AZORES - WHAT TO DO
WHAT TO DO
These islands are ideal for explorers looking epic landscapes, outdoor activities, culture and cuisine. Here are some things you shouldn't miss.
EXPLORE VOLCANIC LANDSCAPES
Since the Azores are situated on the fault lines between three tectonic plates, they have an abundance of volcanoes, calderas, steam vents, hot springs, mud pots, geysers and lava tube caves. These incredible landscapes can be explored and enjoyed in many different ways – hiking, cycling, caving, canyoning, horseback riding, or simply lazing about in a hot spring.
The irregular topography of the islands and thickly forested mountains, make the Azores a perfect playground for hikers of all skill levels. Some popular routes are discussed below:
Sao Miguel Island
The Azores are home to some of the most scenic hiking trails you’ll find anywhere in the world. Sao Miguel Island is a true hiker’s paradise, filled with lagoons, volcano craters, streams and waterfalls that are only accessible on foot. It’s also home to an amazing bucket list hike: the Praia-Lagoa do Fogo trail, an 8-mile trek that provides amazing views of Vila Franca do Campo and Ribeira da Praia along the way to its culmination on the banks of Lagoa do Fogo. Also known as the “Lake of Fire,” this lake sits in the center of the island within the Agua de Pau stratovolcano. If you’ve worked up a sweat, you can even jump into the waters for a refreshing dip. And, that’s just one of the more than 20 official trails on Sao Miguel.
Rocha de Relva is a remote hiking spot on the south coast of San Miguel, set amongst private farms and vineyards, the narrow path clings to the side of a cliff as it descends toward the sea. It offers unsurpassed ocean views. Along the way, you're likely to pass donkeys which are used to haul goods up and down the mountain.
Take to Boca do Inferno (Hell’s Mouth) considered by many to be Sao Miguel's most beautiful viewpoint. Located 3,000ft above sea level, it boasts an magnificent view encompassing Lagoa das Sete Cidades (Lake of the Seven Cities), Lagoa do Canário (Canary Lake) and Lagoa Rasa (Shallow Lake). Park at Lagoa do Canário and follow the signs through the gate. The hike takes 15 - 20 minutes.
Climb to the islands highest peak, Pico da Vara. A good pair of hiking shoes are recommended for this hike. From the top, on a clear day, you can almost see the entire island.
Lagoa do Fogo (lake of fire) is a deep volcanic crater with a lake at the bottom. You can walk the 8.6 mile trail, which starts on the Praia da Ribeira and finishes on the top of the crater. From the summit, you'll have some breathtaking views.
The picture postcard town of Sete Cidades sits at the bottom of a crater, and overlooks twin lakes, that have come to symbolize the Azores. The town is a great jumping-off point for hiking in this volcanic region.
Staring in the town, you'll make your way along the lakeshore and through the lush green valleys at the bottom of the mountain. Eventually, a fairly steep, but manageable, incline will take you to the rim of the crater, where there’s an abandoned luxury hotel, Monte Palace. The rest of the hike is a fairly easy walk along crater rim. You'll be afforded a stunning 360-degree view, with the twin lakes on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.
Flores has some of the most lush waterfall fringed hiking trails
Climbing to the top of Mount Pico's towering 7,700ft peak is well worth the stunning panoramic views. This is the tallest mountain in Portugal and twice the elevation of any other mountain in the Azores. The hike is challenging and require a certain level of fitness. You can tackle it on your own or join an organized hike. This steep 3 mile trek takes about 3 hours up and 4 hours down. The trail is well marked and there's a small visitors center where you can check in for the day (registration is required). Besides magnificent views, you'll also see lava tubes and fascinating rock formations.
Rocha do Chambre(6.8 miles moderate full day) is one of the most spectacular hikes on Terceira. The trail takes you into the heart of the island and explores it's varied landscapes.
Santa Barbara hike(half day 2.5 miles easy) - ‘Serra de Santa Bárbara’ is the highest point of Terceira Island at over 3,000ft. With its high elevation, often dense fog and a high degree of humidity, Serra de Santa Barbara is one of the largest and best preserves areas of natural vegetation in the Azores and features some of it most representative native plant species.
The impressive bushes of Juniper (Juniperus brevifolia) that can reach considerable sizes and the wide extensions of Sphagnum moss (Sphagnum sp.), create a fairytale environment, and when the fog dissipates you'll be rewarded with an endless expanse of blue ocean.
Coastal Walk (half day 3.5 miles easy)- this trail leads to a group of fortifications, over 500 years old, originally built to protect the coast from pirates. This is an easy flat walk.
Zero to 1000 (challenging, full day 6.8 miles)- this challenging hike conquers Terceira's highest point. You'll be awarded with view of the neighboring St Jorge, Pico and Gracious islands.
