Azores is an isolated volcanic island group located between Portugal and North America in Atlantic Ocean. Being an autonomous region of Portugal, it is a uniquely beautiful place having outstanding landscapes with lush green meadows, hills, lakes, rivers, shorelines and active volcanic regions.
When you tell people that you are planning to visit "Azores", you will probably be asked where in the Earth that place is. It is not a very popular tourist destination and a guaranteed relaxing destination if you like such places with less mass tourism. The biggest island of the group is Sao Miguel and it is the one I will be telling about in this article. Geography of the Island is shaped mostly with volcanic activity, having beautiful volcanic lakes, steep highlands, black stone shorelines, actively smoking volcanic pits and hot springs, lush green meadows with flowers and rivers with giant waterfalls. The shores have swimmable beaches, small rock islands and also many diving sites which you can enjoy unique fish sights.
On the Island, there are many small cities and fishing towns having unique Portuguese Architecture, Ponta Delgada being the biggest one with an airport. Ponta Delgada is the place you will probably be staying if you visit the island. Island people are generally very friendly and helpful but also very distant to tourists. Occasionally there are colorful festivals held in these towns which you may be very lucky to see one in your visit.
The climate of the Island is cooler than the other tropical islands in Atlantic Ocean, and very rainy. So It would be a good destination if you do not like hot weather. Best time to visit is the late Spring or Beginning of summer, when flowers, especially hortencias start to bloom.
What to do there?
The Island is best suited for nature walks and a must visit for all nature enthusiasts and landscape photographers. There are also many scuba diving possibilities, which I did not try myself, but heard it to be unique. The island is also suited for bird watching since it is located at the migration routes of many tropical and European birds, and has species endemic to Azores only like Azorean Bullfinch. For beach tourism, clubbing or instagram tourism with selfies, I would not recommend visiting here.
I have choosen having a local guide here and do guided walks and visits, and satisfied with every one of them. There is also a possibility to hire a car and plan your hikes and visits yourself. But if you hire a car, I would warn you that the Island is very steep and roads are not very wide. So hire a small car with enough power to drive steep uphill.
The most popular spot of the Island is the crater lakes of Sete Citades, which consists of two seperate lakes having different colors, blue and green. Second comes the long forest walk with the abandoned village Faial de Terra, it's ancient water ditches and the waterall of Riberio do Faial deTerra.
For me the most beautiful walk was the one on the mountain "Monte Escuro", the highest peak of the Island. Here you have an unique landscape with misty volcanic lava pathways, unique flora and nesting seagulls around. Overall, it feels like somewhere out of this World..
Another famous spot on the Island is the volcanic site of Furnas, located in the east. Here in that sulfite smelling area, there are many hot springs and active volcanic pits, which you can benefit from a volcanic bath or eat the touristic food cooked in the volcanic pits called Cosida das Furnas.
The Island has outstandingly beautiful landscapes everywhere you visit. So it is really difficult to pick certain recommendations for you... Another good idea would be making a visit to Nossa Senhora da Paz Chapel. Including that location in one of your hikes will suprise you with an outstanding view of Island shoreline from uphill :
In my visit to the Island, I was lucky enough to coincide with one of their open monument days, and was able to visit inside the Royal Palace of the Island, which is normally closed to tourists. It is a beautifully decorated palace with a very nice garden. Even if it is closed, you might want to visit the garden if you have any free time to spend in the Island's capital town.
Where to eat?
Before I visit Azores, I was not aware that Azores, or Portguese in general have an interesting food culture. I can easily say that, in Sao Miguel, it is impossible to eat bad food.. Even in small buffets, you will be served fantastic food like butter grilled Azorean limpets and tasty hot sausages which are made in the Island. The Island specialities are seafood (as you can expect), dairy products (especially the cheese), tropical fruits, vegetable stews and meat (like beef or delicious Azores hot sausages). Sao Miguel has many restaurants to dine out mostly serving local food. Since this island is not toxicated with mass tourism, and local people also like to dine out, the prices of the restaurants are quite affordable, like between 10-15 euros person for a full dinner. For seafood, you also have the option to go to the fish market in the middle of the city and eat freshly cooked sea food from the fish sellers. Traditionally cooked vegetarian stews are also quite tasty, and I can say the island is quite suitable for vegetarians as well. The cheese produced from the milking cows grazing on island's lush green pastures is a taste hard to forget. Unfortunately, after stocking quite some Azores cheese, I was not be able find them anywhere else, even in Portugal.. Azores also produces wine made from grapes grown in volcanic soil, which has an interesting and nice taste.
Overall, it is a place that you will definitely not be disappointed with food, even worth a visit for a gastronomic trip.
Things to be careful
If you decide to swim in the Island, be aware that the sea contains so many of those "Portuguese man o' war" jellyfish. perhaps more than anywhere else in the Earth. This is a toxic jellyfish which contains a sort of neurotoxin that might even paralyze and kill a person, making it one of the most dangerous species exist in the Atlantic Ocean. If you see one of them,.. avoid! :
In my visit here, I thought of hiring a car to see the Island myself, but decided not to do it and have guided tours only. I was happy with my decision, especially after travelling to Monte Escuro route with a Unimog truck.. Most of the Island's roads are ok but it also has some very narrow and steep roads, and some of the villages have roads that an average car cannot pass. Take this into account if you want to do so and choose your car wisely.
The Island is very safe in general and you will unlikely have any problem, but avoid isolated areas in nighttime since drug use in those areas are quite common at night.
With its unique geography and beautiful landscapes, Azores is a must to visit for every nature lover. A particularly great destination for you, if you like to enjoy nature and local cultures avoiding any mass tourism,.. like me. Although this article only mentions The Sao Miguel Island, other islands in Azores group are equally beautiful and unique, if not more beautiful than this one.
I wish you a very nice visit if you plan to see here reading this article!