The island of Madeira is located in the Atlantic ocean about 450 km northwest of the Canarian islands. It has been created by volcanic eruptions but in contrast to the Canarias erosion has formed the island by creating bizzare rock formation as well as deep gorges. To me Madeira is "the vertical island" because wherever you go somewhere's a vertical drop of several hundred just beside you.
Weather conditions are pretty similar to the Canarias (see below), perhaps a little more humid. Since there are almost no sandy beaches most of the tourists that come to Madeira are hikers. The island is famous for its network of Levadas, irrigation channels that collect the water in the northern, humid part of the island and lead it through tunnels towards the southern half, somtimes covering a distance of up to 50 km. Since the levadas are level their maintenance paths are natural hiking trails. Therefore most of the hikes are pretty simple with almost no altitude differences but they are very exposed.
The hikes to Pico Grande, however, are an exception. With 1654m Pico Grande is by far NOT the highest mountain of Madeira (this honour goes to Pico Ruivo (1861m)) but it stands in the center of the island with great views towads the central range and the high plateau of Paúl da Serra.
All hikes are pretty simple (though sometimes pretty long) with the exception of the fianal ascent to the summit block (difficulty I - II). And you'll have to fight against gorse bushes which block the trails.
Getting thereMadeira can be reached from any of the major European airports. There are almost no regular flights (with the exception of some portugese airports) but quite a lot of charter flights.
The trails described on this page start from Bocca da Encumeada, Boca da Corida or from Curral das Freiras. You'll reach the trailheads as follows:
Boca da Curida:
Follow the freeway R101 from the airport to the west. At the exit "Estreito de Câmara de Lobos" get off an start climbing the road towards the village. Drive through but remain in the western part of the village (always going up) until you get to Achado. Drive through there as well. The road gets steeper and steeper (you'll have to gear down to first) but now goes straight ahead and ends at Boca da Curida.
Boca da Encumeada:
Easier to get to: again take R101 until its end at Ribeira Brava. After the long last tunnel don't turn to Ribeira Brava but to Serra de Água (ER104). Just at the entry of the village turn left and go up to the pass.
Curral das Freiras:
Again R101, direction west. Just before the freeway leaves Funchal take the exit towards Curral. Follow the road towards Curral get on through and park near the Bus stop in the hamlet of Faja Escura.
Red TapeNo permits or parking fees needed. Park your car at the trailhead and just start climbing.
When to ClimbAnytime! Madeira doesn't know any seasons so these hikes are always possible. Since Boca da Encumeada is (situated on) the weather divide it might become foggy. The other trails, however, are pretty safe!
AccomodationYou can find lots of hotels and casas along the coast. Since Madeira is pretty small (you can reach almost any point within one hour by car) these locations should be sufficient.
As for campgrounds I found this link:
Weather conditionsAs for the Canarias weather conditions cannot be predicted accurately. Madeira is located in the trade wind zone. You almost always encounter northeastern winds which carry a lot of humid air. Being forced to climb to higher altitudes this moisture condenses into clouds. This in return means that most of the time the northern part of the island is covered in clouds from altitudes of 1000m through 2000m.
The mountains themselves - being of the same altitude -finally stop the clouds so that on their southeastern slopes the clouds "run out". Look at the pictures - it looks like the clouds creeping over the weather divide. Boca da Encumeada - being some 500m lower than the surrounding summits - is a gateway for the clouds from north to south. Thus it very often is covered in mist.
Unfortunately all of the major peaks of Madeira lie around the weather divide. Sometimes within, sometimes just out of the clouds. Pico Grande is a little safer since it is located a little to the south of the divide and most of the time the clouds don't reach the summit.
The following table shows weather data for Funchal on the southern coast. Be careful with these data if you want to climb the summits...
|Avg. day temp.[°C / °F]||16 / 61||16 / 61||17 / 63||20 / 68||24 / 75||27 / 81||29 / 84||29 / 84||27 / 81||23 / 73||21 / 70||17 / 63|
|Avg. night temp.[°C / °F]||9 / 48||9 / 48||10 / 50||12 / 54||15 / 59||19 / 66||21 / 70||22 / 72||19 / 66||16 / 61||13 / 55||11 / 52|
|Water temp.[°C / °F]||16 / 61||15 / 59||16 / 61||16 / 61||19 / 66||22 / 72||24 / 75||25 / 77||24 / 75||23 / 73||20 / 68||17 / 63|
NatureI had to include this section because I'm fascinated by the different Taginaste bushes in the Canarias and on Madeira. The ones in Gran Canaria - though only white - with their sweet smell attract lots of bees and butterflies. They are very similar to the blue Madeira variation (see below) but VERY different from the red Tenerife variation, the Taginaste del Teide.
MapsThere is one map I actually cannot recommend (so I won't) but Corax has suggested this one:
Madeira and Porto Santo
A map I don't own myself but which has also been recommended to me is:
Freytag und Berndt