PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes – The complete hiking guide

PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes – The complete hiking guide

The PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes is one of the most popular hikes on Madeira Island. All travel guides, blogs, hotels, and websites dedicated to hiking put it in the spotlight. Is it deserved? We obviously wanted to check it out for ourselves.

But who says “popular hike” necessarily says “many people”. On average, 500 hikers walk this levada every day. So if, like us, you want to enjoy the sounds of nature without being in line behind 30 other people, we suggest you follow an alternative path on part of the return journey.

Before diving into the heart of the matter, you should know that you will have to face a certain difference in elevation at the beginning (and therefore at the end) of the PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes. This is quite different from the majority of the other hikes following a levada, this irrigation system so specific to Madeira Island, which are very flat.

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English is not our native language. And while we put lots of time and attention in translating our content in English, you may find mistakes or things poorly translated here and there. In that case, feel free to send us an email in order for us to correct and improve.

Starting point

Distance

Loop or not

Duration

Difficulty level

Elevation gain

Path type

Exposure

Our complete hiking guide

Key information about the PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes, one of the most popular hikes on the island

Distance and duration of the hike

The PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes is 7.8 kilometers round trip, and it will take 2 hours and 40 minutes to cover it. If you follow the alternative path that we recommend, you will extend your hike by a little kilometer (8.7 km instead of 7.8 km) and by about fifteen minutes. It is also possible to combine this route with the PR6.1 hike and to make a one-kilometer detour to see the Risco waterfall. You will then add about 1 hour of walking.

Of course, you will stop regularly to observe the valley or the waterfall in front of you. Therefore, plan for an extra 30 to 40 minutes in your schedule, if you have one at all.

Difficulty and elevation difference of the hike

Unlike most other hikes following a levada, the PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes is not flat. On the way there, you will go down 350 meters on the first two kilometers. Most of this way down is on a not so sexy asphalt road. The last 500 meters going down are made in stairs, in the heart of the laurel forest. The same difference in elevation is obviously to be expected on the way back, but this time uphill.

Despite this difference in elevation, we found this hike easy. The frequentation of this path makes it extremely well maintained, marked out, and even paved!

Frequentation of the hike

We mentioned it at the beginning of this article: the PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes is one of the most popular hikes in Madeira. With its 500 daily hikers, we can safely say that it is very busy. And given the narrowness of the path in some places, it is not uncommon to find yourself stuck behind a group of 30 people. And yet, we did it in February which is outside the high tourist season. We can only imagine the number of people on this hike during summer time!

This is the main reason why we decided to take an alternative route which we will talk about in more detail in the article. On this alternative way, we literally did not meet anyone. A contrast more than appreciated after the crowd encountered on the hike and at the arrival at the lagoon of the 25 sources.

Equipment needed for this hike

No special equipment is needed when you take the Levada das 25 Fontes. The path is entirely paved until the end and only the last 300 meters of the alternative path are on dirt and therefore potentially muddy if it rained the previous days. So any shoes that you are comfortable walking in for several hours should do the trick. Personally, we always wear our hiking boots for comfort and grip.

However, since the hike is several hours long, don’t forget to bring a water bottle with enough water.

Weather on the hike dos Balcões

The weather in Madeira is extremely changeable. During the same day, you can experience the 4 seasons. And if the weather is great in one place, the situation can be very different a few tunnels away. In order to check the weather before your hike, we recommend you to use the MadeiraWeather application (download from Google Play here or from the Apple Store here).

Note that the weather conditions of the previous days as well as those forecasted for the day may favor the risk of landslides and/or make the hiking trails not very practicable. Before setting out on your adventure, we therefore also advise you to check the following official websites to verify the condition of the hike:

Départ de la randonnée PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes

How to get to and park at the starting point of the PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes?

Main starting point

The starting point of the hike das 25 Fontes is located on the regional road ER 105 in Rabaçal. It takes about 50 minutes from Funchal or Sao Vicente, or 1h10 from Machico.

To get there, you will have to take some mountain roads where hairpin bends and inclines of improbable percentages are the rule. But keep in mind that if there are tourist buses reaching the starting point of the PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes, there is nothing insurmountable by car.

