There are a ton of waterfalls hikes in Madeira but the Cascata Agua d’Alto hike to the hidden waterfall has to be one of our favourites.
This waterfall hike is located in Faial in the Santana region on the north side of the island. We love this region because everything seems a little more wild and untouched in this area and there are some amazing hidden gems.
During our most recent 3-day trip to Santana, we decided to finally check out and hike to Cascata Agua d’Alto. And we’re so happy that we did!
Even though we got lost a few times trying to find the trailhead, the hike itself to Agua d’Alto is really easy and short. There’s a good chance you may be the only person on the whole trail.
The pictures of this hike really don’t do it justice.
Cascata Agua d’Alto is one of the most beautiful places on the island. That’s saying something because every corner has something magical waiting for you to explore.
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Full Guide to Cascata Agua d’Alto hike
The hike to Agua d’Alto is perfect if you’re looking for a short hike to do near Santana!
You can even smash it out after finishing one of the longer hikes in the area like the PR9 Levada do Caldeirao Verde if you’re feeling up for it. The two hikes aren’t too far from each other.
To make sure you don’t get lost like us you can use this starting point for Cascata Da Agua. If you were to just drive past it without knowing about the waterfall, you’d have no idea a hike even starts there.
Basically you just park your side on the side of the street wherever you can find some room and head to the trailhead of the hike. There is a sign that shows the name of the hike which points you in the right direction.
You truly feel like you’re walking on someone’s land but it is a public hike. Just be respectful and maybe a quick “Bom Dia” (good day) if you pass by a local will go a long way.
As this hike is short and sweet, there really isn’t much to it besides the stunning Agua d’Alto Waterfall you’ll find at the end. There are a few pretty viewpoints along the way but that’s about it.
You’ll notice that the trail doesn’t get much love and may even be overgrown and eroding in some areas. Keep that in mind and be careful when you walk.
This isn’t one of the recognized hiking trails in Madeira (known as the “PR”s) but more of a small local gem. This means this trail isn’t maintained by the public but by the locals who care for the trail and area.
We understand and respect that, so we highly recommend you do what you can to be respectful of and preserve the land. If you bring anything with you then bring it back with you. Leave no trace!
That being said, we hope you enjoy the awesome view of Agua d’Alto when you get to the end of the trail. And remember to be careful!
The waterfall can be super powerful and you can even see there’s sometimes erosion near the waterfall. So don’t get too close to it.
Quick tip: Pictures and the views of the waterfall look even better from further away!
Practical information about Cascata Agua d’Alto trail
Distance: 3.2 km return / 1.99 miles return
Elevation: Roughly 30 m / 98.5ft. elevation gain
Type: In-and-out trail
Length: 1 hour (take your time and enjoy the view, time for photos)
Difficulty: Easy to moderate (the trail gets narrow so be careful)
Here’s a picture of the beginning of the Agua d’Alto Waterfall hike:
Finding the trailhead for the Cascata Agua d’Alto Waterfall hike
Finding the trailhead for the Agua d’Alto hike has to be the hardest part of the whole hike. Maybe that’s why it’s a hidden waterfall hike in Madeira and you don’t get too many people exploring it.
If you know where you’re going though, it’s easy to find. We definitely did not so we ended up driving around for an extra 5-10 minutes up and down the mountain. But once we found it, it wasn’t that bad.
Park at the starting point of Cascata Da Agua and you’ll be fine! As soon as you get off the main road you’ll see a sign pointing you up the hill that looks like private property.
It’s a narrow road that leads to a few houses. You’re on the right track so don’t worry. It’s not long until you get to the Levada da Agua d’Alto where you’ll for sure know you’re on the right track.
You should actually be able to see the waterfall from the beginning of the trail. Especially on a clear day because Agua d’Alto is humungous (at least when we went and after rainfall).
You’ll see what we mean when you’re actually standing in front of it.
Follow Levada da Agua d’Alto to the waterfall
Once you pass the last house you walk up a little staircase on the right-hand side of it. There you will finally make it to Levada da Agua d’Alto. It’s actually a very long levada but we believe most of it is overgrown and not walkable.
The only section that is walkable and worth hiking along is this last bit that takes you to the Agua d’Alto Waterfall. Even this levada section isn’t the greatest but if you take your time you will be fine.
There are a few sections that are quite narrow and even eroding so be extra careful where you walk.
The hike is short though and this leveda section to the waterfall should only take you about 10-15 minutes.
We found the views and even taking pictures to be really cool from the levada trail because from there you can really see the size and magnitude of Agua d’Alto.
