Floating 1,400 kilometres west of the Iberian Peninsula, São Miguel island is the jewel in the crown of the Azorean archipelago. Here’s a comprehensive and complete 5-day guide on things to do and see in São Miguel island.
From thousands of years old bubbling geysers, to flower-lined winding roads, hikes spiraling around dormant volcanoes, and natural thermal pools scattered throughout the island, São Miguel island is a dream. Which is why I’ve prepared a comprehensive Azores travel guide!
If you’re not familiar with the Azores or need more convincing, check out my post on why the Azores is Europe’s best-kept secret.
São Miguel Island
São Miguel island is the largest island in the Azores, measuring 62.1 km in length and 15.8 km at its maximum width. This means that depending on which roads you take, you can see both the north and south side of the island at the same time!
São Miguel island is also home to the Azores largest city and its capital: Ponta Delgada. The best part? Today, only 5-10% of the island is built-up, leaving the rest to nature. Excited yet?
With such a relatively small area to cover, basing yourself in Ponta Delgada and setting out on day trips around São Miguel is the best way to see everything the island has to offer.
During my five days in São Miguel, I divided the island up into five pockets which I used as my itinerary for each day. This worked so well for me and managing my time during the trip that I wanted to share it with you.
Whilst there is so much that can be done, seen, and explored in São Miguel island, my complete and ultimate itinerary ensures that you will see and experience the best of the island.
I’ve covered everything including accommodation, car rental, where to eat and how to manage your days around the temperamental Azorean weather.
Five Things You Should Know
Before we jump in, here are five important things you should know about this itinerary to São Miguel.
- If you’re visiting São Miguel for the first time, this guide is for you! This guide assumes you have no prior knowledge of the island and its incredible beauty. Boy, are you in for a surprise!
- You’ll need a car to get around. I recommend hiring a car as there is little to no public transport. Plus, having a car will give you the freedom to start and end your days on your terms. I used Let’s Rent A Car who provided me with a fuel efficient Škoda Citigo.
- I’ve tried to find a balance between quality and quantity. That being said, how often do you get to go to the Azores? For some, this might be a once off experience and you want to see as much as possible. The best part of this itinerary is that you can adjust it to suit your needs and personal preferences. For each daily bucket list, each location is no more than 30 minutes from the next, which gives you total flexibility should you prefer to linger a bit longer at any location.
- It allows for last-minute itinerary changes. Something I wasn’t prepared for was how quickly the weather changes in the Azores. When the heavens open up and clouds roll in, some of the best viewpoints are…well, invisible! My advice? Keep track of the weather constantly and check the conditions of the locations before you go. You can either the SpotAzores website or app. It’s a total game changer! Luckily, the size of the island allows you to zigzag around in case you need to chase good weather. To give you an idea, getting from the east to west coast will take no longer than 90 minutes.
- Keep a towel handy. There are lots of thermal pools and beaches on this itinerary so make sure you come prepared. Bring an old swimsuit, I’ll tell you why later. Just take my word for it.
So, without further ado, here is my complete 5-day São Miguel island road trip itinerary.
Looking for something in particular? Use these links to jump around.
Included in this guide to São Miguel
Want to know where you’ll be going? Take a look at the detailed map below.
Tip: For a larger view of the map, click on the icon in the top right corner. If the icon is hidden and you’re viewing this on your phone, go to landscape mode. Technology, eh?
Click on this interactive map and see where this itinerary will take you. I’ve created this map using Google Maps which you can save and use as you travel around the island.
The coloured pins represent different pockets of the island to explore each day. Click on any pin for more information.
Day 1 – Purple pins
Day 2 – Green pins
Day 3 – Turquoise pins
Day 4 – Yellow pins
Day 5 – Pink pins
Saving the best till last isn’t always the smartest idea, at least not in the Azores.
Visiting Sete Cidades requires good weather otherwise you risk seeing very little. That’s why I recommend that on your first day, you aim to visit the western part of the island. That way, if the weather isn’t in your favour you can easily try again the following day.
