Close to midway between Europe and Canada, a cluster of tussled, rugged, lush, and windswept isles kind Portugal’s far-flung Eden-like archipelago – the Azores. Piercing the Atlantic Ocean, these 9 lush but volcanic specks showcase a few of Mom Nature’s most interesting work, and the very best issues to do within the Azores are as adrenaline-pumping as they’re effortlessly soothing.
Lengthy a port of name for these crusing – and smuggling – between the 2 continents, the archipelago has been scripting seafaring tales for hundreds of years. Extra just lately, nevertheless, the isles have change into an in-the-know sanctuary from the fashionable world – one thing I can testify to since I made Portugal my dwelling.
It is a world the place whales and dolphins dance in uninterrupted waters, geysers and geothermal exercise tease from the underworld, sizzling springs alleviate, hydrangea-lined trails lure, and epic hikes to lofty peaks elate. Panoramic from all angles, patchworks of pastures spill down mountainsides in direction of the ocean, sometimes interrupted by charcoal-hued vineyards, basalt stone church buildings, and whitewashed rural villages. The Azores don’t warrant any Hawaii comparisons; they greater than stand on their very own 9 toes.
So whether or not you wish to stroll by way of lava tubes, ascend Portugal’s loftiest peak, or recharge in an eco-resort after browsing the Atlantic’s snarling swell, these prime ten issues to do within the Azores will depart you underneath the archipelago’s spell.
100% sure. The Azores’ rugged and mystical appeal, unimaginable pure points of interest – similar to volcanic craters and geothermal exercise – and the possibility to identify dolphins and whales are simply the tip of the iceberg. Due to the island’s distant location, they’ve remained pristine, and the Azores are usually not solely the right journey vacation spot but additionally ultimate as a get-away-from-it-all retreat.
If you happen to solely wish to go to São Miguel, you would ‘tick off’ the primary issues to do within the Azores in three days, because the island is compact and simple to get round. I consider that The Azores deserve not less than per week so you’ll be able to ‘swap off’ and respect the laid-back landscapes. If you wish to hop between all the islands, then permit not less than a fortnight and should you plan to journey between a number of islands, permit spare time in case of delays or cancellation of flights or ferries on account of antagonistic climate.
São Miguel is the best choice to expertise a little bit of all the things, particularly because it has essentially the most worldwide connections. If you wish to effortlessly island hop, choose Pico, Faial and São Jorge as a three-island journey, because the ferries between them are extra common. Pico has unimaginable vineyards chiselled from volcanic rock and Portugal’s highest peak, whereas the extra remote islands of Flores (famed for its waterfalls) and tiny Corvo are greatest for serene rambles removed from the crowds.
Sadly, there isn’t a ferry from the mainland to the Azores. Subsequently, to get to the Azores, you’ll must take a domestic flight from Lisbon or Porto (there are not any flights from the Algarve) or a world flight from one of many linked cities in Europe and North America (TAP promote direct flights from New York’s JFK). Alternatively, visiting the Azores on a cruise or a yacht constitution is feasible.
Whereas there are brief inside flights between all of the islands – the frequency varies relying on their measurement – the extra sustainable tip to journey between the 9 isles and full all of the issues to do within the Azores is by ferry. Sadly, this isn’t potential on all of the routes as the space between some islands does imply a flight is critical. The Atlantico line ferries differ by season, with solely brief native connections in winter, whereas summer time has extra routes.
Whereas it’s potential to go to the Azores by public transport – I’ve accomplished it twice – you want a bit of endurance on account of loads of lengthy walks, bike rides or waits for sporadic buses. As such, you may wish to rent a car to succeed in the very best spots on the island simply. Alternatively, group excursions are a great possibility – particularly if you wish to do some journey actions. I just like the native operator Futurismo, as in addition they embody whale and dolphin recognizing and drastically respect the surroundings. They provide a fair-priced one-week adventure tour which covers all of the highlights.
Delve deep underground in lava tubes
Whereas Madeira, Portugal’s second archipelago, might need its distinctive levada (irrigation channel) strolling trails, the Azores can boast of one thing much more particular: lava tubes.
Given these beautiful islands have volcanic origins, it’s unsurprising that most of the greatest issues to do within the Azores have been formed by seismic exercise and magma eruptions. However, for me, this is among the most outstanding volcanic-related experiences throughout the archipelago.