You get to see it surrounded by all the trees and even see where the waterfall drops from. With so much green and beautiful flora it’s really beautiful from a distance!
Take in the views from Agua d’Alto Waterfall
Once you’ve got some photos and made your way to the end of the levada you’ll be under Agua d’Alto!
There’s a little platform in front of the waterfall and that’s as far as we recommend going. It’s not really worth getting much closer to the waterfall, especially with the erosion that can come off at any time from either of the sides.
It can be hard to get photos in front of Agua d’Alto that will do it any justice and show its size anyways. It’s almost better to just take it in and make mental pictures instead.
Cascata Agua d’Alto is such a stunning waterfall and one of our favourite waterfalls in Madeira. It’s definitely a lot less effort than hiking the whole PR9 Levada do Caldeirao Verde to see the waterfall at the end of that hike.
The best part of this specific hike is that you likely won’t see many people on the trail and probably for good reason. It’s not well maintained and it’s not the safest hiking trail on the island.
But we believe as long as you take your time and watch your steps you should be completely fine. The views deep in this forest are absolutely stunning!
Hike back to the starting point of Cascata Agua d’Alto
The Cascata Agua d’Alto is an in-and-out hike so you’ll go back the same way you came from.
The way back will probably be a little quicker since you’ve got all the views of the waterfall already.
The trail is quite flat, especially the levada section. As we mentioned before, the only thing you really have to watch out for is erosion and the narrow bits.
You’ll then make it back to the section of the levada where you walk back towards the houses, down the stairs, and down the little road before getting back to your car.
It’s a short but sweet hike and even though there is signage for the waterfall it is a little hidden gem on the island. It’s one of our favourite places in the Santana region of Madeira.
This hike is perfect if you’re looking for a 1-2 hour activity in Santana. You can do it even quicker if you need but it’s worth spending some time up there enjoying the views.
What to bring on the Cascata Agua d’Alto hike
Like the majority of the levada trails on Madeira, the trail does get muddy. A pair of good hiking or trail shoes are recommended because there’s a good chance they will get dirty.
We wore our sneakers on this hike and regretted not bringing our hikers!
It’s really not a long trail since it’s roughly 3 kilometers return without much elevation so it can be done quite quickly. There isn’t a whole lot of planning that needs to be done for this specific hike.
Snacks and water are always welcome even on short hikes. There are some spots near the waterfall where you can take a break and enjoy the beauty of the area.
You can see the weather for the Santana/Faial area here. This will also help give you an idea of what to pack and bring. Especially if you combine this hike with one of the longer ones in the area.
Packing list for a day trip hiking on Madeira:
- Water! We always fill up our LifeStraw bottles before hikes and then refill them along the way when we get a chance.
- Sunscreen is highly recommended when hiking on Madeira. For Agua d’Alto you’re among the trees for almost the entire hike but it’s still good to have, just in case.
- A power bank is always nice to bring. Especially when you’re in a place you’re not completely familiar with. It’s great to have power on your phone if you need it for navigating, calling someone, photos, and anything else you might use your phone for.
- A rain jacket is also not a bad idea to bring in case it starts raining during the hike or if you get up close to the waterfall.
You can check out this great list of hiking gear to give you some more inspiration!
Before you hike Cascata Agua d’Alto
Check the weather
No matter where you hike, you should always check the weather for that specific area beforehand. Madeira has 9 different micro-climates so the weather is constantly changing around the island.
This will give you a good idea of the weather in the Santana area. In case the weather isn’t great you can always go hike on a different part of the island that has better weather.
Agua d’Alto can actually be done on a moody day. The lighting with the trees and waterfall looks really cool with moody lighting. But if it’s raining, you might want to consider coming back on a different day. The trail can get slick and it’s already pretty narrow.
Of course, on a warm sunny day, it’s beautiful as well. The light comes through the trees and shines on the trail and the waterfall. It’s absolutely stunning!
The trail is short so even if the weather turns for the worse, you can get off the trail and into your car quite quickly.
Wear hiking shoes
We recommend wearing hiking shoes for most hikes and levada trails in Madeira.
The Cascata Da Agua trail is quite short but it does get muddy near the end. Especially if it’s been raining lately it can be a little slick and muddy so hiking or trail shoes are the best.
I take my Columbia’s everywhere even if it’s just a levada walk. They’re easy to clean after a day of hiking too compared to runners or casual shoes.
Load the trail map
We usually load the trail map on our phone or take a picture of it so we have an idea of where to go in case we get lost.
