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Complete Guide to Azores (Sao Miguel + Island Hopping!) • Indie Traveller

Me at a miradouro on Sao Miguel Island during my Azores travel blog trip

Whenever you seek for Azores journey blogs you’ll in all probability shortly discover one thing odd: most of them solely speak about São Miguel!

That is merely the most important island and probably the most touristy one, however there are actually 9 islands within the archipelago—and every of them has one thing totally different to supply.

I spent almost 4 weeks on the Azores on two journeys in 2016 and 2018. I visited not solely São Miguel but in addition Pico, São Jorge, Faial, and Terceira, so I may give you a couple of recommendations on the place it’s good.

I’ll additionally share with you some little-known journey hacks that may get you discounted ferries and even free flights.

For those who’re on the lookout for an entire information to the Azores (okay, properly… virtually full), then you definitely’ve come to the suitable web page.

Me at a miradouro on Sao Miguel Island during my Azores travel blog trip

The north coast of São Miguel

On this Azores journey information:

 

Why it is best to go to the Azores

For those who don’t but know a lot about this far-flung Atlantian archipelago, then you definitely don’t want to really feel too embarrassed. Even devoted globe-trotters may wrestle to pinpoint the Azores exactly on a map — although it’s slowly turn into a bit higher recognized in recent times.

Located in the midst of the ocean far off the coast of Portugal, the Azores have an edge-of-the-world really feel.

When you make it to this outermost level of Europe, you may be rewarded with some superb alternatives for mountaineering, caving, scuba diving, canyoning, whale watching, and lots of extra journey actions.

It additionally has an exquisite native tradition that’s proudly totally different from the mainland of Portugal—and it has some fascinating historic connections with america as nicely (you’ll see many houses with each a Portuguese and American flag outdoors).

We’ll speak about every island in a second, however listed here are what I feel are a number of the prime causes to go to the Azores.

Volcanoes galore

The Caldeira on Faial

Because the Azores are proper on the fault strains between three tectonic plates, they’ve extra volcanoes, calderas, steam vents, and lava tube caves than you possibly can shake a stick at. These volcanic options flip the islands right into a playground for cavers, bicyclers, and climbers.

Don’t miss the eruption website of Capelinhas on Faial, the Sete Cidades caldeira on São Miguel, or the 2351m tall cone of Pico on the island of Pico.

So many cute rural locations

However not all locations on the Azores are epic. Most will merely make you go “awww, that’s so nice”.

There are such a lot of cute cities with historically black-and-white painted homes (or black-and-red within the case of Pico), pastures on gently rolling hills, meandering coastal roads, and mini-lagoons alongside the shore the place many locals come to take a dive in the summertime.

Since there aren’t any white sand seashores and because the local weather is considerably unpredictable, the Azores have principally been spared from any mass tourism. It’s a mild and tranquil place.

Dolphins and whales!

The Azores as soon as supported itself partially by way of its whaling business. Whereas this follow stopped a couple of many years in the past, now you can take a ship tour from just about any island to see the whales up-close.

I used to be fortunate to see a number of sperm whales on my tour. Seeing their tales stick out of the water simply earlier than a deep dive was a reasonably magical sight.

There are additionally quite a few dolphins across the Azores all year long—at one level I discovered myself surrounded by a pod of at the least 150 of them, which was epic AF.

The superior locally-sourced meals

Limpets with native cheese and honey

You’ll be able to anticipate loads of culinary delights on the Azores. The dishes usually are not essentially extraordinarily distinctive, however the elements used are sometimes insanely recent and high-quality.

The fish is expectedly nice, however so is the meat. Regionally sourced beef tastes superb because the Azores has simply small-scale manufacturing with joyful cows. The various micro-climates additionally make the Azores appropriate for rising a variety of merchandise from each temperate and tropical climates, so most belongings you eat there are in all probability grown regionally. Wine, espresso, and tea are all produced on the archipelago as nicely.

Digging right into a scrumptious shrimp cataplana

Don’t miss the prospect to pattern the seafood; apart from many forms of fish there’s clams, limpets, squid, and rather more to select from. I had my first-ever barnacles on Terceira, a bizarre however enjoyable expertise that has you utilizing a bit of specialised hook to get the meat out.

On São Miguel, attempt the furnas de caldas. It’s a hearty stew cooked in a volcanic vent!

