Madeira hikes: Into the Levada of the Green Cauldron (PR9)


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The PR9 has one of the most enticing names of all the hikes in Madeira. The Caldeirão Verde (meaning green cauldron) refers to the trail’s endpoint, where you’ll see a 100m tall waterfall surrounded by imposing cliffs.

This hike is very eventful and exciting. It includes four tunnels and several small waterfalls, and you’re regularly treated to gorgeous mountain views. Being on the wetter north side of Madeira, you’ll pass through some of the lushest forests on the island.

The trail follows a levada, a type of small irrigation channel that Madeira is famous for. The levada paths are often quite easy as they were designed with only gentle inclines, intended to deliver water from the mountains to rural areas at a steady flow.

Tip: bring a raincoat! This is always useful in Madeira, but especially on this trail. Along the path there are a couple of small waterfalls you have to walk through, as well as several overhangs with water dripping down. Be sure to also bring a flashlight or phone with enough battery for the tunnels.

With a 17-kilometre (10.5-mile) distance and an official hiking time of 5 to 6 hours there and back, the Levada do Caldeirão Verde hike is fairly long. However, there is very little elevation change and there are no switchbacks, so it’s not too physically demanding. I did it in about 4,5 hours, including a 20-minute break at the waterfall.

At the time of writing in 2024, the waterfall at the end point is officially closed due to danger of rockfall. There is a wooden barrier and several signs explicitly stating that continuing is at your own risk.

The signs were no doubt put up here for a reason and the location does look potentially perilous. If you really want, you can still go inside for a few quick pictures in the initial area beyond the barrier, but perhaps it’s wise not to rest or picnic anywhere near the waterfall. It is your personal decision whether to go in or not, but the hike itself is highly enjoyable either way.

What to expect

The trailhead can be found on a forest edge south of the village of Santana. The road there is quite narrow so sometimes you’ll have to squeeze past oncoming cars or wait for them to pass. When you arrive there is a very spacious parking lot.

At the starting point is a fairy-tale-like house with thatched roofs, a rare well-preserved example of the original architecture that was common in Madeira. Inside is a cosy cafe and there are public toilets.

The initially wide path tapers into a tight levada, where sometimes there is only space for one direction of traffic. This can be a bit annoying if you visit around midday when lots of people are returning. Sometimes you have to stand aside or stand over the levada to let people pass. The encounters can be fun though as hikers find ways to let each other pass.

The path is alwyas alongside a steep cliff, but don’t worry, there is also always a railing to keep you safe. But as with many hikes in Madeira, it’s best not to be extremely prone to vertigo or you may be affected in a couple of spots. Nothing dangerous or extreme in any way though, just normal heights experienced when hiking in mountains.

Quite soon you’ll see a scenic small waterfall where the path has been diverted to avoid it. A small platform lets you take some pictures here.

The vegetation is amazingly lush all along the trail, absolutely bursting with ferns and mosses. It’s among the most verdurous and lavish as you’ll find in Madeira.

Several tunnels lead you deeper into the mountains. They are a bit exciting since they are completely unlit. The ceiling height is rather variable, so watch your head.

I have to say that the entrance to the biggest tunnel reminded me hugely of the mysterious cave entrance in the Netflix series Dark. No strange metaphysical events occurred upon entering that I’m aware of, but you never know.

As you approach the end of the trail you are regularly rewarded with spectacular mountain views. You often feel like you’re on a kind of narrow balcony beside the cliffs looking down at the lush gorge below.

When clouds moved in, partially shrouding the distant peaks, I sometimes wondered if I was in Madeira or on my way to Machu Picchu.

The waterfall at the trail end is not quite on the level of an ancient Inca city, but it’s very scenic and makes for a great conclusion. It’s worth taking in the expansive cylindrical recess with the waterfall at its centre.

You will finish the hike by going the same way back. Since I did the hike in the afternoon, it became wonderfully quiet along the trail.

So quiet, in fact, that animals felt comfortable enough to hang out around the path. I saw many yellow and blue little birds hopping around (I’m guessing they were Madeiran firecrests) and even two of these furry little fellas…

Yeah, this is a rat. I know! But I consider this cute little mountain rat in a whole different category than some gross New York subway rat. Just look at those cute ears and eyes.

It was a fun surprise to meet this adorable little creature along the way, just minding its own business!

Tips for Caldeirão Verde

As mentioned, be sure to bring a raincoat and have some light with you for the tunnels. And bring your usual stuff like water and snacks.

Keep in mind this is a very popular trail, probably one of the top five in Madeira, so expect it to be crowded at times.

If you don’t mind other people then you might not be bothered, but if you enjoy the feeling of being somewhat alone in nature you may want to time your hike well.

Nearly all tour groups and many independent hikers choose to go in the morning, so one trick is to start your hike around midday (e.g. 1 pm). For the first hour or so, you’ll likely face a lot of oncoming traffic, which is a bit annoying on such a narrow path. But beyond this you can still feel like you practically have the trail to yourself. In Madeira, it can actually make a shocking difference whether you hike in the morning or afternoon.

If you are a big hiking fan and want the conditions to be ‘perfect’, consider the afternoon for any of the most popular hikes. Of course, make sure you time it well so you’re back before it gets dark.

The Caldeirão Verde is objectively one of the most beautiful levada hikes in Madeira, so despite the many hikers on the trail at peak hours, it’s still highly worth doing.

For more information on hikes, be sure to check all our hiking articles.

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