The Amazing Azores: 13 Reasons to Pack Your Bags Now

Azores

View of three crater lakes at Miradouro Grota do Inferno

Whenever I bring up the Azores in a conversation, most Americans say, “Hmmmm, I’ve heard of it, but where is it exactly?” The Azores is actually an archipelago (cluster) of nine volcanic islands in the middle of the northern Atlantic Ocean, 850 miles west of Portugal and 2,561 miles east of New York City. They are an autonomous region of Portugal with large agriculture, farming, and fishing industries.

The climate of the volcanic islands is relatively mild with daytime temperatures ranging between 61 °F and 77 °F, and can frequently be wet and cloudy. The last significant volcanic eruption was the Capelinhos volcano off the coast of the island of Faial in 1957.

To get to the Azores is less than a five hour flight from the U.S. but flights are limited and depart primarily from Boston, causing a bit of inconvenience which could account for the relatively low United States tourism compared to other island destinations. In spite of their relative obscurity, the Azores have an abundance of natural beauty making them an absolute haven for outdoor enthusiasts. And the best way to soak in all the extraordinary wonders is hopping from island to island.

Four of the islands have slowly begun to attract tourist attention due to the diversity of sights and experiences. São Miguel Island, known as “The Green Island” is the largest, most populated, and most-visited of the Azores; Terceira, also called “The Lilac Island” is the location of the Azores’ oldest city and UNESCO Heritage Site, Angra do Heroísmo; Pico Island, “The Black Island,” features its namesake volcano, Ponta do Pico, the highest mountain in Portugal; Faial Island, “The Blue Island” with its famous yacht harbor, was known for its whaling tradition until the prohibition on hunting whales in the 1980’s.

1. The Views

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Pico-do-Ferro

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Miradouro Grota do Inferno

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Aangra, Terceira

The stunning panoramas in the Azores can easily rival those of other vistas around the world. Drive or hike high to the top of the volcanoes for breathtaking views of the crater lakes, or to the top of the city of Angra to look down through the pristine red tile roofs and brilliant blue Atlantic beyond.

2. The Vineyards

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The black volcanic vineyards on Pico.

The black volcanic earth on Pico is responsible for its UNESCO-designated black vineyards that helped bring development and economic progress to the island.

3. The Crater Lakes

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Lagoa Sete Citades

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Lagoa Empadadas, Sao Miguel.

Over time, the gaping holes left after volcanic eruption created the stunning crater lakes throughout the Azores, but none more beautiful than those on São Miguel.

4. The Seafood

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Fish market on Terciera

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Limpets on the island of Terceira

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Octopus, squid, fish and caviar, Terceira

Incredible variety and fresh, usually caught that day. There are an abundance of savory dishes and “creatures” to try – octopus, limpets (aquatic sea snails), squid, barnacles, and rockfish are not to be missed!

5. The Hikes and Walking Trails

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A hike to the top of Monte Brasil.

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Boomer silliness with Alison at Monte Brasil.

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The view across the bay to Angra from Monte Brasil, Terceira

Hiking is one of the most popular attractions that bring tourists to the Azores. From moderate walks to entire day strenuous hikes, and even overnight hikes, the trails take you through flower-laden valleys, up gentle or steep mountains, through lava tubes, and around stunning emerald and blue lakes. The pièce de résistance is the view from the top.

6. The Beaches

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Hidden beach at Caloura, Sao Miguel.

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Volcanic rock beach at Biscoitos, Terceira.

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Porto Pim Beach, Faial.

Though not tropical or known as beach destinations, the Azores does have some unique beaches if you know where to look. Some are black volcanic rocks with rough surf, others are tiny, hidden coves, and there are also a (very) few stretches of golden-brown sand.

7. The Caves

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Algar do Carvao, Terceira

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Grutta des Torres, Pico.

