Off-the-beaten-path, the Azores is Europe’s best-kept secret full of exotic flora, breathtaking unspoiled landscapes, pulsating volcanic activity, and a myriad of dazzling sights at every corner. Here’s why you must get to the Azores before the word spreads!
There are few places in the world that are off the tourist track and this is one of them!
In the middle of the Atlantic ocean is a cluster of nine islands that you seldom hear about. You definitely won’t see it on Instagram (unless you follow me) and you’ll struggle to find useful information on Google.
It might be located in the Atlantic Ocean, but it’s no myth.
Far from the Iberian coast is the Azores. Part of Portugal, the Azores is an archipelago that boasts some of the most beautiful landscapes, flora, and marine life in the world.
Countless dramatic waterfalls, lush green pastures, empty winding roads lined with hydrangeas, and lakes nestled in volcanic craters kilometres wide, are just some of its highlights.
Leading up to my trip to the Azores, I received a lot of puzzled faces. No one seemed to have heard of the Azores and they definitely had no idea where it was. The Azorean word was definitely not on the street (At least not on the streets I walk).
Having said that, the Azores is on track to becoming the next big travel destination as better air travel connections are made. My advice? Get to the Azores before the masses find out!
Having remained in the shadow of mainland Europe for decades, the Azores is an exotic destination that offers both adventure and relaxation.
So, without further ado, here’s my quick-start Azores travel guide.
Where is the Azores?
In the North Atlantic ocean, sitting between 1,400-2,000km west of the Iberian Peninsula lies the Azores, an autonomous region of Portugal.
The Azores has long been missed by most travellers. In fact, it wasn’t until 1432 that Portuguese settlers claimed the islands. This was just 60 years before Columbus stumbled on the New World!
With flights times from mainland Portugal being just two hours, and four and a half hours from North America, getting to the Azores is a fairly easy no matter which side of the pond you’re on.
The Azores is made up of nine islands which are divided into three groups. Flores and Corvo, sit in the Western group; Graciosa, Terceira, São Jorge, Pico, and Faial are in the Central group; and São Miguel and Santa Maria lie in the Eastern group. Together, they extend for more than 600 km (370 mi).
São Miguel is the largest island of the archipelago, measuring 62.1 km in length and 15.8 km at its maximum width. It is also the most populous island with approximately 140,000 inhabitants according to a 2011 census. Also here, is the Azores largest city and capital of the archipelago: Ponta Delgada.
The best part? Today, only 5-10% of the territory is built-up leaving the rest to nature. Excited yet?
What to Expect in the Azores
It doesn’t matter if you go to one or all nine islands; you won’t be disappointed and you’ll want to go back for more!
For me, the Azores is analogous to Iceland, but with nicer weather. They’re isolated, virtually untouched and showcases a dramatic volcanic landscape.
Everywhere you look are either hydrangeas, cute quiet towns of black and white brick buildings, meadows of Friesian cows, towering trees, natural geothermal springs, and volcanic craters filled with aqua blue water, and black sand coastlines.
Every part of the Azores is a visual feast.
On the more practical side, there are restaurants, thermal spas, cafés and a wide range of supermarkets. The mobile network coverage works like a charm and wi-fi is readily available; even in small restaurants! After travelling quite extensively around São Miguel, I would say living in one of the larger cities/towns is equivalent to living in any small-medium sized European city.
If you’re still not convinced yet on the awesomeness of the Azores, let’s take a look at…
11 Reasons Why You Should Visit the Azores
1. See Nature at its Best
If gushing waterfalls, magnificent volcanic landscapes, blue and green lagoons, rolling green fields bordered with flowers, and jagged coastlines aren’t your thing, then the Azores is not for you.
On top of that, the Azores is constantly named as one of the most sustainable travel destinations in the world, scoring 84 out of 100 points.
2. Picturesque Black-and-White Towns
As you navigate your way around the islands you’ll encounter meticulously decorated cobblestoned streets in adorable black-and-white towns.
Look out for the lavishly decorated 14th-century churches which were later given a Baroque facelift.
