If I haven’t ranted about them enough, the Azores might be one of the most magical places on the earth. These islands aren’t the most accessible places to get to, but far and away worth the effort. Lush landscapes, foreboding volcanoes, fantastic food, the Azores quite literally have everything you might want. Including a small taste of urban life. Once a fishing village, Ponta Delgada is now the Azores’ largest city and economic capital.
As most trips to and from the Azores islands will include a stop in Ponta Delgada, it’s worth getting to know the city and what it has to offer.
Getting to Ponta Delgada
Getting to Ponta Delgada is pretty easy…mostly because there isn’t really any way around it. It’s the home to the largest airport of the islands, so all flights will at least include a stop there. Since Ponta Delgada is on São Miguel, the most extensive and most diverse island, you’re likely to be spending a good amount of time here, especially if it’s your first trip to the Azores.
From the airport, it’s a quick 10-minute drive down to the city center. And even on this short drive, you’ll probably think to yourself, “holy fuck, this is so beautiful already.” And while we’re on the topic of driving, you’ll most definitely want to rent a car. You’ll likely be exploring the entire island during your trip, not just Ponta Delgada itself. Car rentals aren’t too expensive, though; I paid about 53 euros for a four-day trip, so don’t fret too much.
Where to Stay
If you’re planning on staying the night in or around Ponta Delgada, which I highly recommend, there are a few options for you.
The first option, which I can’t recommend enough, is the Out of the Blue hostel. Yes, yes, it’s a hostel. But staying here was honestly one of the best experiences of my life. Generally, when you hear about people staying in hostels, you’ll either hear stories about bed bugs, people fucking next to you (yes, this happened to me), or any number of horror stories. Occasionally, you’ll hear stories about meeting many incredible, like-minded travelers and exploring exotic locales. In practice, though, the latter seems to rarely happen, if ever. Out of the Blue hostel is the latter.
It’s a small boutique hostel with a handful of rooms and a stunning rooftop. Complimentary breakfast in the morning, and I’m talking a real breakfast: coffee, granola, yogurt, fruit, pancakes…the works. At night, communal dinners on the roof (must contribute 10 Euros), including a wood-fired pizza night and fresh Portuguese octopus. So it’s the real deal.
They had people from all walks of life, young and old, who were just there to travel and experience the world to its fullest. So, there’s my long-winded plug for this hostel.
If you’re more of the hotel-going variety, I’d recommend the Azor Hotel. From my research, it’s probably the best hotel you’ll get in downtown Ponta Delgada.
What to do in Ponta Delgada
I’ll be straight up with you all, downtown Ponta Delgada isn’t massive. Meaning you’ll probably cover most of what’s to do in about a day. On the plus side, it’s very walkable? In reality, you didn’t really fly all the way to the Azores for a bustling metropolis; you came to be outside. That said, there’s still plenty of reasons to visit Ponta Delgada.
Explore all São Miguel has to offer
Given what I said above, this one might be a bit of a cop-out, but hear me out. Ponta Delgada makes an excellent launchpad for exploring the rest of the island. Since the city sits in the middle of the island, you can easily branch out and explore something new each day.
Many people, myself included, used each day to explore a different section of São Miguel. I was there for about five days, and each day I worked my way around São Miguel with day trips, returning the Ponta Delgada each night. The island is tiny and easily navigated, so tackling it with day trips is entirely feasible.
Be warned, though, planning too far in advance might not do you well. Since you’re on a small island, the weather reigns supreme here and can change instantly. One minute, brilliant sunshine, the next dense fog like you’ve never seen. So just be flexible with what you want to see and when. And don’t be super bummed if you miss out on some spectacular views; it’s probably going to happen. But fortunately, there’s another grand vista right around the corner. So pray to Jupiter, Freyr, or whatever deity you choose, but plan for your plans to change.
Exploring the downtown Ponta Delgada
Though it’s small, Ponta Delgada is still beautiful. As you meander down the winding cobblestone streets, the Portuguese roots are immediately noticeable; sidewalks adorned with artful tile-work and buildings lined with brilliant azulejos, it’s easy to get lost imagining the history of the city. Perhaps a touch of French influence as well.
Being on the water, there is a pretty robust marina section as well. Walking down towards the water and you’ll begin to see the maritime history. There is no real beach, though, so be warned. If you’re looking for something more beachy, check out the island of Santa Maria.
Eat incredible food from the Azores
I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t look for great food and drink while exploring. This is an area where Ponta Delgada and the Azores, more broadly, do not let you down. It’s a foodie paradise. São Miguel is fortunate to have a ton of agriculture, even though it’s a small island. And each island has its own climate, agriculture and specializes in its own type of food. The food in the Azores needs another blog post in and of itself.
The Azores are known for cheese, so you’ll absolutely need to try some of that. Of course, being an island, the seafood is incredible. One local delicacy is lapas, a type of crustacean that falls between a clam and oyster. Plenty of sausage varieties as well (including the famous blood sausage). And it wouldn’t be Portugal without some stew; more specifically, cozida das caldeiras, which is a stew cooked in a volcano.
Outside of food, there is Azores wine, usually white from the island Pico. There are also large tea plantations on São Miguel, like Chá Gorreana, and even small microclimates where coffee can grow. Like I said, there will be a dedicated post on all the food from the Azores, so be on the lookout!
So there you have it, Ponta Delgada. This city is a springboard to all the adventures you can have on the Azores. It also benefits from being the largest city, so it has a little bit of everything. So, if time is limited, Ponta Delgada is a fantastic place to explore all the Azores have to offer.