One of the most breathtaking views on the entire island of Madeira has to be the viewpoint at the end of the PR11 Vereda dos Balcoes trail.
On a clear sunny day, you get to see the peaks of Madeira to the south where the PR1 Pico do Arieiro hike is. If you look to the north you get to see far into the distance past Faial all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.
This beautiful hike in Ribeiro Frio is one of the shortest hikes we’ve done on Madeira but with one of the most rewarding views.
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Full guide to hiking Vereda dos Balcões in Ribeiro Frio
We had heard of Vereda dos Balcoes from a few friends because of the famous viewpoint that’s known for feeding Madeira Fire Crest birds. We’re not sure why but the Fire Crests are now known to always be hanging around the viewpoint while hikers feed them small seeds.
The Vereda dos Balcoes trail is also known as Levada dos Balcões as a good section of the trail goes along a levada.
Levadas rarely have an incline over 2% which is the same case for this trail. That means it’s an easy trail and this one is quite short too so it’s great for any fitness level!
The place where the hike is located is called Ribeiro Frio (cold river) and we absolutely love this area (when the weather is good).
The weather in this area can get quite unpredictable at times and tends to rain fairly often when we’ve visited.
Luckily, when we did the Vereda dos Balcoes hike, the weather was just perfect. And when the weather is good in this area, it’s one of the coolest places on the island!
In Ribeiro Frio, there are a few famous places such as John’s Poncha and Restaurante Ribeiro Frio that are located right next to each other – and from there, a bunch of different hikes and levadas start. It’s pretty much an outdoor paradise.
This time around we decided to finally go check out the Balcoēs Viewpoint (PR 11).
The PR 11 is short and sweet, offers some amazing unique views, and of course, the viewpoint at the end has to be the highlight of the whole trail.
Practical information about PR11 Vereda dos Balcões trail
Distance: 2.9 km return / 1.8 miles return
Elevation: Roughly 60 m / 197 ft. elevation gain
Type: In-and-out trail
Length: 1-1.5 hours (includes time at Balcões Viewpoint)
Difficulty: Easy (short and flat levada trail)
Here’s a picture of the beginning of the Vereda dos Balcões trail:
You can see the trailhead for Vereda dos Balcoēs here to make sure you follow the right trail from the beginning!
The rest is super easy and chill since this is one of the easier hiking trails in Madeira! It’s perfect if you’re looking for something easy to do in Ribeiro Frio.
You can also combine the PR11 with some other hikes since you’re already in the area and might as well explore some of the other beautiful hikes nearby.
There’s a pretty awesome waterfall a short drive from Vereda dos Balcōes called Cascata Agua D’Alto which is worth checking out if you have the time before or after this hike!
Finding the trailhead for Vereda dos Balcões in Ribeiro Frio
The area where the trailhead starts for the PR11 is super cool. You’re in the middle of the Ribeiro Frio Natural Park surrounded by Lauresilva trees. You have to travel far to find fresher air than up here.
It’s a little piece of paradise!
All around you, there are a bunch of levadas, hiking trails, and a few restaurants where you can get the famous Madeiran Poncha at John’s Poncha. Maybe save the poncha for after the hike though since it’s quite strong! 😉
The trailhead for the Vereda dos Balcões is quite easy to find. This part of Ribeiro Frio is very popular and for that reason, the trails are very well-marked with signs and information boards about the hikes.
You can also use this PR11 trail map to make sure you’re heading to the right hike. This hike actually starts right at the Levada which is the Levada de Serra do Faial.
You’ll only be on this levada for a portion of the hike though as it goes all the way down to Faial. You’ll follow it for a bit and then cut off at the turn to the Balcões Viewpoint.
Continue along the levada towards Balcoes Viewpoint
Like most hiking trails in Madeira, this one is super peaceful and relaxing. There is a road nearby but you don’t really notice it because of how dense the trees are.
It’s a weird combination of feeling like you’re deep in the Laurisilva Forest but also really close to civilization because you see farmhouses and even a restaurant on the way.
The restaurant sort of comes out of nowhere along the PR11. The place is called Flor da Selva and even though we only stopped to buy fennel candies (they’re worth trying) at their outdoor stand it does look very cozy.
We planned a few other stops for the day so we didn’t have the time to sit down. But if you want to stop somewhere for a bite to eat or snack during your day trip to Ribeiro Frio, Flor de Selva might be worth checking out.
