You find the Azores there where Atlantis sank into the ocean… The only island group in the middle of the Atlantic Sea. Aren’t those interesting? Yes they are! They are the most stunning piece of nature that Europe has got! This Portuguese colony is surprisingly unknown… Even better for you to have this beauty all to yourself.
What to expect?
Ever been to Hawaii, New Zealand or Iceland? Picture a mixture of those and you get the Azores. There are nine islands, which all vary in shape and vegetation. The largest, Sao Miguel, has the most variation in nature. You find here countless waterfalls, viewpoints, hot springs, crater lakes, cliffs, beaches, tea fields, flowers, dolphins and whales. On top of that, the prices are low and the locals are very friendly and welcoming.
With so much to do, you can spend months on this relatively small island without getting bored! We don’t have that time, so below – ánd in the map – you find my recommendations.
The best way to experience the natural beauty, is by walking. Don’t worry, this aren’t full day trekkings, the most hikes are 2 or 3 hours. Good shoes are recommended but you can turn to the Decathlon if you forgot those (shopping is always part of the fun ;)). The trails are available on this website or at the tourist information for free! My favourites where in order: SMI9(+SMI11), SMI35, SMI37, SMI21, SMI2, SMI6(+SMI22) and would have loved to try out more! (No idea where SMI stands for bit it sounds tasty). Most trails bring you to either waterfalls, cliff views or to a lake.
Beaches and natural Swimming pools
You will not find white sand beaches and 30+ temperatures on Sao Miguel. However, parts of the island have a very Mediterranean vibe! Especially in the North you find a dryer climate which is perfect for colourful flowers and plamtrees. All over the island you find black sand beaches and pretty rock pools. I enjoyed a very nice afternoon on Sao Roque, watching surfers catching waves. See map for more pools and beaches!
The most paraded waterfall is Ribeira dos Caldeiroes (see map) with a parking area, restaurant and garden. Indeed the most impressive, but my favourite’s being waterfall Salto do Prego which you can get to by trail SMI9 and takes one hour hiking. In the middle of the forest with the blue pool… just mesmerizing. There are a lot more, also smaller, waterfalls to discover while hiking. For example on SMI21 and SMI35
Just cruise around and you will encounter many many viewpoints. Most viewpoints are equipped with picnic spots and well maintained. There are beautiful flowery bushes and on the larger ones sometimes bbq places and toilets. The absolute best viewpoint is Ponta do Sossego on the far east. Breathtaking!! Very close secondly comes Boca do Inferno and Vista do Rei. Those viewpoints give you the frames of the blue-green coloured crater lakes Cete Citades. Last one from an abandoned hotel!!
The Azores are in the midst of whale trekking routes, four species of whales go by the island. Also various species of dolphins are around. From Ponta Delgada you can do tours to see them! I skipped this, because I couldn’t choose between all the beauty on the main land. And honestly, I keep high hopes to spot a whale from a plane some day 😉
The icon of the Azores is the tw o coloured lake Cete Citades. Even more spectacular because of viewpoint Vista do Rei from an abandoned hotel (and how we looove abandoned buildings). Of course you can also hike here, but I drove. Also to viewpoint Boca do Inferno (don’t miss this one!). I did hike to Lagoa del Fogo (SMI2) and around Lagoa Furnas (SMI6+22). The hiking wasn’t that much fun actually. From closeby the crater lakes are just – lakes. They look at there best from above.
I will be honest with you. There’s one place on this island that’s unreal. Mainly because of the lack of tourists… Surrounded by hills covered in lush vegetation there’s a waterfall that supplies hot water to an idyllic pool. Where you can swim. Almost by yourself. With singing frogs on the background. For €2. This almost magical place is called Caldeira Velha, and I can only be grateful that there aren’t masses of tourists on the island to spoil this little oasis.
I always love tea fields. They bring something magical, especially in beautiful areas like the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. On Sao Miguel you find the only tea fields of Europe, and they are just as stunning as elsewhere in the world! There are two fields close to each other: Porto Formoso and Cha Gorreana. Poto Formosa is smaller, but offers great views to the sea. Both have a museum aside as well and a resto to try the tea. SMI 28 leads you through Cha Gorreana.
Every big island needs it’s smaller island. Sao Miguel has one crater island next to village Vila Franca. This little island looks insane from above, rocks with in the middle a perfect circled lake. Ferry’s run in the summer season every hour and the island only allows 100 visitors per day.
Also, every island needs it’s hidden emerald lake. With some effort I found Poco Azul, and could hardly believe this was real. Mainly because the complete lack of tourists or tourist facilities! This little blue wonder is just one of the bypasses on SMI 21. Like it’s just a pool. Well, let’s keep it this way!
Culture, people and food on Sao Miguel
This island isn’t famous for impressive architecture. However, the villages aren’t ugly or dirty either. They all have a different vibe. Furnas gets more rain and therefore is very green and tropical. The cities on the coast have a more beachy atmosphere. All are happy coloured, neat and quite.
Ponta Delgada is a comfy little capital with coble stone streets, little alleys and even some street art. It felt nice to walk around and pop in some of the shops. On a rainy day you can even go shopping in the mall. In Ponta Delgada you find most Whale watching tours and also the best Asian/Italian restaurant on the island: Lan.
If you are looking for cute little terraces and lunchrooms, you will not find this in Sao Miguel, that’s the only downside. However, there are some nice local restaurants and the friendliness of the people make up for everything! Prices are also incredibly low, being on a secluded island. They make cheese, wine, tobacco and a lot more products themselves. Incredible!
How to get around in Sao Miguel
The car is your friend here (€200/10 days). Although a lot of hikes start at bus stops as well! If you fancy the cheap and adventurous, go for public transport. I haven’t checked on bus schedules, but it all seems very well organized on this archipelago. If you don’t opt for the car, I recommend to stay in Furnas, as there’s a lot to do around this village. Another option is to rent a motor bike for a few days.
Which island to choose in the Azores?
This is the real deal, where to go in the Azores? There are nine islands, divided over three groups. Sao Miguel is the main island and the most touristy one. This is also the one with the most natural attractions. Another natural beauty is Flores, you find crazy cliffs and lush nature here as well. The other islands are more rocky. Terceira and Faial offer the most culture in terms of villages.
How to get around the Azores?
Of course, you want to go island hopping. We also wanted this. I booked some tickets to find out afterwards that we where flying to Terceira instead of Sao Miguel. We thought about taking local flights or ferry‘s, but this is not recommended by me!! Because of inconsistent weather, you never know if your flight or ferry will run. Furthermore the flights are expensive and the ferry journey is looong… but if you have the time and the money, go ahead.
Azores and Portugal main land
The flight from Europe takes about 4 hours only. I paid €120 return. Almost all flights from Europe will have a stopover in Portugal’s main land. I choose tickets that flew over Porto and Lisbon and made sure the layovers where long enough to visit those villages. A very good idea of myself! As I could combine all Sao Miguel’s nature with the ancient cultural villages and welcoming heat thither.