It started out simple. I posted a picture on Instagram of myself swimming in tropical waters in the Azores islands. It was selfie and it was shameless, but I didn’t care. I was swimming in a beautiful natural pool with waterfalls cascading behind me. The pool was emerald green reflecting the surrounding trees and cold water fell from surrounding waterfalls. The humid air kept by body warm as I moved from deeper to shallow areas. Rocks provided seats and depths provided swimming room. The water’s edge was lined by draping palm trees. Life was good.
And then came the caption:
“Mindf*ck: This is in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, not a rainforest”
I geotagged the location.
I have spent the past few months traveling the world, so I have enough Instagram posts to last a lifetime. Rarely, however, do I post in a place literally no one I know has heard of.
That is what happened with a stunning group of islands called the Azores.
I distinctly remember the moment I discovered the Azores. It was not through word of mouth or friends in Boston (which has a direct flight to the main island). It wasn’t even from a really poor episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations series (don’t get me wrong, Anthony Bourdain is a champ, but it was a really horrible episode).
Instead, I discovered the Azores by sitting bored out of my mind in a desk job and staring at a map on the wall. Seemingly half way between Portugal and the United States lay a few dots on the map that looked entirely isolated. Smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, with no other islands nearby, laid the Azores. So I opened Google.
I was shocked (do it, Google image search the Azores, I dare you).
The Azores looked out-of-this-world-stunning, filled with lakes and pools and waterfalls and cliffs leading into the ocean and mind blowing views.
Three months later, I found myself on the largest island of the Azores, Saõ Miguel. And to my pleasant surprise, it was even more beautiful than in photos. Portuguese voices echoed through the streets and cafes.
Visiting the Azores is like stepping foot into a fairytale, seriously.
The “freeways” are even lined with hydrangeas!
A 20 minute drive in any direction could take you to waterfalls, cliffs, hot springs, or the ocean. You could find yourself eating lunch in a small fishing town, then spending your afternoon in natural pools under waterfalls and palm trees, and end your day sailing under the sunset.
The best part of the Azores? There are very few tourists, but the islands are prepared for them. There are hotels, boutique hostels, rent-a-car services, expedition groups, and they run on the Euro.
My advice? Go now and discover the islands before everyone else. You will not regret it.
Read More: Azores Complete Travel Guide
A version of this post has been posted on Elite Daily.