3. Endless Activities and Adventures
Want to feed your adventurous side? The Azores has something for everyone.
The Azores has always been a sort of mecca for divers, but now they have become increasingly popular for outdoor activities such as hiking, bird and whale watching, paragliding, kayaking, sailing, swimming with dolphins, and surfing.
4. Cheap, Cheap, Cheap
My bank account barely broke a sweat during my one week in the Azores. The most expensive part of the trip is getting there (even then you can get good deals if you’re early) but once you arrive, money is a non-issue.
Visiting all the different vantage points and hiking the calderas are free. There are only small entrance fees to the various thermal pools which range between 2 – 8EUR.
Dinner for two with alcohol in a highly-rated restaurant in Ponta Delgada was 35EUR, a full tank of fuel for the rental car was 40EUR (which lasted four full days of driving).
5. The Azoreans are Friendly
Whether they speak English or not, the locals are friendly and all too willing to help you even with what limited vocab they possess. My Portuguese isn’t the best so whenever I wasn’t sure about something, we’d end up having a bit of banter.
Naturally, I recommend you use my free common Portuguese travel phrases guide, but even if you’re limited to just remembering a simple ‘Olá!’ (Hello!) and ‘Obrigado’ (thank-you), the Azorean’s will appreciate the effort.
6. Swim with Dolphins and Go Whale watching
The Azores is one of the best places in the world for whale watching. Around the archipelago, there are approximately twenty-five different resident and migratory species which can be spotted. The Sperm whale is amongst the most common, and both the blue and fin whale are regularly found in these waters.
I have a massive soft spot for marine life, particularly whales. But this time, I decided to do something I hadn’t done since I was 11 years old, swim with dolphins!
Endemic to the temperate and tropical areas of the Atlantic Ocean is the super cute Atlantic Spotted dolphin. For two hours I swam with and observed these playful creatures in their natural environment. There were literally hundreds of them!
For both dolphin swimming and whale watching trips, I recommend Picos de Aventura located in Ponta Delgada. The team were both friendly and professional. They also offer a range of other activities and provide all necessary gear. Book a tour here on Viator.
7. A Land of Volcanoes
The Azores are considered to be the Hawaii of Europe with its volcanic activity playing a big part in its comparison.Across all the islands you’ll experience volcanic phenomena. From its black sandy beaches, natural hot springs, geysers in Furnas where hot steam from deep underground burst to the surface to where food is cooked in the volcanic underground.
Then there’s the Capelinhos volcano where you can literally walk on the lava remains of a volcano that last erupted in 1958. This is the closest you’ll get to walking on the moon!
8. Even When it Rains it’s Warm
Thanks to its distance from the continents and by the passing Gulf Stream, the Azores enjoy a mild climate with daytime temperatures fluctuating between 16 °C (61 °F) and 25 °C (77 °F) depending on the season.
Having said that, it’s common to experience four seasons in one day. The weather changes quickly and frequently. All of a sudden the wind will pick up, the heavens will open blowing the rain almost horizontally, then all of a sudden the sun will come out in full force. Rinse and repeat.
9. Amazing Food and Wine
The Azorean cuisine is quite rich in flavours and thanks to the weather conditions green pastures provide plenty of nutrients to the animals. Rump stew is a speciality on the islands of São Miguel, Pico and Terceira and Santa Maria is famous for its turnip broth with pork.
Seafood is also popular with clams, grilled limpets, slipper lobsters, spider crabs and whelks all present on the restaurant menu.
In São Miguel, the most famous dish is Furnas stew because of how it’s prepared. This pot of meat and vegetables is buried in the fumaroles where it is slowly cooked over a 6-7 hour period.
To mop up all that stew you’re going to need some bread. There are several delicious kinds to choose including sweetbread and cornbread. My personal favourite is the bolos lêvedo, a type of sweet muffin. Every day I stocked up on these at breakfast. Nom nom!
Azorean cheeses, almonds, jams, and the sweet Azorean pineapple are just some of the other culinary highlights.
10. Unique Handicraft
The settlers of the Azores brought with them a wealth of techniques concepts and objects that ended up combining with natural resources. This resulted in works made from the most diverse materials including, fabric, vegetables, wood, metal, stone, bone, ivory, and fish scales.
