How to climb Mount Pico – Portugal’s Highest Peak – Açores
Climbing Mount Pico has been a bucket list item and a personal objective for a couple of years for me. It’s the highest peak in Portugal and of course, just like every other tall mountain, represents an idea of personal achievement and satisfaction for those of us who like to believe we’re winners. So, how hard is it to climb Mount Pico?
For those of you who are not regular hikers, you’ll have a bit of work set out for you but by no means is Pico out of your range. For about 6 weeks before the trip I was running and hiking almost daily, especially up and down steep hills, easy for those of us living in Madeira 😜
The next time I climb Pico I will adopt a similar strategy but i will add in some gym work as well. Carrying the tents, sleeping bags, food, water and all the gear is tough. I recommend some work in the gym strengthening your core, back and legs. The knees take a pounding on the way back down the mountain so you’ll want to find a workout programe to strengthen the muscles around the knees.
I can’t even describe the gratitude I have for my girlfriend forcing me to buy new hiking boots for this trip. If your boots are old and maybe losing some grip, now it’s time for a new pair! Buy the best ones you can afford. Up on the crater it gets pretty cold especially at night. You’ll want good gloves, a beanie, some layers, thermal pants and good windbreakers. Get a good jacket but remember, you gotta carry it up, so don’t bring one of those huge, 10kg jackets 🤣
We went with a guide from the company PicoMeUp and they provided us transport to the beginning of the hike, a top of the line backpack, tent, 0 degree Celsius sleeping bag, mattress, pillow, headlamp, hiking poles, gloves and a tea mug.
I wouldn’t want to climb pico by myself. There’s no trail, only posts every couple of hundred meters numbered 1 to 47 to kind of “indicate the way”. Get yourself a good guide! I highly recommend Manuel from PicoMeUp.
Manuel guided us up the best path, warned us about sketchy sections and also helped the slower and more anxious hikers to get to the top. At the time we were climbing he had climbed the mountain 170 something times, without any accidents, and had already climbed the mountain 3 times in the last 48 hours. He’s made of steal and you’ll want him around.
So I believe the best time to climb is in the spring and summer months. We climbed first week of May and had absolutely amazing weather but our guide Manuel did tell us there were people climbing in March already. Only climbing once myself, I’m no expert in exactly when you should climb, better to speak with PicoMeUp for that information.
Also, I highly recommend having a flexible schedule. It’s a possibility that there might be bad weather on the day you originally planned on climbing and your guide might ask you to climb one or even two days later instead. I would personally recommend having a 3 or 4 day buffer, or longer even, if you need to rebook due to weather.
Overnight climb vs day climb
When I come back to climb again I will do the same as we did this time, the overnight climb. I’m sold on it, it’s an experience and you get to see the mountain in all its glory. The sunrise, the sunset, the stars and the moon all make it much more of a mystical experience. Having a rest at the top before having to go down again, is also much welcomed.
If you’re doing the day climb, I’m assuming starting as early as possible and expect to be up and down between 8 to 10 hours and I think you’ll need more physical preparation. If you’re looking for a real challenge, try the night climb, where you head off at 2am, climb the mountain in the dark in time for sunrise at the highest point, not for wussies!
I would highly recommend staying on Pico Island. You can easily spend 4 or 5 days exploring the island and taking in the forests, the dramatic coastline, the vineyards, the sights as well as the incredible gastronomy. The wine from Pico is very unique and world renowned!
We stayed at Porto Velho hostel and it was fresh and new, in the town centre close to all the restaurants, the marina and all the amenities.
There are also neighbouring islands such as Faial and São Jorge and I believe you can get to pico by ferry or private boat (PicoMeUp has one) which would probably require a little bit more planning but could be fun if you’re planning a vacation longer than a couple of days.
Remember this is a small island in the Atlantic and it’s very limited when it comes to “luxury items” make sure you got all your photography equipment for instance, not too many specialty stores around.
At the moment of writing this vlog, you’ll have to take a connection flight if you’re travelling from outside of Portugal, either via Lisbon or Sao Miguel. If you’re flying in from Europe or the UK, you can easily fly into Sao Miguel and explore the Açores or just “lay over” and head straight to Pico for a quick getaway. If you’re flying from further away, it’s a great opportunity to throw a couple of days of Pico island into a Portuguese vacation incorporating the mainland and maybe even Madeira island 😉
Climbing Mount Pico was one of the most satisfying accomplishments of my life and remember very clearly making a promise to myself to get climb the mystic mountain at least once a year, if you’re keen on coming with me, just get in touch 😉
Otherwise, get hold of the boys from PicoMeUp, you won’t regret it!
And finally, we made this little video for you to enjoy… cheers!