Travel Tips: The Azores, Portugal

Full moon rising, Pico Mountain (taken from Faial, Azores)

(Moon rising over Pico Mountain)

Perfect for photographers, hikers and general lovers of the great outdoors, the Azores offer a number of activities and highlights that seems out of proportion with the size and tranquillity of these picturesque islands.

I have a confession to make.  If you mentioned the Azores to me six months ago, I would have looked at you with a blank stare.  And for someone whose lifestyle choices are dominated by travel, that’s a confession I’m embarrassed to make.

And I’m not alone.

Sete Cidades Crater Lakes (Lagoa Verde & Lagoa Azul), Sao Miguel, Azores

(Sete Cidades Crater Lakes, Sao Miguel)

When I mentioned I was planning a trip to the Azores, the majority of my friends and colleagues responded with that same blank stare.  But this is just one of many reasons it is such an appealing travel destination.  Having just returned from my first visit to the Atlantic archipelago, I can only say “better late than never”.  It exceeded expectations beyond my wildest imagination – and I only visited two of the nine islands!

So where is the Azores, why is it worth visiting and why am I already planning my next visit?

Sunset at Mosteiros Beach, Sao Miguel, Azores

(Mosteiros Beach Sunset, Sao Miguel)

 

About the Azores

Where is the Azores?

The Azores is a Portuguese archipelago of nine volcanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean.  Europe lies to the west (about 1,500km from Lisbon) and North America lies to the east (about 4,000 km to New York).

The islands cover a region of 600km and are divided into three groups:

The Eastern Group: Sao Miguel and Santa Maria

The Central Group:  Terceira, Graciosa, Sao Jorge, Pico and Faial

The Western Group: Flores and Corvo.

Each island is unique in size, population, history, character and attractions.  This makes it a perfect location for a long multi-island stay or a number of return visits.

Horta Marina, Faial, Azores

(Horta Marina, Faial)

Why visit the Azores?

Don’t let the word “island” mislead you.  The Azores is not the best location for a beach holiday.  But it is a great location for anyone who appreciates the great outdoors.

It provides the opportunity to enjoy a change of pace in a region that is recognisably European, distinctly Azorean and home to nine islands unique in their own right.

The landscape is stunning and diverse, the history fascinating, the festivals entertaining, the whale watching world class and the towns and villages picturesque and characteristic.

Photographers, hikers and those with an adventurous spirit will find themselves spoiled for choice with the number of activities and highlights seemingly out of proportion with the size of the region.

And best of all, it has a tourism infrastructure that makes planning and travelling on the island relatively easy and comfortable – without the crowds of tourists.

Salto do Cavalo, Sao Miguel, Azores

(Salto do Cavalo, Sao Miguel)

 

Practical Information:

How to get to the Azores?

Air:

There are direct flights from the UK, Europe and USA/Canada that fly to Sao Miguel, Terceira or Horta (and less frequently to Pico and Santa Maria).  But as the frequency of flights varies, it’s often more efficient to fly to Lisbon to connect to one of the more regular flights offered.

Sea:

The position of the Azores in the Atlantic makes its harbours a frequent stopping point for yachts and cruisers.  But there are no ferries to the European mainland offered to tourists.

Spotted Dolphin, Faial & Pico, Azores

(Spotted Dolphin near Faial)

Travelling between the islands:

The islands are conveniently linked by the regional airline SATA, which is the most time efficient way to travel between islands.  A ferry service runs all year between Faial, Pico and Sao Jorge, with a summer service linking the other islands between May and September. 

Sunset at Sao Roque, Sao Miguel, Azores

(Sunset at Sao Roque, Sao Miguel)

Travelling on the islands:

The most convenient and comfortable way to explore the islands is to rent a car, although on some of the islands taxis, local buses and tour operations provide options for those without a license or not comfortable driving.  Driving is on the right side of the road and road quality varies from a two-lane expressway on Sao Miguel to single track dirt tracks winding up and down mountains.  If you haven’t driven on the right side of the road before, don’t panic.  The only traffic jam you are likely to face will be with a herd of cows.    