You’ll get what we mean by feeling like you’re in the middle of nowhere but at the same time so close to people. It’s something that’s quite common in Madeira since the island isn’t really that big but has hiking trails all over the place. It’s one of the many reasons we absolutely love this place!
As you pass the restaurant you’ll just continue along the levada trail. There aren’t really any side paths or anything so there isn’t much of a chance to get lost on this one.
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The final stretch to the Vereda dos Balcões Viewpoint
Once you pass the restaurant, you’ll shortly after see an arrow pointing to the left to Balcoes Viewpoint. From there, it’s really not that far till you get to the viewpoint. As we said, it’s a pretty short hike.
You’ll follow the arrow and make your way through one of the coolest parts of the hike…
It’s a short section of rock walls on both sides that you have to walk through. In a way, it feels like a natural hallway that is leading you to the balcony viewpoint!
One short little stretch past the natural hallway and then everything starts to open up.
If you’re lucky there may be no people on the balcony and you’ll have it all to yourself – with the Fire Crest birds, of course.
Take in the views from the Balcões Viewpoint
You’ve made it to the viewpoint and this is where the magic happens! Here you get the most beautiful 180-degree view of the tallest peaks of Madeira, a portion of the Santana region as well as the Atlantic Ocean.
On a clear sunny day, you might be able to see Pico do Arieiro as well which is the third tallest peak in Madeira.
The crazy thing is we were expecting some tiny little viewpoint but it’s actually a big “plateau” or “balcony”-like viewpoint with an incredible panoramic view (fitting enough as the Portuguese word Balçoes means balcony in English).
As we mentioned before, you might be welcomed by some flying guests at the Balcões Viewpoint.
The Fire Crests have made the viewpoint a regular spot to spend their days because of the amount of food hikers give them every day.
You’ll see tons of little seeds on the ground and around the railing of the viewpoint. It’s the food that hikers, tourists, and locals bring to feed the birds. There’s a good chance you’ll see a bunch of them if you spend some time at the viewpoint.
Please do not feed the birds bread! It is bad for the birds and can cause them to get fungus so please refrain from giving them any bread.
We got really lucky and had perfect weather during the hike so we could see as far as the eye could see. The ocean, peaks, Faial, and of course the birds!
It is a hike that’s worth doing on a sunny clear day or else you really won’t get any views.
Make your way back to Ribeiro Frio parking
Once you take in all the views from the balcony and get your last glimpse of Pico Arieiro and the birds you can make your way back the same way you came from.
Maybe you can even make a quick pit stop at the restaurant on the way back for a local treat!
We recommend getting a “bolo do caco” which is basically their homemade potato bread with garlic butter. It’s a perfect little snack and absolutely delicious.
If you’ve never tried a “Brisa” before you can also try that. It’s a passionfruit soda from Madeira. It’s very sweet and super yummy!
From the restaurant, it’s not far back to the parking lot where you’ll find Restaurante Ribeiro Frio and John’s Poncha. One thing is for sure, you don’t have to leave Ribeiro Frio hungry!
This part of the island is incredible because there’re so many awesome places to hike and explore.
It’s an awesome place to hang out and this short and sweet hike is the perfect sample of what you can expect in the area.
What to bring on the Vereda dos Balcoes hike
Like on the majority of the levada trails on Madeira, the trails can get muddy.
This trail in specific does stay pretty clean but we still recommend wearing a pair of shoes you don’t mind getting dirty. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
It’s really not a long trail since it’s roughly a 3 km return with not 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.
You can find a comfy spot to sit at the viewpoint and enjoy a nice snack with a view. Otherwise, there are a few restaurants at the beginning of the hike you can stop at if you want a bite to eat!
You can see the weather for the Ribeiro Frio area here. This will also help give you an idea of what to pack and bring for your day trip.
Packing list for a hiking day trip 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 Vereda dos Balcōes you’re among the trees for most of the hike until you reach the viewpoint but we still always bring it with us.
- A power bank is always nice to bring. Especially when you’re in a place you’re not completely familiar with and if you make a day trip out of it and use your phone to navigate to all the different viewpoints!
- A rain jacket in case it starts raining during the hike. Ribeiro Frio is known for getting rain so just remember we warned you! 😉
You can check out this great list of hiking gear to get some more inspiration!
Before you hike PR11 Vereda dos Balcoes
Check the weather
No matter where you hike, you should always check the weather for that specific area beforehand. Madeira has a micro-climate so the weather is constantly changing around the island.
This will give you a good idea of the weather up in Ribeiro Frio. In case the weather isn’t great you can always go hike on a different part of the island that has better weather.