Also known as lava tubes, the subterraneous openings were created as lava descended into the earth during a volcanic eruption, cooled and formed a crust into which more lava flowed. When the eruption was over, it left behind a labyrinth of tunnels under the earth, which are really fun to explore.

8. The Whales

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Sperm whale, Sao Miguel. Photo courtesy of Futurismo

The Azores is one of the top ten places in the world to see cetaceans. Look no further than Futurismo on São Miguel for responsible eco-tourism at its finest. Futurismo’s nature-lover attitude and practice of “observe not disturb” is commendable. The boat ride itself is enjoyable, but the thrill is seeing sperm whales (of Moby Dick fame), fin whales, and two species of dolphins jumping and showing off.

9 . The Festivals

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Neighborhood Festival of the Holy Spirit, Pico.

Terceira has its own version of “the running of the bulls” similar to Pamplona, Spain’s but smaller, much less publicized and more of a local attraction. All the islands celebrate an important Roman Catholic festival called Espírito Santo, or Festival of the Holy Spirit which centers on neighborhood benevolence. Each family bakes dozens of loaves of hearty sweet bread to hand out to the community.

10. The Resorts

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Aldeia de Fonte. Pico.

You won’t find any large high-rise, all-inclusives in the Azores. Instead, you’ll find charming, bungalows like those of Aldeia de Fonte on the island of Pico. The resort has cozy volcanic stone cabins integrated with nature, perched on cliffs overlooking the ocean. On property are hiking trails, some of which reach down the cliffside where, if you dare, you can use the metal ladder to immerse yourself into the wild Atlantic.

11. The Thermal Pool

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Thermal pool at Terra Nostra, Sao Miguel.

Dipping your toes into the natural thermal pool at Terra Nostra on São Miguel is one of the highlights of a trip to the Azores. Hot springs feed minerals into the pool, keeping it at a relaxing around 95°F. The pool is surrounded by nature and trees, creating a mystical experience.

12. The Marinas

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Horta Bay, Faial

Horta, the capital of Faial has a most unique and interesting marina. A former whaling mainstay, due to its convenient position in the Atlantic it is now a frequent stop for those sailing from the American to the European continent. Miles of the boardwalk are painted with squares of planned and permissioned graffiti – each crew is encouraged to leave artwork of their vessel or voyage behind as a memento of their visit.

13. The Traffic

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Rush hour on Terceira.

Rush hour traffic on the Azores? Yes, for sure. But expect to be “mooed” not honked because you’re likely to be stopping for cows, not cars.   Azores Disclosure: The author was honored to be the guest of VisitAzores during her stay in the Azores, but as always, the opinions, reviews and experiences are her own.

Comments

  1. I’d love to go to the Azores for the walking and the countryside. The food looks pretty good too!
    Karen Warren recently posted…Exploring the Solar System on Zurich’s UetlibergMy Profile

  2. I rue the fact that in the 17 years I lived in Boston I never went to the Azores but it still isn’t too late to go anyway. Did you get from island to island on a ferry? My issue has been deciding which island to focus my time on but it appears that you got a good sampling.

    • luggageandlipstick says:

      Kay, we got from Faial to Pico by ferry; otherwise we took small planes to connect. Each island is a bit different than the others, so it really depends on what you’d like to do.

  3. I went to the Azores in -97, before the charter tourism there took off. Or actually, I went to Faial, and visited none of the other islands. We stayed in Horta, so I’ve walked the pier with the many greetings from sailors crossing the Atlantic :) I also visited Peter’s Sports Cafe in Horta, famous among the sailors!

    We made several trips with a small rubber boat to meet the whales and dolphins (also whales actually). It’s a fantastic experience to swim among a herd of curious wild dolphins, hearing them and being surrounded by the bubble curtains they produce. And then they get tired of you and go away. We never went after them, it was always on their conditions.

    After reading your article I’d like to go there again and visit the other islands as well!

    • luggageandlipstick says:

      Hi Katrin — I’m so glad my article reminded you of your great experience in the Azores and inspired you to return!

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