Azores, an archipelago located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, which is characterized by its unmistakable landscape. In Azores, buildings painted white and with dark-colored stone elements contrast with the lush green backdrop and the deep blue of the sea that surrounds its islands. In Azores, we are confronted with the duality of nature, sometimes calm, other times rebellious. There we can experience first hand the enormous tranquility of the mountain, but also the fury of the sea!
Although they stand out for their natural elements, Azores also offer us a very rich material and cultural heritage, enchanting all those who visit. If you visit Azores, we are sure you won’t regret it! You’ll want to return time and time again…
HOW MANY ISLANDS ARE THERE IN AZORES?
Azores archipelago consists of nine islands and a few islets. These islands, of volcanic origin, are usually divided into three distinct groups: the Eastern Group, the Central Group and the Western Group. The Eastern Group is the closest to mainland Portugal and contains the largest island of the archipelago. It is composed of the islands of Santa Maria and São Miguel. The Central Group is the group that includes the largest number of islands and where the highest point in the country, Pico mountain, is located. It is composed of the islands of Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge, Pico and Faial. The Western Group is the farthest from the European continent and where the smallest island is located. It is composed of the islands of Corvo and Flores.
WHERE IS IT AND HOW TO GET TO AZORES?
The Autonomous Region of Azores is located in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean, about 2000km from the Iberian Peninsula. It belongs to the Macaronesia region (“fortunate islands”), together with Madeira, the Canaries and Cape Verde. To travel to Azores, the best option is, without a doubt, to fly. Due to the liberalization of airspace, it is easier to fly to Azores nowadays, as there are more flights and more affordable travel airlines operating. There are airports on several islands in the archipelago, namely: São Miguel, Santa Maria, Faial, Pico and Flores. The remaining islands have airports or airfields, so it is possible to reach any of them by air. It is also possible to travel by boat between islands.
HOW TO GET AROUND IN AZORES?
When it comes to getting around within Azores islands, there are a few options. Most of them have bus service. However, the reduced number of routes and buses in circulation make this modality only practical in some specific cases, such as circulation inside urban centers. That said, the best way to get around in Azores is by car. There are numerous car rental services on all the islands, including at the airports. Still, if you want to rent a car, we advise you to do it in advance, since there is a lot of demand. For those who do not want this option, the alternative may be to join excursions and guided tours provided by tour companies that include transportation.
WHEN TO VISIT AZORES?
Azores are a magical place that can be visited at any time of the year, and the choice of when to travel there should be made based on the objectives that motivate your stay in the archipelago. Still, generally speaking, the summer months are the best time to visit. This is because, although humid and rainy weather is a constant throughout the year, in autumn and winter the probability of encountering tropical storms and intense fog becomes greater. Also, if you visit Azores during the summer, you can more easily enjoy its natural pools and black sand beaches.
WHAT IS THE AIR AND SEA TEMPERATURE IN AZORES?
Azores archipelago has a temperate climate. In summer, the average temperature is around 24ºC, and in winter, around 13ºC. In other words, the archipelago has, as a rule, temperatures that can be considered mild practically all year round. This region is characterized by high relative humidity, around 75% most of the time, which can have an impact on the thermal sensation. As for the ocean water in the coastal area of the various islands, it has very pleasant temperatures in the height of summer: between 17ºC and 23ºC! These temperatures are due to the passage of the Gulf Stream and are an excellent incentive to take several swims in the sea.
WHAT TO VISIT IN AZORES?
Azores are made up of nine islands that have a lot to offer. Although they share some characteristics between them, each island has attributes that distinguish it from the others and make it unique. In the following lines we intend to present you – in broad strokes – what you can find in each one of them, to help you in the difficult task of choosing which one (or ones) to visit.
