Last updated on June 14th, 2023
Wanting to travel to Mars but don’t have the means to do that yet? You don’t have to look very far as there is an extraordinary island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean rift zone that boasts landscapes that are simply out of this world. Madeira Island is the place to be if you want to satiate your appetite for adventure, trekking terrains high and low that give “other planet entirely”. One of those being the Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço.
On the easternmost coast of Madeira Island is the long peninsula of São Lourenço. It’s a stretch of green meadows and red volcanic sand sitting atop sea cliffs with veins of black and maroon diving into the blue waters. The peninsula is home to one of the most beautiful and popular hikes on the island that you’ll want to uncover for yourself!
You’d be starting off strong with an adventure along the PR8 trail taking you across Ponta de São Lourenço, and finishing off at the Ponta do Furado, a stunning viewpoint staring out into the Atlantic and the adjacent islands of the peninsula that cannot be reached by foot. You might find yourself having travelled to Mars as you hike the path through this rocky, red and black landscape resembling a dragon’s tail emerging from the ocean.
Arriving to Ponta de São Lourenço Trailhead
When in Madeira, we highly recommend travelling with your own car and doing a full road trip of the island. There’s no better way to explore Madeira and navigating as well as driving on their roads are among the easiest we’ve ever done in all our travels! Not only that, but car hires are the lowest we’ve seen in Europe, even in high season, and there are no toll roads to pass through in the archipelago, as opposed to mainland Portugal.
Driving your own vehicle, punch in “PR8 Verada da Ponta de São Lourenço” in Google Maps and you’ll be lead straight to the end of ER109, marked by a large roundabout. You’ll have plenty of room to park on the outer layer of the cul-de-sac if you come early enough to beat the crowds – by this, I mean like 45 minutes before sunrise. Come any later, and you’ll likely have to park on the sides of the road or in the small, designated parking lots which are further up ER109. It can definitely be a bit of a walk so prepare ahead and try not to arrive too late in the morning!
Our most recommended time to do the PR8 hike is for sunrise. It’s the best time to have most of the trail to yourself and be on your way out before the rush. Given that this is a hike on the eastern coast, capturing sunrise is even more of an incentive to start the hike early at the break of dawn. But Ponta de São Lourenço is also veritably one of the best hikes to do for sunset. Doing so can be an exquisite experience of reaching the end of the trail, Ponta do Furado, when the sky is vibrant with the falling sun, and you’ll have enough light during blue hour to return to your starting point. The downside of doing the hike at the end of the day is that many others think to do the same, making it hard to find yourself a place to park – yet not impossible!
Hiking Ponta de São Lourenço
The trail is incredibly defined with built-in stone steps and guardrails throughout, and the dirt path is mostly quite wide for two-way traffic. It’s certainly constructed for beginner hikes and families in mind, so you shouldn’t have to worry about any technical parts throughout the trail. Over 7km roundtrip and over 400m in elevation gain, the hike is moderately challenging and will take roughly 3 hours to complete if you stay on the path and don’t venture off trail too much.
There’s a cute café called the Casa do Sardinha (Sardine House) that you can stop by at for a light meal on your way back after meeting the summit – a great spot for an early lunch for you morning hikers, or dinner for those of you doing a day’s end trek.
The trail starts off nice and easy, going down a beaten path, steps and some sections of wooden plank boardwalks and bridges. After about 15 minutes of light trekking, you’ll get a clearer picture of D’Abra Bay on your right side, spotting circular shapes floating in the water indicating the offshore fish farm.
The path then veers left and descends your first major viewpoint: Miradouro de São Lourenço, where you can point at all the tall basalt columns keeping their stance against the crashing waves, and the formidable outlines of the red and black cliffs of the peninsula. From this checkpoint, you could make your way down the steps leading to São Lourenço Beach, the black pebble shoreline of the D’Abra Bay you could see from the trail just 10 minutes before.
If you’re feeling more adventurous and have more time to spend, definitely consider climbing to the highest viewpoint in the area, marked by a white, rectangular structure that you can see from a distance to the north about 20 minutes of walking from the trailhead. It’s not for the faint of heart, and there are no guardrails here, but it sure is humbling to look down upon the steep, black cliffs and the basalt structures that jut out of the lapping waves beside the jagged coast.
To reach this point, you’d have to just spot the São Lourenço Beach to your right and it would be moments before the trail curves left and down towards Miradouro de São Lourenço. There is no defined trail, but just an upwards hill off the beaten path that leads to the elevated structure. We made it up here within about 10 minutes of a steep and careful climb and sat here for a good hour admiring the magnificent views, grabbed an early lunch that we packed with only each other’s company and the wind’s! We made our way back down and continued along PR8 as the crowds started to come in and the sun came out.
The trail continues along a dirt path with some narrow sections but nothing to be worried about. A short ridge walk a little past the halfway point is completely guarded on both sides and you’ll get a beautiful vantage from here. Continue onwards to reach the campsite, the sardine house and finally, Miradouro Ponta do Furado to capture the rest of the long dragon’s tail of São Lourenço.
What a fulfilling few hours to reel in your amazing journey on Madeira Island! Be sure to check out my 7-day ultimate Madeira road trip guide and itinerary to discover more of what to do when you visit Madeira.