Travel to the Azores

Sete Cidades Azores

I have to give credit to my friend Ciorsdan for piquing my interest to travel to the Azores (Açores in Portuguese). Before she had been there, and reported back that they are amazing, I did not have them on my radar. Who knew there were beautiful, volcanic islands so close to Portugal yet also in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean? This post is meant to be a guide to plan a trip to visit this magical and remote set of islands. And specifically, the island of São Miguel, where I spent 5 days in March 2020. This was my second to last trip before the covid-19 pandemic locked down the world. And I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to visit! Next time I would love to go to Saint George as their cheese and wine are incredible!

View from Ponta Delgada Town Hall
Miradouro do Lombo dos milhos in Furnas
View of São Miguel from the plane on a sunny day

Highlights

  • Sete Cidades – beautiful lake area in a volcano crater
  • Dolphin and whale watching, the water around the Azores is deep and perfect for finding sea life
  •  Forte de S. Bras from the 17th century has stunning views and an interesting military museum
  • Conceicao palace- beautiful and blue from the outside
  • Gruta do Carvão – interesting caves formed by lava. Tour wearing a hard hat and best to book ahead if you need an English tour
  • Jardim Antonio Borges Park
  • Cemiterio de Sao Joachim
  • The local foods and wines are highlights so please see the Food section below for an extensive list of culinary delights
  • Any chance you get, look out at the coast. There are cliffs and rock formations and differences around the island
  • Caldeira Velha waterfall and hot springs, a nice little hike up the hill from Ribeira Grande
  • Try tea from the local tea plantation Gorreana
  • Mercado da Graca local market
  • Visit Furnas Caldeiras volcanicas
  • Cascata e aquario Das Furnas Park
  • Hike up to the Miradouro do Lombo dos milhos for a gorgeous panoramic view of Furnas
  • Lagos Das Furnas
  • Reserva Florestal park to see deer and other animals, local flowers

Before you go

  • The Azores are part of Portugal
  • Weather is variable since the islands are in the middle of the Atlantic so pack for all seasons!
  • Only tourist shops are open at the weekends, and most local shops are closed
  • The best time to visit is usually May through August. I went in March and although it was slightly rainy, the weather was actually quite mild. However since it is low season, there are less tours and activities available. Also some viewpoints are closed.
  • Seas can be rough so if you get sea sick then bring some medication if you’re going out on a boat
  • The concerts tend to start late, it seems around midnight even if the poster says 23:00, so I was too tired to stay up to see a local band at the Raiz club
  • Try the cheese, beef and wine, which are local specialties! The locals say the volcanic soil is ideal for growing flavourful grapes for wine, and I believe this after trying a number of local varieties of vinho tinto.
  • Azorean pineapples are also famous and grown in complex greenhouses

Calderas of Furnas
Dolphins with Futurismo
Gruta do Carvão

Transport

I flew TAP Portugal airlines via Lisbon. I was delayed overnight in Lisbon and they misplaced my luggage for hours. Shame to lose half a day of a short trip! Good news is the flight is only 2.5 hours from Lisbon to Ponta Delgada.

Taxi from João Paulo II Airport to central Ponta Delgada is about 10 minutes and cost 13 euros

It is easy to walk around Ponta Delgada city centre on foot

I recommend taking a boat to go dolphin and whale watching such as Futurismo

Bus from Ponta Delgada to Furnas was only 4 euros and took just under 2 hours. It is comfortable, has wifi, and has great views along the way. They only run a couple of times a day so check the schedule carefully and ask the tourist office exactly where to find the stop.

And lastly, I highly recommend a day tour with Joao Miranda of Azores Wonderful. Super friendly and with great local knowledge.

Accommodation

I stayed at the comfortable Hotel Alcides in Ponta Delgada, which I booked via Booking.com. It is quaint, simple, clean, comfortable, and great value for money. It is also very centrally located. A big breakfast is included. The staff were incredibly friendly and helpful, providing recommendations and directions.

Hotel Alcides, Ponta Delgada

As a treat, I also spent a night at a fancy spa hotel in Furnas called the Furnas Boutique Hotel. They are located right next to the natural hot springs and have an outdoor thermal pool as well as an indoor spa facility. Luxurious, comfortable, large rooms.

Currency

I recommend to check the currency conversion just before you leave as this fluctuates

The Azores helpfully uses the Euro, since it is part of Portugal.

10 Euro Note
Restaurant Otaka tasting menu
Chandelier Restaurant Blue-eyed fish
Associacao Agricola tenderloin steak with passion fruit cream sauce
Pata de veado = deer foot
Pata de veado = deer foot
Cozido from Banhos Ferreos restaurant
Cozido from Banhos Ferreos restaurant

Food

For quick bites, I recommend the Pao do Rei bakery. There are endless savoury and sweet baked goods to try! I especially loved the Pata de veado (deer foot) and pasteis de nata (custard tart)

Restaurant Otaka I chose the 30 euros discovery tasting menu. Everything was exquisite and a blend of Japanese and local ingredients, with excellent service. Thanks to Chef Jose Pereira!

Michel Restaurant This place was packed with locals and has a pleasant ambience and fresh gourmet food. I had seafood salad, then Azorean steak which came with an egg and pepper on top.

Chandelier Restaurant I had bread with dips to start. Then the local blue eyed fish, which was flaky and moist. I finished with an incredible pumpkin soufflé.

Associacao Agricola I started with the local cheese and bread. Then I had 300g of tenderloin steak with passion fruit cream sauce on the side. Divine, melt in your mouth steak.

Banhos Ferreos for cozido, which has sausage and vegetables cooked in a big pot buried in the thermal ground near the lake

Try Bolos Levedos (local bread) from Rosa Quental or Gloria Moniz

I love red wine and enjoyed all that I tried: Jardinete 2017, Faria’s vineyards, Basalt and also the Terras de Lava rose wine

For some recipe ideas from the Azores and Portugal you can see my Favourite Portuguese Recipes page.

FAQs

Q: Do I need a tour guide?

A: Not necessarily but I found it was helpful for seeing more of the remote parts of the island. You can also travel around by bus but you would need more time, as they may only run once per day.

Q: Do people speak English?

A: Yes, in general most people spoke English at the hotel, restaurants and even on the bus.

Q: Can I travel solo?

A: Yes it was very friendly and safe.

Q: Is it easy to send a postcard?

A: Some shops have postcards but they were not so easy to find. The post office is right next to the town hall and very accessible. See Sending Postcards from Abroad for details on cost and the time it took to reach the USA.

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