If you are staying in Funchal and don’t have a car, have a reliable guide accompany you to Rabaçal.

The best way to get around the island and from one hike to the next is undeniably to rent a car. Alternatively, cabs are widely available and will wait for hikers at various strategic points on the island.

The arrival at the starting point of the PR6 is quite different from any other on the island. This time, you will ride on the plateau of Paul da Serra, which offers a unique landscape on the island. In Rabaçal, you will notice a large parking lot overlooking the valley on the ER 105. Here you are at your destination! If you are there early in the morning, there may be only a few cars present. As the day progresses, the parking lot will fill up and some cars will even end up parked along the road because of the “lack of space”. Or rather, because of the very large number of people.

All the hiking information shared in this article considers a starting point of the ER 105 in Rabaçal.

oint de départ de la randonnée PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes

Alternative starting point

Note that it is also possible to start the PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes from the ER 211. This starting point, located below the plateau of Paul da Serra, allows you to avoid a good part of the difference in elevation we mentioned in the introduction, which can be a nice alternative. Note that you will cross a tunnel of 800 meters long and that a flashlight or headlamp is essential.

The disadvantages of this starting point are that you will not enjoy an impressive view of the Rabaçal valley and it will be necessary to climb stairs for 500 meters if you want to do the PR6.1 hike to the Ruivo waterfall.

At the time of publishing this article, we had not yet tested this alternative access, but we intend to do so before our departure from Madeira.

What to expect on the PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes?

When you arrive at the main starting point of the PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes, you will have a great view of the Rabaçal valley. Take advantage of it before you go downhill. As far as we are concerned, we spent about 20 minutes there observing this valley covered by laurel forest and being part of the Natura 2000 network. A cow and her calf were comfortably installed a few steps away from us and observed us during all this time, unperturbed.

A start without much interest

Since you are on the Paul da Serra plateau, you have to go down to the Rabaçal valley to reach the Levada das 25 Fontes. To do this, you have two options:

By foot

Take the asphalt road behind the automatic gate. This not particularly sexy road goes down little by little into the Rabaçal valley and offers some interesting views of the surroundings between the vegetation. A few very thin waterfalls also snake the rock on the right side of the way down. After 1.5 km and about 300 meters of elevation difference, you will reach the refuge "Casa do Rabaçal" where you can have a snack if you wish.

By shuttle

Since this is not the sexiest start, regular shuttles have been set up. For 3€ one way (or 5€ round trip), they take you directly to the Casa do Rabaçal by taking the same route you would have taken on foot. They operate from 10am to 6pm every 10-15 minutes.

We did not take the shuttle. To be honest, we didn’t like this part on an asphalt road and we started the PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes hike, one of the most famous on the island, disappointed.

In order to limit this feeling, we advise you to dive into the heart of the forest as soon as you see a sign “PR6.3” on your left when you go down. This way, you will walk the last 300 meters before reaching the restaurant on a forest path made of steps rather than on the asphalt road.

In the heart of the Rabaçal valley

Once we arrived at the Casa do Rabaçal, we took a few moments to leave this mixed feeling behind us. From this point on, we find again some of the elements we love when we go hiking: that characteristic forest smell, the birds singing, the sunlight through the vegetation. The only thing missing: the calm. Let’s face it: the very high number of people on the PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes will not allow us to have this feeling of being alone in the world in the heart of this incredible nature. But as a bonus, the refuge seems to be popular for a lunch break. It’s 11:30 am, and the surroundings are starting to be quite crowded.

Try to escape the hustle and bustle by taking a paved forest trail on the right just before the refuge. After a few hundred meters, you can choose to go down a series of stairs on your left that will allow you to finally reach the Levada das 25 Fontes or to continue straight ahead and head for the Risco waterfall (PR6.1). Count about 1 km of detour if you choose the second option.

Randonnée PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes
Randonnée PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes

On the stairs leading to the levada, the vegetation becomes denser. Once we reach the levada, the spectacle is grandiose and we suddenly understand a little better why everyone talks about the PR6. The hiking path along the Levada das 25 Fontes is lined with twisted trees, mosses and ferns that give a very poetic atmosphere to the place. This vegetation is part of the primary forest of Madeira and offers an incomparable spectacle.

