3 hours! If you live in mainland Portugal, you will only need 3 hours to get to São Miguel.
SAO MIGUEL AZORES
It is both easy and difficult to talk about São Miguel and the Azores. The first time I went to the Azores I was 40 years old. A few hours after landing I thought, “How was it possible to have waited 40 years to see such BEAUTY? How was it possible to have known so many foreign countries and never come to the Azores before?”
In the vastness of the blue ocean, chance, nature (or God) created a place so full of such profound beauty that makes us reflect on our place in the universe: the Azores. The population of São Miguel represents more than half of the total population of the Azores. This island is part of the eastern group of the Archipelago (along with the island of Santa Maria).
HOW TO GO TO SÃO MIGUEL ISLAND?
First of all, let’s look at the distribution of the different islands across the archipelago.
Together with the island of Santa Maria, it forms the eastern group of the archipelago. The island of São Miguel is the largest of the 9 and the one that receives more tourists. It is also, in my opinion, the first island that should be visited by those who go to the Azores for the first time. The reason is simple, São Miguel has everything the others have. And still adds a great offer when it comes to accommodation and restaurants (not all islands have this variety and quality of offer).
WHEN TO GO AND HOW MUCH IT COSTS TO FLY TO SÃO MIGUEL ISLAND?
The weather in Azores has a low temperature range (minimum of 15 degrees in winter and maximum of 26 in summer). Usually the hottest months are the summer months (July to September). On the other hand, the months with the most rain are October and December. If you like to swim in the sea with slightly warmer water, choose the months of July, August, September and October. Keep in mind that fog is a regular presence on the islands (on all the islands) and that fog is the enemy of the magnificent views that the viewpoints offer. July and August are the months with the least fog and are our recommendation for your trip! As for the price, it varies a lot but I would say that if you buy in advance you will get a Lisbon – São Miguel flight for less than 150€.
WHAT TO VISIT IN SÃO MIGUEL?
The list of attractions is so vast and this article has so much information that we decided to divide the attractions into 3 types to make your search easier: NATURAL HERITAGE (lakes, beaches, viewpoints), CULTURAL HERITAGE (churches, hermitages, forts) and URBANISTIC HERITAGE (cities and parishes not to be missed). We also decided to include several maps so that you can organize and plan the sequence of your visits.
NATURAL HERITAGE IN SÃO MIGUEL
7 CIDADES LAGOON
Sete Cidades Lagoon is located in the northeast region of the island of São Miguel. The lagoon stretches for over 4 kilometers and has a depth of 33 meters. It was born after the eruption of the volcano in 1445. It has two colors (green and blue) but it is just one lagoon that has come together to create one of the most incredible images of São Miguel. The difference in color is due to the different concentrations of algae that exist there. The Lagoa das 7 cidades holds the title of one of the 7 Natural Wonders of Portugal.
The “Lagoa das 7 cidades” is not just another lagoon, it is THE LAGOON! Blue and green, it is breathtakingly beautiful. Although all the viewpoints are appealing, we recommend the King’s viewpoint and the Cumeeiras viewpoint (this one is much less known and is just opposite the King’s viewpoint). Be sure to visit the village of 7 cidades so that you can explore the shores of the lagoon and enjoy the lagoon up close.
PONTA DA FERRARIA
Emblematic place of the island! It is a natural “swimming pool”. The water is heated by volcanic vapors and mixes with Atlantic water. You must pay attention to the tides. When the tide is high, you feel little warm water. When the tide is out, the hot water feels too much. Plan your visit so that you can enter the “pool” when the tide is half full/empty.
LAGOA DO FOGO
Another must-see lagoon in São Miguel! It is the highest lagoon (575 meters) and the second highest on the island. Lagoa do fogo is inside a volcanic caldera. During your drive up to the top, you will have many opportunities (miradouros) to enjoy the landscape from different angles. If the day is clear and cloudless (fog), you will once again have a view that will be forever etched in your memory. Important tip: be psychologically prepared for weather setbacks (fog that prevents the visibility of the places you plan to visit).