Chances are that if you Googled the Azores, you most likely saw a picture of the Sete Cidades. It’s the postcard of the island and quite possibly the Azores.
Sete Cidades literally means, ‘seven cities’ and is one of the 7 Natural Wonders of Portugal. The views over Sete Cidades and its lakes are nothing short of impressive and awe-inspiring.
Lagoa das Sete Cidades (Lake of the Seven Cities)
At its centre, there are two lakes, one green and the other blue which are separated by a bridge.
According to legend, the lakes were formed from the tears of a shepherd and a princess who shared a forbidden love because of their different social status. They say that the last time they met, their tears formed the lakes. The tears of the blue-eyed shepherd formed the blue lake while the those of green-eyed princess created the green lake.
The less romantic version explains the colour difference is due to the fact that the surrounding vegetation causes the light to reflect differently.
Either way, it’s still an impressive sight!
Lagoa das Sete Cidades can be enjoyed from numerous vantage points, each offering a new and wonderful perspective.
Miradouro da Vista Do Rei (Viewpoint Of The King)
Appropriately translating to, Viewpoint Of The King, this may be the first glimpse you’ll see if Sete Cidades. Not a bad introduction! The best part of the Sete Cidades is that it can be enjoyed in different ways, including taking any one of the hiking trails.
There is also an elevated dirt road, which is quite narrow at some points, which spirals around the lake. You can both walk or drive along this road whilst enjoying the different perspectives over the lakes.
Miradouro da Boca do Inferno (Hell’s Mouth Viewpoint)
If you thought the views from Vista do Rei were awesome, prepare yourself to be blown away with Miradouro da Boca do Inferno! Literally translated to, Hell’s Mouth Viewpoint, the name does little to suggest how peaceful and impressive this vantage point really is. The narrow dirt track draws you in leading you down towards the viewing area. When you look up, you feel the volcanic crater and mountainous landscape engulf you in 360 degrees of unparalleled beauty.
Take a moment here and try to comprehend how old this land is. This volcanic crater is 22,000 years old!
Tips on Getting to Boca do Inferno Viewpoint
- Blink and you’ll miss the entrance! Whether you’re coming from Vista do Rei or from Ponta Delgada (South East) the entrance looks like more a concealed driveway. Avoid taking any turnoffs that will take you down to the Sete Cidades village. Look out for a blue sign indicating a stop 100 metres ahead.
- Depending on how early you get there, some cars may already be parked outside making the entrance more obvious. It’s here you’ll see the Lagoa Do Canário sign. Turn down the dirt road and park your car.
- At this point there are a lot of tall trees, continue on foot for less than five minutes until you see the stairs.
- From here, it’s just 5 minutes away from the viewpoint.
Tips on Visiting Boca do Inferno
- Time: Allow 1-2 hours to wander around, get some great photos, and savour the moment.
- Price: Both entrance and parking are free!
- Pro Tip #1: For awesome moody shots come here just before the sunset. Note that the gates close at 4pm on weekdays and at 7pm on weekends.
- Pro Tip #2: This place gets busy! So, go early. When I went it was at the end of the season and I arrived as soon as the gates opened at 8:30. I literally had 10 minutes alone before other people started arriving. By the time I left at 10am, cars were parked all the way out back onto the main road.
- Pro Tip #3: Remember to check the weather. Suns out, guns out. When the sun shines here, the landscape comes alive with vibrant colours.
After enjoying the views from above, head down towards the lovely quaint village of Sete Cidades.
Along the way, you’ll pass over the bridge that separates the blue and green lakes. Stop here and say hi to the birdlife on the banks before continuing into town.
Fancy a bike ride or kayaking in the lake? In town, you’ll find a few hire shops. Not a bad way to pass the afternoon.
Not to be missed in town is the lovely village Church of Saint Nicholas (Igreja de São Nicolau). The beautiful tree-lined promenade leading to the entrance is worth stopping by for.