Look out for the linen and cotton embroideries of Terceira and São Miguel, wicker baskets in Graciosa, Faial and Flores and loom quilts made of colourful sheep wool in São Jorge.
11. The Time is Now!
With the introduction of direct flights to the Azores, this awesome news for travellers means that now you can go somewhere different that is still close to home yet refreshingly undiscovered.
Since March 2015, the airspace in the Azores was liberalised, meaning literally any airline company can now fly there. Ryanair and Easyjet, TAP Air Portugal, Azores Airlines all have regular routes from Lisbon, Porto and London with flights as low as 30EUR from Mainland Portugal.
To cater for this newfound interest, hostels, guesthouses, alternative accommodation options as well as new activities and tour have been springing up like mushrooms.
But that doesn’t mean the islands are overrun with tourists. They’re still gaining momentum in their state of semi-discovery. Which means now is the time to go!
The Azores is still in that sweet spot where all the best offers and services are in place to get you the maximum experience without the hoards ruining this unspoiled landscape.
So, what are you waiting for??
Start planning your trip!
Essential Azores Travel Information
Getting to the Azores
You can reach the Azores by boat or by plane. However, more conveniently, there are direct flights from the USA, Canada, UK, Sweden, Spain, Belgium, Denmark, Portugal, France, Germany and Finland.
SATA / Azores Airlines offer by far the most routes with other operators such as TAP Portugal, Ryanair, Primera, TUI, Germania, and Delta offering regular flights to the Azores. My advice would be to fly from Porto, Lisbon or London where tickets are considerably cheaper.
The gateway to the Azores is Ponta Delgada airport, with the highest number of flight connections.
Pro Tip: In some cases, you may be eligible to get a FREE inter-island connecting flight. Find out more here
Where to stay in the Azores
Booking.com offers a lot of accommodation option in the Azores, from charming guesthouses to typical houses surrounded by nature. To make your life easier, I’ve put together a list of the best-reviewed hotels, guesthouses, and villas in the Azores.
Where to stay in São Miguel
If you are coming to the Azores, chances are you’ll most likely be at least spending a few days on the largest island, São Miguel.
VIP Executive Azores Hotel
For the week I was there, I stayed at 4-star VIP Executive Azores Hotel. This is the largest hotel on the island and includes all the comforts of home. There is an excellent gym, an interior swimming pool, squash court, bar, free covered private parking, a beauty salon with hairdresser, and Wireless Internet service. With a great view of the town and ocean and surrounding landscape, VIP Executive Azores is a 10-minute walk into town.
For an alternative accommodation option, I would recommend renting out an apartment or room through Airbnb. Cute Airbnb options are popping up all over the island so you’ll find some really beautiful places at very affordable prices.
Airbnb has numerous options from as low as US$36 per night.
Get it even cheaper by getting $34 off your first stay using my referral link.
Otherwise, search for yourself!
If neither of the options above sound right for you, I’ve created a list of pre-selected hotels, villas, and guesthouses in São Miguel. The list only includes rooms with wifi and with good-to-excellent reviews, you can’t go wrong with these!
São Miguel Flight & Hotel Deals
I don’t usually recommend travel agencies but I feel an exception must be made for Azores Getaways who offer great prices on flight and hotel packages to the Azores. Starting at 320USD for 7 nights accommodation and return flights to London.
I particularly recommend using Azores Getaways if you:
- Are coming from the United States or Europe
- Don’t have much time to plan your holidays
- Like to have everything organised before arriving
Don’t Miss These Awesome Activities
- Ponta Delgada Walking Tour
- Swim with Dolphins in the Azores
- Fogo Lake Quad Bike Full Day Small-Group Tour with Lunch
- Azores Canyoning and Thermal Baths Tour
- Half-Day Whale and Dolphin Watching Tour
- Furnas Volcano and Lake Full-Day Tour with Lunch
- Pico do Ferro Trail Hike and Light Yoga on São Miguel Island
- Plus loads more here…
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Over to you!
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