Madeira hikes: The Royal Trail of Levada do Rei (PR18)


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The Levada do Rei is an excellent medium-length hike that takes you through lush Laurissilva forests. Despite its incredible natural beauty, it’s not quite as well-trodden as Levada do Caldeir茫o Verde or Levada Das 25 Fontes, so it lends itself well to having a relaxed walk in nature.

The PR18 hike is pretty easy, taking about 3h30 to hike there and back. As is typical with levada hikes, there are barely any switchbacks and the elevation changes are very mild, since the levadas were designed to carry water from the mountains at a gentle flow.

The trailhead is near the town of S茫o Jorge. Although there isn’t a dedicated parking lot, there should be plenty of space to park beside the road. You’ll pass a small cafe/restaurant before reaching a water treatment facility, where the hike begins.

Don’t be confused by the signs that now say “Ribeiro Bonito” and not “Levada do Rei”. They refer to the same PR18 hike!

Tip: bring a raincoat! This is always useful in Madeira, but especially on this trail. Along the path there is a small waterfall you have to walk through, plus some overhangs with water dripping down. There is also an unlit tunnel, so bring a phone or flashlight.

The first 30 minutes or so is through partially non-native forest that includes a lot of eucalyptus trees. While this still makes for pleasant surroundings, it is not yet the typical primal Laurissilva forest you surely wish to see in Madeira. But don’t worry, because the forest becomes increasingly dense with laurels, ferns, and mosses as you progress.

The trail is named Levada do Rei, meaning the King’s Levada. This comes from the fact that it was one of the trails used by the court whenever the King came to the region.

In contrast to the Caldeir茫o Verde or 25 Fontes hike, there isn’t a big waterfall or other major signature feature. However, this also means it’s a bit more chill and less likely to be crowded.

The trail is gorgeous and filled with gnarly tree branches and bursting with plantlife. You will also pass by some gentle streams and small cascades, and at several points, you’ll have great views of the valley below.

The trail leaves behind the levada to end at Ribeiro Bonito (“pretty river”), a wonderful spot in the middle of the forest besides some small cascades. It’s a delightfully detailed place where you can expect to see a festival of ferns, lichens, and mosses.

The partly cloudy weather conditions were just perfect when I visited, creating patches of light with ‘God rays’ breaking through the canopy and a beautiful rainbow over one of the small waterfalls. It’s a rewarding endpoint for the hike, from which you will need to turn back and walk back the same way.

While not one of the busiest hikes in Madeira, you can still expect to see a moderate number of walkers on this trail.

If you want more peace and quiet, I recommend hiking in the afternoon. This is because almost all hiking groups (and many individual hikers as well) plan their hikes for the morning. Starting at about 1 p.m., I faced a fair bit of oncoming traffic, but the trail became rather quiet from about 2 p.m. onward.

The Levada do Rei is definitely one of my favorite levada hikes in Madeira! It’s a fairly easy hike that passes through some indigenous forests with incredible biodiversity.

While it does not reach a mountaintop or some kind of major waypoint like a waterfall, that makes it all the better to appreciate it for all the stunning detail you will see along the path. The tunnel also adds a fun element of adventure along the way!

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