My introduction to the Azores came a few years back, while watching Anthony Bourdain’s TV show. It seemed like such a mystical, intangible place and that instantly peeked my interest. Gotta love Mr. Bourdain!
Sao Miguel, Azores is a nature lover’s absolute dream. Tropical jungles, vibrant lakes, volcanos, relaxing hot springs, stunning waterfalls, epic hiking trails, breathtaking cliffside viewpoints, endless natural wonders, and lavish greens everywhere in sight. This is the Azores.
5 Things You May Not Know About the Azores
~The Azores are made up of lakes, lava fields, volcanic caves and islets.
~Sao Miguel is the biggest island and has 4 volcanos, 2 active and 2 dormant.
~Azoreans never pay more than €130 to go to mainland Portugal. If they pay more, they take their documents to the post office and get reimbursed.
~The Azores are the only producers of tea in all of Europe.
~The Azores have characteristic microclimates throughout the islands.
After spending 4 days on Sao Miguel island, I can honestly say it’s the most naturally beautiful place I have ever been (And this is saying a lot seeing as I was just in Iceland a few months earlier). Yes, it’s more naturally pretty than Iceland in my opinion. Actually, the 2 places reminded me a lot of each other in a weird way! The volcanic activity, the natural thermal pools, the black lava rocks and black sand beaches, the waterfalls (Iceland definitely takes the crown in that category), the geysers, and green moss covered landscapes.
Sao Miguel, Azores is a very easily navigable island and the roads are very well maintained. Coming straight from Sardinia, Italy where I experienced the worst roads in Europe so far, the roads were heavenly to drive. The island is so perfectly manicured and well kept and the natural beauty was overwhelming. I spent a good part of my trip questioning if this place was even real.
In short…THE AZORES WILL BLOW YOUR MIND!
Where are the Azores?
The Azores are an archipelago of 9 islands located in the South Western Atlantic Ocean, about 1/3 of the way from Portugal to the East Coast of America. The Azores are part of Macronesia, along with Madeira, Canary Islands, and Cape Verde.
Most of the islands are protected and haven’t seen any damage from mass tourism. Hopefully they stay that way!
How to Get to Sao Miguel, Azores
Direct fights from Lisbon take 2 hours on Ryanair and cost around €80+ roundtrip, depending on the season. The earlier you book, the better chance of snagging the cheaper tickets. The 2 budget airlines, Easy Jet and Ryanair, just opened up flights in 2015 and it’s been a game-changer. Before this, it was extremely expensive to travel to the islands, making them a fairly unattainable destination for most. For the best flight deals, my “go-to” booking site is Skyscanner…I swear by them.
Transportation on Sao Miguel Island
Bus schedules are very infrequent on the island so I HIGHLY recommend renting a car and/or scooter. Plus, you really won’t be able to see the more off-the-beaten path places by public transport. I rented a scooter for the first 2 days and an automatic car for the last 2 days to go longer distances and it worked out perfectly.
I went with Auto Ramalhense because they had good rates, good reviews, and the added bonus that they pick up and deliver your vehicle to your accommodation at no extra cost. Scooter rental costs €21-25/day (50cc horse power vs 125cc horse power). Definitely spend the extra few euros and pick the 125cc. This is not the time to be cheap!
(note: one week later in Lagos, Portugal I made the mistake of going with the cheaper 50cc scooter and it was a piece of crap. It was like a toy scooter and it took me forever to get anywhere. I also found out you’re not allowed to drive 50cc scooters on the freeway…after the fact!).
An automatic car rental costs 45 euro/day. For a manual car, expect to pay half that! If I could just learn how to drive stick dangit!
They charge only €8 to drop it off at the airport, which was so worth it seeing as I had a 7:30am flight! The company was very accommodating last-minute and overall I had a great experience. And no, this was not sponsored in any way, shape, or form.
Sao Miguel, Azores Ultimate 4-Day Itinerary
Day 1: red pins
Day 2: blue pins
Day 3: yellow pins
Day 4: purple pins
Day 1 (with scooter)
Sets Cidades (Twin Lakes)
Day 1 starts out strong with one of the most magnificent lakes on the island. Actually, Cete Cidades is made up of twin lakes, one blue and one green.You can go down to the bottom and see them separated by a bridge. It’s not as colorful on the bottom but still very beautiful. It takes 25 minutes by car from Ponta Delgada and 40 minutes by scooter. If you have time, this is a popular hiking spot so give yourself ample time to explore the different pathways!
