The Azores are a family of three main island groups with São Miguel representing the biggest. After being introduced to low-cost airlines, more and more people take the chance, to explore the mysterious archipelago.
A far-reaching history of high activity in three volcanoes has created space for incredible nature, exotic birds and unique adventures.
This sounded like the best call for us to book a flight from Lisbon to Ponta Delgada at a price, that seemed impossible a few years ago.
After a stay of 10 days in São Miguel (unfortunately with constant rain) we came up with 18 things you should see or do, in order to grasp the island’s special flair.
1. Rent a car
Yes, you’ll need it, even though some may tell you, that you can hitchhike your way around the island.
Here is the truth: no you can’t!
At least not in the pre- or after-season months, as there are only very few tourists. They’re mostly retired hikers and their wives on a tight schedule.
There is less chance, that they will offer you a ride. You will see them rather hiking, fully equipped, starting early in the morning, long before you crawl out of your tent.
So make sure to have a car booked, preferably before you arrive on the island, as the prices of the local rentals can be pretty high.
2. Travel with your tent
Although there are some hotels and a few hostels (only in Ponta Delgada) consider, that they are not really cheap.
If you sleep in your tent, you’ll not only go easy on your budget, but you’ll also find a lot of hidden places among beautiful nature. If you have no clue, where to set up your tent, drive to Porto Formoso.
It is a free, public campsite with showers and eco toilets. Before sleeping, you should definitely walk to the beach nearby and enjoy a beer under the starry sky.
3. Enjoy breakfast on a miradouro
If you want to keep it cheap, buy some cereal in the local supermarket or grab a coffee and a pastel de nata in a traditional Azorean snackbar.
Every café, shop, stand and restaurant is called a snackbar here. If you wake up early, there is no better spot to observe the sunrise, than one of the viewpoints.
Sometimes you can see something, that looks like boats, far away in the ocean. If you have binoculars, the boats turn out to be whales.
4. Explore the Azorean miradouros
Miradouros are the great landmarks of the island, which offer splendid views.
The first thing you realize, when you stand there, is the greenness of the whole island. That’s why it’s called Ilha verde.
Here is what you should do: Mark all the miradouros on your map. Every time you will be rewarded with a different view of the island. I cannot tell which miradouro is the most beautiful, as all of them are unique.
However, my preference is the miradouro with the gardens, located on the hill below the viewpoint. It proviedes benches and tables for a picnic.
5. Grab a tea in the Gorreana tea factory for free
Indulge yourself in one of the three teas, produced on the island, after finishing the tour, through one of Europe’s oldest tea factories.
6. Take a bath in the Furnas hot springs
Surrounded by three volcanoes, the island is rich in hot springs. Geothermal processes in the volcanic ground heat up the water and turn it into a natural pool.
One of these thermal pools can be found in Dona Beija, mostly crowded by tourists who want to escape the prevalent fog.
The hot springs are not only a good alternative on rainy, foggy days, but are also a typical island’s must-do.
Consider, being quick when leaving the changing rooms, as it is very cold outside, especially in the colder season. As soon as you put one foot in the thermal pool, you’ll feel this certain pleasant relief, that only perfect water temperature can give.
7. Cook your own food by using geothermal energy
Apart from the more touristic spots, where the typical dish Cozido das Furnas is cooked, we found a place off the beaten path just for ourselves to do the same.
We bought some cans with beans and corn and tea from the supermarket. We placed them next to the wooden lids belonging to underground tanks. After a couple of minutes we could enjoy our eco-dinner in a quiet environment.
The steam coming out from the ground is also useful, to warm up your cold hands and feet.
This cooking place is located in Caldeiras on a hill with volcanic activity.
8. Visit Sete Cidades
Sete Cidades is the natural wonder of the island.
The best view can be taken from the top of the crater, looking down on two lakes – the green and blue lake. The color is a result of two completely different ecological environments.
Go around the whole crater, following the hiking trail. Do the same down in the valley, on the lake’s level. The flora and fauna around the lakes is impressive.
Very often little yellow blue birds, that look like sparrows, are flying around there, hoping to get some food.
9. Explore the beaches and cliffs
As you have a car and the island is pretty small, over a course of a week, you can visit all beaches.
Collect some colorful and uniquely shaped sea shells. If you feel brave enough, take a swim or just dip your feet in.
Look out for jelly fish!
The Azores offer best conditions for surfing. However the waves can become so huge sometimes, that it is not recommended for inexperienced surfers. In this case, better observe professional surfers, beating the waves with some great moves.
10. Walk around in the old towns
On your cruise, drop by the cities like Ponta Delgada, Ribeira, Ribeira Grande, Povoação, or Lagoa.