Santa Maria, also known as Ilha do Sol, was the first island to be discovered and populated in Azores. This island is endowed with great natural beauty, where the beaches of fine sand stand out. Praia Formosa is the most famous of all, being considered the most beautiful beach in the archipelago. It is characterized by a lighter colored sand and is very sought after by tourists. It is on this beach that takes place a major music event in Azores, the Festival Maré de Agosto, which has been held since 1987.
The municipality of Vila do Porto is the oldest region. In the historical center we find important monuments, such as the Nossa Senhora da Assunção Mother Church and the Santo Antão Chapel, but also numerous bars, restaurants and stores, so it’s worth taking a walk there. To get to know the customs and traditions of this island, don’t miss a visit to the Santa Maria Handicraft Cooperative. Here you can learn more about the history of the island, but also see the various types of handicrafts that are traditionally produced there, such as patchwork quilts. Besides that, it’s a good place to taste some regional sweets.
If you enjoy hiking and getting in close contact with nature, Santa Maria has many options at your disposal. The island has several pedestrian trails. One of the most emblematic is Pico Alto, the highest point on the island. We also suggest a visit to the village of Maia, a peaceful village located at the foot of a cliff, in a bay area. There you will find the Aveiro Waterfall, one hundred meters high.
SÃO MIGUEL ISLAND
São Miguel, the Green Island, is the largest island of the archipelago. In São Miguel we find a “sample” of everything the other islands have to offer, which makes it an island of exceptional diversity and beauty. This island is known for its magnificent lagoons, among which are Lagoa das Sete Cidades and Lagoa do Fogo. If you’re a fan of hiking, take the opportunity to follow the various hiking trails that take you to the various lagoons and, this way, you’ll be able to see landscapes that will leave you speechless.
If you like water, in São Miguel you will have no trouble finding interesting options. There are black sand beaches with good access, such as Praia de Santa Bárbara, but also the Ilhéu de Vila Franca do Campo, which is only accessible by boat and has a circular beach whose terrain changes a lot depending on the tide. This island also has a series of natural pools. The highlight goes to Ponta da Ferraria, where the ocean waters mix with waters heated by volcanic vapors. Also worth mentioning are Caldeira Velha and Poça D. Beija, hot water pools in very different environments.
Vila das Furnas is a beautiful village that in the center has fumaroles where the famous Furnas stew is made. If you have the opportunity, take a walk in the Terra Nostra Park. Finally, we mention Ponta Delgada, one of the capitals of the archipelago. The historical center has several attractions, including a marina, where you can have a drink overlooking the sea.
Terceira Island, also called the “Lilás Island”, stands out for its beautiful landscapes. The landscapes of Terceira can be admired from several viewpoints, for example, the Miradouro do Facho, the Monte Brasil and the Serra do Cume. For an unforgettable experience on this island, we suggest a trip to Algar do Carvão, a volcano located in the center of Terceira. It is possible to walk around inside it and the route is made by a huge set of stairs. Inside the cave, at the bottom, there is a lagoon. The experience of swimming in the ocean can be lived in Calheta dos Biscoitos, the largest natural pool in the region.
The city of Angra do Heroísmo is the historical capital and was considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Its historical center stands out for being very colorful and for having several buildings of high patrimonial value. To finish, we cannot fail to suggest a visit to the city of Praia da Vitória. Here you can appreciate typical architecture, but also enjoy the marina. There is also a beach that is much appreciated by locals and tourists.
SÃO JORGE ISLAND
São Jorge, the Brown Island, is the ideal destination for those who wish to do adventure tourism. It provides conditions to perform several water activities, such as surfing and sailing, but it is also a great place to go hiking and explore caves. This island, known for its fajãs (cultivable land by the sea), is endowed with unique landscapes. The pedestrian trails that exist in São Jorge allow you to see the fajãs up close, a symbol of the relationship between Man and Nature. The fajã of Caldeira do Santo Cristo is considered one of the most beautiful and presents an enormous variety of fauna and flora. The fajã do Ouvidor, which also has an undeniable beauty, has the advantage of good access and natural pools, such as the Natural Pool of Simão Dias.
