A Brief Guide to the Azores
What are the Azores?
The Azores are a group of Portuguese islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, about a two-and-a-half-hour flight away from Lisbon and a four-hour flight away from the UK. Known as the Hawaii of Portugal, this series of volcanic islands has amazing hiking, lakes and craters, stunning viewpoints and is a beautiful place to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. There are nine islands in total, divided into three clusters, each with their own highlights and reasons to visit.
Things to Do
Each island has its own merits and have a distinct feel to them. It is impossible to list everything to do on each island but here is a rough guide for four of the main islands. For hiking lovers, http://trails.visitazores.com/en, has loads of information and detailed walking routes for all of the islands.
Pico (Recommended stay: 2-3 days)
Wherever you are in Pico Island, your eye will be drawn to Pico mountain, and for good reason. This is the highest mountain in Portugal, standing at 2351m, and is a must-do hike if you are coming to the Azores. Taking around 6hrs to do, it’s a fairly challenging hike that can be done with a guide or alone. Apart from the mountain, the coastline of Pico island is very beautiful, and it is worth spending a day driving around the coastal ring-road. The central section of the island has a much more rural countryside feel with volcanic craters to marvel at.
Faial (Recommended stay: 1-2 days)
Although Faial has less of the wow-factor of the other islands, it makes up for that with the charm of its main town, Horta. The Caldeira (volcanic crater) in the centre of the island is a great sight, but can often be covered by cloud, so try to get up there on a day with good weather. The Miradouro de Nossa Senhora de Conceição allows for the best views of Horta and the volcanic beach of Porto Pim is definitely worth a visit.
São Jorge (Recommended stay: 3-4 days)
Home to probably the most stunning hike in all of the Azores, the Fajã dos Cubres hike, São Jorge is the third island in the Triangle, along with Faial and Pico. Don’t bother spending any time in the little towns of Velas or Calheta as there is not much to see; however, this island excels due to its many hiking trails and series of fajãs (areas of land that extend into the sea). These little peninsulas lead to breath-taking scenery all along the coastline of the island.
São Miguel (Recommended stay: 5-6 days)
São Miguel is the biggest island in the Azores and serves as the connection between the Azores and the rest of the world. The biggest town, Ponta Delgada, is the de-facto capital of the Azores, and offers a variety of excursions, including whale-watching and swimming with dolphins. Beyond this, the nature in São Miguel is incredible and can easily fill a week of sightseeing. Particular highlights are Sete Cidades with its twin lakes, home to the postcard picture of the Azores and an intriguing abandoned luxury hotel. The lakes of Lagoa do Fogo, Lagao do Congro and Lagoa de Furnas are all exceptionally beautiful. Amazing views into the Atlantic Ocean and heated thermal waters can be found across the island; perfect for a dip after a long day of exploring. Waterfall hikes, picturesque sunsets and charming seaside towns are found in abundance, so tourists are really spoilt for choice on this island.
Where to Stay
It is worth basing yourself in the bigger towns (eg: Madalena, Horta, Velas, Ponta Delgada) on each island and then renting a car or a scooter to explore. That said, none of the towns are very big, apart from Ponta Delgada on São Miguel. Horta is a particularly nice town, located on Faial island, with lots of restaurants, volcanic beaches and great views of Pico mountain. Ponta Delgada is more built up and provides a good contrast to the other islands – here you can find a variety of different restaurants, cafés and even a nightclub.
How to Get Around
Getting between the islands is surprisingly easy, but it is worth researching in advance. To get between the different island clusters flying is the best option, and these flights are all operated by SATA Air Açores. Once within the different clusters, there are daily boat services run by Atlântico between nearby islands; prepare to get a little bit seasick as the Atlantic Ocean can get a bit choppy.
When travelling around the individual islands, public transport is non-existent. Part of the attraction of the Azores is that the vast majority of each island is undeveloped, giving it a rustic charm and allowing the awesome natural features to really stand out. This means that the only viable option for getting around is to hire a car or a scooter. Car hire and scooter hire is fairly reasonable, ranging between €15-30/day. Always go with a local company rather than the international brands as they will be cheaper and have far better customer service. Car rental stands can be found in all the airports and ferry terminals on every island.
One quick word about the weather – it’s incredibly variable! Locals like to say that there can be “four seasons in one day”, so this means to always have a rain jacket on you. That said, the rain usually passes quite quickly and the temperature is warm almost all-year round.
If you’d like to find out more about The Azores, get in touch with us and we can put together an itinerary for you.