Fortunately, multiple island has accessible lava tubes, and you may go to this fascinating phenomenon on Pico, São Miguel or Terceira. The longest of the three is the Gruta das Torres on Pico, and though you’ll be able to’t discover the complete depth of the cave, it’s my favorite. On São Miguel, you’ll discover the Gruta do Carvão on the outskirts of Ponta Delgada, and Terceira’s tubes are known as Gruta do Natal.
When you can’t simply wander in freely anymore – as soon as you would, preserve an eye fixed out for graffiti in among the tunnels – the expertise continues to be unimaginable. At Pico’s Gruta das Torres for instance, you’ll be given a briefing and fast video overview of the tunnels’ historical past earlier than being kitted out with a tough hat and being led into the darkish depths of the tube. Nevertheless, solely a specific amount is open to the general public.
Not solely is the expertise significantly cool, but it surely’s additionally informative. Alongside the cavity, you’ll be able to see the markings on the darkish partitions, which present the scars of the totally different temperatures and outbursts. By the point you come again into the sunshine, you’ll be greater than in awe on the energy of nature.
GETTING TO THE AZORES
Many individuals assume that Ponta Delgada on São Miguel is the one gateway to the Azores. Nevertheless, TAP Airlines (at the side of Azores Airways) additionally supply direct flights from the mainland to Terceira, Faial, Pico, Graciosa and Santa Maria, that means you would begin and finish your journey on totally different islands. If you happen to’re travelling from additional afield, TAP’s stopover programme, which incorporates Lisbon and Porto, is value contemplating, as it is going to additionally provide you with a 25% low cost on all home flights.
Hike to epic viewpoints
With quite a few spectacular trails throughout all of the islands, the very best free factor to do within the Azores is go climbing. Fortunately, complimentary doesn’t imply lacking out right here, because the spectacular panoramas are genuinely priceless.
My favorite place for climbing is São Jorge, a protracted and skinny ridge-like island that dramatically spills downwards into the Atlantic Ocean. Azoreans have a selected phrase for these – fajã – which describes the flat a part of the land which meets the ocean, often shaped by lava spill cooling on contact with the water.
Essentially the most well-known and spectacular of those is the Fajã dos Cubres, which has a lake-like space separated from the ocean by a slight stretch of land. Reachable on the PR1 path, which begins in Serra do Topo, it’s certainly one of many unbelievable routes you’ll discover on this lush isle.
On São Miguel, the showstoppers are the paths across the Sete Cidades crater lake. Typically mistaken for 2 totally different lakes on account of one being blue and the opposite inexperienced, they’re, in reality, the identical physique of water – the totally different hues are attributable to the sunshine’s refraction. The comparatively simple path to Boca do Inferno is probably the very best identified, however the entire island has loads of well-marked routes. For a close-up of the lake, permit an hour for some serene kayaking.
If you need the Azores’ out of doors exercise with essentially the most alien-like panorama, hike throughout Capelinhos on Faial Island. Whereas the island’s capital known as Horta, which interprets as ‘vegetable backyard’ on account of its greenery, this aspect of the island is darkish mud, purple rock, and decidedly bleaker. Attributable to an intense 13-month-long eruption in 1957 – which in flip noticed 1000s of Azoreans relocate to the USA – this aspect of the island was wholly re-shaped and expanded.
If climbing is among the issues to do within the Azores you’re most eager to do however are travelling solo, concern not, there are numerous well-traversed and non-dangerous hikes to do. Alternatively, take into account reserving a group hiking tour.
Whale watching and dolphin recognizing
When the navy waters of the Atlantic encompass you, there’s no query that you just’ll wish to embody a ship tour when planning your Azores’ out of doors actions. Fortunately, all the islands supply journeys out into the deep blue, as one of the well-liked issues to do within the Azores is to attempt to spot marine mammals.
With 4 resident species – sperm, fin and sei can usually be sighted – and loads of dolphins, you’ll be in good fingers on a marine-biologist-led boat tour. Most firms take their accountability to the surroundings and wildlife significantly – sustainability is revered within the Azores, each with tourism and in day-to-day life – and firms similar to Futurismo additionally supply accountable wild dolphin swims from Ponta Delgada.
Nonetheless, it doesn’t matter which island you’re primarily based on; you’ll be capable of discover firms providing whale-watching journeys throughout the archipelago, together with common departures from Pico Island, Horta on Faial Island, and on glass-bottom boats from Terceira.