The outside and journey actions

Exploring some undeveloped caves in Pico

Like to get lively? Nicely, tou gained’t have any excuse to sit nonetheless on the Azores. Aside from quite a few implausible mountaineering trails, you can too go canyoning, paragliding, swimming, cliff diving, scuba diving, kayaking, browsing (notably on São Miguel and São Jorge), spelunking, and a lot extra.

A great deal of locations across the shore turn into swimming holes in summer time

 

Azores islands at a look

The above map offers you some concept of the situation of every island. Take note it’s not to scale and there’s fairly a little bit of distance between the three island teams.

It will probably make sense to decide one island group and to keep it up, as to reduce your time spent touring between them.

These are the islands I visited (in no specific order):

Pico

The 2,351m tall volcanic peak of Pico on Pico Island

The darkish volcanic island of Pico is certainly one of my favorites within the Azores. It’s blessed with picturesque landscapes and loads of fascinating issues to do, however with out being fairly as touristy as São Miguel.

The one query it is best to anticipate to hear every time mentioning Pico is “will you do the climb”. Its huge conical volcano peak (its namesake) might be seen simply from different close by islands and makes for an apparent goal for an epic hike. At 2351m tall the climb can be a stiff one. Clouds can obscure the views on the prime on a nasty day, so ensure you go when the skies are clear.

Apart from its volcano, Pico can also be recognized for its wineries and vineyards. You’ll see little partitions of volcanic rock shield the vines towards the tough parts—a typical function that earned elements of the island UNESCO world heritage standing. You’ll additionally discover a number of unbelievable caves to discover, a whaler’s museum, many cute villages, and a few nice strolling trails previous higgity-piggity pastures and thru mossy forests.

Learn Extra: Wine, Tradition & Journey on Pico Island

 

São Jorge

Should you like going a bit off the standard path, this may simply be one of the best island for you. It has probably the most lovely landscapes I’ve seen on the Azores. Should you’re somebody who can respect some lovely nature and cute villages, then you definitely owe it to your self to go to São Jorge—it’s critically beautiful.

A central mountain vary runs alongside virtually your complete size of the island, forming kind of an elongated plateau. Down the shoreside cliffs are so-called fajãs, that are small plains as soon as shaped by lava flows or landslides. At these fajãs you’ll discover tiny villages that may be reached solely by windy roads or typically by strolling path solely.

No matter you do, don’t miss the Caldeira de Santo Cristo hike. It’s superb! You’ll be able to learn extra about it in my story on São Jorge.

São Jorge doesn’t have that many eating places or typical vacationer points of interest as a number of the others, however it’s the Azorean island I personally most fell in love with. I feel it’s an underappreciated gem.

Learn Extra: Right here’s Why You Ought to Go to São Jorge Island

 

Faial

There are a number of very cool issues about Faial that make it a must-visit for those who’re within the central island group.

Firstly, it has may simply be the prettiest city on the islands, as Horta is located on some pretty hills in addition to a reasonably crusing harbor, with a number of previous church towers poking up from totally different elements of city.

Secondly, it’s the place the place leisure sailors crossing the Atlantic like to make a stopover. This provides the island a energetic environment throughout summer time. Alongside the harbor  obstacles you’ll discover colourful work left there by sailors to commemorate their journey, whereas Peter Sport Cafe serves as an important assembly spot the place you’ll be able to gawk at years and years of crusing memorabilia.

Capelinhas on Faial

Thirdly, Faial has some nice volcanic landscapes, notably its lush inexperienced central Caldeira, and the eruption website of Capelinhas — the place a volcano erupted in [   ]. Strolling across the gray and dusty panorama right here will make you are feeling such as you’ve landed on the moon.

I feel Faial has a few of the most fascinating sights of the central islands, however it’s additionally pretty small. You may want to spend two days or so right here, earlier than taking the 30-minute ferry to Pico the place there are extra vineyards, museums, and different smaller sights to go to.

Learn Extra: 10 Incredible Issues to do on Faial Island

 

Terceira

 

Terceira is the second most populated island (after São Miguel) and is house to a US Air Drive Base, enjoying an essential financial position within the Azores. It has a a number of nice issues to see, most notably the Algar do Carvão lava tube cave, which is massively spectacular and larger than the Gruta das Torres on Pico. The fort on the principal city of Angra can also be of nice historic significance, because it’s the one place that held out towards the Spanish invasion of 1583.

