A great walk, but, beware!
We booked a full day trip through the TUI website and as usual the organisation was great. Unfortunately, in late March the weather wasn't good, with permanent cloud covering the center and north of the island. The further up we went the worse it got. At the top of the mountain we were in thick cloud, with a strong wind and horizontal rain. Due to the altitude it was also noticeably colder. Most people had dressed appropriately but some had not, without even a jacket and lightweight shoes. The guides do have some ponchos that they were able to distribute. The weather was so bad that we thought that they might cancel the walk, but hoping it might improve, we carried on. Initially, spirits were high, with wry smiles and a positive attitude. After about 20 minutes you discover quite how waterproof, or not, your gear really is. After an hour or so, most were soaked to the skin!
The scenery, if you can see it, is spectacular with enormous steep slopes and vertiginous valleys, all heavily wooded. Due to the rain, the Levadas and waterfalls were in full flow and a sight to behold. But, it was wet, very wet, with water coming at you from all directions and big muddy puddles on the ground.
After about an hour or so, some of the group had had enough and the guide, who was very good by the way, gave the option for them to take a big shortcut back to the bus, which they did.
The rest of us ploughed on heroically to the 25 fountains waterfall where we had our 'picnic' (you take your own). You can recreate the experience by standing in your shower (cold)and eating soggy sandwiches and biscuits while shivering heavily. A mixed experience of awe for the waterfalls and misery for the weather.
Surprisingly, the area was very busy, with multiple groups coming and going along the trails and paths. In places, the paths are only one person wide, so there was quite a lot of stopping and starting and squeezing past politely.
Most of the route is downhill or flat, but there are a couple of steep climbs in the middle. It is definitely not a place for young children or those with mobility issues. You go through a long dark tunnel at the end so you need a torch or mobile phone at least. The walk lasts for about 4 hours and there are no facilities whatsoever, so if you need the toilet you go in the woods.
So, to conclude, it is a great experience, but you
need to check the weather carefully, dress appropriately and be prepared for a challenge. If you do all that you will have a great time.