Prime whale-watching season kicks off in Spring, making this one of many best European destinations in April, as you’ll hopefully not be jostling with any cruise ship crowds by this level.
Descend wine terraces to golden sands and uncover currais
Whereas sipping wine is actually not an journey exercise, the artwork of rising them very a lot is within the Azores. Not solely is that this one of the excessive locations to domesticate wine, but it surely’s additionally one of the visually spectacular.
One of the vital tranquil issues to do within the Azores is to discover the vineyards on the island of Pico, that are certainly one of Portugal’s UNESCO sites in their very own proper. Weathered vines rise from the basalt volcanic rock, telling the back-breaking story of making viniculture in such an antagonistic setting.
Growers must – and typically nonetheless do – chisel into the cruel volcanic rock to plant their grapevines, utilizing the hacked-out stone to construct the currais (stone-walled areas, sing. curral) which defend the vegetation from the typically fierce Atlantic gales.
Near Pico’s vineyards, you’ll discover a wine museum (Museu do Vinho do Pico), however I’d additionally recommend a go to to the Wine Interpretation Centre on the opposite aspect of the airport. Right here, you’ll be able to take pleasure in sampling the distinctive wines whereas studying the historical past of the vines. Afterwards, go to the Casa dos Vulcões subsequent door to face on an earthquake simulator and study concerning the volcanic nature of the island, together with a breakdown of what makes each distinctive.
Whereas Pico has essentially the most well-known vineyards of the Azores, I additionally discovered the terraced vines on Santa Maria island – the place you’ll discover the Azores’ solely golden sand seashores – simply as spectacular and dramatic. The descent down by way of the steeply stacked rising space of Maia isn’t for the faint-hearted, however this nook of the island, full with a waterfall, is charming.
In contrast to Pico, Santa Maria’s wines are usually not exported on account of authorized causes. Subsequently the wines are solely fermented for native consumption. So, if yow will discover a glass of it throughout your go to, you’ll style one thing unimaginable to seek out elsewhere.
Bathe within the thermal waters
Not all adventures and out of doors actions within the Azores must get your coronary heart thumping, and typically you’ll wish to give your self over to the pure state of move these islands boast by bathing within the therapeutic waters.
São Miguel island is dwelling to almost all of the Azores’ sizzling springs and thermal swimming pools, and one of the well-liked issues to do within the Azores is to go to the Terra Nostra Scorching Springs in Furnas. This massive, spherical, and paid-access bathing pool is a murky brown because of the minerals, but the botanical gardens which envelop it are far prettier.
I favor the opposite close by possibility at Poça da Dona Beija – which has some manicured landscapes across the handful of swimming pools. Higher nonetheless are the springs at Centro de Interpretação Ambiental da Caldeira Velha, that are a bit of additional out. Nonetheless, you’ll wish to arrive early to keep away from summer time crowds.
São Miguel additionally has a thermal pool overlooking the ocean at Termas da Ferraria. Simply across the nook from there, you’ll discover Ponta da Ferraria, a no-charge bathing location within the ocean itself, warmed by thermal vents beneath. Whereas different islands have extra unimaginable pure swimming pools – such because the Piscina Pure Simão Dias on São Jorge – they don’t have the thermal springs and sizzling waters that São Miguel provides.
On Graciosa Island, you’ll discover a much less engaging sizzling spring possibility – it’s extra like a standard pool – at Carapacho.
Snorkel on a protected islet inside an uncovered volcanic crater
If you end up on São Miguel Island between June and early October, be sure you take the brief boat journey from Vila Franca do Campo to Ilhéu de Vila Franca do Campo.
Idyllic and tranquil, this small islet is a protected nature reserve and one of many world’s most original swimming and snorkelling spots. The island’s round ‘swimming pool’ is definitely the crater of a submerged volcano, and whereas the seashore is compact, the calm waters and epic location make this a spot to not miss.
Honest warning, this is among the hottest issues to do within the Azores throughout summer time. With customer numbers capped at round 400 individuals day by day, you must completely book your tickets prematurely.
Summit Portugal’s highest peak
Whereas Torre within the Serra da Estrela claims the title of mainland Portugal’s loftiest level, the nation’s precise highest pinnacle is on the island of Pico.
Towering as much as the heavens and sometimes piercing the clouds, Mount Pico – which accurately interprets to peak and offers the island its identify – provides one of many Azores’ greatest journey actions.