You can check the weather condition (fog) with a webcam HERE! Choose the webcam “Lagoa do fogo”. After you reach the top of the Lagoa, we suggest you walk down to the beach (it will take about 30 minutes – equivalent to a 2 kilometers walk). At the bottom you will have the whole lagoon to yourself. Take appropriate footwear!
There are many activities you can do in Furnas! You can go see the geysers and fumaroles in the town center. The village itself is also worth a walk. You can go for a walk through the park, the caldera (you have to pay 1 euro) and the lake itself. Regarding the gastronomy, be sure to try the famous stew of furnas as well as its leavened breads.
VISIT POÇA DA DONA BEIJA
It is one of the great attractions of the island of São Miguel. Poça da Dona Beija is located in Furnas and opened its doors in 2010. It has 5 pools (tanks) of hot water with different depths and with different temperatures. A clean, refined and well organized space. The name of the place is related to the old Brazilian soap opera “Dona Beija”. In the soap opera a waterfall often appeared where the character “Dona Beija” bathed. One of those experiences that you can’t miss and that will remain engraved in your memory.
It is located in the center of the Furnas Valley and was created in 1775. It was an American man, Thomas Hickling by name, who fell in love with the beauty of the region and decided to create his haven of relaxation. The park surrounding the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel has 600 species of camellias and other equally rare and beautiful species. The super tank has volcanic water at a temperature of 40 degrees (!) (I remember that I had to enter slowly in order not to burn myself…). The water is rich in iron, hence its iron color. The pool has some water outlets that perfectly complement the relaxation experience.
The caldeira velha is part of a natural monument with several natural pools. There are several pools at different temperatures (between 26 and 32 degrees). The pools are inserted in a landscape with luxuriant vegetation, paradisiacal and super relaxing scenarios. Residents have free access to the old hot springs, tourists have to pay 8€ to walk around the park and bathe in the thermal waters. The maximum stay is 2 hours to allow for a rotation of people in the space. The old caldera allows access to people with reduced mobility and provides users with changing rooms that allow them to take a bath before or after the relaxation experience.
VILA FRANCA DO CAMPO
It is located in the southern part of the island and is famous for its natural beauty and especially for its small islet. A circular-shaped paradise that is nothing more than the crater of a submerged volcano! It is classified as a nature reserve, offers crystal clear water, and the possibility to observe an immense variety of plants and fish. To go there you have to hitch a ride with the tour operators that make the trip between May and October. You can stay there for a few hours. Don’t forget to take your camera because rarely in your life will you visit a place as special as the islet of Vila Franca do Campo.
LAGOA DO CANÁRIO VIEWPOINT
It is likely to be one of the most beautiful places on the planet! To get there you have to climb and climb, just as you have to fight hard to acquire something you really want. But when you reach the top… words fail to describe what you see! It is a case to say that a picture is worth a thousand words.
SALTO DO CABRITO WATERFALL
A majestic crystal clear waterfall at an altitude of 40 meters. A calm and relaxing place that invites you to take a dip. It is located near Ribeira Grande and the access is through the road to Lagoa do Fogo, on a dirt road. If you like to walk, you can choose to do the trail that starts and ends at the calderas of Ribeira Grande. If you do that you will have to pass by this waterfall!
ANTÓNIO BORGES GARDEN
Garden with 2.5 hectares located in the city of Ponta Delgada near the commercial center. It has a very diverse flora. It was built in the late nineteenth century and is one of the most beautiful and important historical gardens of São Miguel. It has vegetation from all continents distributed over a very rugged space. A great option for a walk and for a moment of relaxation in the shade of the many centennial trees that remain there. Admission is free.
