After a pretty successful few days of photography at the coast it was time to tackle the final goal of our Madeira journey – photographing Pico Arieiro. Being the third highest peak on the island it offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and I couldn't wait to experience those myself.
The only problem was the weather. Since our arrival on the island, Madeira's mountains had been shrouded in clouds most of the time. Pico Arieiro itself hadn't seen direct sunlight for at least five days – I regularly checked the webcam on its summit. With just two more days on Madeira we made a first drive up there for sunset, hoping that it would clear up.
And it was close. During our 30 minute drive from our hotel in Santo da Serra we passed different layers of clouds and the sun peeked through a couple of times. But as we approached the parking area at the peak, we were again engulfed by clouds. The next morning there wasn't much of a change so we made another attempt the next evening – again without luck.
One could think that with a webcam up on the summit it would be easy to visit the peak in perfect conditions: Just wait for the webcam to show clear views and drive up there. The problem with this approach is, that especially during the winter months, windows of good light in the mountains are relatively short. So there's a big chance that during the drive up there, which, depending on the starting location, can take up to an hour or more, new clouds move in.
That's why we decided to gamble, starting our drive while the peaks where still surrounded by clouds. After this didn't work twice, I drove up there one final time on my last morning on the island. And the drive into the unknown proofed successful. A few 100 meters below the peak I already left the clouds behind me. I was the first car in the parking lot and I directly made my way to the viewpoint.
Best Viewpoint for Sunrise
The selection of the Juncal Viewpoint for sunrise was another leap of faith, since I hadn't been able to do proper scouting the two times I had been up there. The thick clouds had prevented that. The research I did online also didn't give me a clear direction. Most landscape photographers prefer Pico Ruivo for sunrise, because it has some obvious subject matter.
But I didn't want those obvious views, of which I had seen many photos already. I wanted to find something less photographed. I will let you decide, if I achieved that with the photo above. I certainly hadn't seen such a photo of this tree during my research and I was pretty stoked when I spotted it as the sun began to crawl over the horizon.
And despite using the long lens* here, with a bit more time I could have also found various foregrounds to make wide-angle compositions work. Which means that, if you ever plan to do a sunrise shoot up on Pico Arieiro in the winter months, spend some time exploring Miradouro do Juncal and you'll not be disappointed. Arriving at the car park, just head right towards it – it's just a five minute walk.
The other viewpoints are located on the other side of the peak along the hiking trail towards Pico Ruivo. The views on that side are more dramatic and provide various angles to photograph during sunset. In the summer months the light should also get there early in the morning, so it’s an option during sunrise too. Based on my research I found Miradouro do Ninho da Manta to have potential. And if you walk a bit further you'll find more interesting views.
Unfortunately I wasn't able to explore those myself, because just after I finished my photo shoot at Miradouro do Juncal, it got too windy on the summit for the hike towards Pico Ruivo and I have to save it for my next visit to Madeira.
Behind the Scenes Video from Pico Arieiro
In the video below I share spectacular footage of the mountains and give tips on photographing Pico Arieiro.
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