One of the caves that can be visited are the Algar Montoso Caves. However, to explore the caves it is advisable to have good physical preparation and it is essential to be accompanied by an experienced guide. On Fajã dos Vimes you will find the famous Café Nunes. The coffee served at this establishment is grown in the back of the owner’s house. Besides tasting the coffee, you can also take a tour of the plantation, an activity that is appreciated by tourists from all over the world. It remains for us to mention that you cannot end your visit without tasting the delicious cheese of São Jorge. A real delicacy!
Graciosa Island, sometimes called White Island, was classified as a World Biosphere Reserve. Rare species of seabirds can be found on this island, and the preservation of these spaces is of the utmost importance. One of the places where you can observe these birds is the Ilhéu da Praia, which can be visited, as long as you follow a set of rules. Graciosa is very popular for aquatic activities, such as diving and fishing. The bays of Santa Cruz, Folga and Praia offer ideal conditions for sea sports such as windsurfing and sailing.
But these are not the only activities you can do on the island. Here you can also go hiking, for example on the trail around the Caldeira. If you like adventure, be sure to go to Furna do Enxofre, one of the most important geosites in the archipelago. The interior of this volcano is visitable and the cavity is an impressive 40 meters deep. There is a visitor’s center, so that you can enjoy the place in complete safety. Ponta da Barca is the highest lighthouse in the Azores, Ponta da Barca Lighthouse. Here you will find a viewpoint from which you can see the Ilhéu da Baleia, a very famous rock formation and a landmark of the landscape of this island. Another symbol of Graciosa’s landscape are its windmills, which can be found in several places.
To relax, go to Termas do Carapacho. These have been used since the 17th century and its waters were believed to contain miraculous and healing powers. The architecture of this island can be appreciated in all its splendor in the municipality of Santa Cruz da Graciosa, whose historical center is very interesting and has several churches that are worth a visit.
Pico Island is the Grey Island and home to the highest point in Portugal, Pico Mountain, which is 2351 meters high. It is possible to climb the mountain, however, this feat should only be undertaken by those with experience and in good physical shape. On this island you will find a region that was classified as World Heritage by UNESCO due to the wine produced there, Madalena do Pico. Visit this region, tour the historical center, the vineyards, go to the museum and, of course, taste the wine that makes it famous!
Lajes do Pico is the oldest town on the island. The historical center has buildings that date back to the 16th century, such as the Ermida de São Pedro. Similar to other islands, this area was intensely dedicated to whaling in the past and the Whalers Museum is the ideal place to learn more about this subject. In the Lajes do Pico area you can also enjoy natural pools and hiking trails and go diving. Other pools in Pico worth mentioning are the natural pools of Criação Velha, with its clear and calm waters and rocky but also sandy areas.
For those who like camping, Pico Island proves to be a great destination. The Prainha do Norte Forest Park has almost two hectares of native Azorean vegetation. Here you will find a picnic area, a playground and a camping area, a place that provides good hours of leisure and rest with the family. The Morricão Windmill area is also a good bet. Near this historic windmill, you will find camping and picnic areas. A short distance away, you will find Poça das Mujas, an area of natural pools.
Faial Island, or Blue Island, is a place full of life and history, where there is no shortage of points of interest and opportunities for various activities. Horta is the main city of the island and is definitely worth a visit. One of the main elements of this city is its marina, built in the 1980’s. Horta’s marina is an open-air work of art that is constantly changing, since there is a tradition of sailors and sailors taking advantage of their passage through the marina to have their boat painted. It is the fourth most visited marina in the world. From here you can enjoy a privileged view of Pico mountain. We can’t talk about Horta and its marina without mentioning Peter Café Sport, one of the most famous bars in the world that serves as a meeting point and support for sailors. Pay a visit to this historic establishment and try the gin and tonic.