BOCA DO INFERNO VIEWPOINT
The Boca do Inferno (also known as Grota do Inferno) viewpoint is another of the island’s highlights. It is the place that so often appears as the calling card of the Azores and its beauty is infinite. If you go there, you will be in the throat of a volcano and surrounded by the most beautiful that nature can offer. In this place, walk slowly, take your time and never be in a hurry. Breathe deeply and enjoy, enjoy! The red trail will take you to the two-colored lagoon (another trademark of the island). To your right you can see the Sete Cidades lagoon that appears in bluish tones. A blue that contrasts with the green that surrounds it. Two other lagoons appear in the sequence of the trail, the Santiago Lagoon (in dense green tones) and the Rasa Lagoon. Unforgettable…
PEDRAS NEGRAS VIEWPOINT
From Pedras Negras viewpoint you can see a rock that resembles an elephant (in profile). Nearby there is also a guarded natural pool (if you want to lie down, be aware that there is only one cemented place to do so).
SANTA IRIA VIEWPOINT
One of the (many) viewpoints you can’t miss. It is on the way to the northeast region of the island. Especially beautiful at sunset and sunrise. If you are lucky and if the fog gives you a truce, from the viewpoint you can see the north coast, the cliffs, the slopes, the green vegetation and the infinite blue of the ocean. If you’re a photography enthusiast, make your visit at daybreak to enjoy the light.
PICO DO FERRO VIEWPOINT
One of the most spectacular views of the island. It is about 4 minutes by car from the Furnas Valley. Next to the viewpoint you will find a parking lot. After parking the car you will have to walk about 40 meters until you reach the viewpoint and can contemplate the valley of Furnas. Unmissable!
It is in the municipality of Vila Franca do Campo that we find the magnificent Lagoa do Congro. A secret pearl that, because of its difficult access, is usually off the tourist routes. To get there you have to prepare yourself for a reasonably long walk (700 meters) in the middle of abundant vegetation. Those who accept and win the challenge are then rewarded with a breathtaking view. The Conger Lagoon differs from all the other lagoons on the island in that it is located in a fairly flat area, surrounded by dense vegetation. It has approximately 500 meters and a depth of 16. The vegetation that “embraces” the lagoon covers the crater walls of the volcano.
RIBEIRA DOS CALDEIRÕES NATURAL PARK
The natural park of Ribeira dos Caldeirões is located on the slopes of Serra da Tronqueira, in the parish of Achada (municipality of Nordeste). It has a luxuriant and very varied flora, predominantly Larissilva and tree ferns. The park extends along the Ribeira do Guilherme watercourse. It stands out a waterfall that sustains a significant part of the park.
PONTA DA MADRUGADA VIEWPOINT
It is located at Lomba da Pedreira in the northeast of the island. Because it is the best place on the island to watch the sunrise, it was given the name Miradouro da Ponta da Madrugada. It offers a view of the mountain range of Tronqueira. In the area you will find several gardens with an incredible variety of flowers. At the viewpoint there is a picnic area equipped with a barbecue grill.
PONTA DO SOSSEGO VIEWPOINT
It is very close to the Madrugada viewpoint. As the name indicates, calm and tranquility reign here. From here you can see the beach of Lombo Gordo and Fajã do Araújo.
The Azores’ beaches are not its main tourist attraction. The sands are small and black (of volcanic origin). Still, Mosteiros beach is the most beautiful beach in São Miguel. On a sunny day, it will be a pleasure to stretch out on the beach and enjoy the sun. The water temperature in summer usually varies between 21 and 23 degrees. In the other seasons the temperature is usually between 17 and 21 degrees.