Those places are meant to be islands towns, but due to their size, they can be seen more as villages. Walk around in the old town centers, catching some medieval flair.
The coat of arms of the cities are demonstrated on the annual flower fair in Ribeirinha, with every district representing its own coat of arms – created only out of flowers.
Especially the towns on the coast have a maritime atmosphere.
In Povoação you can sit by the sea and watch over the outlines of the island.
11. Visit Lagoa do Fogo (Lagoon of Fire)
Sete Cidades is said to be the island’s natural wonder.
However, there is another lake, not less worthy of being called a wonder– Lagoa do Fogo. This second biggest out of three crater lakes (Sete Cidades, Lagoa dos Furnas) is located in the middle of the island.
As it is the most foggy area, you’ll have to go around the lake, stopping by wherever there is a chance to find a gap in the fog. Don’t be discouraged if you were not able to see the lake after your third attempt.
It can be seen as a little miracle, if you catch one time during the day, where the clouds don’t build a wall around the lake.
12. Explore the abandoned hotel – Monte Palace
The giant concrete complex is not to miss, when you make all your way up to the most famous lookout point Vista da Rei. If there is no fog (which is pretty rare), you’ll be amazed by the panorama presented – Sete Cidades consisting of the two crater lakes.
If you thought Vista da Rei is the best viewpoint to indulge in this natural beauty, you haven’t discovered the secret viewpoints from the abandoned hotel Monte Palace.
Don’t hesitate to access the hotel, although it looks dangerous.
You’ll regret it, when you see photos of the inside later on the internet. Climb up the upper floors, balconies and the rooftop. I cannot tell which angle offers the best view.
As the hotel is far too remote (it’s built on top of a hill with steep winding roads) and mostly covered in fog, it failed only a few years after it was finished.
When you walk around in the big hallway or follow the spiral staircase you can slightly step back in time and imagine how luxurious this place used to be.
13. Enjoy the view from Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego
Among the numerous miradouros, Ponta do Sossego in Nordeste can be seen as one of the most enchanting.
Already when you see the gate from far away with the open flower garden behind, you’ll get the feeling of a mysterious place.
And indeed, when you walk up to the lookout point, you’ll pass ornamental shrubs and hedges with orchids growing in between. Some meters below the lookout platform, there is a little path leading under low-hanging trees. Stone benches and round stone tables are scattered all around the hill, making it a magical place to rest your legs.
14. Don’t forget to drop by Miradouro Punta da Madrugada
The island’s other most enchanting lookout point is Madrugada, also located in Nordeste. Regarding the vegetation, it is comparable to the previous mentioned place.
However it is spread over a wider area with even more picnic spots, hidden in a mystical forest. The ground is covered completely with intensive green moss – this makes it a real fairy tale forest.
15. Fall in love with Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeiros
You cannot imagine, how happy and blessed I felt, when we accidentally found this hidden secret.
The natural park in Ribeira dos Caldeiros turned out to be a real gemstone among all the beauty we’ve already seen.
Breathtaking waterfalls and mills are scattered in a rain forest-like environment. You can walk barefoot on the paths and dip your feet in the cool ponds and streams. Keep your eyes peeled, when you follow the road to Nordeste.
A paradise is waiting for you!
16. Discover the island’s volcanic activities
The islands of the Azores still show volcanic activities in certain places, like Furnas in São Miguel.
Explore the volcanic crater area, where you’ll find little thermal springs with steam coming out. The smell of sulfur is constantly hanging in the air.
If you’re cold, a walk there will easily warm you up.
17. Explore the waterfall Salto da Farinha
On the route to Ribeira Grande look out for a sign with the name Mirador Flour Jumping.
Leave your car on the viewpoint and follow the curvy highway downward. From the top you can already see the impressive waterfall rushing down from a height of 40 meters.
The whole scenery is rich in vegetation. When you reach the valley, you’ll see what erosion made out of this place. The water from the waterfall flows into the ocean via a stream.
The spectacular thing is, that it flows elegantly over rocks and among cracks.
Have a seat on one of the bigger rocks – you’ll fully embrace mother nature.
18. Walk on the wooden stairs of Santana Beach (Praia do Santana)
When I look back on the time I spent on the island – seeing plenty of beaches, all beautiful in their uniqueness, there is one beach that will always come up first in my mind.
Santana Beach is located in the equally-named town. Almost as impressive as the beach itself, the extremely long wooden stairway leading down to the beach is.
Be careful, as the wood is rotten in some parts. You’ll definitely find yourself on one of the most beautiful beach stairways.
The beach is sheltered on one side by a high cliff. Once you reached the black pebbled beach, you’ll feel overwhelmed by the waves hitting the cliffs.