Faial Island is an excellent place for scuba diving and whale watching. This island has a past closely linked to the whaling industry, which was once the main engine of its economy. To learn more about this, we suggest you visit one of the island’s museums dedicated to the subject, among them, the Scrimshaw Museum. The Volcano of Capelinhos is one of the places you should not miss. This volcano, which erupted in 1957, caused deep changes in the island, marking its recent history. The Interpretation Center of the Capelinhos Volcano is a must-see and was considered one of the best museums in Europe. Porto Pim Beach is the most popular beach in Faial and it is impossible to remain indifferent to it. This beach, situated in a bay, is characterized by calm waters and a surrounding landscape of unique beauty.
The island of Flores, sometimes called the Pink Island, is characterized by its very green and wild landscapes and a little different from those found on the other islands of the archipelago. One of the great attractions of Flores Island are its boat trips along the coast, where you can enjoy its unique landscapes from a different perspective.
One of the most popular places on the island is the Poço da Alagoinha, which consists of twenty waterfalls. Poço do Bacalhau is another place with a waterfall, this one ninety meters high. The water that comes out of the waterfall is icy cold, and the bravest can venture out and try their hand at bathing here.
Go to Rocha dos Bordões, a peculiar-looking rock formation, and let yourself be enchanted by the wonders that Nature is capable of creating. Another of the wonders that you can’t miss on a visit to the island of Flores are the Lagoa Negra and Lagoa Comprida. Located side by side, these lagoons are characterized by their dark water. The Lagoa Negra is quite deep and its waters fill the Lagoa Comprida as they flow.
Corvo Island is the smallest island in the whole archipelago and is known as Black Island. The only inhabited place on the island is Corvo Village. From this urban center, the Nossa Senhora dos Milagres Church stands out, built during the XVIII century. In the village, you will also find the Empire of the Divine Holy Spirit or Casa do Espirito Santo. This building was the former cultural and social center of the island and is currently the place where the official celebrations are held. For useful information on what to see and do on this small island, we suggest you stop by the Corvo Environmental and Cultural Interpretation Center, where all kinds of support is provided to visitors.
The main tourist attraction in Corvo is the so-called Caldeirão, a large volcanic element that has a lagoon inside. Praia da Areia, also called Portinho da Areia, is the only beach with sand in the whole island. It is worth a visit for the transparency of its waters. If you are a traveler looking for peace and quiet during your vacation, then Corvo Island is possibly the perfect destination for you!
VIRTUAL TOUR TO AZORES
UNMISSABLE EXPERIENCES IN AZORES
SPAS, RELAXATION AND WELL-BEING IN AZORES
If you are looking for a destination to relax, the Azores are, without any doubt, an excellent option. Besides the natural beauty of its islands, which in itself already has a relaxing effect, the archipelago offers some relaxing experiences that you will love. Thermalism is an activity that joins health and leisure, performing several treatments with thermal waters where they originate. The geological conditions of Azores archipelago give rise to hydrothermal resources characterized by carbonic water springs and iron water cascades. These resources have been known and exploited since the 16th century, and in the past these waters were believed to have miraculous powers. These waters have therapeutic and relaxation properties and have numerous benefits, such as reducing stress, improving blood circulation, cleansing and moisturizing the skin, among many others.
São Miguel and Graciosa are the two islands that stand out at this level, offering a wider range or services with higher quality. In São Miguel, there are the Furnas Valley swimming pools, the Terra Nostra Park, the Ferraria hot springs, Poça D. Beija and Caldeira Velha. On Graciosa Island, there are the famous Termas do Carapacho. An important tip: if you want to try bathing in the iron waters, we advise you to wear dark and older bathing clothes, since it is very common for these waters to stain the fabrics.
