Levada do Rei is perhaps the easiest and most accessible of the levadas that takes us to the heart of Madeira’s laurel forest. With about 5 km, this hike starts at the water treatment plant in Quebradas, São Jorge, and ends in Ribeiro Bonito, at the Levada’s source. Ribeiro Bonito and the surrounding area have been part of UNESCO’s natural world heritage site since 1999.
The entire route of this levada is flat; along the 5 km, we only have an altitude gain of less than 50 meters – a good part of it on the access stairs from the treatment plant to the levada.
Since the only access to Ribeiro Bonito is via Levada do Rei, the way back needs to be done on the same trail. In total, it’s roughly 11 km, done in about 3 hours. There is no technical difficulty or danger of any kind. The levada is quite broad, and when it narrows a little, it has protection barriers. As we usually say, it’s a pedestrian highway.
Levada do Rei hike – quick information
- Name: PR18 Levada do Rei
- Start: Water treatment station
- End: Water treatment station
- Distance: 5.1km (+5.1 back)
- Time required: 3 hours
- Difficulty: easy to moderate
- Max/min altitude: 575/535 meters
- Altitude gain: 50 meters
- Type: linear, with return
- Signalization (1-5) – 5, perfect
- Highlights: The leavada, several waterfalls, Ribeiro Bonito, the laurel forrest;
- You can download the official map here
Levada do Rei Trail
This trail starts next to the water treatment plant, and Quinta Levada do Rei restaurant. The restaurant is tagged on google, and that’s where we can park the car. It is also the last chance to buy water and food or use a toilet.
On the other side of the street, we have the Levada do Rei information panel and a dirt path that takes us to the treatment plant, where there is an arrow indicating the Levada’s beginning. We simply need to climb some cement stairs, and we are next to the levada.
From here, we follow the levada, and we will follow it to its source. We start in a more rural area and slowly begin to enter forest areas, first exotic forest brought by man and then endemic forest, our well-known and beloved laurel forest.
During the first km, the landscape is beautiful but not extraordinary. The trail is flat, wide, without precipices, and without any kind of difficulty. However, as we enter the forest, things start to liven up.
After about 3 km, there is a small exit on the right where you can see and hear some water falling. Curiosity made us take a look, and we found a beautiful waterfall about 30 meters high. We couldn’t find the name, but it’s definitely a pleasant surprise. Note that there may be very little water during periods of little rain in summer.
Returning to the main route, we begin to enter a dense forest, and the path starts to narrow. You go through some narrow areas but without significant risk and through two small tunnels. They’re minimal, just a few meters, so you don’t have to worry about flashlights or hazards.
A few hundred meters later, we have perhaps the most curious part of this trail – a waterfall that falls directly onto the levada and the course. It’s curious and a lot of fun. Keep in mind that the ground is slippery, and it’s a narrow part, so avoid crossing other hikers there.
We hiked this trail in mid-season, and it was spectacular, as you can see in the pictures. Note that this waterfall typically takes little water, so it is likely that it is just a trickle or even dry in the summer. From there to Ribeiro Bonito, you will still find another very high waterfall, but there was very little water even when we went, so it is even more likely to be dry.
The final 2 km to Ribeiro Bonito are beautiful, with the aforementioned waterfalls, tunnels, canyons, and laurel forest. We are crossing the laurel forest that UNESCO protects. It is an authentic natural sanctuary, virtually isolated, which takes us back to ancient times. When we hike here, we feel that we are entering a Jurassic Park scenery.
At the end of the trail, there’s the source of the levada and Ribeiro Bonito area – a very appropriate name (it means beautiful river), as it seems that we have reached the center of the forest, with mossy walls with running water. Given the surrounding beauty and the fact that we are precisely in the middle of our trip, it is also the ideal place to rest a little and snack.
After the levada ends, you can still walk another 100 or 200 meters through the forest along dirt paths and feel communion with nature. If you go early or out of high season, you can even have the place to yourself – and it will be magical. Ribeiro Bonito may not be the best-known place in Madeira, but it is definitely one of our favorites.
You may not want to go back, but eventually, you will have to return. From here, we just have to go the way we came, going back through the waterfalls, tunnels, and forest areas of Levada do Rei.
