The famous irrigation canals, the real treasure of Madeira Island. How can you dissociate the island of flowers from its levadas? An irrigation network over 2100 km long, which supplies water to the south-eastern side of the island. The distribution of the water that gushes out of the springs located on the top of the mountains allows for the supply of water to a village or to fertile soils in order to irrigate agriculture, particularly the sugar cane fields. This is also known as rainwater harvesting.
A little history
Irrigation canals have been built since the 16th century. The most recent one dates from 1940. This network was built by slaves, and its construction was sometimes difficult. In particular, tunnels were dug in the mountains, sometimes over 40 km long. Levadas comes from the word "Levar" which means "to bring / to convey" in Portuguese.
A huge network... !
The levadas constitute a network of walks of almost 1000 km (sic!). Some are easy and accessible, others more difficult and technical. The risk of falling on the side of the road is obviously not to be neglected, so you should still be careful when hiking. Off the main roads, along small paths, the levadas are sometimes the only way to reach isolated places, in perfect harmony with nature. This is the way to discover breathtaking landscapes!
Sometimes on a mountainside, sometimes in the heart of the laurel forest: the popularity of a levada is intimately linked to its hiking trail and its landscapes. Personally, I will be keen to discover Madeira Island through these paths and waterways. It will require a real research work to discover the most beautiful paths on foot, but it won't be as easy as trying to climb Pico Ruivo, the highest peak of the island: the list is much longer!
On the map below, you will find most of these channels accessible by hiking, and, depending on your physical level or your desire to discover them (forests, waterfalls, lagoons, mountains or tunnels, etc.), you will be able to find the path to a levada that interests you. Remember to be well equipped before setting off on a trail for the rain or wind if you are going to be at altitude.