WALKING TOURS IN AZORES
Azores have a network of classified pedestrian trails, which makes them a very pleasant place for those who enjoy long walks. Since they are classified trails, they offer all the conditions to be enjoyed with all the well-being and safety. Still, we believe that it is very important to inform yourself about the characteristics of the trails you intend to explore before starting your walks, so that you are well prepared. You can do the tour independently or opt to buy a program that includes a guide and transportation. The trails in the archipelago are, in fact, the few land paths that existed on the islands in the past, since the best way to travel was by sea. The paths are narrow and sometimes winding, and were used by the inhabitants to get around on foot or on horseback.
These paths, which had a very practical side, have been subject to conservation or rehabilitation and are currently used as a way to better understand the islands, providing access to hidden or higher areas. The trails go through areas of enormous beauty and where you can observe the best landscapes of the islands, giving access to volcanoes, lakes, fajãs and waterfalls. It is an activity that can be practiced throughout the year. In total, the archipelago has more than sixty trails, for all tastes and with various levels of difficulty. For the more adventurous, there are extensive routes on several islands. We highlight São Jorge, which has two high difficulty routes and also Faial, where there is a trail that goes from one end of the island to the other.
DIVING IN AZORES
If you like diving, Azores are a place that should be at the top of your list! The archipelago is characterized by a favorable climate and moderate sea currents, providing excellent conditions to practice the sport. In addition, it is also home to very diverse fauna and flora, which makes it even more appealing. The best time of the year to practice diving in the Azores is between the months of June and September, due to the water temperature. However, it has good visibility all year round.
All the islands have diving centers. For beginners, we suggest the Santa Cruz da Graciosa area, which is characterized by its shallow depth and easy access. For the intermediate level, the island of Flores is more indicated, since it has a slightly deeper depth than Graciosa. For more experienced divers, Pico Island offers the most interesting conditions. We cannot fail to mention the Ilhéu de Vila Franca do Campo, in São Miguel, as it is the most popular place for diving in Azores.
It is important to remember that in order to dive, you must have an international certificate. If you don’t have the certificate, you can choose to take a diving course and have an instructor present during the activity.
WHALE AND DOLPHIN WATCHING
Azores archipelago has, for a long time, a strong relationship with cetaceans. In the past, it was characterized by whaling, one of the most important industries in the region and that, fortunately, no longer exists today. Today, the relationship remains but has gained a tourist aspect, through whale watching tours. There are more than twenty species of cetaceans in Azores, that is, a third of the whale species that exist in the world can be observed in the archipelago! In the summer, it is possible to observe sperm whales, spotted dolphins, baleen whales, and sardine whales. In winter, the most commonly seen species is the blue whale, the largest animal on the planet.
Whale watching services are usually characterized by a boat ride and observation of the animals. You will be accompanied by a guide who shares information about the various species and you will have the opportunity to take pictures. In some cases, there is also the possibility of swimming with dolphins, an experience that is certainly unforgettable. One of the most suitable places to do this activity is the city of Horta, in Faial. This is where the research centers of the University of the Azores are located, which are dedicated to the study of these animals, and the guides are often scientists. São Miguel, Ponta Delgada and Vila Franca do Campo are the best places to find this service. On Pico Island, where there has always been a strong whaling tradition, you can find several museums and ethnographic centers dedicated to this theme. Thus, you can combine a more historical and theoretical learning to the practice of animal observation.
PARAGLING IN AZORES
Paragliding is another interesting activity that you can try during your visit to Azores. Practically all the islands have good take-off and landing areas, so it’s not difficult to find a place to practice this activity. It is important to mention that paragliding can be practiced throughout the year, however, the best conditions for this modality are in the summer.
Although paragliding can be done on several islands, São Miguel is, without a doubt, the best place for this sport. The island has numerous places with the ideal characteristics for its practice. In São Miguel you can fly over the volcanic craters of the lakes of Fogo and Sete Cidades, where you can combine the thrill of paragliding with stunning scenery.
If you intend to practice paragliding during your stay, be sure to contact the Clube Asas de São Miguel (CASM), where you will find information about this sport and all the necessary assistance. São Miguel is also home to the Azores Paragliding Festival, where you can watch demonstrations by paragliding professionals.
