Officially part of Portugal, São Miguel is the largest island in the Azores archipelago. More than half of the Azores’ population calls this island home. A Sao Miguel road trip is a must-do when visiting the island.
Also known as “the green island,” it’s all about nature and enjoying the outdoors in São Miguel. The island is packed with volcano craters, lagoons, small rivers, natural hot springs, and waterfalls. The activities in the itinerary have a broad appeal, from scenic drives, walks, hiking, bathing in hot springs and thermal baths, whale watching, swimming, and paragliding.
This six-day itinerary for a Sao Miguel road trip isn’t intended to be for everyone. It incorporates the best sightseeing, along with some popular outdoor activities – you can pick and choose what you like for as many days as you want. Note: you must rent a car in the Azores if you want to see everything.
For a more laid-back vacation, simply remove activities you do not wish to do and spend more time chilling at your hotel, relaxing at the beach, birdwatching, golfing, leisurely exploring the many small towns, or partaking in the nightlife.
For a faster pace, combine two or more days into one. A lot will depend on how long you actually want to spend at each site, which differs with each person.
For those who wish to pursue a more vigorous schedule, there’s no lack of activities to supplement this agenda. In addition to the hike listed on Day Three, there are lots of scenic trails around the island, such as Sanguinho/Salto do Prego which transverses remote areas of lush forest and leads to a waterfall, or Serra Devassa which circles the Lake District providing stunning of views of lakes and lagoons. Other activities include kayaking, horse riding, and cycling.
Note: If you don’t like experiencing different hotels and/or living out of your suitcase, San Miguel is a relatively small island so it’s possible to stay at a base in Ponta Delgada and do a bit more driving to get to and from the specialized routes.
Day One: The Capital
Explore the areas around Ponta Delgada, the capital city of the Azores archipelago.
Go on a whale watch with Futurismo, an eco-friendly adventure tourism company. I had such a great time with them!
Have lunch at Anfiteatro in the marina. The modern, spacious restaurant on the top floor of the modern building, a unique view over the bay of Ponta Delgada along with delicious, upscale dishes prepared by students of the local culinary school.
Visit the Arruda Pineapple Plantation, a working farm with over 100 years of history. The Plantation Augusto Arruda is a living museum dedicated to all phases of pineapple growth.
Explore Ponta Delgada: Avenida Infante Dom Henrique, Forte de São Brás, Convento e Capela de Nossa Senhora da Esperança, Praça Gonçalo Velho Cabral, Igreja São Sebastião. Then have a sunset dinner at 1000 Spines overlooking the bay.
Stay at the Praia de Santos – Exclusive Guest House Açores in Ponta Delgada on a seaside promenade. It’s a modern building with architectural lines, quiet and comfortable environment with views of the ocean and natural pools, and is conveniently close to some of the city’s best restaurants.
Day Two: The Views
This day is mainly about the dramatic landscape and stunning overlooks in the western part of the island. I would challenge anyone to find more exquisite views within such a short distance of each other. There are lots of hikes in these areas and can easily turn this day into two or three days if desired.
Miradouro do Pico Carvao
Drive to Miradouro do Pico Carvao (Coal Peak) for views of Capelas and the Atlantic beyond.
Lagoa das Empadadas
Next stop is Lagoa das Empadadas, a bit off the beaten path. The small, calm lake is secluded and surrounded by tall pines and framed with flowers.
Miradouro da Boca do Inferno
Miradouro da Boca do Inferno is one of the most photographed sites in San Miguel. You can see three crater lakes from one jaw-dropping 360° viewpoint.
Miradouro do Cerrado das Freiras
Miradouro do Cerrado das Freiras is another stunning scenic overlook. From this vantage point, you get a panoramic view of the lagoon of the Seven Cities and a closer view of the Blue Lagoon.
Lagoa de Santiago
Continue on to Lagoa de Santiago – a gorgeous emerald lake surrounded by a forest. The lake is located in the crater of Sete Cidades in its own crater.
Lagoa das Sete Cidades
Lagoa das Sete Cidades are twin lakes (one blue, one green) situated in the crater of a dormant volcano. The lakes are connected by a narrow strait, which is crossed by a bridge. You can get views from Vista do Rei overlook.
Ponta da Ferraria
The Ponta da Ferraria is known for its crashing waves, volcanic rocks, and high cliffs. Cold oceanic waves mix with hot thermal waters at this spot. Enjoy the distinct party atmosphere here before moving on!
Mosteiros is a coastal fishing village with a black sand beach with unique volcanic rock formations. The fishing and agricultural income from the town are complemented by tourism.
Lookout for Whales! Sao Miguel’s north coast is famous for sightings of these behemoths!
Stay again at the Praia de Santos – Exclusive Guest House Açores in Ponta Delgada
Day Three: The Best Hike
This day is on the south coast and revolves around what is considered the best hike on São Miguel.
Miradouro do Pisão
The Miradouro do Pisão scenic overlook descends toward Água de Alto Beach with views of Portela Caloura. Nearby is a covered picnic area equipped with grills.
Praia – Lagoa do Fogo
Praia – Lagoa do Fogo is the trailhead and starting point for the hike to Lagoa de Fogo (Lake of Fire). Be sure to download the map when you have WiFi so you can access it offline.
Lagoa do Fogo
Lagoa do Fogo is considered the best hike and arguably a highlight of Sao Miguel. The beginning is steep, but the scenery is gorgeous. The path widens out until you reach the lake. The four-hour hike is relatively easy.
Caloura is a picturesque fishing village, situated in a small and narrow creek surrounded by towering cliffs. The area has lush vegetation, vineyards, and black basalt stone walls.