From afar, it would appear to be extra of a steep hike than a climb because of the decrease slopes’ much less intense ascent, however when you begin heading up, you’ll shortly realise that it’s a slog because of the difficult terrain. Nonetheless, when you’ve reached the highest (2,351 metres) and brought within the far-reaching vistas, you’ll probably agree it’s one of many final issues to do within the Azores.
New restrictions have come into drive in 2023 to guard the delicate panorama, and a information is extremely really helpful, particularly on a night hike. Because the climate can change shortly within the Azores, you must at all times test in on the climbing centre beforehand or register your plan to hike and not using a information on the new online portal earlier than heading up.
Marvel at majestic waterfalls (whereas canyoning)
One of the vital extraordinary out of doors adventures within the Azores is chasing, swimming in and canyoning across the waterfalls. From small scenic tumbles to vertical falls, you’re spoilt for alternative in the case of cascades.
Flores Island – which interprets to flowers – must be known as Cascata Island, as this true hidden gem in Europe is the very best vacation spot for waterfalls. There are quite a few cascades littered throughout the dense vegetation of the island, with Poço Ribeira do Ferreiro and Poço Ribeira do Ferreiro and maybe essentially the most spectacular.
Hunt down Cascata do Aveiro in Santa Maria, whereas São Jorge’s Cascata do Cruzal is a extra tame affair. São Miguel additionally shines in waterfalls, with numerous spectacular tumbles to be discovered.
For individuals who wish to embrace these fast-running waters, probably the greatest issues to do within the Azores is to go canyoning. You are able to do this on Flores Island or in Ribeira dos Caldeirões Pure Park on São Miguel, the place the rappel adventures are pretty priced, open to all ranges, and may be booked in advance.
Embrace the geothermal exercise
No journey to São Miguel can be full with out visiting Furnas, the fiery coronary heart of the island. In addition to the beforehand talked about thermal springs, there are a lot extra probabilities to embrace geothermal exercise.
Within the city itself, you’ll discover smoke billowing and geysers effervescent within the open-to-all public areas. Then, settle into one of many native eating places and order Cozido das Furnas. This typical dish is a mix of meat and a few greens, however what makes it particular is the cooking technique because it’s positioned underground and cooked by volcanic exercise, much like a hāngī in New Zealand.
One other place you’ll be able to go to – though there’s a small entrance cost – is the Antigo Pomar das Caldeiras, the place boardwalks cross atop the hive of geothermal exercise effervescent beneath. Whereas it’s a bit out of the way in which and extra synthetic because of the wood walkways, the lakeside setting and hive of motion make it extra spectacular than the spots on the town.
If you happen to’re primarily based in Ponta Delgada, you may discover it simpler to book a day tour – which additionally features a cease on the island’s stunning tea plantations – to expertise all of it.
Surf or sunbathe
You’ll be able to’t discuss all of the issues to do within the Azores with out mentioning the seashores; these are islands, in any case. It doesn’t matter what form of seashore day you’re craving, you’ll certainly discover the right slice of sand alongside these shorelines.
Surfers particularly are spoilt for alternative, with swell favourites together with the Praia do Areal de Santa Bárbara on São Miguel or the Fajã de Santo Cristo on São Jorge – though the latter will contain lugging your board.
For golden sands and dazzling bays, you’ll wish to head to Santa Maria Island. Right here, São Lourenço Bay shines with the stone-walled vineyards behind it, whereas Praia Formosa is equally inviting.
Household-friendly seashores may also be discovered on the sheltered Praia de Porto Pim on Faial or Praia Grande on Terceira. For one thing a bit of totally different, enterprise to Praia do Fogo on São Miguel, the place, should you bury your toes far sufficient into the sand, they are going to be warmed by the hydrothermal vents beneath.
Positive, these aren’t the everyday vacation sands you’d get in Spain’s islands, however that doesn’t make them any much less stunning!
GETTING TO THE AZORES
Many individuals assume that Ponta Delgada on São Miguel is the one gateway to the Azores. Nevertheless, TAP Airlines (at the side of Azores Airways) additionally provides direct flights from the mainland to Terceira, Faial, Pico, Graciosa and Santa Maria, that means you would begin and finish your journey on totally different islands. If you happen to’re travelling from additional afield, TAP’s stopover programme, which incorporates Lisbon and Porto, is value contemplating, as it is going to additionally provide you with a 25% low cost on all home flights.