URBAN PATRIMONY IN SÃO MIGUEL
Ribeira grande was elevated to a city in 1981. It is located on the north coast of the island and has several natural and architectural attractions. In the center you can find some buildings with gothic traces and two very beautiful churches. It is the flattest region of the whole island and where we can see the volcanic massif of Barrosa that rises to 947 meters. The Casa da Cultura is an example of a manor house. In Ribeira Grande there are many examples of palatial and stately buildings. There are many attractions in Ribeira Grande: Santa Luzia viewpoint, Ribeira Grande swimming pools, tobacco museum, museum of Azorean emigration, 8 arches bridge, municipal museum of Ribeira Grande, Fogo lagoon, caldeira velha, cascade of salto do cabrito, viewpoint of ponta de santa iria, porto formoso tea factory, São Brás lagoon, Santa Barbara beach, viola beach, moinhos beach, monte verde beach.
RABO DE PEIXE
It is an Azorean parish that is much talked about and not always for the best reasons. Rabo de Peixe is a neighborhood of fishermen and farmers and is also one of the poorest neighborhoods of the Azores (and of the country). The village has a very interesting cultural heritage and there we can find the Santana astronomical observatory, the Bom Jesus parish church and several interesting hermitages (Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Conceição, Ermida de Nossa Senhora do Perpétuo Socorro).
VISIT THE NORTHEAST OF THE ISLAND
The Northeast region of São Miguel is probably the least known area of the island but it is, in my opinion, the most beautiful region of the island. Traveling by car in this region is an idyllic experience, so many are the paradisiacal images that we come across. There are many green fields, slow cows, and flowers (hydrangeas and azaleas) that embellish the northeastern landscapes. It is in the northeast that we find the highest place on the island, Pico da Vara, which rises to 1100 meters of altitude and offers an absolutely magnificent view! In this region be sure to pass by Ponta da Ribeira, Ponta do Amel and Ponta da madrugada.
The capital of São Miguel is a harmonious mixture of the white of its houses and the black of the basalt rocks. Walking through the historic center is always the best way to get to know any place. During your walking tour, be sure to visit the main church, the city gates, and the Conceição Palace. If you have a particular interest in the history that connects the Azorean population to the sea, then visit the Carlos Machado museum. There you will learn a lot about the importance of fishing to the Azorean people. Taking a walk along the waterfront will give you a chance to feel the power and smell the Atlantic and, at the same time, see the city of São Miguel from a different angle. In the western part of the city, don’t miss the Forte de São Brás, the Espírito Santo church and the Convento da Esperança.
PORTO FORMOSO COAST
It is on the north coast of the island that we find Porto Formoso. A parish that owes its name to the sheltered harbor that lies in a beautiful cove. There you can see the Obelisk of Ladeira velha, a monument that immortalizes a hard battle fought there during the liberal war (1829 – 1834). Praia dos moinhos is the main attraction of the place, a sandy beach crossed by a fresh water course and embraced by large cliffs. Close to the beach you will find the Ladeira da velha, a spring of thermal water that springs up at a temperature of 30 degrees!
PARISH OF MOSTEIROS
It belongs to the municipality of Ponta Delgada and is located on the northwest coast of the island. It is a picturesque place with a strong fishing and agricultural connection. It has a fishing port and natural pools called Poço da Pedra. During the months of July, August and September the dark sandy beaches of the parish are very busy. The beaches have therapeutic qualities that are due to the algae found there. Besides the natural beauty, the greatest reasons for pride in Mosteiros are its main church (1837) and also the chapel of São Lázaro.
PARISH OF SALGA
It is one of the highest points on the island. For this reason, the wind is a constant presence and it is known among Azoreans as the “land of the windstorms”. The parish of Salga has about 500 inhabitants and is one of the youngest villages of the northeast region of the island. Famous academics and successful businessmen were born here, a fact that explains the development of this place. If you visit Salga you should know that it has the following tourist attractions: São José church, fountains, viewpoint of the flour jump, viewpoint of the starlings stone, viewpoint of the horse jump, bathing area of foz dos coelhos.
FAIAL DA TERRA PARISH
Another picturesque village that is in the southeastern area of the island. A quiet, peaceful place with leafy vegetation. It was in this municipality that the first settlers of the island arrived. Faial da terra has a vast and interesting historical heritage: Nossa Senhora da Graça church (16th century), Nossa Senhora de Lurdes Chapel (1900), the fountains and the bandstand. Also in this village there are beautiful viewpoints such as the Pico dos Bodes viewpoint and the Nossa Senhora de Lurdes Chapel. High places that provide a beautiful perspective of the village.
