Whenever people talk about the Azores, they usually struggle to find the perfect adjective. I know the feeling ― it’s a travel destination that leaves you speechless.
The Portuguese archipelago of nine islands, 850 miles from Lisbon, is the perfect hidden gem in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Still untouched, still protected from mass tourism, the ultimate travel destination for many globetrotters. As a local, people often turn to me to ask for advice on things to do and how to reach. The most common question I’ve been asked, so far, is “what island should I visit?” To make things easy, and because I love promoting my homeland, here are some tips on things to do in the Azores that will fit each different type of traveler perfectly.
Trust me on this, everything tastes better in the Azores! Maybe it’s because living in the middle of the ocean opens up your appetite, or maybe because the fertility of the volcanic soil produces some of the greatest vegetables. Definitely, happy, grass-fed cows are the secret for the best cheese, milk, and beef. And nothing beats the islands’ fresh seafood.
More important than all of this, is the love the local producers put into their craft. You’ll feel it under your skin (and on your taste buds) as you taste the “Cozido das Furnas” in Sao Miguel island (a beef stew cooked underground for about six hours), the spicy and pungent cheese in Sao Jorge island, the rich red wine in Pico island, or the rich flavors of the pastry “Donas Amelias” in Terceira island.
For Budget Travelers
The Azores was often perceived as an expensive and hard to reach travel destination. It all changed in 2015 when the local government allowed EasyJet and Ryanair, two of the most popular low-cost airlines in Europe, to operate regular flights to Sao Miguel (the biggest of the nine islands).
This was definitely a game changer for budget travelers but it still raised the question if visitors would be limited to visiting only one island. The answer is, no, they are not. Travelers can take a low-cost flight to Sao Miguel and, as long as they don’t stay on the island for more than 24 hours, request the local airline for a free connecting flight to your final destination. It’s as simple as visiting their website.
For Festival Lovers
Imagine a soft sandy beach, the fading sunset of a hot August summer day, and the warmest sounds of World Music carried by the ocean breeze. Quite the setting isn’t it? Santa Maria island is the place to be in August for the Mare de Agosto, a music festival over thirty years old.
If you have a slightly different taste in music, other options include the Angra Jazz (a Jazz festival in Terceira island), TREMOR (a more indie music festival in Sao Miguel, mixing local and international artists), and Azores Fringe (a combination of music and performing arts showcasing local talent across different islands).
For History and Culture Enthusiasts
The Azores has a very rich cultural heritage, with many points of interest and activities worthy of being classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as Angra do Heroismo’s City Historic Center (in Terceira island) and the Landscape of Vineyard Culture in the island of Pico.
If you’re a diver with a taste for shipwrecks and lost treasures (not that there are guarantees that you’ll actually find one…) visit the Underwater Archaeological Park of the Bay of Angra do Heroísmo (in Terceira island) or the Caroline one in Pico island, to visit the 1901 shipwreck of the French ship. There will be another one of these parks, soon, in the island of Flores.
For Outdoors and Diving Fans
Now, where should I begin? Each one of the islands is unique and beautiful, and the list of possibilities for outdoor activities is long. From mountain climbing in Pico to visiting an extinct volcano in Faial, to canyoning in Sao Jorge, to exploring caves in Terceira. Whale watching and diving are definitely top favorites and the ones the Azores are best known for.
With four UNESCO Biosphere Reserves (the islands of Corvo, of Flores, and of Graciosa, and most recently the “fajas” in Sao Jorge island), the Azoreans are very protective of their natural heritage and they expect visitors to be as well. Make sure you always choose local companies that are certified as sustainable and eco-friendly.
Horta, the capital city of Faial island, is the most famous spot in the Azores for sailors. Their marina is covered in paintings made by seamen and women who visited the island by boat, and the annual festival of Semana do Mar (“Week of the Sea”) is all about celebrating the ocean every Summer.
But even if you don’t have your own yacht to do some island hopping in style, you can always choose to travel between islands by boat instead of flying. Connections are frequent during the Summer months when the Atlantic Ocean is usually gentler.
What type of traveler are you? If you want to know more about what Azores island to visit, get in touch!