You can use this post for inspiration: 12 of the Best Hikes to Do in Madeira.
It is definitely best to hike to the Balcoes Viewpoint on a sunny day or else you won’t see anything.
If the weather is bad up here then maybe try PR8 Ponta de São Lourenco because it’s often better weather on the east side of the island.
You can also try PR9 Levada do Caldeirao Verde if you’re looking for a waterfall walk where the weather isn’t as important for the views.
Wear hiking shoes
We recommend hiking shoes for most hikes and levada trails in Madeira. Even though this trail might actually be an exception and regular running shoes could be fine.
We like being prepared so we take our Columbias everywhere we go. 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, there are signs and information all around the area since it’s a popular hiking spot.
The internet connection can get spotty up there though so it might be best to make sure you have the information loaded before you make the drive up.
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 Vereda dos Balcoes trailhead
One thing we love about Ribeiro Frio is that it’s actually accessible by bus from Funchal so you don’t need a car if you don’t want to rent one.
There’s a few areas around Madeira that are easily accessible by bus and this is definitely one of them!
So for this hike, you have the option of going either by bus or car which is really nice.
Of course, the car is going to be more expensive but also more convenient.
And if you get car sick, we just want to give you a heads-up before going on the bus. The roads are quite steep and windy so if you do tend to get car sick, it might be a little risky taking the bus.
Once you have the car you’ll make the trip basically straight up from Funchal up towards Ribeiro Frio. The nice thing about having the car is that you can even drive to Santana afterwards or one of the waterfall hikes nearby too.
You can find the trip details from Funchal to Vereda dos Balcoes in Ribeiro Frio here. The drive takes somewhere around 45 minutes because the roads are so windy and steep.
Rental car from Funchal to Ribeiro Frio
Getting a rental car in Funchal
There are multiple car rentals in Funchal so the easiest way to get the best price is by checking DiscoverCars. There are multiple car rental companies and pick-up locations in the city so it’s super convenient.
Just check what the pickup location is before hitting that booking button to ensure it’s close to your accommodation!
You can look at the prices and different cars on DiscoverCars to see the different options across the different car rental providers.
If you can, it’s best to try and book the car in advance since prices usually rise closer to the day of booking.
Bus from Funchal to Ribeiro Frio
The nice thing about taking the bus to Ribeiro Frio is that it’s actually not a lot longer than going by car.
Sometimes some of the bus routes take forever to get to some of the hikes but the one up to the Ribeiro Frio Natural Park is actually really chill.
The bus will make its way out of Funchal and up to Ribeiro Frio. You’ll get off the bus right in front of the trailhead and next to Restaurante Ribeiro Frio.
On the way back, you can catch the same bus (138) and ride it all the way back to Funchal.
Tickets cost about €3.5 per person each way and you can buy them with cash from the driver once you’re on the bus.
Best time to hike in Ribeiro Frio
There are tons of beautiful places to hike around the island and Ribeiro Frio is no exception.
Since the municipality of Ribeiro Frio is located over 1000 meters above sea level the weather can be quite different to Funchal or Ponta do Sol.
Since there are quite a few trails to pick from in Ribeiro Frio the trails don’t get too crowded which is really nice.
In terms of the best time of day to visit, early in the morning can be super cool – especially if you’re into photography. Early in the morning, the lighting can look really cool from the balcony viewpoint.
You may also like…
- Intermediate Canyoning in Madeira: An Epic Adventure Guide
- Hiking to the Hidden Waterfall of Cascata Agua d’Alto near Santana
- The Full Guide to Hiking Levada dos Tornos to Monte in Funchal
- What It’s Like Driving in Madeira
- 12 of the Best Hikes to Do in Madeira
Recap of hiking PR11 Vereda dos Balcões in Ribeiro Frio
The PR11 is one of our favourite hikes in Ribeiro Frio. It’s amazing if you’re passing by the area or just looking for something short to do.
The Balcoes Viewpoint is stunning in so many ways. From the birds to the views, it’s an awesome short levada trail to do on the island.
The Laurisilva Forest here in the Ribeiro Frio Natural Reserve is stunning and an awesome place to spend an afternoon. You have Levada do Furado, the Environmental Center, and even a fish farm up here in Ribeiro Frio!
If you have any questions about the hike or other hikes to do in Madeira, feel free to DM us on Instagram @redwhiteadventures or leave a comment below! We’re always happy to help.
Have an amazing time exploring this little paradise in the middle of the Atlantic.