VISIT THE GORREANA TEA PLANTATIONS
It is on the island of São Miguel that we find the oldest tea plantation on the European continent! Since 1883 the Gorreana tea has been planted in Maia (municipality of Ribeira Grande) keeping its ancestral qualities. A knowledge that has passed through 5 generations of Azoreans. The plantations are spread over a vast territory (32 hectares = 32 soccer fields). The climate and soil of the region result in an annual production of 33 (!) tons of a plant called Camellia Sinensis. If you want to visit the plantation, the factory and the museum there is the option of a guided tour. Hours summer: 9h-18h, winter: 9h-17h
MÃE DE DEUS CHAPEL
A 20th century hermitage that replaced an older temple dating from the 16th century. It has a very beautiful and typically Azorean facade. It is almost always closed but still worth the visit. Besides being able to appreciate the hermitage, you will also have the opportunity to enjoy the viewpoint that offers a magnificent view of the city of São Miguel.
MAIN CHURCH OF SÃO SEBASTIÃO
The main church of São Sebastião (also called main church of Ponta Delgada), was renovated between 1531 and 1547 and is right in the center of the city near the Portas do Sol. It has a Manueline style and inside we can find a beautiful golden carving. It is a property of public interest since 1953.
NOSSA SENHORA DA PAZ CHAPEL
The chapel is in the municipality of Vila Franca do Campo, on top of the hill of Nossa Senhora da Paz. The temple was built in 1522 and rebuilt in 1764.
The story goes that the chapel was erected where a shepherd found the image of our lady.
From the top of the stairs we have an impressive view of Vila Franca do Campo. A landscape that contrasts the green of the vegetation with the white of the Azorean houses. In the background the vast ocean. A must see.
SÃO MIGUEL FORT
On all the islands of the archipelago we can’t find a single castle. Had you ever thought about that? The explanation is simple, the castles date back to the medieval era, which preceded the discovery of the islands. For this reason, in the Azores we find defensive fortresses. In Ponta Delgada there are several, with the passage of the resisted only the Fort of São Brás. A structure with a polygonal shape with 4 bulwarks prepared to integrate the heavy artillery of the time. Inside we can find the military museum of the Azores and a number of buildings representative of different past eras.
SENHOR DE SANTO CRISTO CHURCH
The Santo Cristo church is also called Nossa Senhora da Esperança and is located right in the center of the city of Ponta Delgada. It was built in the 17th century and boasts a magnificent set of 18th century gems and gold ornaments. The interior of the temple is very rich. It has beautiful golden carving, paintings and tiles from the 18th century. The city’s festivals always pass through this temple.
The Arnel lighthouse is located in the extreme northeast of the island. It was the first lighthouse to start operating in the Azores in 1876. Over the years it has undergone several renovations and improvements that allowed it to reach the present day in good condition and maintaining its functions. If you wish to visit it, you can do so all year round on a guided tour where you will learn all about the history and activity of the lighthouse and those who work with it. The lighthouse can be visited on Wednesdays and access is free. One last note to warn you about the EXTREME steepness of the lighthouse access. A real test of the car driver’s nerves. In case you don’t like this kind of adventure, we suggest you leave the car in the parking lot of the regional road and then walk the distance (the problem is the climb…).
VIRTUAL TOUR TO SÃO MIGUEL
WHEN TO VISIT SÃO MIGUEL?
The Azores archipelago has a subtropical maritime climate. Temperatures are moderate throughout the year and humidity is always high. Rain and fog are constant presences and do not choose seasons (although in summer it rains a little less). The temperature range is very small (about 10 degrees between the coldest and hottest month). Although the climate is fairly uniform throughout the year, the rainiest months are October, November and December. In June, July and August it rains less but the sky can be very cloudy.