However Terceira principally has the fame of being a little bit of a celebration island in summer time. Thoughts you, not within the sense of this being Ibiza, as a result of it’s a mild rural island. Terceira is merely the place probably the most village events and festivities happen in the summertime, making it the right place to have some enjoyable and rub shoulders with the locals.

I beloved witnessing the custom of Tourada à Corda, the place bulls are let unfastened on the streets, giving chase to locals whereas stored on an extended leash by a staff of shepherds. Individuals will spectate from balconies and backyard partitions, chatting and consuming whereas sometimes watching a bull rumbling previous. (They don’t seem to be bull fights, by the best way. It’s only a good natured recreation the place the bulls get egged on a bit after which everybody runs away.)

Simply off the southern coast are the Ilhéus das Cabras (or Goat Islands), which appear to be two elements of a rocky island that’s been cracked open. You will get a ship out to these islands, enter a few of the caves, and leap off the boat for a refreshing swim.

Whereas São Jorge and Pico are my private favourite islands, I feel it’s value testing Terceira as properly through the celebration season, particularly if that is the place you’ll be flying from (its airport is the second most related after São Miguel).

 

São Miguel

Salto do Cabrito waterfall on Sao Miguel island

Salto do Cabrito waterfall on Sao Miguel island

Final however not least, there’s São Miguel. As the most important and most populated island, it advantages from having extra lodging choices and amenities. Since São Miguel is the simplest to attain by aircraft, many Azores journeys focus solely on this island, making it probably the most touristy vacation spot.

When you restrict your self to São Miguel, you’ll be lacking out on another nice islands. However to be trustworthy, São Miguel is a superb place to go! It has a tremendous number of sights and actions in a comparatively compact space.

You’ll discover some epic volcanic caldeiras at Sete Cidades and Furnas. I like to recommend not simply stopping right here briefly for a fast photograph; I liked climbing round Furnas lake, and renting bicycles to journey round Sete Cidades. Belief me, it’s value it! You’ll get a a lot better really feel for the place.

São Miguel has by far probably the most secondary volcanic exercise of any of the islands — in different phrases, issues bubble, boil and steam round right here! This implies it’s additionally the right place to take a soothing tub in some scorching springs. The city of Furnas even has so many volcanic vents that you simply’ll see a great deal of steam stacks billowing from locations throughout. In some locations, you possibly can odor the sulfur within the air. It’s in all probability why some guides have referred to as Azores the Iceland of the south.

São Miguel is superior, however it may get tremendous busy in August. Locals have complained about vacationers leaving trash alongside the seashores and swimming pools, or overcrowding sure places, so be a respectful customer and check out to go to within the shoulder season in the event you can.

Learn Extra: Crater Lakes and Thermal Baths on São Miguel Island

 

Different islands

I haven’t but visited Corvo, Graciosa, or Santa Marta — although these are very small and locals inform me aren’t probably the most fascinating (however who is aware of!).

The one island I nonetheless desperately need to go to is Flores. It may be a ache to get to as ferries take a very long time and it has solely a tiny airport. I attempted to go there however then my flight received cancelled due to robust winds.

Flores is understood for being the greenest island with probably the most spectacular waterfalls, and whereas it’s not as accessible because the others, I’ve acquired a sense it’d simply be probably the most lovely one. Subsequent time I’ll go the Azores that is the place I’ll be heading!

 

Flying to the Azores

Flying in: The Azores have develop into far more accessible in recent times, particularly since Ryanair and Easyjet started flying immediately to São Miguel and Terceira from numerous locations in Europe.

SATA (also referred to as Azores Airways) prices a bit greater than the price range carriers however supplies many extra connections internationally. Inside Europe, they fly instantly from London, Munich, Frankfurt, Lisbon and Porto. And thanks to the Azores’ historic ties with the US there are additionally many direct flights from North America, together with from Boston, Oakland, Toronto and Montreal.

Visiting on a stopover from US: since Azores is about halfway between the US and Europe, it may be an ideal stopover place. Azores Airways actually promotes this risk, letting you add a number of days on the islands with no improve in airfare. Azores Airways has info on stopovers, and I additionally wrote an article about planning a stopover.

Cash Saving Tip: you will get free transfers from São Miguel to different islands!