Best time to do the trail
This trail can be hiked all year round, as long as the weather conditions allow it. It won’t be pleasant to do with rain, and it can even be problematic if the waterfall that falls in the levada is full of water. Note that if conditions are awful, it is likely that the levada will be closed. And if so, don’t put yourself in danger!
Although it is perfectly possible to walk along the Levada do Rei at any time of the year, each season has its own peculiarities:
- In summer – it’s drier and therefore less impressive waterfalls or even without water. Despite not being one of the most popular levadas, there will be many more people on the trail. Better weather, but the sun is not a problem because a large part of the route is covered in shadows;
- In winter – Much wetter, care must be taken not to slip. It also gets muddy. Much more likely there will be rain and bad weather and with that the course may be closed. Fewer people but don’t forget that Madeira is popular all year round. Waterfalls with more water and more impressive; you need to be more careful during this time.
- Mid season – You can get dry or wet weather, but of course it’s less likely to get really bad weather and long heavy rains. Unless it’s unusually dry, the waterfalls will have some water, but not as much water as in winter, which in this case can be an advantage.
Is the trail family-friendly?
We saw hikers of almost all ages when we did this route, including some children and even some in backpacks for babies. It’s not something we would do because it looks extremely tiring, but it’s perfectly possible and illustrates how easy and accessible the Levada do Rei is.
So, anyone who can walk 10 to 11 km can perfectly do the PR18 Levada do Rei. There are no ups and downs, and there are no technical zones. All the narrowest sections have security balconies, and the only more adventurous part is when we have to go through the waterfall. But even there, you shouldn’t have any problems unless the waterfall is massive.
What to take to Levada do Rei?
As we mentioned, this is not a complicated track, either physically or technically. Just note that there is no possibility of refueling during the walk, but as mentioned, there is a restaurant at the beginning where you can buy groceries. Therefore, we recommend that you bring:
- Lots of water (about a 1l per person)
- Snacks – note that there aren’t places to eat along the trail.
- comfortable hiking or running shoes;
- comfortable clothes;
- rain jacket;
- sunglasses, hat, and sunscreen if it’s sunny;
- camera and smartphone, there are plenty of photo opportunities here;
- A daypack to take everything with you;
As always, please do not make any trash. Bring back everything you take with you.
Quick Tips for hiking the Levadas of Madeira
In this and all the levadas in Madeira, we advise you to:
- First and foremost: When the course is closed, don’t venture out. You will be taking unnecessary risks.
- Don’t go hiking alone. The levadas are safe but you never know what could happen.
- Always have your cell phone with you. Watch out for battery levels.
- Always stay within the indicated tracks. Don’t take shortcuts or cuts that you don’t know about.
- Confirm the walk time, and make sure you finish the walk before nightfall.
- Wear appropriate clothing, note that the weather is very volatile in Madeira, especially in the mountains.
- It is common for the floor to be damp and therefore slippery – Wear suitable footwear.
- It is forbidden to cycle on the levadas.
- Do not damage plants, do not scare animals, do not litter or smoke.
- In narrow places, always facilitate the passage of other hikers in an unfavorable position, placing yourself in a safe area, away from the abysses.
- If any trail or levada is blocked for any reason, go back the way you came.
How to go to Levada do Rei starting point?
Levada do Rei is in the north of the island, in São Jorge, Municipality of Santana. From Funchal to the Levada it’s about 50 km that takes 50 minutes by car. As mentioned, the beginning of the trail is at the Quebradas water treatment plant.
The trail’s starting point is marked on google maps, so it’s straightforward to get there. Quinta Levada do Rei restaurant is also marked across the street from the water treatment plant.
Access to Levada do Rei is easy, and the starting point is well signposted. There is no car park, but there is space to park many vehicles.
Where to stay?
With a maximum length of 57 km, Madeira is a small island, and it is possible to cross it in less than an hour. Wherever your accommodation is, you will always be less than an hour away from this and any levada.
So we don’t think it’s essential to stay close to the trail. It is a good idea to stay in Funchal as it is where there is a greater variety of accommodation, restaurants, shops, and entertainment. From there, it’s about 50 minutes to the start of the walk.
If you still don’t have a hotel, see the map below for the best accommodation in Funchal.