The laurel forest, called "lauriferous forest" or "primary forest", once covered a large part of southern Europe. Today, it is only found in Madeira, the Azores, the Canary Islands and Cape Verde. About 20% of the surface of Madeira Island is covered with it. These 15,000 hectares currently represent the largest remaining laurel forest in the world, making it a unique place to observe a number of endemic or endangered animal and plant species. It is also considered that most of the forest has never been cut down. Some of the trees could date back to before the discovery of the island by man in 1419. It is not surprising that the island was listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1999.

This atmosphere will accompany you throughout the hike. On rare occasions, you will be able to enjoy the view of the surrounding valley. But in general, the vegetation is quite dense along this hike, preventing you from having the vertigo even though the trail is quite narrow in some places.

In addition to following the levada itself, the PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes will take you across a stone bridge over a riverbed and up several flights of stairs before you reach what you’ve been heading towards for over an hour: the 25 Springs Lagoon.

In front of you, a 30 meters high wall of rock at the foot of which the lagoon of the 25 springs serves as a natural receptacle to collect the rainwater present in altitude on the Paul da Serra plateau. The main waterfall is probably the one that one notices immediately. But it is in reality far from being the only one to feed the lagoon. The walls of the cirque are covered with a multitude of water streams, each one being a different source, hence its name: the levada “25 Fontes” (25 springs).

As you can imagine, these waterfalls are more or less full depending on the season, but also on the weather of the previous days.

Cascades PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes

Since we arrived in Madeira, I have developed a passion for wet walls where lush vegetation grows over the years. Following a levada is usually the perfect place to observe this amazing vegetation. And this is also true at the 25 Springs Lagoon. The vegetation is omnipresent and covers a good part of the 30 meters high cirque. A striking spectacle for anyone who shares the same fascination as me for this phenomenon. So take the time to observe these details along the rock.

If you arrived early enough, you may have the chance to enjoy the serenity of the place in silence. But generally speaking, be aware that the lagoon is crowded. Between people taking pictures, people having a picnic, and groups of people with their guides, the place is rarely quiet.

Once you have enjoyed enough the beauty of the place, you can turn back to the starting point of the hike. If we had only met a few people on the way to get there, the return trip was much busier since many groups were present. This was enough to motivate us to find an alternative path for the end of the return trip.

An alternative path for those who want to get away from the crowd

About 1.5 km after turning back, we chose to continue along the Levada das 25 Fontes instead of taking the stairs back to the Casa do Rabaçal refuge. From that moment on, we found ourselves alone in the world, without any other hikers around. A nice feeling after the crowd on the main hiking trail.

The twisted trees, ferns, mosses, and birdsong accompanied us and put a smile on our faces. At one point we even cross a corridor created between two rock walls, a miniature version of the one present on the PR11 Vereda dos Balcões that we talked about in the dedicated guide.

You will have understood: this variant allows us to reconnect with the absolutely magnificent nature on the Levada das 25 Fontes, and we enjoy it fully.

Randonnée PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes
Randonnée PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes

Even though there were several signs that reassured us that this alternative trail was not destined to lose us in the heart of the Rabaçal Valley, we still had no idea where it led and how to get back to the starting point where we had left our car. So we used the maps.me application to see the route of the trail we were taking and to decide on the best strategy to adopt.

Although unmarked, the trail in question is clearly visible on the maps.me app. We therefore recommend that you download it and load the maps of Madeira before you go hiking.

At the start of this trail, we had two choices:

Not knowing at the time the alternative starting point to which the Rabaçal tunnel leads, we decided to be wise and head for the refuge. To do this, we took the dirt stairs that go up quite steeply to the refuge, starting less than 200 meters before the tunnel entrance. You will have to walk about 300 meters and go up a hundred meters before reaching the Casa do Rabaçal.

Once there, we took the PR6.3 trail for another 150 meters before reaching the asphalt road at the beginning of the hike. We then had to walk up the remaining 350 meters of the 1,500 meters of road to the parking lot where we had left the car.