You can walk down the steps for a picnic on the beach, or grab an Azores’ specialty: buttery grilled limpets (aquatic snails) to eat on the outdoor terrace at Bar Caloura with a glass of local wine.
Vila Franca do Campo
Vila Franca do Campo is a quintessential fishing port with a beach and craggy coast (state of Red Bull Cliff Diving Series). It’s known for its offshore volcanic islet, the Ilhéu da Vila Franca.
Stay at the Convento de São Francisco, a 16th-century convent transformed into an elegant boutique hotel.
Day Four: The South Coast
This day is a road trip along the southeastern coast of the island.
Cascata da Ribeira Quente
You can hike to see Cascata da Ribeira Quente, aka the hot waterfall and thermal pool of Ribeira. The trail is short and easy.
Nossa Sra. dos Remedios
Nossa Sra. dos Remedios is a small, charming village with a Portuguese Christian temple located in the village of Remédio.
Stop to explore Agua Retorta, a small village on the southern coast.
Ponta do Sossego
The iconic viewpoint of Ponta do Sossego is a stunning lookout point offering sweeping ocean views from lush mountainside gardens in terraced landscapes. It’s a great place for a picnic, with sheltered seating and barbeque pits.
Lighthouse Arnel is a must-see. The lighthouse sits on a promontory accessed by a steep walking path. At the top, there are sweeping views of the cliffs and sea. The lighthouse began operating on November 26, 1876 and was the first lighthouse in the Azores.
Stay at the Lince Nordeste Country and Nature Hotel
Day Five: The Hot Springs
Journey to the interior of the island and activities revolving around the natural hot springs.
Miradouro do Salto da Farinha offers views of the waterfalls and the sea. The name Salto da Farinha comes from the grinding of cereals that were once made there.
Miradouro da Pedra das Estorninhos, also known as Stone Gazebo Starlings is an idyllic spot with views out over the northeast coast of the island.
Ribeira dos Caldeirões Natural Park is a protected area that stretches along the part of the water stream of Ribeira dos Caldeirões. The park is rich in natural beauty and you can easily spend hours exploring.
Stop at Miradouro do Pico do Ferro for amazing views of the Furnas lagoon before you venture into the town.
Furnas Village is one of the main attractions of Sao Miguel. It’s been absorbed by strolling around the village’s hot springs, charming white buildings, and stunning gothic church.
At Cozide das Furnas you can witness pots of stew stews being buried and cooked in the underground hot springs and/or the digging up when the food is cooked. Take note, that the sulfur smell here can be overpowering.
Stop for lunch at Terra Nostra Garden Restaurant. The modern, upscale restaurant serves the cozied das furnas that you witnessed being from the ground. The meat undergoes further preparation and cooking.
They allowed us to observe the kitchen after first ensuring that we were properly covered!
The food isn’t the best (pig’s ear, anyone?), but worth the experience.
Gardens and Large Thermal Baths
Parque Terra Nostra – go for a walk in the beautiful formal gardens. You can find indigenous flora as well as numerous plants from faraway countries. After meandering through the gardens, head to the geothermal hot springs, one of the highlights of Sao Miguel.
The thermal springs feeding into the pool have a temperature of around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. A thermal bath provides a sensation of rest and relaxation and the essential minerals are said to bestow skin and health benefits.
Small Thermal Baths
Dona Beija is a smaller but popular hot spring. It’s actually five architecturally-designed thermal pools with attractive tropical landscaping. The orange water is rich in iron and minerals and contrasts with the lush jungle surroundings, making for great photo ops.
Stay at the Furnas Boutique Hotel Thermal & Spa
Day Six: Inland
Passage through the middle of the island, with optional hiking, hot springs, caving, and/or paragliding.
Gorreana – tour of the factory and grounds of the oldest tea plantation in Europe. Optional hiking trail that winds around tea plantations with gorgeous views over the northern coast of the island.
Miradouro De Santa Iria – scenic overlook of the north coast
Caldeira Velha – take a dip in the secluded waterfall of warm, iron water surrounded by lush jungle (showers available)
Praia do Areal de Santa Bárbara – optional beach fix on the rougher north coast
Lagoa is a premium place to try paragliding with Asas de São Miguel. It is possible to paraglide all year round, but the summer months are the best. The flights allow you to fly over lakes, beaches, and cliffs.
Gruta do Carvão is an ancient lava tube (cave) located on the outskirts of Ponta Delgada. The cave extends for around 6300 feet, divided into three separate sections. The cave´s age is estimated t be between 5000 to 12000 years old, according to the C14 dating method.
Stay at Hotel Marina Atlantico in the center of Ponta Delgada overlooking the marina and the harbor.
Sao Miguel is an underrated but dreamy destination. The remote location in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean gives it a kind of secret vibe. There are an endless variety of activities within a few hours’ drive, making for one of Europe’s best road trips. You can stand on the rugged coast and gaze out at the azure blue sea or stand; you can drive up a volcanic cliff overlooking lakes and lush valleys and thick wild forests; you can soak in natural hot springs to ease whatever ails you. The weather is pleasant, generally between 60-80°F year-round – and sometimes even in one day.
Despite all of these advantages, the Azores has managed to avoid the over-tourism of Europe. But who knows how long this will remain, so plan your trip soon!
If you’re interested in exploring more of the Azores, check out this guide, Amazing Azores: Best Things to Do in Terceira
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Disclosure: The author was honored to be the guest of Visit Azores during her stay in Sao Miguel, and this is a sponsored post for Discover Car Hire, but as always, the opinions, reviews, and experiences are her own and in no way influenced by any entity.