There has never been a better time to visit the “Hawaii of Europe.” The Azores remain just as unique and alluring as ever, but getting there has become much more affordable. The 2015 deregulation of air travel increased competition and dramatically decreased airfares to São Miguel. So book your trip, pack your bags, and add these 11 items to your list of “must-dos” in the amazing Azores.
You’ll have your pick of peaks to admire on this chain of nine volcanic isles. Rising from the Atlantic’s bottom 10,000 feet below, the Azores are actually some of the world’s tallest mountains. Mt. Capelinhos on Faial is the highest spot in all of Portugal – and the site of the most recent volcanic eruption in 1957. Traveling from island to island, you’ll travel around many dormant peaks. Don’t miss Pico’s namesake cone: It is perfect for trekking around, and delivers a perfectly magnificent view from its top.
The twin blue and green lakes inside an ancient volcanic crater on São Miguel Island have long been the quest of explorers. Legend has it that the lakes were created by the tears of star-crossed lovers. Today, you can take a tour from Ponta Delgada and see one of the most beautiful and famous sights in the Azores.
The Azores are known for their verdant green landscapes. The footpaths that began life as highways for villagers and livestock have now been restored to host trekkers of all skill levels. Beginners can enjoy a stroll through the 1700’s botanical masterpiece, Terra Nostra Park on São Miguel. Another easy jaunt takes hikers to view some of the famous waterfalls of Flores. More advanced hikers can find long walks on bluffs overlooking the ocean, around hydrangea-rimmed volcanic craters, and to the tops of the highest volcanic peaks.
You will love the sight of these fairy tale structures that dot the countryside in many shapes, colors and sizes. The design of the Azorean windmill likely originated in the Netherlands and morphed to match the unique needs and landscape of each island.
When you’re 800 miles west of Portugal and 2,100 miles east of New York, you can expect to see some spectacular ocean sights – and the Azores does not disappoint. Board a boat on São Miguel, Faial, or Pico, and you’ll likely come eye-to-tail with the world’s largest inhabitants. Whales love the Azores’ warm summer waters. Sperm whales, pilot whales, and many other species come back year after year – especially after the islanders stopped whale hunting in 1984.
A walk through any village in the Azores will transport you back to the 1950s – if not the 1750s. Terceira is particularly blessed with picturesque ports, including Porto Judeu and Angra do Heroísmo. Angra do Heroismo is the oldest town on the islands, and served as a major harbor for New World voyages. It boasts a fortress and castle overlooking the town.
Volcanic islands are typically short on sandy beaches. But on Santa Maria, the oldest island in the chain, you can enjoy Praia Formosa, the longest white sand beach in the Azores. Or have a swim at one of the many beaches around São Miguel island, some fringed with black volcanic sand.
When the Portuguese settled the Azores in the 15th century, they brought along their donkeys. Isolated breeding resulted in a tinier, and cuter-than-usual, island burro. At one point, there were about 8,000 of these mini beasts of burden – most likely surpassing the human population of the day – but fewer than 100 remain. Today, you can meet one of these darlings on Graciosa, Pico and other islands.
The Azores’ volcanic legacy makes for excellent water experiences. In Furnas on São Miguel, you can soak in natural hot springs and swim in a hot springs swimming pool. On Terceira, head for the black lava seaside pools filled with cool Atlantic water for a more refreshing seaside splash.
Portugal is known for its festivals, and celebrations in the Azores are some of the most unique and fantastic in all of Europe. The biggest is São Miguel’s six-day, post-Easter bash in honor of Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres. Terceira holds the joyous celebration of St. John (Sanjoaninas) in late June and a Running of the Bulls (Tourada a Corda) daily from May through September. Pico’s Fringe Festival takes place in June and Santa Maria hosts musicians from around the world for its Maré do Agosto concerts. Faial wraps up the season with its Week of the Sea (Semana do Mar) festival in August.
The Azores are world renown for their unique cuisine, especially their seafood and cheeses. When you’re on the islands, be sure to try all the local specialties. You can sip some cozido, the meat and vegetable stew cooked underground in volcanic steam. Don’t miss a taste of Europe’s only local pineapples and tea, grown in the fields of São Miguel. To wash it all down, enjoy a gin and tonic at Peter’s Café Sport on Faial, as sailors have for a century. Or take a sip of Verdelho wine from the vineyards of Pico. Saúde!
Discover the Possibilities! Portugal.com knows the Azores. Whether you’ve got 7, 10 or 14 days, we have an Azores tour package that will maximize your time and show you the most famous and unique parts of these amazing islands. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information today!