Does the PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes hike live up to its reputation?

The PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes is one of the most popular hikes in Madeira and all the paper guides, blogs, hotels, or even websites dedicated to hiking highlight it. It’s true that this easy hiking trail allows you to dive into the heart of the Rabaçal valley, to discover the laurel forest, and to observe different waterfalls that are definitely worth a visit.

But in fact, it is far from being the only hike on the island that offers this type of experience. And some of them even allow you to feel alone in this incredible nature because they are significantly less frequented. This is a strong argument as far as we are concerned. Add to that the fact that almost half of the hike is done on an asphalt road (total distance of 7.8 km, of which 3 km are on road). And you get a mixed result.

You guessed it: we’ve done other hikes that we liked better, and while PR6 is enjoyable and surprising, we feel that the 25 Springs hike is a bit overrated.

Randonnée PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes

When is the best time to do the PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes?

The best time of the year

During the driest months of the year (May – September), the waterfalls are obviously less abundant and therefore less spectacular. The cirque surrounding the 25 springs lagoon is then covered with a multitude of thin streams of water. If you have the opportunity to be in Madeira outside this period (which corresponds more or less to the high tourist season), we obviously recommend you to do it.

We did this hike for the first time in February, and it hadn’t rained for more than 10 days. In addition to the thin streams of water trickling down the wall of the cirque, the central waterfall was full of water and showed its full potential. It is obviously the most spectacular after several days of rain.

Note however that it will not be easy to avoid the crowd. Even outside the high tourist season, all hotels and guides on the island recommend this hike.

The best time of the day

Since the PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes hike is extremely popular all year round, the best way to avoid the crowds is to arrive relatively early. A good indicator of how busy the hike is when you arrive is – not surprisingly – the number of cars parked in the parking lot and along the ER 105.

Generally speaking, cars and buses start to arrive around 9:30 am. We therefore advise you to start the hike before 9am and to enjoy the calm of the place by being among the first hikers of the day. The first time we did this hike, we arrived at the starting point around 11am. The parking lot was full, we regularly got “stuck” behind a group of other hikers, and the 25 Springs Lagoon was very busy. And that’s an understatement.

Randonnée PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes

Is it possible to eat on the PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes?

We have mentioned it several times in this hiking guide: the Casa do Rabaçal refuge is located 1.5 km from the starting point of the PR6 and will allow you to have a lunch break or a coffee if you feel like it. We did not test it but the reviews on Tripadvisor seem to be very good.

As far as we are concerned, we always take our picnic with us when we go hiking. The loops being rare on the island, we usually stop at the arrival to eat in a quiet place with a nice view before going back the other way. You will have understood: forget the “quiet corner” on the Levada das 25 Fontes. Nevertheless, we found a small rock on which to eat while admiring the lagoon and its 25 springs before going back to the starting point. Even if we were far from being alone, we enjoyed this moment.

Is it possible to run on the PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes?

Absolutely not! Most of the hike forces people to walk in single file and it will be impossible to run, or even trot. The alternative path we mention above is less crowded, but there are many, many trees lying on the trail and running must be a nightmare in these conditions.

Is the PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes suitable for a child?

Generally speaking, the path along the PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes is either wide enough or secured with a guardrail. So, if the child is able to walk 8 km and go up and down steps without worry, I don’t see why this hike would not be suitable.

Can I take the PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes with a stroller?

Unfortunately, no. The narrowness of the path in some places of the PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes as well as the stairs scattered here and there during the hike make it impassable with a stroller. However, we met many parents with a baby carrier on their back (and a child in it, of course).

Download the GPS track of the PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes hike in GPX format

During our hikes we record the GPS tracks in order to share them on this blog with you. The PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes is well marked, but our GPS track will help you if you take the alternative path on the way back. Be careful not to follow it to the nearest meter and use common sense. The GPS signal is not always perfect and the track may indeed be a few meters off the actual path.

To go one step further

Prepare your trip to Madeira

Here is a checklist with the key elements to prepare your stay in Madeira and leave with peace of mind:

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We are Gaëlle and Jérémy, a couple in their thirties and we left everything to live full time on our sailboat Kerguelen.

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