The Azores. What the heck is that? Well, let me tell you. A month ago I hadn’t heard of the place either. But thanks to many google searches and Instagram hashtag stalking I chose this beautiful remote island as my Thanksgiving vacation destination. Now I’m going to tell you why these magical islands need to be on your travel list, top things to do in the Azores, AND I’ll share my Sao Miguel island Itinerary with you!
Uncommonly known as Europe’s Hawaii, the Azores is an archipelago made of nine volcanic islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean right smack in between Boston and Portugal. Look at a map and zoom in. I swear it’s there. In fact, you can take a 4 hour flight direct from Boston to the Azores on SAS airlines or you can do what I did, and fly to Lisbon first and take a Ryanair flight from there. No matter how you chose to get there, the important thing is that you do.
I chose Sao Miguel Island for my getaway, the airport there is called Ponta Delgado. Unfortunately island hopping isn’t really a thing as it’s expensive and requires planes. So if you only have a week like I did, I recommend staying put and exploring the entire island for all it has to offer. Establishing home base in Ponta Delgado is the way to go, it’s centrally located, close to the airport, and heck it’s the only “big” city on the island offering so many things to do in the Azores.
Okay, so you booked your hostel/hotel/airbnb. Next up on the Azores Itinerary is renting a car. That’s the best way to see everything. I’d advocate to leave the GPS behind too and do things the old fashioned way. Yes with a map, it’s way more fun that way I promise, plus the street signs make it easy. You can reserve your car online before you go here. Pro tip- make sure you specify if you need an Automatic car when booking as the default is a manual stick shift car.
Yay, I’ve convinced you. You’re on your way to the Azores. Now, what to do when you get there? Where do I start! Keep reading for the the top 10 things to do in the Azores!
I’m serious. Literally just drive and I guarantee you’ll be in awe for days. Drive east, drive west, and drive north. Every part of the island is so different, which is what makes this place so magical. I had four full days here and spent one day exploring each part and by the end of it, had circled the entire island.
2. Green, Green, and More Green
Seriously this entire island is every shade of green you can imagine. Driving along the east side of the island to Nordeste you’ll find the most beautiful unique flowers. There are a few look out points where you can stop and photograph them.
3. Beaches and Whale Watching
I chose “Futurismo” for my whale watching tour, they guaranteed seeing whales or dolphins or your money back. The high season for whale watching is in the summer months, but I was lucky enough to see 4 different whales and many many dolphins during my November outing. Be sure to make a reservation as the tours do fill up; I did a half day trip but full day trips are offered as well. If given the option I recommend choosing the speed boat over the catamaran for a bit more of an adventure. The speed boat holds 10-12 people by rows of two where the Catamaran is more of a yacht style and holds hundreds. In the speed boat not only are you closer to the water and waves, but you’re closer to the animals too! Dolphins, similar to jetskis, love to ride the wakes of boats and we had schools of them swim up right (and under!) us. Another benefit of the speed boat is that you can get to the whales faster. The company has look out stations that radios the boats when they spot animals, so as soon as word of whales come, you’re able to dart off to catch up to them. (Pro tip- the waves can be pretty intense so if you’re prone to motion sickness or hate the feeling of roller coasters you may want to opt for the Catamaran.)
4. Geothermal Activity
You have geothermal volcanic activity, so much so that it can cook your lunch! In a town called Furnas, restaurants serve Cozido das Furnas. This authentic Azorian dish is prepared by lowering a pot of meat and vegetables in a hot spring heated by volcanic steam. The stew cooks for 5 hours, and voila! The hot springs work their magic. I’d be lying if I said it was the best meal I’ve ever had, but it was the most unique that’s for sure. I chose Tony’s Restaurant for my stew, but if you’re feeling ambitious, for 3e you can bring your own stew to the springs and cook it yourself. In addition to the many things to do in the Azores, there are many options on what to eat, but this stew was definitely the most unique!
5. Ocean sunsets
No Ultimate Azores Itinerary is complete without beautiful ocean sunsets! My favorite spot was in Mosteiros, which is on the northwest side of the island. Rock formations, black volcanic sand, and cotton candy sky’s left me breathless. Can you see why these beautiful sunsets made my top 10 things to do in Azores list?!
Lagoa das Sete Cidades is the most well know “postcard” view of the island. Legend has it that a shepherd fell in love with a princess and they were forbidden to see each other. On their final goodbye they cried so much that the lakes were formed. Lagoa Verde, the green lake for the princess, and Lagoa Azul, the blue lake for the shepherd; named after their eye colors. There are two great vantages points to see the lakes- Vista do Rei and Boca do Inferno. You can drive to each of these points or you can hike around both lakes, which will take you a solid day. Once you’ve enjoyed the views from the top, you can head down to the bottom of the lakes into the town where you’ll find a few little cafes perfect for lunch. (Pro tip- I bought a collapsible foldable trekking pole (brand Bagail) for the the trip, which I found super helpful when climbing down some of the steep trails, and it fit perfectly in my backpack when I wasn’t using it.)
7. Hikes to More Hikes
Lagoa do Fogo was probably my favorite spot on the island. You can reach the top view point called Pico da Barossa by car where you can see both the south and north coasts at the same time. Really put things into perspective! I recommend packing a beer or two in your backpack to enjoy at the top. Next you can ditch your car for awhile and hike down to the base of the lagoon for pure peace and serenity. Pro tip- I invested in a good pair of hiking shoes before the trip. I used this forum to help me choose ( I went with #3), and ordered it via Amazon prime.
8. Hikes to Waterfalls
Have you noticed that my Ultimate Azores Itinerary has a lot of hikes? Sorry I’m not sorry! The Salto do Prego waterfall was my favorite hike and can be found after an hour hike from the base of Fail de Terre. There is an awesome phone app which doesn’t require data called “walkme” that will help you find this hiking trail and more! The wooded trail is clearly marked and is easy to follow, however it can be steep in some spots so make sure it’s a not a rainy day when doing this one. After you’re down ooing and ahhing at the waterfall and ready to head back, you can go the way you came or take an alternate marked route heading to Sanguinho. Here you will find an old village with typical homes and farms. This is a circular winding downward brick paved path which lends for some unique stunning views.
9. Hikes to Hot Springs
There were three different hot springs that I came across, all very unique and different. Caldeira Velha has a waterfall, it is not as warm as the others but makes a nice picture. Parque Terra Nostra you’ll find in the middle of a park, which reminded me of being in Jurassic Park. Lastly, my favorite spring was Poca Da Dona Beija, which is a collection of 7 different pools all of different temperatures. All were wonderful, especially at night after long days of exploring. Admission for the three ranged from 2e-6e. (Pro tip- bring your own towel or one from your Airbnb to avoid paying a rental fee!)
10. Tea or Liquor, Pick your Poison
Sao Miguel is home to the oldest and only tea plantation in all of Europe, Gorreana. They offer free tea tastings, tours of the facility, and the tea plantation is an awesome photo op spot. Tea makes a great cheap gift to bring back for family and friends, with a box of tea costing only 1e. Maybe tea isn’t your thing but liquor is? Mulher de Capote is a well known Azorean liqueur factory that’s worth a visit, even if just for an afternoon pit stop. They also offer free tastings and have carry on friendly bottles you can bring back for 2e.
Well. There you have it. My top 10 things to do in the Azores. My challenge to you is to visit yourself and come back to me with your top 10! AND if you have more time to spend while in Portugal, take a Sintra day trip from Lisbon or check out this Portugal road trip itinerary for more ideas on great Portugal cities to see!