Free inter-island flights on the Azores: sure, you learn that proper… you will get sure flights completely free of charge on the Azores. In case you fly in to São Miguel on any service, you will get a free onwards flight with Azores Airways to one other island. The catch is that you’ve to fly in from the Portuguese mainland. You can also’t keep on São Miguel for longer than 24 hours — it really has to be a transit there and never your ultimate vacation spot. You’ll be able to ebook a free inter-island connecting flights on the SATA web site.

 

Getting round on the Azores

In some instances, flying may be the easiest way to go. Most islands have small airports that allow you to hop between the island teams fairly simply by air.

There are additionally ferries between all of the islands, although not all are essentially related on direct routes. Island hopping is best between the central islands of Pico, Faial, and São Jorge — as they’re all comparatively shut by (about 30 to 90 minutes aside) and you may simply take ferries between these islands year-round.

There are additionally ferry providers between the bigger island teams, however these can take some time and solely run from Might three till September 29. To provide you an concept of the journey occasions, listed here are a number of of the longer journeys:

  • São Miguel to Terceira approx 5 hours
  • Terceira to Faial approx eight hours
  • Faial to Flores approx 9 hours

You’ll find extra schedule info at Atlantico Line, which is the one firm working on these routes.

A few of the scheduled ferries go at night time so some passengers will deliver sleeping luggage and sleep on the chairs. A lot comfier 1st class rooms are additionally obtainable upstairs; you’ll be able to verify for upgrades to these on the reception desk contained in the ferry. (I paid about 30 EUR for a personal room with ensuite from Faial to Terceira, which I feel wasn’t too dangerous for the superb sleep I obtained.)

Cash Saving Tip: beneath 30? It can save you some huge cash on ferries by getting an Azores InterYouth Card. Both purchase one at a sale level, or use the app to get one. For 40 euro you’ll get limitless ferry journey (a number of limitations apply).

 

Transportation inside the islands

Utilizing public transportation is nearly do-able on the most important island of São Miguel, however keep in mind that it’s nonetheless a small island the place providers are rare.

The easiest way to get round anyplace on the Azores is to have your personal transportation. Renting a automotive will provide you with probably the most freedom to go as you please. There have been additionally bike and scooter leases on all of the islands I visited.

There are some taxis on the islands however not very many; it’s value accumulating the telephone numbers of taxi corporations as a way to name one, as solely the most important cities may need any taxi ranks.

Don’t make the error of counting on public transportation—until perhaps you completely have to—as it will make issues very difficult.

 

Journey prices on the Azores

Opinion differ on the journey prices, however let the numbers converse for themselves.

  • Respectable lodge room, guesthouse or finances Airbnb: about 30 to 40 EUR an evening
  • Renting a compact automotive: 20 EUR a day
  • Lunch: 7 to 10 EUR
  • Dinner with wine: 14 to 20 EUR

I’d say that’s good worth by northern European requirements, although I suppose these will not be fairly rock-bottom costs. Prices improve shortly when shifting between the islands, as ferries and inter-island flights do add up.

In case you’re a finances traveler your greatest guess to maintain prices down is to share an condominium and automotive rental with a gaggle of associates. Should you’re the backpacker sort, you’ll discover that solely São Miguel has actual backpacker hostels. A dorm mattress there prices about 15 EUR an evening on common.

 

No, the climate isn’t all the time good!

Some blogs declare that the Azores has good climate year-round, however that’s a little bit of a false impression. Locals will truly typically say you can expertise all 4 seasons in at some point.

Ensure to all the time pack each sunscreen and a rain jacket!

Thanks to its location in the midst of the ocean, the climate can change utterly at only a snap of the finger. Typically the climate could be completely totally different simply relying on which aspect of the island you’re, as clouds can get trapped behind mountains.

Climate reviews aren’t all the time so helpful, however a good way to verify the stay climate state of affairs everywhere in the Azores is to view the webcams utilizing the SpotAzores app (Android, iOS) .

There’s nonetheless fairly distinct seasons although. Once I went in August, the climate was ten occasions higher than once I went in February. In contrast to year-round sunny locations like Madeira or the Canary Islands, the Azores are nonetheless at a reasonably excessive latitude main to delicate temperatures and fairly changeable climate, so be sure to pack for several types of climate it doesn’t matter what time of yr you go.

Disclosure: my first go to to the Azores was with help from the native tourism board. (I traveled independently on my second go to.)