Crossing from North to South (easy, full day 13.6 miles)- touch the ocean on both the north and south of the island. This is a challenging hike and really give you a perception of the island's size. Despite it's generous size, the hike can easily be completed at a relaxed pace.
Hike to the Azores' highest waterfall. Cascata do Aveiro falls from a height of over 300ft and is accessible via a trail on the islands east coast, in Maia.
highest point on the island is Pico da Esperanca. At 3,454ft, the Pico da Esperanca provides fantastic views around the island and other islands in the triangle.
The archipelago of the Azores originated from 1766 volcanoes, nine of which are still active. The caves on the islands were formed by lava flowing beneath the surface and are essentially lava tubes. Beneath the islands' surface there are almost three hundred volcanic cavities have been recorded, including caves, ravines and fissures.
Here are some caves that are open to the public!
Algar do Carvão is an ancient lava tube in the center of Terceira. Unlike most caves or caverns, this one drops vertically into the earth. After a descent of about 300ft there is a pool of crystal-clear water. The cave has some remarkable stalagmites and other minerals and has been designated a “regional natural monument.”
Apart from the initial staircase to the lower level, this cave is undeveloped. There is no artificial lighting, so you will need a flashlights and advisably a guide.
The Gruta das Torres (Grotto of Towers) is a highlight of any visit to Pico, and at 3.2 miles in length, this is one of the world's longest lava tubes and the longest in the Azores. It is located in the Town of Madalena, on the western end of Pico, at an elevation of 980 ft. The cave system was formed from a series of lava flows, and is part of the Lajidos-Gruta das Torres, a lava vent likely created about 500 to 15,00 years ago.
The Furna do Enxofre, is an impressive volcanic cave, located inside Graciosa’s Caldera. It is accessed through two large fissures, and inside it features a perfect domed "cathedral" with a central height of approximately 120ft . There is also a cold water lake and mud sulphur fumaroles. You will enter the cave through a tower featuring a spiral staircase with 183 steps cut into the rock. The cave is open between 11.00 a.m.and 2.00 p.m., when daylight reaches the interior through two entry vents.
Gruta do Carvão is located in the western part of Ponta Delgada on São Miguel Island. At almost 6000ft, is the longest lava cave on the island. It is divided into 3 separate sections - to the north is the "Paim" section at around 2400ft, to the south is "Joao do Rego" at 1200 ft, and in the center is "Secadores de Tabaco", whichi is 2100 ft long. However some old field observations indicate a bigger extension that it might have been more than 2.5 miles long. The cave’s age is estimated at between 5000 to 12,000 years old, possibly dating to the Sete Cidades volcano and/or the Fogo volcano.
The Azores are located in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The region is composed of nine volcanic islands, three of which provide excellent canyoning conditions, and will have you abseiling down waterfalls, jumping into pools and sliding down water chutes.
São Miguel, São Jorge and Flores offer plentiful canyoning options, all of which are unique to each island.
The Island of Flores offers the greatest diversity from steep vertical descendents to easy routes.
São Jorge features mostly large vertical descendents, and harder routes which are more difficult to reach - many are only accessible by boat.
Sao Miguel's routes are mainly in the interior of the island and less steep.
Canyoning is gaining in popularity, and is a great activity for the entire family.
HORSE BACK RIDING
If you love horses, the Azores are truly a horse rider's paradise and the archipelago is home to many well-trained Lusitano and Cruzado Portuguese horses. Riding is a tradition here and they have been recorded as far back as the 16th century, some dating back to the first settlers.
Horseback riding is surely one of the best ways to discover the islands' breathtaking landscapes. Ride along old trails between stone walls, through forest, charming villages and along coastal trails with expansive views across the azure blue Atlantic Ocean. For many, a highlight is a ride around the twin crater lakes at Sete Cidades on São Miguel. The trails follows the crater rim with magnificent blue and green lakes on one side, and the vast ocean to the other. Horse back riding is unique way explore the islands' diversity and its many hidden and exotic locations.
There are a variety of riding trails, from half-day and full-day to multi-day trails. If you are really keen, a whole week’s horse riding holiday can be arranged on beautiful pure and cross bred Lusitano horses. Whether you are an experienced rider or a beginner, there’s something to suit everyone.
Azores one of Europe’s best destinations for mineral hot springs and geothermally-heated ocean lagoons. Sao Miguel, the largest island in the Azores archipelago is rife with geothermal springs just waiting to be discovered.
Its most renowned spa town, Furnas (despite how it sounds, this actually translates to "caverns" and not as you would expect, "Furnace"), is nestled right inside São Miguel’s easternmost volcanic crater. The last true eruption was in 1630, but volcanic activity is ever-present and presents a huge attraction for wellness tourists. Here you'll find bubbling calderas and steaming vents and two wonderful parks with geothermal pools.