Ponta da Ferraria
Put on your swimsuit, it’s time to relax in Ponta da Ferraria geothermal spring.
Not only is the location itself unique, sitting at the base of a giant lava rock cliff, but the spring opens up to the ocean creating a wonderful mix of hot and cold water that dances around your body.
Also located here are housed thermal baths with an outdoor swimming pool and restaurant. Visit Termas da Ferraria for more information.
Tips on Visiting Ponta da Ferraria
- Time: Allow 2 hours to bathe then relax at the kiosk with a beer in hand.
- Price: Entrance and parking are free!
- Pro Tip: Go at low tide to avoid be scalded. Ouch!
The cherry on the sundae is ending your day at Mosteiros.
Mosteiros is a civil parish which saw its first settlers around 1480. The name Mosteiros, means monastery in Portuguese and refers to the nearby islets, the largest of which is shaped like a church.
Come here an hour or so before sunset. Cosy up either on the beach or head around to the rocks on the right and watch the water crash over the boulders. Soon enough the sky will turn electric purple bringing this magical day to an end.
Today, we’re exploring the east and southeastern parts of the island.
The Nordeste and Pedreira districts are some of the wildest and most remote parts of São Miguel island. The sea cliffs are stand tall and steep, the vegetation is thicker and more vibrant, and the roads are more sinuous. Everything in this area is worth stopping your car for.
Ponta da Madrugada Lookout
Start your day early and head east! Watching the sunrise from the famous Ponta da Madrugada (literally means, Dawn Point) is a must! The drive coastal drive here alone is truly one of the most beautiful roads I’ve ever driven on.
Bring some breakfast, sit at any of the picnic tables and enjoy the sunrise over the vast blue Atlantic ocean.
Take a slight detour north and visit the beautiful octagonal cylindrical lighthouse, Faro do Arnel. This was the first lighthouse built in the Azores used by ships arriving from mainland Portugal.
There is a wonderful spiral road leading to the lighthouse, but the best view of both the lighthouse and the road is from Miradouro da Vista dos Barcos (Viewpoint of the boats). Keep an eye out for road signs indicating the lookout on your right-hand side.
Tips on Getting to Arnel Lighthouse
- Pro tip: Once arrived, I strongly recommend parking the car and continuing on foot. The spiral road down is 35º. Don’t risk stranding your rental car on the return trip.
Ponta do Sossego Viewpoint
Heading south once more, stop at Ponta do Sossego where you’ll be welcomed in by a colourful garden land before opening up into a picnic area. These gardens are maintained all year around so you’ll never miss their beauty. Stretching over 13,000 m2, take some time to visit the terraces located at different altitudes. The dramatic views from here are nothing short of breathtaking.
Lagoa das Furnas
Sitting in Furnas Valley, home to dozens of thermal springs, fumaroles and geysers, is Lagoa das Furnas (Furnas Lagoon). This lagoon is one of the three main lagoons in São Miguel.
The valley is in fact a volcanic crater which has been dormant since 1630, when the last eruption occurred.
Capela de Nossa Senhora das Vitórias
Also worth visiting here is the Capela de Nossa Senhora das Vitórias dedicated to Our Lady of the Victories. This funerary chapel was built by José do Canto, a gentleman-farmer of São Miguel, after his beloved wife passed away from a terminal illness. When José eventually died, he was buried alongside his wife, fullfulling his wishes.
There is a lovely view of the lagoon and the chapel from a jetty as you approach the chapel.
With a complicated 100,000 year history, the central caldera of the Furnas Volcano is a naturally explosive trachyte structure composed of two main calderas, that through formation, collapse and explosion have marked the natural history of the massif.
Caldeiras das Furnas and Fumaroles from Lagoa das Furnas
On the opposite end of the lagoon are the Caldeiras hot springs where the famous local dish Cozido das Furnas (Furnas stew) is prepared and transported to location restaurants.
A path navigates around the holes of boiling water and geysers where the stew is cooked.