Thankfully, for this hike, the hardest part is actually finding the trailhead. You can use the map we created and you should be fine to find it!
During the hike, we had cell reception throughout the whole thing so we didn’t have to load any trail maps in advance. However, if you want to be on the safe side, you might as well.
Hiking Tip: Look up the trail on AllTrails before starting your hike 🗺️. You can find important trail information such as recent wildlife sights and trail closures. Check out the free version here or get a 7-day free trial of AllTrails Pro here.
Leave no trace
When you go hiking (and do other outdoor adventure activities), always remember to follow the 7 principles of leaving no trace.
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of others
How to get to the Cascata D’Agua trailhead
Finding the trailhead is the most challenging part of this hike! For you, it hopefully won’t be as hard as it was for us since you have the exact spot to park your car.
For us, it took a second to find but it’s because we were purely relying on Google Maps which doesn’t have the accurate trailhead. Or maybe we got distracted by all the beautiful views along the drive up 😉
There really is only one way to Agua d’Alto and that’s by car. It’s a bit up the mountains outside of Santana (above Faial) and even though there are buses that go there it’s way more convenient by car.
Get a rental car from Funchal to Santana and the hidden waterfall
One of the best places to rent a car in Funchal is from 7M. They have a few locations in the city so it’s super convenient.
It’s best to book online in advance as prices are usually cheaper this way. You can look at the prices and different cars here to see all the options.
You can also check out DiscoverCars which compares all prices across the different car rental sites that offer car rental in Funchal. (This is what we usually do).
Once you have a car, you’ll make the trip around the island to Santana. From Santana, it’s a short drive of 45-50 minutes to the “parking spot” for Agua d’Alto.
There are two ways to get to Santana but we recommend the coastal way which is mostly on the main highway. This drive is quicker and also a lot more enjoyable.
You can find the trip details from Funchal to Cascata Agua d’Alto via Santana here.
Also read: What It’s Like Driving in Madeira
Best time to hike the hidden waterfall near Santana
The beauty of this hike is that it’s stunning no matter if you go a sunny or moody day. If you’re just going for the experience you’ll love this hike regardless of the weather. The waterfall and area is so stunning.
If you’re planning to capture the waterfall with photography then a nice moody day might be perfect to go grab some shots to avoid the pictures from being over-exposed.
The combination of the flora, waterfall, and moody weather can make some absolutely incredible pictures.
Then again, on a sunny day with the light barely coming in through the trees, it also looks really cool.
There isn’t really a bad time to do the hike except for when it’s raining a lot. If it’s raining you can go into Santana and enjoy some food or drinks at one of the local restaurants instead.
Other related questions about Agua d’alto near Santana
Are there lots of hidden waterfalls in Santana?
Santana is known for having quite a few waterfalls – all of which are incredibly beautiful. You can definitely expect to be able to find at least a few hidden waterfalls in Santana if you do some research.
Agua d’Alto is one of the best ones to visit that you can actually hike to. Aguage Waterfall is another beautiful (somewhat) hidden waterfall right in Santana.
Is Cascata Agua d’Alto an easy hike?
Yes, Cascata Agua d’Alto is a very short and easy hike. The trail itself isn’t the best since it’s not really maintained but still very manageable.
As long as you look out for the small sections where you can see erosion, the trail is quite safe. There also isn’t much elevation and it’s a very short hike to the waterfall.
All in all the hike is quite easy and most people should be able to complete the hike.
Also read: 12 of the Best Hikes to Do in Madeira
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Recap of hiking Cascata Agua d’Alto near Santana
If you’re in Santana or planning a day trip from Funchal and stopping by Santana this is the perfect short hike to do!
It can be done in around an hour or so and also combined with one of the longer hikes in the area if you want to spend most of your day out in nature!
And if you’re still in the planning phase of your trip, we can highly recommend spending a few days in Santana.
We stayed at the Quinta do Furao Hotel in Santana for a few days while exploring all the highlights of this small coastal town on Madeira’s northwestern end and we absolutely loved it!
This part of the island is a little paradise. It’s a lot more rural and quiet than Funchal for example which means the trails are less crowded and you can find places like Agua d’Alto and other similar hidden waterfall trails without running into crazy crowds.
If you have any questions about the hike or other things to do in Santana then feel free to DM us on Instagram or leave a comment below!
We love sharing awesome things to do in Madeira and off-the-beaten-path spots like this one.
Enjoy this waterfall hike on Madeira and everything else you get to see!