1. There Are Nine Islands
Though all connected, there are three main clusters of islands. The western group is home to Flores and Covo. In the center, you have Terceira, Graciosa, Faial, São Jorge, and Pico. To the east, you have Santa Maria and São Miguel. The largest of the islands, Sao Miguel is likely where you’ll fly into. You can get between the islands, though it’s not the most straightforward task in the world, and will likely take a combination of flying and ferrying between them. If you’re going for a brief amount of time, sticking to Sao Miguel is probably your best bet.
2. Each Island Has a Different Vibe
Not all of the Azores islands are created equally. But that’s part of what makes this archipelago so incredible. Each island can be summarized more or less as such:
- Corvo: the smallest of the islands, is snorkeling and diving.
- Flores: a ton of waterfalls and lakes, excellent for birdwatching
- Terceira: the second most populated island, full of lush meadows and volcanic scenery. Check out Algar do Carvao.
- Graciosa: Maybe the island that has been stuck in time. A bit tougher to get to and will have the fewest amount of people.
- Sao Jorge: cliffs, ravines, lakes, and surfing, this small island has any kind of adventure you’re looking for. It’s also home to Queijo de Sao Jorge, a delicious unpasteurized cheese.
- Pico: Dominated by Mount Pico, the volcano is undoubtedly the focal point of the island. Pico is also home to some great wine that literally grows on lava rocks! Come on, that’s pretty dope.
- Faial: dramatic moonscapes that will make you feel like you’re on another planet. Check out Lagoa da Caldeira, an impressive-looking crater on the island.
- Sao Miguel: the largest of the islands and the most populated. If you’re going to spend less than 4 days in the Azores, I would definitely stick to just Sao Miguel. It has plenty of hikes, fantastic food, and will give you a little bit of everything.
- Santa Maria: Supposedly, this island has the most consistent weather and golden beaches you might usually associate with tropical destinations. The most famous beach, Praia Formosa, is where you’ll want to be for crystal clear waters and great swimming.
3. The Weather is Sporadic
If you haven’t gathered by now, the Azores are islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. And, as with all islands, the weather can change in an instant. Generally, it keeps pretty moderate all year, but day to day it will definitely vary. Even in summer, the weather can change widely, so don’t bother trying to plan a tight itinerary. On top of that, the weather can be vastly different on each part of the island. The best advice is to just be flexible with your plans. There are some great tools out there that can help you, though, like Spot Azores. Basically, every day you should wake up, check the website, and see where to start the day. Most viewpoints and popular spots are on the website.
4. Pack Well
Since the weather can run the gamut, packing is essential when visiting the Azores. Make sure you have plenty of layers, especially ones that can pack down pretty small. The weather can change on a dime, so you’ll need to pull out a rain jacket in case of a quick rain shower. Also, the top of the volcanos may be a bit colder than in town, so a light sweater or quarter-zip will be pretty crucial too. And of course, you’ll want to look presentable when you’re eating some grub in town. Check out my packing list as a good start point for your trip.
5. You’ll Need to Rent a Car
There are some buses and private tours available, but I wouldn’t bother with either of those options. Renting a car when visiting the Azores is a must. Most of the best hikes are a bit out of the way and require some planning. Oh, and remember what I said about the weather? If it decides to pour rain at one of your spots, then at least with a car, you’ll have more flexibility with your schedule. There is one main highway on Ponta Delgada, EN1, which circumnavigates the entire island, making it pretty easy to navigate.
6. You Don’t Need to Change Hotels
The islands are small. Even the largest island, Sao Miguel, can be driven around in only a few hours. So I’d recommend just picking a base station and making day trips from there. On a trip there, I stuck to Ponta Delgada, the largest city on Sao Miguel, and then just made three individual day trips to each part of the island, depending on the weather. Another popular spot is Furnas since it has some resorts and hot springs.
7. Viewpoints are everywhere
All throughout the island, there are miradurous, which are spots with fantastic views of the islands. Luckily, most of the miradouros on EN1 are clearly marked and have areas where cars can pull over and take some pictures. Some of the more common ones can be a bit crowded, but I never had issues. These miradouros really are everywhere, so be prepared to stop often.
8. It’s Budget Friendly
You might imagine a tropical island with fantastic food and beautiful vistas is going to cost you. Maybe the best part of the Azores is that you can have all of this, and it won’t necessarily break the budget. Consider one example; one day I had a fantastic breakfast on my hostel’s rooftop, went hiking all day, had a mouthwatering steak for lunch, did a bit more hiking, spent some time at a hot spring, had a couple beers watching the sunset, and finished with a grilled octopus dinner back at my hostel….all of this for under $70.
9. It’s an Outdoor Paradise
If you’re a fan of nature, the Azores are a wonderland. From hiking volcanoes, dense forests, to beaches…the islands really do have everything. You can experience a wide variety of landscapes within hours of each other, especially on Sao Miguel. You have canyoning, whale watching, swimming, snorkeling, and the list goes on.
10. Don’t forget to checkout a Thermal Spa
What’s the only logical thing to do after a long day of hiking? Well bathing in geothermal waters, of course. Luckily, Sao Miguel has you covered. In the village of Furnas, you have a few different spa options to choose from. I went for Poça Dona Beija, but the other popular one is Terra Nostra, which also has a hotel if you’re interested in staying the night in Furnas.
So there you have it, if you’re not convinced to head to the Azores yet, you might be a lost cause. Full of adventure, food, drink, there’s not much else to ask for. And even better, the islands don’t seem to be hurt by mass tourism just yet. I’m not sure how that’s possible, and this article probably won’t help, but so far, they’ve flown under the radar with most international travelers. So, visit the Azores before the masses spoil them.