While the dish itself might not be your best meal of the trip, it is, nonetheless worth trying. I mean, how often do you eat a meal cooked by Mother Nature herself?
Where to Eat Furnas Stew (Cozido das Furnas)
Each day several restaurants located in Furnas village send their stews to be cooked in the Caldeiras. The two most noteworthy are Tony’s and the restaurant at Terra Nostra Garden Hotel. Eating at Terra Nostra Garden Hotel also gets you complimentary access to Terra Nostra park and the thermal pool.
Head to the main village and see how the locals live alongside thirty springs and geysers each with different temperatures and chemical compositions. These range from warm iron-rich streams to mineral-rich warm and cold water. The air here is literally filled with sulphur.
Owing to a population of several thousand people who live within and around its caldera, Furnas is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the archipelago. The first recorded eruption occurred in 1440, just after early settlers started populating the coasts of São Miguel.
Terra Nostra Park
Covering 12 hectares, Terra Nostra Park is one of the most beautiful gardens in Europe boasting lush vegetation, over 2,000 different trees, peaceful promenades, lilypad-covered ponds, and a huge thermal pool.
Bathing in the ferrous orange thermal pool at Terra Nostra Park is one of the island’s postcard experiences. Full of essential minerals, the thermal spring heats the water to 35 – 40 degrees Celsius (95 – 140F).
Tips on Visiting Terra Nostra Park
- Duration: Allow at least 1 hour to explore the gardens then half an hour to relax in the thermal pool.
- Price: 8 euros, includes access to the park thermal pool and showers.
- Pro tip #1: Don’t wear your favourite swimsuit though, the minerals will leave your whites looking a little orange. Wear something old and dark.
- Pro tip #2: Go here on a cloudy or gloomy day. Save that sunshine for visiting places at higher altitude. Plus, having a hot bath feels so much better when it’s cold.
Poça da D. Beija Thermal Spa (Optional)
While the thermal experience is similar at Poça Dona Beija, swimming in those at Parque Terra Nostra is more of a novelty because of the orange water. Unless you really love your thermal experience, there’s no need to do both.
Poça da D. Beija offers a more authentic experience with it’s complex of newly refurbished five outdoor pools at various temperatures. Since they’re open till 11pm daily, why not stay for a romantic evening dip.
Tips on Visiting Poça da D. Beija Thermal Springs
- Duration: Anything from 1 hour
- Price: Entrance fee is 4 euros in Poça Dona Beija
Lagoa do Fogo
One of the most beautiful yet difficult to see places on the island is Lagoa do Fogo. Literally translating to ‘Fire lake’, only on my third visit did the clouds part to reveal this impressive lake.
Lagoa do Fogo sits in a crater with a maximum depth of 30 metres. This is the island’s highest lagoon (sitting 575 metres) and the second biggest.
Miradouro da Lagoa do Fogo (Lookout)
If you reach the lookout and find the area drowning in cloud or fog, allow 15 minutes or so for it to pass (fingers crossed) it’s amazing how quickly the weather changes up there.
Once you arrive at Miradouro da Lagoa do Fogo, take the path down to the beach. After thirty minutes you’ll reach the unspoiled shoreline.
Tips for Visiting Lagoa do Fogo
- Duration: Anything from 1 hour, allow more time if heading down to the beach
- Price: Free 🙂
- Pro tip 1: Check the weather ahead of time. Having said that, even on a sunny day there can still be lots of cloud cover. Be patient and wait a little before leaving. You may need to return another day.
- Pro tip 2: Since this is a Natural Reserve it’s important to be as respectful as possible. Don’t leave any rubbish/trash behind or go swimming if you’re wearing sunscreen.
- Pro tip 3: Located higher up overlooking Lagoa do Fogo is Pico da Barrosa. Weather permitting, you’ll be able to see both the north and south coastlines of the island. Pretty cool!