Just outside town, Poca da Dona Beija offers a series of hot pools, perfect for a relaxing soak. However, the highlight of the town is it's 30-acre tropical botanic garden, Terra Norstra, with plentiful hidden natural jacuzzis. The park dates back to the 18th century and is crossed by lakes and streams. It is also home to over 2,000 species of trees and a fern collection numbering over 300 varieties. It's centerpiece is a central golden lake of iron-rich water, said to impart a variety of health benefits.
Caldeira Velha is a gorgeous little park, on the way to Lagoa do Fogo – the Lake of Fire. Besides have two geothermal pools it is a also a great park for hiking. With lush vegetation, beautiful flowers and fresh mountain air, it's an enchanting setting to enjoy the wonderful healing benefits of the mineral rich water, and perhaps even a picnic.
At Ponta da Ferraria, Sao Miguel's rocky western shore, lies a sulfurous hot spring that’s been used by bathers and wellness tourists since the 15th century. Perhaps one of the Azores' most remarkable geothermal pools, this piscina, or natural swimming pool is sheltered by basalt cliffs and fed by hydrothermal vents. What makes these hot springs so unique is source of the water - the termas (vents) of Ferraria are in the ocean. The unusual combination of saltwater and sulfurous spring water is claimed to help with a number of conditions, especially arthritis.
With temperatures never lower than 60 degrees Fahrenheit, you can dive or snorkel in the Azores throughout the year. The most spectacular islands for diving are Faial, Gracious, Santa Maria, Sao Miguel and Pico.
Species found here include tuna, billfish, the charismatic dusky grouper, tope, hammerhead and mako sharks, manta ray and, the ever popular, loggerhead turtle. You'll also see an abundance of colourful smaller fish and crustaceans, and perhaps some playful dolphins if you dive offshore.
Dive sites are varied from offshore reefs and volcanic caves to drop-offs, impressive arches and flat seabeds.
San Miguel is the largest and most populated island in the Azores. Endowed with lushly forested volcanic mountains and a host for outdoor activities like mountain biking, hiking, and canyoning, San Miguel is probably the better location for a well-rounded trip that includes snorkeling.
Pico, while not as developed, has established a reputation as THE place for scuba divers. The conditions and marine life around this island are generally better, however, if you want to base your entire trip around one island, then San Miguel is perhaps the better option.
Diving in the crystal clear waters off Santa Maria Island, you may be lucky to see whale sharks - this island is the most visited by this magnificent giant of the seas. Although it is possible to see them during a coastal dive, you are more likely to encounter them further off the coast. Thanks to the Formigas Nature Reserve and Dollabarat Reef, the island has become a marine sanctuary with around 50 diving and snorkeling spots around the island. Here you may be surrounded by large tuna that pass by the archipelago on their way across the Atlantic. also see manta rays, turtles, tuna and schools of mackerel.
For divers, the main reason for a trip to Faial Island is the opportunity to dive with blue sharks. This is one of the only places in the world that you can swim with this amazing predator and although it is possible to do it on several of the Azores islands, the best place is the Condor seamount which is just ten miles offshore and accessible from Faial.
Because Faial and Pico are so close together, divers can experience the benefits of both islands. On Faial you have the some fantastic opportunities to dive around Guia Hill and in the Faial-Pico channel, as well as the Espalamaca Fumaroles where you can observe active volcanic springs of hot water and curtains of small bubbles emerging from the seabed. On Pico there is excellent rocky coastline to explore. Faial is also one of the main departure points for trips to the Princess Alice Bank, located about 45 nautical miles away and one of the best dive sites available in the Azores because of the large schools of pelagic fish, manta rays and sharks.
If you dive around the open-ocean pinnacles at Princess Alice Bank, you'll see manta rays and huge schools of mobulas swirling in the currents.
The best months are from June to November. Dives are done in groups of up to five people, always with a guide.
The Azores archipelago renowned as one of best places on the planet to see many species of whales and dolphins up close and in their natural habitat. Many species such as sperm whales are permanent residents here, while others, such as the Blue- and Humpback whales, visit the Azores as part of their annual migration route. Over a third of all known marine mammals have been recorded here at some time or another, including blue whales, humpbacks, sperm whales, fin whales and Sei whales.
The best way to observe these majestic creatures is by boat, while the best season is from April to September. Spring and Summer (April, May and June) are the best times to spot the blue whale – the mightiest mammal on the planet - as well as humpback and fin whales, as they pass through en route to their summer feeding grounds in the North Atlantic.
Resident sperm whales, pilot whales and orcas are also frequently seen along with several species of dolphin
Faial is one of the best islands on which to embark on a whale watching tour.