TEMPERATURE AND RAIN IN SÃO MIGUEL
Visiting São Miguel means seeing and admiring magnificent landscapes. It means climbing to the top of the islands and looking for the best viewpoints. But the weather (especially the fog) doesn’t always help us. To minimize this “risk”, the summer months are the ones when you are most likely to be able to enjoy all the wonders that the island of São Miguel has to offer.
HOTELS IN SÃO MIGUEL
In São Miguel, the most central place is Ponta Delgada. You can choose to always stay in Ponta Delgada and travel by car to the places you will visit. You can also choose to sleep in the different regions of the island. Both options are good and feasible.
GRAND HOTEL AÇORES ATLÂNTICO
The guests’ overall rating is 9.5/10. 5 star hotel, located in front of Ponta de delgada Marina. In addition to the common amenities of a 5-star hotel, the Grand Hotel Açores Atlântico also offers a permanent exhibition on maritime transport, laundry service and babysitting.
It has an overall rating of 9.3/10. The hotel has a spa, conference rooms and 123 rooms with sea views. It is very central and very close to several tourist attractions (Fort São Brás and the Mother Church of São Sebastião). Couples particularly like the location of the hotel and gave it a rating of 9.2/10.
VALE VERDE HOTEL
Over 400 customer reviews and an overall rating of 8.5/10. It is in the center of the town of furnas. The rooms have private bathrooms and a panoramic view. It is a great option for those who enjoy hiking. There are several hiking trails recommended by the hotel. It also has private parking and also a car rental service.
CHANGE THE WORLD HOSTELS
Over 350 reviews and an overall rating of 8.6/10. It has female dorms, mixed dorms and twins rooms. The hotel rents bicycles and is located in an ideal area for those who enjoy cycling. The center of Ponta Delgada is only 2 kilometers away, and the airport is 4 kilometers away. There is a terrace and sea views in some units.
RESTAURANTS IN SÃO MIGUEL
If you like to eat and if you go to São Miguel, you can’t miss these dishes! The quality of the meat, the quality of the sausages and the quality of the vegetables are the factors that make the difference in this furnas stew. The stew is cooked using the natural heat from the natural boiler.
VALE DAS FURNAS RESTAURANT
Vale das Furnas restaurant is the most searched restaurant for this dish. It is a 2-figure restaurant (out of a maximum of 3), has over 800 comments on google and an overall rating of 4.1 (out of a maximum of 5 stars). The quality of the meat in the stew stands out. Less positive note for the quality of service.
HAVING A STEAK
Going to São Miguel and not eating a nice regional steak is like going to Rome and not seeing the Pope!
The most famous restaurant to try this delicacy is the Associação Agrícola de São Miguel. Here you have at your disposal 3 different cuts and 9 varieties. But there are many other restaurants where you can try the São Miguel steak.
ASSOCIAÇÃO AGRÍCOLA DE SÃO MIGUEL
A restaurant with over 7300 (!) reviews on Google and an overall rating of 4.6 (out of 5). The quality of the meat is exceptional, lots of wine options and very friendly staff. A must visit!
HISTORY OF SÃO MIGUEL
The exact date of the discovery of the Azores is still unknown. In 1432, Gonçalo Velho Cabral discovered the island of santa Maria and by 1457 all the islands of the archipelago had been visited. The colonization of the islands started in 1439 mainly with the population coming from Minho, Algarve and Alentejo. The second island to be discovered was precisely São Miguel. The first capital of São Miguel was Vila franca do campo. In 1522, a great eruption buried the then capital of São Miguel. It was then Ponta Delgada’s turn to take “charge”. Between 1580 and 1640, the Azores (as well as mainland Portugal) was subject to Spanish rule. After regaining independence, the Azores took on a role of great importance in world maritime commerce. In 1976, the Azores became a Portuguese autonomous region.