Madeira Island
  madeira : features : levadas an introduction : dreamy winding paths...    
Search Madeira Online for info on other sites about Madeira



Waterfall at Queimadas
The Beautiful waterfalls at Caldeirão Verde. On one of the most popular Levada routes.
Photo courtesy of Turivema.
More Watery Thoughts

Levada is Portuguese for "that which has been carried" - in this case: water.

This is the element that springs to mind when you think about what makesThe fast rush of water at ribeiro Frio Madeira different from other islands.

Unlike the more southerly Canaries group, which suffers from a chronic shortage of water, Madeira gurgles, streams, gushes and flows wherever you look. If you need an illustration, take the 25 Fountains Walk from Rabaçal to the waterfall called the Risco; let nature hose down your car on that unbelievable north coast road, where water seeps from unseen clefts in the rock and cascades off the cliff; or, after winter rains, watch in awe as mountain waters roar into the sea at Ribeira Brava, literally "Wild Ravine".

A German scientist once calculated that the island was sitting on a natural cistern holding 8 billion cubic metres of water – enough to supply the needs of millions for years.

The problem, instantly recognised by the Portuguese settlers in the early 15th century, was, and still is, how to maintain a constant supply from the mountains and the wetter north to the drier south of the island. The vines and sugarcane that thrive in sunshine and volcanic soil needed a decent squirt every so often. The more recently introduced banana groves require gallons of water regularly.

The devisors and builders of the original levada system could not have known that centuries later, a strange breed of humans called tourists, dressed in Reeboks and Nikons, would marvel at their labours and trek for pleasure along the hundreds of miles of irrigation channels taking pictures as they went. The footpaths skirting the system were there for one simple purpose: maintenance. A clogged channel could mean the loss of a whole year’s crop.

To the 20th century visitor, a levada walk is one way to get back to nature, to see Madeira’s beauty from a new breathtaking angle. But take care not to let the views carry you away – forever. A slippery moss-covered path by a precipice is no place for the fainthearted. While many levada walks are on the flat or on gentle gradients, others are positively hair-raising and only to be attempted by experienced hikers properly clothed, booted and equipped.

There are a limited number of guidebooks which plot the walkable part of the levada system, grade the walks according to the level of difficulty and advise on transport to and from the start and end of an outing. Visit , which stocks one of the best: Landscapes of Madeira, by J & S Underwood.

Dreamy Winding Paths on an Enchanting Island Article: A closer look at the origins and position of the Levadas today. [More Info]

More Watery Thoughts - Article: How much water is there in the Levadas? How far do the waterways stretch? What else do we need to know about Levada Walking? [More Info]

Turivema - A dedicated walking host for your holiday - Visit this STUNNING website for a magical "carpet- ride view" of Levada walking on Madeira. This site has hundreds of photographs of the Levadas sent to them by their guests! [More Info]

Jon Digranes Photo Collection - Jon has visited Madeira multiple times. His awesome collection of photographs captures essentially the beauty and spirit of Levada walking. [More Info]

Books on Levada Walking - Visit Madeira Shopping to find books and picture CD-ROM's on Madeira Levada walking. Other books and items are also available for purchase. [More Info


HotBot Search for