Interesting folktale: Do you know why one lake is green and one lake is blue? Legend has it that a Princess and a shepherd fell in love. After the Princess’ father forbid them from seeing each other, they met one last time and cried so much that these 2 lakes were formed. The green from the tears of the green-eyed Princess and the blue from the tears of the blue-eyed shepherd. Now their tears will remain together in eternity! It doesn’t get any more romantic than that! ♥
Miradouro Do Rei
This is the tourist view that most people stop at and is a great introduction to the twin lakes. It’s far away, but close enough to really appreciate the distinct colors of these beautiful bodies of water.
Tip: you can continue on the dirt road and drive around the top for different views of the lakes.
Lagoa do Canario Miradouro
This was by far the BEST viewpoint on the island for me. The peak is roughly 800 meters above sea-level, with a view of the mountains, the twin lakes, the caldera, and the sea in the backdrop. It’s SPECTACULAR. AMAZING. OUT OF THIS WORLD. Honestly one of the most EPIC views I have ever seen with my 2 eyes! It rivals the viewpoint of Shipwreck Beach in Zakynthos and gave me goosebumps at first sight. What a beauty!
Tip: there is a parking lot before the dirt road that you can park and then walk 20 minutes or so…but you can also drive down the dirt road to the entrance to the viewpoint (which I did because it was freezing and windy outside).
Ponta da Ferraria
30 minutes away from Sete Cidades on the Western part of the island lies Ponta da Ferraria, a geothermal area of natural hot pools on the cliff sides. Walking down to the natural pool you will notice black lava rocks everywhere and it’s really a site to see. It was very Icelandic-like if you ask me. The popular hot pool is connected to the ocean and it makes you question, how in the world is it that warm if it’s connected to the ocean? I can’t explain it, but it’s definitely warm! The best part is that it’s FREE!! Unfortunately I didn’t have my swimsuit with me so I just laid on the black rocks to stay warm in the sun. It’s a very relaxing place and you could spend a whole afternoon there.
Tip: there is a spa area that charges 6 euro to enter, giving access to a thermal pool. (But why pay to use a man-made structure when you have the natural equivalent just steps away for free?). There is also a snack bar and restaurant inside if you’re hungry. There aren’t many options around to choose from, so it may be your only choice to eat.
Day 2 (with scooter)
I just passed through this town quickly, but worth a mention is the unexpected pool that’s literally inside the ocean and connected to the land by a long rocky walkway. At this point it was pouring down rain so I just ran down and snapped a photo real quick.
Vila do Franco Campo
A cute little seaside town with a black sand beach. But the main attraction is the very close Badeinsel ilheu de Vila Franco do Campo. It’s an islet that seems to be a stone’s throw away from the town. As I was driving away and up a hill, I could see the bay inside the islet and it looked so awesome. Unfortunately, I didn’t get over to the islet as boat trips only go in the summer. It was such a tease!
Lagoa do Congra
A quick 12 minute ride from Vila do Franco Campo is one of my favorites Lagoa do Congra. This lake was recommended by my awesome Airbnb host and isn’t on any tourist map. However, you will see signs for it on the roads thankfully. After turning onto a dirt road, you will keep going about 6-7 minutes then park near the sign and hike down. It’s a very peaceful and gorgeous hike down to the lake.
The woods are so tropical, and it feels like a mini Amazon jungle. The hike is super easy and takes about 10 minutes. The lake is freakishly green and there won’t be another person in site. All you will hear are the sounds of joyful birds chirping everywhere. Nature at its finest.
Lagoa do Fogo
Another magnificent lake with bold green hues. It looks kind of glossy and the colors change with the sun. The best part is that you can hike down to the sandy beaches at the bottom for crystal green waters.
Unfortunately I didn’t have time to hike down. Out of all the things I saw on the island, this is the one I really wish I had more time at. Until next time…
Imagine fairytale pools inside a tropical jungle oasis and you have Caldeira Venlha. It’s one of those unique places that makes you feel like you’re going to wake up from your dream any second. No need to pinch your travel partner, it’s real! It has one big waterfall pool and one smaller hot pool. Awesome place!
