The Azores are absolutely magical, I can’t recommend these islands enough. They are a combination of rolling hills, thick green vegetation, a stunning coastline, and beautiful hikes mixed in with hot springs and volcanic rock. The Azores are an archipelago located about two hours off the coast of Portugal deep in the Atlantic Ocean. The largest island is Sao Miguel, with Ponta Delgada being the busiest city. As we were staying for a month we chose to base ourselves there.
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Getting Around: Rent a car. There are several companies though Wayzor and Sixt appear the most popular. We rented from Wayzor (we found the best deal on rentalcars.com) which set us back €160 for the month and we paid €150 for full insurance). The roads are excellent but some streets are very narrow. There is public transport but I wouldn’t rely on using it to see all of the incredible things the Azores has to offer. There is also a bike rental scheme called Atlantic Bikes – the app and sign up process is a bit clunky but the bikes are in excellent condition (e-bikes mainly).
Costs: Another reason to love the Azores? They are not expensive!
Where to stay:
We stayed five minutes outside Ponta Delgada in Sao Roque. Yet another great thing about Sao Miguel is that it’s small so you will never be too far away from any part of the island. We stayed in this Airbnb with a stunning garden view and located right next to a cycle/walking track that runs to Ponta Delgada. It’s a 30 minute walk or 10 minute cycle along the seafront. If you don’t have AirBnB you can sign up using my referral link and get €50 off your fist booking.
We also spent two nights in the incredible five star Azor Hotel – one of my favourite hotels of all time and an incredible breakfast. It’s definitely worth treating yourself for a couple of nights if you can.
Sete Cidades (The seven cities)
Sete Cidades is a small town with beautiful scenery. It also includes a memorable but relatively easy hike that takes about 3 hours, some great lookouts and good food!
Hike: This is an 11km linear hike in a semi circle around a crater. It has incredible 360 degree views and well worth doing. We did it twice!
You will need to have two cars or arrange to be brought back to your car by a taxi unless you want to walk back. You will drive past a carpark that looks like it (and has toilets etc) but keep going a little further and you’ll come to a small dirt carpark which is where you need to begin.
The beginning (up) and end (down) are extremely steep but aside from that it’s relatively easy (and straightforward). I would consider it more of a walk than a hike. Just over halfway through there is a seating area with tables for lunch over a brilliant view. The wall is mainly along a path so footing isn’t too bad but if you have hiking boots I suggest wearing them. The end is a very steep hill down so make sure whatever footwear you have is grippy.
Eat: Afterwards we went to a Tea house “O Poejo” for a well deserved lunch. The menu has options for everyone (including vegan) and the cakes and tea are a must! Highly recommend.
See: Make sure to stop off at the abandoned Monte Palace Hotel next to Miradouro da Vista do Rei. The hotel was built in the late 1980s and was considered the most luxurious hotel around. It closed down 18 months after opening and is now boarded up. You can jump a gate around the back of the hotel to go inside (at your own risk).
You must also visit Miradoura da Groto do Inferno (Hell’s Mouth Viewpoint) – From the viewpoint there are several volcanic craters surrounding the area that make the landscape really unique and different. It is often referred to as São Miguel’s most spectacular viewpoint. To get there, follow the signs to Lagoa do Canário where you can park. Go through the gates (which close at 7pm) and walk about 15-20 minutes. It can be very busy so go early.
Kayak to Ilhéu de Vila Franca
The Vila Franca Islet is an uninhabited islet located off the south coast of São Miguel. it’s surrounding waters are a protected nature reserve but you can visit them. This is what you see in lots of marketing materials and Instagram posts about the Azores.
Do: There is a boat to take you to the island but only in high season (times here). As we travelled in November we booked a Kayak tour with Fun Activities Azores Adventure. At €40 per person the value for money was incredible. Book a couple of days ahead so they have time to apply for a permit to visit the island. We left from Marina de Vila Franca do Campo and kayaked across to the islet. The Marina has a café and toilets. We were fortunate to have the island completely to ourselves. Our guide Paulo was wonderful and full of information about wildlife and the islet – even taking photos underwater for us. We had plenty of time to explore the island and we spent an hour snorkeling just outside it.
Eat: We had lunch in Bar Praia de Água d’Alto, a short drive from the dock. The food was nice (not amazing) but the view was fantastic. For dinner stop off at Restaurant Capitao in Lagoa on your way home. My friends are still raving about their fish stew (and he’ll do a vegetarian one too if you ask). Great priced authentic Azorean dining.
See: Lagoa do Congro is a short hike to a green lake surrounded by greenery. Well worth a visit!
Spend some time in Furnas
Drive about 45 minutes away from Ponta Delgada and you’ll find yourself in Furnas with plenty to do!
See: The botanical gardens Parque Terra Nostra are a popular destination that include a huge thermal pool (€8 admission). Owned by the Terra Nostra Hotel, these are often hailed as one of the most beautiful gardens in Europe with a tropical feel. They have different itineraries for every time of the year. Entrance fee is €8 but if you have lunch at the hotel restaurant admission is complimentary.
The Caldeiras Vulcanicas are also well worth a look. These are volanic hot springs (yes there’s a theme in this area) and small geysers just by the town. You can also buy corn on the cob that’s cooked in the hot springs or sample the mineral water in the water spouts by the main area. Just prepare yourself for the strong smell of sulphur.
