The Laurissilva Forest: UNESCO World Heritage Site on Madeira

The Laurissilva Forest is a unique and ancient subtropical laurel forest located on the Portuguese island of Madeira. It is one of the most important examples of this type of ecosystem in the world, and it has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999. The Laurissilva Forest covers an area of approximately 15,000 hectares and is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna.

The forest is located in the central mountainous region of Madeira and can be accessed from several points on the island. The forest is characterized by its lush vegetation, which includes many species of laurel trees, as well as other plants such as heathers, ferns, mosses, lichens, and orchids. The forest also provides habitat for numerous species of birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals.

History of the Laurissilva Forest

The Laurissilva Forest has existed for thousands of years and is believed to have been formed during the Tertiary period (65-2 million years ago). It was once much more widespread than it is today, but due to human activities such as deforestation and land use changes, it has been reduced to its current size. Despite this reduction in size, the Laurissilva Forest still remains an important example of this type of ecosystem.

In 1999, the Laurissilva Forest was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of its importance as an example of a subtropical laurel forest. This designation has helped to protect the forest from further destruction and has allowed for conservation efforts to be put in place.

Exploring the Laurissilva Forest

The Laurissilva Forest can be explored by foot on several well-marked hiking trails. The most popular trail is the Levada do Caldeirão Verde, which winds its way through the forest and leads to a stunning waterfall. This trail is approximately 13 km long and takes about 5-6 hours to complete round-trip.

Another popular trail is the Levada do Rei, which is an easier hike that is approximately 10 km long and takes about 3-4 hours to complete round-trip. This trail offers stunning views of the forest and is a great option for those who are not experienced hikers.

There are also several guided tours available that provide visitors with a deeper understanding of the history and ecology of the forest. These tours are led by knowledgeable guides who can answer questions and provide insight into the unique features of the forest.

In addition to hiking and guided tours, visitors can also explore the Laurissilva Forest by bike or on horseback. These options offer a unique perspective on the forest and are a great way to see more of the area.


The Laurissilva Forest is a natural wonder that should not be missed when visiting Madeira. Its unique ecosystem and ancient history make it a truly special place to explore. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or just looking for a leisurely walk, the Laurissilva Forest has something to offer everyone.

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