The Azores Area Map
The Azores are composed of nine islands and are often differentiated by their geographic location; the eastern islands (São Miguel and Santa Maria), western islands (Flores and Corvo) and central islands (Faial, Pico, São Jorge, Graciosa and Terceira). Unless you have at least a couple weeks to dedicate to your Azorean exploration, it's best to choose one to three islands to visit during your trip due to the infrequent and time consuming methods of transportation. Flight and ferry times vary by season and if you do take the ferry, know that it could take hours to get somewhere that looks close by on a map.
São Miguel, the region's largest and most populated island, is a great starting point. Not only does the island service the most airlines, but it is also home to some of the island's best attractions. From there, you can pick and choose where you want to go based on your personal preferences.
If you're visiting the Azores, chances are you'll be flying into São Miguel. The island services local and national airlines, the latter of which includes Delta and Ryanair. Along with its easy access, the island also offers a diverse range of experiences. Ponta Delgada is the archipelago's capital, offering a vibrant urban experience that contrasts to the rest of the region's remote, outdoorsy pursuits. In São Miguel, you can ogle colorful lakes, visit Europe's only tea plantation, take a dip in natural mineral springs, eat stew cooked inside the island's fumaroles and more. This island is also home to several of the archipelago's top hotels, including the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel and the Santa Bárbara Eco-Beach Resort.
Pico is the second-largest island of the Azores. It's home to Portugal's tallest mountain – Mount Pico – which sits in the center of the island. You can hike Pico Mountain, which will afford unforgettable views of the archipelago, especially the nearby Faial Island, on a clear day. Or, you can take it easy and visit the island's UNESCO-designated wine country. Because Mount Pico is a dormant volcano, expect plenty of black, rocky terrain throughout.
One of the central islands, Terceira is the second most populated island of the Azores and third-largest in the archipelago. The island is famous for housing Angra do Heroísmo, a centuries-old town with a rich trade history and colorful, centuries-old Portuguese colonial architecture. Terceira is also home to Algar do Carvão, a giant volcanic vent that visitors can venture into, as well as multiple lush nature parks, both inland and along the coast. While here, be sure to indulge in local cheese and dairy products for a true taste of Terceira (there are more cows than humans on this island).
Come to this island if you're looking for an Azores experience that is more remote and full of coastal exploration. While you can definitely experience towering cliffs on other Azorean islands, São Jorge's stand out thanks to the island's geography. While the other islands are circular, São Jorge is one long strip that raises in elevation the further west you travel. Along these cliffs you'll find quaint villages below and incredible vantage points along hiking trails, including Serra do Topo in Faja dos Vimes and Caldeira do Santo Cristo in Faja dos Cubres.
If you love a good bloom, head to Faial. This central island is awash with hydrangeas, which thrive thanks to the island's volcanic soil. In addition to creating an abundance of flowers, the soil also yields more vibrant petals than your average hydrangeas grow. The best time to see these flowers is during the summer – peak blooming season. The island also features Praia do Porto Pim beach and Praia do Almoxarife beach (some of the few shorelines in the Azores made up of sand rather than rocky, volcanic terrain). Other geographic highlights include a caldera that is overgrown with lush vegetation and the popular Capelinhos, a stretch of land that was formed after a 13-month-long volcanic eruption.
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