Cost: €3 entrance fee.
If you have time, make a stop in Ribeira Grande on your way back to Ponta Delgada. It’s a quaint little town on the water with a beautiful bridge. It’s one of the prettier towns I saw on the island and also would have liked more time here.
Day 3 (with car)
→Warning: day 3 will be action packed so get an early start!
Gorreana Tea Plantation
Did you know that Europe’s only production of tea comes from the Azores? I had no idea! Gorreana tea plantation has been operational since 1883. The plantation is in a gorgeous location overlooking the water and that alone warrants a visit.
Tip: you don’t need to buy any tea because there are free tea tastings of local green and black tea. Just ask for it! There was a tour bus when I went around 9:45am so to avoid them try to get there as soon as it opens! The ride is 30 minutes from Ponta Delgada with a car.
Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeiroes
About 12 minutes East of the tea plantation is Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeiroes (Caldeiroes Park). I LOVED this place and it became one of my favorites on the island. It was the jungle playground that I dreamed about as a kid. There were perfectly paved pathways, waterfalls, springs, and woods, leaving you to roam wild with your imagination. I had the whole place basically to myself so the childhood fantasy might have been played out a little. Just saying… 🙂
Tip: make sure you don’t miss the big waterfall on the left side of the parking before the little bridge. I almost did! I only noticed it on my way out of the park.
Cost: entrance is FREE.
Miradouro da Despe-te Que Suas
Next, go to Miradouro da Despe-te Que Suas. This had a great view of the cliffs with a huge heavenly umbrella tree. This viewpoint was so nicely decorated with flowers and that epic tree that I think I enjoyed it more than the actual view itself. Go figure.
Farol do Arnel
The most famous lighthouse on the island and only a few minutes south of Nordeste. You must walk down 15 minutes of a very steep hill to get to it. It was sort of anti-climactic for me and I would skip the walk down. Instead, drive 3-4 min south to Miradouro da Vista Dos Barcos for the best view of the lighthouse from afar!
Parque Florestral (and Pico Bartolomeu viewpoint)
This is a protected national forest that I accidentally stumbled upon while I got a little lost. It was really cool to drive to the top, blazing through the foggy skies. It was a bit cloudy/foggy at the top, but still had amazing views of the island. Look for the sign for the viewpoint called Pico Bartolomeu.
On the way to this viewpoint you will be astonished at the abundance of hydrangeas and cedar trees you will pass, tightly packed into this perfectly manicured forest. As I cut though the dense misty fog, I felt so small in the presence of these towering trees. It was eerie, yet peaceful.
Miradouro da Ponta do Sosssego
Next, go to Miradouro da Ponta do Sosssego, a gorgeous flower garden near Nordeste overlooking the mountainous cliffs towering over the sea. This was number 2 for the best view of the island for me so don’t miss it! There were also a lot of kitties there…that’s all.
Tip: this place was a little hard to find as the only sign for it is at the entrance. To get to it, drive south from Farol do Arnel and pass the signs for Pedriera. It should be about 5-7 minutes from Farol do Arnel.
Miradouro Santa Iria
On your way back to Ponta Delgada, stop at Miradouro Santa Iria for spectacular views of dramatic cliffs from all angles. It’s one of the higher viewpoints, so you can look down upon all the epic cliffs plunging into the water. It’s one of the most “known” viewpoints on the island, and for good reason!
Day 4 (with car)
Your last day should be one of rest and relaxation after all the running around you’ve been doing. So go ahead and treat yourself!
Furnas Village Day
On your way to Furnas village, stop at Miradouro do Pico de Ferro to see Lagoa Furnas from above. The stop is a few minutes before the village and you will see a small sign for it.
Terra Nostra Park
This is where you will find the “golden jacuzzi” I like to call it. The large thermal pool is around 38+ decrees Celsius. There are no lockers but changing rooms and an outdoor (cold) shower.
Tip: near the changing rooms, there are 2 smaller jacuzzis set inside the woods that are kind of hidden. Also, the sulfur from the thermal pool with stick to your bathing suit, so make sure you wash it thoroughly when you get out. I would avoid wearing a white bathing suit at all costs.
