The Azores islands provide some of the most stunning landscapes in the world. Yet these islands still remain uncharted territory to many travelers. If you asked many people to point out the Azores on a map, you would probably get blank stares. However, part of the beauty and appeal of these islands is that they are uncharted territory. The volcanic landscape and wildlife of the Azores provide endless opportunities to explore, while the islands have thriving local communities. The Azores boast surprises on every corner, including waterfalls, hot springs, boating, cliffs, and even pineapple plantations.
São Miguel is the largest and most populated of the nine Azores islands. This is where many people begin (and possibly remain throughout) their journey through the Azores. The Portuguese community boasts a lively atmosphere with city-sponsored parties, a strong boating culture, and hiking groups throughout the island. For any trip to the Azores, I would recommend staring in Saõ Miguel for 2-3 days, minimum.
When to Go
For the best weather, head to the Azores during the summer months (May-August). However, keep in mind that these islands have a very unpredictable climate. It can by rainy, windy, and beautifully sunny all in one day. The best part of going during the summer? If it rains, it typically only does so on a small part of each island (especially São Miguel), so you can simply drive to a sunny part of town.
How to Get There
The hardest part of traveling in the Azores is actually getting there. This difficulty is part of the adventure (and part of why the islands have not been overfilled with tourists). Situated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, between Portugal and the United States, the beautiful islands are only accessible by boat or plane.
Several ferries run between the islands of the Azores, however, you will be hard pressed to find a boat that gets you there in the first place. Most people that travel by boat do so my private charter or sailing.
There are very few sets of direct flights to the Azores, but flying is by far the easiest method of traveling to the islands. Most flights will take you to São Miguel or another island, Horta. While there may be direct flights from your preferred location, there may only be one or two flights per week. It can get tricky to plan, but it is worth it.
From the USA:
Direct flights from Boston and Oakland (CA) only
Direct flights from Montreal and Toronto only
Several locations for direct flights with limited flight times. The easiest location to fly from is Portugal (both Porto and Lisbon have frequent direct flights).
Where to Stay
The best location to stay in São Miguel is in the city center of Ponta Delgada, close to Igreja Martiz de São Sebastio (the Church of St. Sebastian). If you would rather stay outside of the city, look into accommodation near Sete Cidades (the lake area).
São Miguel has great Airbnb locations, especially close to the city center of Ponta Delgada. Entire homes average at $97/night, while private rooms average at $53/night.
I have not used CS in Ponta Delgada, so I cannot speak from experience. However, there are over 100 hosts registered in Ponta Delgada alone, so it may be worth looking into.
The Nook Hostel is an excellent and affordable option, very close to the city center in Ponta Delgada.
If you are looking to splurge, look into the well designed and attentively staffed Hotel Casa Hintze Ribeiro.
Bed and Breakfast
Minuvida. This place is not open right now, as it is being renovated. However, the owners are incredible, attentive, friendly, and passionate. They have a beautiful organic farm and make many meals on their own! (In the meantime, look into joining their cooking classes or day trip experiences while they are under construction).
Where to Eat
Let me just start off by saying that I am not the biggest fan of Portuguese, or Azorean, food. There are a lot of strong meats and cheeses, boiled potatoes, and fried sardines… that do not really speak to my soul. However, if you are a fan, I would highly recommend that you try ‘cozido’ lunches. Typically made in a town called Furnas, cozido is the term for a traditional meat and potato strew cooked underground, heated by natural hot springs on the island.
There are some great food options in the Azores that may have more appeal:
Okay, this is not Portuguese food, its Italian. But it is really good Italian food in the Azores, made by a husband and wife who moved to São Miguel from Italy. When you’ve had enough Azorean sausages, head here for some excellent pesto and caprese.
Great for a nice dinner or celebration, this is the only modern gastronomic restaurant in the Azores. Most of the items on the menu are inspired from the islands. The tasting menu is good, as are the cocktails.
This is definitely not the most appealing restaurant from the outside, or the inside for that matter. However, it has arguably the freshest seafood in town and incredible food. Mercado do Peixe is the perfect place for lunch in the Azores.
Basic Do’s and Don’ts of São Miguel, Azores
DO rent a car for as many days possible
DO NOT spend your daytime in Ponta Delgada, get out of the city and explore!
DO drive to the top of Sete Cidades
DO picnic on the island
DO rent a boat for the day
DO NOT expect a wild nightlife
DO go on several hikes
DO learn basic phrases in Portuguese
DO plan your trip around island festivals (especially White Summer party!)
DO take a cooking class at minuvida
DO NOT speak to people in Spanish
DO be ready for an adventure
DO take your camera and prepare for the most beautiful sights imaginable