Eat: Eat in one of the local restaurants that serves Cozido – a classic Portugese stew made with meat and vegetables. The best part? It’s lowered into an active geyser to cook. Best to book the day before – Terra Nostra Garden Hotel has excellent reviews.
Do: There are two hot springs in Furnas. The Poca da Dona Beija Baths are well worth a visit to rest your weary muscles and the great part is that they are open late. These baths have five thermal pools, lockers and (limited) changing facilities against a tropical, leafy backdrop. I recommend visiting here as it’s getting dark but it’s a busy spot. We visited around 5.15pm midweek and did not have to queue but it filled up around 6pm. You have to wear flip flops or water shoes when walking around. Entry €6 each and spend 90minutes to two hours here. There is another huge hot spring in Parque Terra Nostra (one pool). There’s no need to both. They are open 11pm so it’s a wonderful to spend an evening.
Canyoning in Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeirões & Nordeste Viewpoints
Do: We had such a great time kayaking with Fun Activities Azores Adventure that we booked Canyoning with the same company! We did it in Parque da Ribeira which is a must see (canyoning or not) and spent three hours walking, rappelling, and jumping down a big waterfall. It set us back €60 each but again the value for money was brilliant. Our guides (Paulo & Simon) were so much fun and took countless pictures and videos for us. This was a highlight of my trip!
See: Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeirões is absolutely beautiful to walk around so take some time there with an ice-cream or a coffee after canyoning.
Eat: Restaurant Poco Azul – a local Azorean restaurant with a big buffet for €7 per person. The vegetarian selection wasn’t great but my friends who eat meat and fish said their food was fantastic and really hit the spot after a long morning jumping down waterfalls.
You can drive a bit further out to Nordeste and take in some of the views – Miradouro da Ponta do Arnel, Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego (toilets) and Miradouro da Ponta da Madrugada. All three are good for picnics.
Salto do Cabrito Walk and Caldeira Velha Baths
Hike: The Walking Trail of Salto do Cabrito hike is an 8.5km loop that begins/ends in the small village of Caldeiras. It’s not too challenging but it can be mucky and slippy. Park in Caldeiras and follow the signs – you can visit the dam but eventually the trail will become too overgrown. Then go back the way you came and head for the waterfall. You will be following pipes from here on. **I recommend just turning back when you reach the Waterfall rather than doing the full loop as the second half is on roads and much less scenic.
Eat: Grab a bite to eat in the town of Riberia Grande which has plenty of choice. There is also a restaurant at the beginning/end of the hike but it was closed when we tried to go there. We did see them cooking Cozido around the corner through!
Do: After a well deserved lunch, catch a surf lesson in Riberia Grande with one of the many surf schools or make your way to the nearby Caldeira Velha hot springs. Note there are local baths where you park in the village of Caldeiras- we did not visit these but they looked very nice.
The hot springs I’m talking about are in the Caldeira Velha Environmental Intepretation Centre. These are my favourite hot springs in Sao Miguel. They have a relaxing jungle feeling and even have a waterfall (very instagrammable). The baths close at 5pm and the whole area closes at 5:30pm. Entry €8 each. There are changing rooms, lockers, a gift shop and toilets. These were my favourite hot springs in the Azores.
Other things to do
- Salto do Prego Hike
*Bring your togs* This was my favourite hike of the whole trip (and maybe of all time?). It is a loop that takes about 2.5 hours (not including a dip in the waterfall) and stretches about 4.5km. It begins at the end of the town near a bus stop. It’s very well sign posted just keep an eye out. Go all the way down to the waterfall and hop in for a mid hike dip. Head back the same way (but first walk 3 minutes up to the top for a cool view) and you’ll come to the place you turned right. Follow the sign to Saguinho which is an incredible abandoned town that is beginning to become inhabited again. The end of the hike is very steep (downhill).
2. Ponta da Ferraria: Ocean Hotspring
This is a thermal pool in the ocean. While this is the most spectacular of the thermal areas it’s the least relaxing. It’s not deep but the tide is very strong. There are ropes for visitors to hold on to in the water. The views are incredible, and if possible try to catch the sunset. There is a spa and thermal pools in the spa nearby but bypass this (go around the back) and you’ll see the path to the ocean. Entry: Free! Bring flip flops or water shoes as it’s very rocky. You need to check the tides before you go – if the tide is too high you won’t feel the warmth. Low tide is much warmer but there are certain parts that can be very hot (i.e. burning) so an hour or two before low tide is probably your best best. You can check how rough it looks on the Azores Webcams before you go.
3. Lagoa do Fogo (Lake/Lagoon of Fire)
We actually nicknamed this foggy lake because it’s foggy most of the time. It’s a protected natural reserve that’s home to many plant and animal species within the volcanic complex of Água de Pau Massif. You need to check the weather beforehand as it’s often too foggy to see anything – I recommend using the webcams to do this. When it’s clear you just need to go for it. You can see it in three ways 1. Driving to the viewpoints 2. Driving to the viewpoint and a short hike (4km) to the lake and back up 3. An 11km four hour hike. The viewpoints are very obvious and well sign posted. Note you can’t swim in this lake. We drove as we were short on time but you do you have to see it.
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*Thanks to Michelle McCarthy for taking many of these photos