SURFING IN AZORES
Azores offer an idyllic setting for all those who enjoy surfing. The good conditions in the water, together with the beauty of the landscape, result in a unique surfing experience. For these reasons, the archipelago is very sought after by surfers, especially from mainland Portugal and Spain.
Like other activities, it is possible to surf in Azores all year round, but each season has its advantages and disadvantages. In winter, the swell is stronger, which is due to depressions and cold fronts. In summer, the swell comes from the south, caused by tropical storms and is known as “August tide”. Considering these factors, some people consider that the best times to surf are spring and fall. This is because during the winter it is possible that the swell is too strong, and on the other hand, in the summer it is sometimes inconsistent.
All the islands are suitable for surfing, however, São Miguel is the one that offers the best conditions and where you can effectively surf all year round. It hosts several surf championships, such as the WQS World Circuit in Ribeira Grande and the Azores Airlines Masters Championships at Santa Barbara beach. It should be noted that the fajã do Santo Cristo, on the island of São Jorge, is considered a must-see for surfers who know the archipelago.
BIRDWATCHING IN AZORES
In recent years, the popularity of Azores has increased as a destination for birdwatching. Currently there are companies offering this service in almost all the islands. Due to its geographical position, Azores archipelago stands out as a place that offers exceptional conditions for the observation of some species, particularly migratory species. This is, in fact, the only point in Europe where American migratory birds pass through! Almost four hundred different species have already been observed in the Azores, and of these, thirty choose the archipelago to nest.
In São Miguel and Graciosa endemic species stand out, for example the Priolo, a very rare species that only exists in a small region of São Miguel and the Painho-de-Monteiro, a seabird native to the islets of Graciosa. On Terceira Island it is common to observe gulls and waders. As for the islands of Flores and Corvo, they are the place of passage of American passerines.
If you intend to do birdwatching in Azores, it is essential to bring comfortable clothes and shoes. Don’t forget to bring a raincoat too, since the weather is unstable and it can rain at any moment.
TYPICAL AZOREAN GASTRONOMY
Azores are known for the exceptional freshness of their products. Azorean cows, one of the symbols of the archipelago, are known for producing superior quality milk and cheese, but also meat, which is used in the region’s gastronomy. The gastronomy of Azores is rich and varied and each island has its own typical dishes. The Furnas stew is, without a doubt, the most famous of the Azorean dishes. But there are others that also enjoy fame, such as the steak regional style, the rump steak Terceira style, the fried chicharros with Vilão sauce and the Espírito Santo soups. Each island also developed its own specialties in sweets. The massa sovada, the malassadas, the carrilhos, and the queijadas da Vila are some examples of those you must try. The list is already long, but we can’t talk about Azorean gastronomy without mentioning the Azorean pineapple, the cheese from São Jorge and the red wine from Pico.
HISTORY OF AZORES ARCHIPELAGO
Azores are a Portuguese archipelago that throughout history has proven to be of great strategic importance, especially as a stopping point during sea voyages. The date of the discovery of this archipelago is still shrouded in some uncertainty, having occurred somewhere between the mid-fourteenth century and the fifteenth century. It is known, however, that Gonçalo Velho Cabral arrived at the island of Santa Maria in 1431 and that in the following years the remaining islands were reconnoitered, east-west. After Gonçalo Velho Cabral’s trip, Infante D. Henrique orders the island to be populated.
Azores were a point of stopover during the Age of Discovery and, later, in the India Career. They also became a zone of resistance in moments of crisis or change in Portugal, as for example, in the succession crisis of 1580 and during the liberal wars. In the 20th century, during World War II, they were used as a strategic point by the allied forces. In the 18th century, it was in Azores that some of the country’s important industries were developed exclusively, such as whaling and the cultivation of tea and tobacco. Azores are enshrined as an Autonomous Region in the 1976 Constitution.