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(Sao Miguel traffic jam)

The Weather:

Although the weather is relatively mild (ranging from 11˚C in winter to 26˚C in summer) it is changeable.  “Four seasons in a day” and “if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes” were phrases I constantly heard whilst on the islands.  Generally, I was very lucky with the weather (I visited in August) although there were days that were very humid.

Crater Plateau, Sete Cidades, Sao Miguel, Azores

(Western Sao Miguel)

Best time of year to visit the Azores:

The best time of year to visit the Azores depends on the islands you are visiting and what your interests are.  Like most locations, the summer months are the most popular.  This can make the winter months appealing to those who like to avoid other tourists, but some travel related activities or services may not be available (such as the ferries).

Sete Cidades Crater Lakes, Sao Miguel, Azores

(Sete Cidades Crater Lakes, Sao Miguel)

Travel Planning Tips:

There are a handful of travel agents who offer customised packages to travellers who don’t have the time or inclination to plan their own trip.  But if, like me, you actually enjoy the planning phase of a holiday, you may find the following useful:

  • Don’t try to fit too much into one visit as despite their size, the islands offer a wealth of attractions and activities.  I spent 12 days in the Azores, focusing on Faial and Sao Miguel.  I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to have less time than this and could have done with a couple of more days in Sao Miguel.
  • Book flights, accommodation and car rentals as earlier as possible, as these tend to get booked up in the summer months.
  • Pack layers and don’t forget a raincoat, even in the summer months.
  • Find the balance between planning activities in advance and keeping things flexible.  This helps you make the most of the time you have available whilst being free to change your plans based on the weather, your mood and new options you discover from chatting with locals.
  • Solo travellers may find booking activities in advance more cost effective, as there are no guarantees you will find others travellers to join an activity you are interested in once you are on the island.

Miradouro do Lombo dos Milhos, Furnas, Sao Miguel, Azores

(Furmas, Sao Miguel)

 

The Facts:

Population:   Approximately 245,000
Language:      Portuguese
Currency:       Euro
Visas:               The Azores is part of the European Union, so visas are not required for travellers from other EU countries.  For other countries, check requirements before you go.
Safety:              The Azores has a reputation for being one of the safest places in the world and my experience did nothing to dispute that.

 

The question isn’t why would you go to the Azores, but why wouldn’t you?

 

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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com

Comments

  1. You got some stunning photographs! I must add this to my to-visit-eventually list, it sounds wonderful.

  2. Looking at pictures and reading your descriptions suggest a Scottich Highlands like a place. Certainly, you can see the fog rising in the morning from lochs. Thank you for this detailed account of Azores. I would love to go there and it would be a good excuse to spend couple of days in Lisbon again. I presume the food would be similar to Porteguese cuisine? I love great destinations that don’t require visas (for Europeans). Our several atempts to book holidays in Russia and India failed this summer because of lack of time to arrange visas. I would have just gotten our tickets and go if I knew this place. We ended up going to Hawaii which was pretty tiresome because of the long flights and expensive.

    • Yes, having an EU passport definitely makes life easier and trips like this so much simpler to organise. As for food, to be honest, I didn’t really sample the local cuisine. Dinner usually clashed with wanted to shoot sunset! But yes, it’s very similar to Portugese I believe.

  3. Hi Kellie
    Very nice article. I particularly like the cow picture, but the church picture is awesome.

  4. woohoo what a beautiful photos you made!

    Must say that apart from all the beautiful places, Sao Miguel is also a paradise for different outdoor activities. Made a post about our experiences: http://www.sliva.co/blog/2016/11/18/outdoor-activities-in-sao-miguel-azores/

    We are definitely going back, do you?

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Postcard from Sao Miguel, the Azores
Postcard from Iceland