Cost: €6 entrance fee and €2 to rent a towel.
Dona Beija Thermal Springs
This thermal area is composed of 5 smaller hot pools. I really liked the setup of this place and it was a lot prettier and more cozy. It’s about an 8 minute walk from Terra Nostra. Dona Beija also had better changing facilities with paying lockers and a shower, and is open until 10pm if you want to do some night soaking.
Cost: €3 entrance fee and €2 to rent a towel.
Furnas Caldeiras is located on the bottom of the lake and is where you can see the geysers up close and watch them aggressively bubble. It smells really bad from the sulfur (obviously), but it’s cool to see, especially if you’ve never seen something like that before.
Cost: €0.50 cent entrance fee and € 0.40 cent parking.
Where to Stay in Sao Miguel, Azores
Airbnb all the way baby! I stayed in the capital city Ponta Delgada, because it was less than 10 minutes from the airport, and because it was a good base to explore the island. The farthest place on the island I visited was 1 hour by car, so not bad at all.
I loved my Airbnb and for $21/night it was an absolute steal! Here is the Airbnb listing if you’re interested. And for first time users, you can use my coupon for $25 off . (OR if you’re already an Airbnb member, you can sign up with a new email and get the same discount!). I rented a room in a huge house in a quiet part of the city and was super happy with it.
The house was like a mini mansion and I had so much space! I really felt like I was in a fancy place and was splurging, it was great! The best part was the host who was amazing from the start. He was so helpful with anything and made the BEST recommendations of what to see on the island. This is one of my favorite aspects of staying in an Airbnb…you get easy access to some great tips only a local would know. #WINNING.
Travel Insurance for The Azores
I never go on a trip anymore without travel insurance. Never. Too many bad things can happen (and they have unfortunately). Shit happens when you least expect it. Travel insurance is especially important when traveling to islands, as you may need to be air-lifted to the mainland in the worst case scenario. Do you know how much air-lifting costs? Think at least 5 digits (I.e. Expensive AF!).
My favorite travel insurance that I have been using for the past 4 years is World Nomads. I have made 3 claims so far and have been reimbursed for all 3 without any hassle. I highly recommend them.
Final Thoughts on Sao Miguel, Azores
Hold on, planning my next trip back, brb! But really, the Azores are a truly unique place with a natural beauty that has been unmatched in all my travels. It’s overwhelmingly gorgeous with so much to offer and hasn’t yet been corrupted by mass tourism. If you’re thinking about going, go NOW! It won’t stay off-the-radar for long. If you need any more info, feel free to send me a message!
RECOMMENDED TRAVEL GEAR FOR TRAVEL TO THE AZORES:
1.Sony Alpha 6000 Mirrorless Camera: I made the switch from my huge DSLR and I wouldn’t go back. It’s light, compact, and takes amazing photos!
2. Sony 10-18mm Wide Angle Zoom Lens: this wide angle lens is the key to landscape shots. I use this lens more than the original and am super happy with it. It’s not cheap, but super worth it if you want to get those special nature shots. Honestly, I would purchase the Sony alpha 6000 camera body only and save up for this lens to go with it.
4. LifeProof NUUD Waterproof Case (iPhone 6): this helps protect my phone from water, sand, dirt, and the numerous drops that incur while I travel. I love it!
5. GoPro Hero 4 Session: I am a proud GoPro ambassador and obsessed with GoPro selfie pics if you didn’t notice! (I have recently upgrade to the 5, but this is the one I used in all my Portugal photos). It’s super small, compact, and easy to travel with. Plus it’s so much fun to use! 🙂
6. GoPro Hero 5 Black: My newest addition and I must say the BEST GoPro on the market. This is an essential item when you’re traveling solo to get all your cool shots (and of course underwater pics).
Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a super small commission if you make a purchase using these links, at no extra cost to you. This helps keep my site add free (I hate ads!). I only recommend products that I have used before on my own and that I truly love 🙂
WHERE IS THE MOST NATURALLY PRETTY PLACE YOU’VE EVER BEEN? HAVE YOU BEEN TO THE AZORES? DID IT BLOW YOU AWAY AS WELL? I WANT TO HEAR YOUR THOUGHTS! ♥
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