The Azores Islands? Where the hell is that?? We heard that several times when we told people that we were going there. We can't really blame them because we didn't know much about this place ourselves until we stumbled upon some amazing pictures online.
The Azores is an archipelago composed of nine volcanic islands in the North Atlantic Ocean. It's an autonomous region of Portugal, located about 1,000 miles (give or take) from both Europe and Africa.
An abundance of natural beauty and the possibilities for some epic hikes on an island that's almost in the middle of an ocean drew us towards planning a trip. In addition, there are no predatory animals present, so you can feel safe out in the wilderness and although it can get pretty windy, the weather here is overall favorable year round, which is always a plus!
We set our sights on São Miguel, the largest of the islands, also with the largest population (appx. 140,000) and nicknamed "The Green Island" for it's lush, green landscapes. In the process of looking up flights, we learned that Boston is actually the only city in the U.S. (currently) that offers nonstop flights to São Miguel. There's only one airport on the island and that's Ponta Delgada (PDL).
Renting a car here is a must, as getting around the island otherwise would be inconvenient to say the least. Having a car puts you in control of your schedule and you can get to more remote parts of the island. We recommend staying in either Ponta Delgada and driving from there or staying in Furnas at one of the area hotels with thermal pools.
The official language of the island is Portuguese, so keep that in mind when planning a visit. It wouldn't hurt to learn a little Portuguese, however you'll find that many locals on the island speak English.
Now, let's talk about some dope things to do:
Lagoa do Fogo aka "Lake of Fire"
This is quite possibly the most spectacular view in the Azores. Lagoa do Fogo is a turquoise blue crater lake that sits at an elevation of 28m (92ft) surrounded by mountains and forest on all sides with the highest point at 949m (3,114ft). It's a perfect day hike as you can make it down to the lake and back up in 2 to 4 hours depending on pace. It may be worth spending some more time down by the lake taking in the views if you can. The drive up is very scenic (as is the whole island) but try to go on a clear day if possible. It can get cloudy here pretty quickly and you may miss out on all the scenery. Bucket list worthy hike.
This is one of the best known spots in the Azores for natural beauty. The two lakes, one blue and one green, are surrounded by mountains, lush green forest, and a small charming town of 700 residents. The elevation of the lake is 264m (866ft) with the highest point at 795m (2608ft). You can rent a cabin here and take in the scenery, day hike around the lake or just auto tour the area and catch a beautiful sunset. This views here are stunning to say the least.
Che Gorreanna Tea Plantation
The Che Gorreanna Tea Plantation is the oldest and currently the only tea plantation in Europe! Family-owned and operated since 1883. Who would have thought? Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to spend much time here because we arrived kind of late and even so, it was still worth the trip. The plantation is gorgeous and it ended up being the perfect spot to catch a sunset over the seemingly endless fields of tea. If you do manage to get here early enough, you can sample the tea and even take a hike along one of the nearby trails.
Salto do Prego
Hiking is one of the most enjoyable activities you can do on this island and the Salto do Prego waterfall trail doesn't disappoint. The hike starts in a small town called Faial da Terra and follows its way up a river through lush vegetation with wildflowers and bushes with edible berries. The waterfall itself isn't a huge drop but the serenity and rainforest surroundings make this worthwhile. This hike should take between 2 to 3 hours and there are additional trails that connect if you have more time. If rain is in the forecast, make sure to give yourself extra time to get back to the trail's starting point as some spots can become temporarily impassable due to flash flooding. We ran across this issue ourselves when we completed the hike. On our way back, we encountered what looked like a rushing waterfall where previously only a trickle of water was flowing. This prevented us from crossing back until after the water had eased a bit. It's still a worthwhile experience however, so just be prepared and take caution when you go.
Furnas Thermal Pools
Natural hot springs and thermal pools? Absolutely. Geothermal activity makes the Furnas area unique and definitely worth a visit. You can stay at a hotel with thermal baths or just visit for a quick day soak. Check out Furnas Boutique Hotel Thermal & Spa or Terra Nostra Garden Hotel. It's definitely worth stopping through this quiet, small town for at least a day, but if you have time, relax a bit and enjoy the experience. You can also hike trails in the area to view pools of boiling mud, boiling rivers and emerald green lakes.
Auto Touring - Miradouros
This is a must do considering the fact renting a car is pretty much a requirement here. Some public transportation is available but most of the best spots on the island would be inaccessible unless you had a lot of time and wanted to hike extremely long distances to get anywhere. Get a car. Seriously. The "miradouros" or overlooks on this island are well thought out and beautiful. They know that this place looks amazing and the infrastructure was created so that you can enjoy all the views of the cliffs, bluffs, rolling hills, puffy clouds passing over the mountains and the ocean. Everything looks like a postcard. So drive around, take in some views or have a picnic. No matter what you choose to do, auto touring will be the best way to explore more of the island.
The capital of the Azores archipelago is quaint, historic and probably one of the best places to start and end your excursions on the Azores Islands. Most of the tour companies are based here, along with a third of Sao Miguel Island's total population. It's a very walkable town despite being hilly and it feels extremely safe. You'll easily stumble upon cozy bars and restaurants as you wander through the cobblestone streets in the evenings, however everything shuts down early here. This is definitely not the place you travel to if you are looking for nightlife and crazy parties until 5am. Even still, Ponta Delgada is known for it's special liqueurs, fresh local seafood and quality grass-fed beef, so you'll want to spend at least one evening out and about. If you're looking to try something that's unique to the island, go for an Azorean Pineapple! You'll find plenty of them, along with many other interesting things to explore as you wander around this charming city.