climbs.
How far do I have to walk to see the ‘Stairway to Heaven’?
I’m torn about this recommendation but as the full hike is difficult and potentially unsuitable for all travellers, I’ve included the option.
While the entire hike is full of spectacular mountain views, the Stairway to Heaven you’ll famously see on Instagram and the first viewpoint, Ninho da Manta, are both located pretty near Pico do Arierio.
You could walk the 1.2km to Ninho da Manta in around 30 minutes, or one hour return, so this is what I’d recommend if you don’t have the time (or desire) to commit to the full hike, but still want to experience some of the route’s most incredible vistas and get that all-important photo!
Is there food and drink available?
There’s a café at the top of Pico do Arierio where you can get food, drinks and souvenirs, as well as use the toilets – although this doesn’t open before sunrise so bear this in mind. Have some cash on you for the toilets which charge a small fee.
You’ll also find a cabin at the Pico Ruivo summit where you can get coffee and snacks, as well as use the toilet for a fee too.
We brought breakfast and snacks to eat en route, then swung by the café when we’d finished the hike for some soup and my favourite Portuguese cake, Bolos de Arroz.
Is this the best Madeira hiking route?
As you can see, it was pretty cloudy for much of my visit but I’d still say a resounding yes! Hiking to Pico Ruivo, Madeira’s highest point, was an unforgettable morning and one that I’ll definitely do again in better weather, hopefully later this year.
Where is the best place to stay in Madeira?
While many people choose to stay in Funchal, I personally love Machico as the hometown of my family!
I virtually always book my accommodation through Booking.com (it’s the Genuis discounts for me) and they have some great options to choose from.
I hope this post has given you all the information you need for the PR1/ Pico do Arierio to Pico Ruivo hike and got you excited for your trip too! I’ve got tons more posts about Madeira so don’t forget to check them out too.