Located a few minutes down the road on the north slope of the Fogo Volcano is Caldeira Velha, a scenic nature preserve featuring lush vegetation, a waterfall, and hot springs. I love this place because it’s not located near a town and the towering trees make you feel like you’re at one with nature.
Located in Caldeira Velha is a park are two stone-walled naturally heated pools. Both surrounded by lush vegetation, the smaller one is 38º while the largest is 21º.
Tips for Visiting Caldeira Velha
- Duration: You can’t rush relaxing. You’ll need anywhere between 1.5-3 hours to really it enjoy it.
Price: The entrance is 2 Euros (as per 2017).
- Pro tip #1: Same rules apply regarding your swimsuit. Wear something old and dark to reduce the signs of orange stains thanks to the mineral-rich water.
- Pro tip #2: There are lockers, changing rooms and showers, but be prepared for the cold water. It’s invigorating to say the least.
Salto do Cabrito
Salto do Cabrito, literally meaning ‘Kid’s Jumping’, has a 40 metre high waterfall. Next to the base of the water is a circular pedestrian route that sits high up amongst the thick foliage.
Miradouro de Santa Iria
Located in a ravine above the sea, the Santa Iria lookout offers a superb view over Santa Iria Bay and the northern coastline of the island.
This viewpoint is very close to the main road and has a small car park both near the main road and down the short road leading to the viewpoint.
Starting in the north-east of São Miguel island, begin your day at Ribeira dos Caldeirões Park before making your way down to the picturesque islet of Vila Franca on the south coast.
Ribeira dos Caldeirões Park
With flowing streams and three large cascading waterfalls, Ribeira dos Caldeirões Park is not to be missed.
It’s an idyllic spot for hikers to walk along rock-cut paths that wind through the mountains. The rainforest trails invite you to explore the lush landscape with endless photo opportunities along the way.
Gorreana Tea Plantation
Gorreana Tea Plantation is the oldest and currently the only tea plantation in Europe!
This family-owned business has been operating since 1883. There is a museum with free tastings, but this place is best experienced outside amongst the plantation itself where there is a magnificent view overlooking the Atlantic ocean.
Tips for Visiting Gorreana Tea
- Duration: 1 hour is enough to go through the premises and sip on a cup of tea.
- Price: Free
- Pro tip: Whether you enjoy tea, the process of making it or not, the views alone are worth the visit. If you do, there are free tea tastings inside.
Vila Franca Islet
Vila Franca do Campo was once the capital of the Azores but lost its status after it had been almost completely destroyed by a massive earthquake in 1522. From then on the capital of São Miguel was transferred to Ponta Delgada.
Sitting opposite the town of Vila Franca do Campo is the beautiful islet formed as a result of a crater of an ancient submerged volcano. At approximately 300 metres in length, this is the smallest islet I’ve ever seen!
It’s enclosed bay makes it the ideal spot for swimming and snorkeling. During the summer months, the islet can be reached by a regular boat connection from the Vila Franca marina. Get your tickets online.
Tips for Visiting Vila Franca Islet
- Duration: Allow yourself at least 3 hours here.
- Price:5 Euros
- Pro tip #1: During high tide the small beach is complete covered, grab a spot in the concrete area instead to avoid being washed out.
- Pro tip #2: Please be respectful of the island and leave nothing behind but footprints.
Our Lady of Peace Chapel
High up on the hills overlooking Vila Franca and the Atlantic ocean is Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Paz, a stunning 16th-century chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Peace. According to the legend, this chapel was built after the apparition of Virgin Mary to a shepherd, in a cave.
Swimming with Dolphins and Whale-Watching (from Ponta Delgada)
What could be better than spending the morning with Atlantic Spotted dolphins and Humpback and Sperm whales?
For two hours I swam with dolphins and observed these playful creatures in their natural environment. There were literally hundreds of them! Jump in and enjoy watching these majestic mammals, play, feed, and poop. (Look out for those white trails. Haha) You’ll definitely want to capture this once in a lifetime experience.
