Visiting the Azores: A magical string of islands
Gosh, so much to say about these gorgeous islands off of Portugal - if you enjoy nature, you won't regret heading to the Azores with this 8 to 10-day itinerary!
The Azores are made up nine Portuguese islands with a bit of something for everyone - dramatic landscapes, green pastures and more. Our first travels were to Sao Miguel and Flores, though can't wait to go back to this lesser discovered oasis!
Rent an automatic if at all possible (do it early to make sure you get automatic or do what I did and learn stick shift!) - though Flores seems to have only a couple automatic options for the whole island
Decide which islands you are most excited about - we decided two was the max we wanted to do to cut down on travel time between
There are Azorean webcams you can use to check cloud cover because the weather changes pretty often
Bring lots of layers, it's not the warmest place ever
There are now direct flights to Sao Miguel from NYC and Boston
Azores are quite cheap for now, another pro of visiting!
Itinerary - There are many ways you could plan your time in Alaska, here is how we decided to – as a helpful starting point!
Day 1: Travel to Sao Miguel on a red eye, drive to Furnas
Day 2: Take in the sights in Furnas
Day 3: Explore Sao Miguel in the morning, fly to Flores
Day 4: Hike in Flores
Day 5: Canyoning in Flores
Day 6: Chill in Flores and head back to Sao Miguel
Day 7: Explore Sao Miguel
Day 8: Do anything you missed in Sao Miguel
Day 9: Head home :(
*To note: If we had more time, we would have added 1 more day in Flores
Now for the real details!
Sao Miguel is the largest (though still quite small) of the Azorean islands and has so much to offer. If it's your first time and/or you are only going for a few days, we would suggest you just visit here as it has loads to see! That being said, try to chunk different parts of the island together as it can be a lot of driving back and forth. There are some great blogs (here and here are two of our favorites) that outline various Sao Miguel itineraries
Where to stay?
Ponta Delgada is most central, but also the busiest depending on how remote you want to be - we stayed at an Airbnb one night and at this cool pineapple plantation another
We stayed at an Airbnb in Furnas the first couple of nights, this was nice because it brought us to closer to the east side of the island and also was quieter / more remote
We also saw some really cool options in Ribiera Grande or Sete Cidades which are not too far off the beaten path either
What to do?
Since the island is not that big, it's good to be flexible in planning and save some of the best hikes for when it is going to be sunny (it rains / gets clouds quite a bit - so definitely check the weather). Given that here was our favorite things in order of most to least:
Lagoa do Fogo (hike): A must do! This is definitely at least a moderate hike (11km, with a good bit of elevation) and takes about 4 hours. Go early as it is great to be there without anyone else and make sure to do this on a sunny day.
Miradouro Boca da Inferno: A short hike to a beautiful viewpoint, that is likely the most famous Azorean view. Do this at sunset if possible, and make sure to go before the actual sunset time as that is when you get the gorgeous colors. We were concerned it would be super busy (because a lot of people were there in the daytime) but had it to ourselves at nighttime. The gate closes at night, so you'll have to walk a bit more - but it is more than worth it
Furnas: A cute town generally, though famous for the thermal pools. This one is where we went and was said to be the more local one
Nordeste: beautiful area to drive around and check out all the miradouros (we really adopted this word on this trip). One specific viewpoint we almost skipped but were glad we walked down to was Farol Ponta do Arnel (a lighthouse)
Other great spots (if time): Hike Mata do Canario around the Sete Cidades (if not time for that, driving to the miradouros there is a must), go to the Cha Gorreana tea factory (there is a mini hike there)
Where to eat / drink?
A Tasca - definitely eat here, you'll need a reservation - but it was delicious!
Eat lots of seafood - it's all fresh!
For a nice/fun place to watch a sunset, go to Ribiera Grande to TukaTula bar
For delicious meat, go to this meat restaurant
Eat Bolo Levedos - they are delicious sweet bread from the island. If you are in Furnas you can get them fresh from here
Eat the pineapple and even visit a pineapple plantation if you have time
Bar Caloura is a fun place for lunch or dinner that is also on the coast and has yummy seafood
Wine - is very cheap! Buy bottles, not cups and try to drink as much local wine as possible which will likely be from Pico (another Azorean island known for it's wine making). The white is better and what they are more known for - this says a lot coming from a red-wine drinker
All we can say is wow! This island is harder to get to (need to fly from Sao Miguel), but was soooo worth it. With a population of less than 4,000 and some of the nicest people around - we loved this lush and beautiful landscape!
Where to stay?
Stay in Faja Grande if possible, beautiful part of the island and still has some decent food options
If you 3-6 people, would recommend Casa Dos Salgueiros in Faja Grande. Host was great and the house was right on the water! You can book on booking.com
What to do?
PR-1 was the only long hike (13km, 4.5hrs, lots and lots of elevation gain) we did, but highly suggest it! For PR-1 go from Faja Grande to the Lighthouse and bring taxi numbers to call when close to the lighthouse to come get you. You can also do a tour of the lighthouse and go to the top! If we had more time, we would have done PR-3 first and then PR-2 based on local recommendations.
Canyoning - this was amazing and the guide, Marco, was really good. Highly suggested and loved the West Canyon Adventure Tourism company. He even gave me a free stick shift driving lesson!
Lagoons - go to all of the lagoons and the miradouros around the lagoons. They are all in the same area and can be done in a couple hours. The most beautiful is a miradouro where you can see negra and comprida next to each other and they have very different coloring (picture below!)
Ribiera de Ferreiro - this is a short 1km hike to a beautiful wall of waterfalls, meditate there if you can
Poco do Bacalhau - this is a 5 minute walk of the street and also another beautiful waterfall to check out
Natural piscinas - there are a couple of these (1 in Faja Grande and 1 in Santa Cruz) and if warm enough would be cool to go into. Watch out for scary jellyfish though - they look like this... and are very poisonous
Where to eat / drink?
Definitely not a foodie destination, but the people are nice and has a great small town feel
Go to Maresia, in Faja Grande. We went here twice and it was really nice at sunset and quite good food. Pricier than other options
Jonah's - In Faja Grande (seems closed at the time of writing this post). Looked like amazing seafood and gets great review. We didn't end up going, but if you want to you should go early and make a reservation because it is small
Buena Vista Cafe - this is a bar with lunch/snack food that has a great view of the ocean, Corvo and piscinas if you want to chill
Grocery stores close early other than one in Santa Cruz and there aren't really breakfast spots, so plan to grab food for breakfast / lunch from the grocery store when you can
Would you recommend to your friend / family? Yes, yes, yes, and more times over. This was such a wonderful place to visit and (at the time of writing) is still quite undiscovered. Suggest going soon, as I imagine the direct flights from the States is going to change that very soon.
Would you return? 100%! I would both go back to these islands and go again to check out the ones we couldn't make it to
Favorites to speak of:
Lodging: Casa Dos Salgueiros in Faja Grande. This place has us daydreaming about buying a place in Flores
Activity: Canyoning in Flores - so cool, and great for all levels!
Eating: This definitely wasn't a foodie trip, but A Tasca was the best restaurant we ate at and definitely worth a try
Drinking: All the wines from Pico!