Ribeiro Frio Natural Park is located about 20 minutes north of Funchal, the capital of Madeira Island. Right in the heart of the island, this forest area is known and accessible to tourists who want to discover Madeira's nature: the primary forest and its endemic flora, and the mountain and its balconies, with an unbeatable view of the valley from balcões with a view to the ocean and Sao Jorge.
What to see in Ribeiro Frio?
Located at 1150m above sea level, you will find a very small village along the road. There are very few attractions, except for aquaculture, with trout breeding ponds. Ribeiro Frio is above all the natural park: the discovery on foot of a preserved region and all around us: the laurel forest. This forest is omnipresent, which is why it is difficult to see the picos do Arieiro and Ruivo to the west, the view was blocked by the trees. For wildlife lovers, you can see birds, including the Madeira Tree Finch, displaying beautiful colours.
If you are just passing through you can stop for a few minutes at the Miradouro Ribeiro Frio (see map below).
What hikes to do in the natural park?
From Ribeiro Frio, there are 3 hikes:
For the real hiking enthusiasts, the levada do Furado PR10 is one of the hikes to do. This route takes you along the levada do Furado for approximately 8 km through the heart of the laurissilva forest, continuing along the levada do Portela. This levada takes you to the village of the same name, Portela. It is a relatively flat route with a 20km round trip.
For tourists with a less athletic profile, the very beautiful walk Vereda dos Balcões PR11, only 3 km round trip, takes you to discover an extraordinary panorama on Penha de Agua, one of the most beautiful spots on the island!
Finally, the lesser known Chão das Feiteiras loop hike allows you to discover both the Chão das Feiteiras park and Ribeiro Frio. An ideal route of less than 10 km, for occasional walkers, and which can also be combined with the PR11.
Finally, you can take the Caminho Real 24 itinerary, which passes through Ribeiro Frio and crosses the island from south to north, from Funchal to Santana, on one of the island's 5 historic routes. It is 30 km long and is particularly demanding with steep ascents and descents. A circuit only for very good walkers.
Understanding the geography of the nature park
Thanks to the 3D view from GoogleEarth software, the relief of the natural park is better understood. The PR11 balcoes hike (in purple) offers you a panoramic view of the whole Faial valley and the different balconies, with Penha de Agua in the background. The levada do furado, shown here in blue, takes you to the east of the park, where you will be immersed in nature for more than 10 km, making your way through the mountains.
How to get to Ribeiro Frio?
With your rental car or by taxi, you will have to take the ER103 road that connects Funchal to Faial, in the north. This is a mountain road, so avoid low powered vehicles. Parking is available.
From the capital Funchal, bus line 103 takes you to Ribeiro Frio in about 25 minutes, for less than €3. The forest area is also accessible by bus from Santana and Faial, with line 138. It takes about 40 minutes by bus. Please note that the park is close to Funchal and is very popular with tourists, so buses can often be full.
As mentioned above, it is possible to get to the forest park by walking along Caminho Real 24, one of the island's historic roads, linking Funchal to Santana. However, this is a route that has to be earned and is demanding, with over 30km of walking and almost 2000m of difference in altitude!
What to discover around the forest park?
We are in the middle of a protected natural area, so there is very little activity in the area. However, it is possible to do some canyoning in the vicinity of the park. There are also a few rental accommodations and hotels, as well as restaurants.
To the south of the Ribeiro Frio park, you can discover:
- Funchal Ecological Park
- Chão do Pasto Forest Park and its miradouro (viewpoint)
- Chão das Feiteiras Forest Park.
To the north of the village, still on the ER103 road, there are mainly mountain views:
- The Miradouro do Cabouco, magnificent viewpoint, unmissable!
- Cruzinhas viewpoint
- Miradouro do Encontro
Not far from the road, there is an old bridge to discover: A ponte velha.