I went out with Picos de Aventura, who were amazing. The customer service was great and the two guides on board were patient, professional, and super passionate about their work and the wellbeing for marine life.
Picos de Aventura offer diving trips, whale watching, and swimming with dolphins and gear hire. I love my whales but this time I wanted to see the action underwater so opted for the swimming trip. For more information and to book a tour, visit Viator.
The Azores attracts many species of cetaceans which makes heading out in the ocean a must-do activity. If you can, plan your trip between April and June for the best whale watching. For dolphins, I saw plenty of them in September. They were also still running whale watching trips.
Tips for Swimming with Dolphins in São Miguel
- Duration: The trip last 3 hours, this includes the time it takes to reach the dolphins and return to shore on the RIB boat.
- Price: Tours start from 75 Euros for a 3-hour trip.
- Pro tip #1: If you suffer from lower back problems or are pregnant, do not go on this trip. The RIB boat ride is pretty intense.
- Pro tip #2: Take sea sickness tablets. If you’re not accustomed to swimming in the open ocean, chances are you feel nauseous. At least 3 others on the tour did. Come prepared.
- Pro tip #3: The water is very choppy. If you’re not a confident swimmer, speak with the guides to advise you if this is right for you. I honestly struggled the first few stops we made, then I learned to relax and avoid wasting my energy on swimming too much.
Tips for Whale-Watching in São Miguel
- Duration: The trip last 3 hours
- Price: Tours start from 55 Euros
- Pro tip #1: Whale watching is big business and many tour companies break certain laws in order to get their boats as close as possible to the whales and boasts being the best tour. They are actually breaking the law when they do this. Both safety and ethical regulations are in place to protect the well-being on the whales so make sure you go out with a trusted company, such as Picos de Aventura.
- Tours depart morning, early afternoon, and evening from both Ponta Delgada and Vila Franca marinas.
- Tours book out quickly so secure your spot at least a few ahead of the tour.
With all of the island’s treasures now under your belt, it’s time to explore the Azores capital city, Ponta Delgada.
- City Hall
- Portas da Cidade (City Gates)
- Parish Church of São Sebastião
- Campo de São Francisco
- São Bras Forte (Open 10am – 6pm, Closed Saturday & Sunday)
- António Borges Botanical Garden (Open everyday 9am – 8:30pm)
- A. Arruda Pineapple Plantation (Open everyday 9am – 8pm)
- Hermitage of the Mother of God – End your day here at sunset for best view over Ponta Delgada.
Ponta Delgada is a relatively small so you can cover a lot of ground just on foot. Allow 1-2 hours each at the São Bras Forte, António Borges Botanical Garden, and A. Arruda Pineapple Plantation.
For more information about Ponta Delgada, use my complete guide to the city here.
Where to Eat in Ponta Delgada
Essential Azores Travel Information
Getting to the Azores
Getting to the Azores is easier than you might think. You can hop on a boat or catch a plane. Direct flights depart from the USA, Canada, UK, Sweden, Spain, Belgium, Denmark, Portugal, France, Germany, and Finland.
SATA / Azores Airlines offer the most routes with other operators such as TAP Portugal, Primera, TUI, Germania, Ryanair, 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 located in Ponta Delgada with most flights connecting here.
Pro Tip: In some cases, you may be eligible to get a FREE inter-island connecting flight. Find out more here
Heading to Portugal? Download my free Portuguese Travel Phrase guide here.
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, check out these top-rated hotels!
Need more options? No problem. Here is a list of pre-selected hotels, villas, and guesthouses in São Miguel with excellent ratings. The list only includes rooms with wifi and top reviews, so you can’t go wrong!
Azores Getaways offer great prices on flight and hotel packages to the Azores. There are packages starting from 320 USD for 7 nights accommodation with return flights to London.
I recommend using Azores Getaways if you:
- Are travelling from Europe or the United States.
- Want to visit the best spots but don’t much to do all the research
- Want someone else to book and organise everything for you
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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