Best Things To Do in The Azores
The Azores' location, landscape and wildlife are so incredibly unique that you'd be doing yourself an injustice if you didn't spend all of your time seeking out its natural wonders. Fit in as many natural attractions as your itinerary allows, including Sao Miguel's famous lakes, Sete Cidades and Lagoa do Fogo. And if you have time to travel to multiple islands, take in its stunning beaches. Whale watching tours are the best way to see the island's world-famous aquatic life, although if you are an experienced swimmer, diving here is said to be unforgettable.
Updated April 2, 2020
- #1View all Photos#1 in The AzoresSightseeing, ToursTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDSightseeing, ToursTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
The Azores is probably one of the best places in the world to go whale watching. That's because it is one of the world's largest whale sanctuaries, with more than 20 different species of cetaceans that either call the archipelago home or pass through during their yearly migrations. At any given time, you'll be able to spot common and bottlenose dolphins and sperm whales on your tour. Different seasons also bring different species through the islands. Summer is a good time to see spotted dolphins, pilot whales, striped dolphins and bearded whales while the beginning of spring is great for blue whales, sei whales and fin whales. Because so many cetaceans live and pass through these waters, the probability of venturing out on a boat and seeing nothing is extremely unlikely.
Whale and dolphin watching tours in the Azores tend to last for a few hours and can be arranged on multiple islands. Highly rated tour operators include Futurisimo, which departs from the Pico and São Miguel islands, Terra Azul, based in São Miguel and OceanEmotion, located on Terceira. Recent tourgoers agree that this is undoubtedly a can't-miss experience while in the Azores. Visitors across a number of tours were complimentary of their knowledgeable guides, some of whom are marine biologists, as well as the crew. Additionally, many were happy to report that they saw a number of dolphins and whales during their trip.
- #2View all Photos#2 in The AzoresHiking, Natural Wonders, Recreation, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDHiking, Natural Wonders, Recreation, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Sete Cidades provides the best introduction to the Azores' breathtaking landscapes. Conveniently located on São Miguel, Sete Cidades is an area found northwest of Ponta Delgada that is composed of a blue lake and a green lake that are picturesquely placed in the middle of a 3-mile-wide caldera. The area is filled with gorgeous vantage points and hiking trails as well as a little town, which is located at the bottom of the caldera at the base of the lakes. You can hit all of these viewpoints and more if you follow the EN9-1A road that takes you directly to Sete Cidades.
For stunning vistas overlooking the entirety of Sete Cidades, visit Miradouro da Vista do Rei, the caldera's highest point, or Miradouro do Cerrado das Freiras. From Miradouro da Vista do Rei, you can take a trail that snakes along the western side of the caldera and down to the small village that lies within it. There's also the longer Mata do Canário trail, which starts at the stunning Miradouro da Boca do Inferno viewpoint. Like the west side trail, the Mata do Canário trail snakes along the east side of the caldera and takes hikers down to the village.
- #3View all Photos#3 in The AzoresNatural Wonders, Recreation, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDNatural Wonders, Recreation, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
In addition to Sete Cidades, another stunning crater lake to see on São Miguel is Lagoa do Fogo. Located in the middle of São Miguel, Lagoa do Fogo is more isolated than Sete Cidades and as such, the perfect place to disconnect if you're hiking. Otherwise, expect to rub elbows with visitors at viewpoints, such as Miradouro do Pico da Barrosa, where there is no parking lot (you have to park on the side of the road).
If you are interested in getting close to Lagoa do Fogo, you have a couple of options. From Miradouro da Lagoa do Fogo (just steps away from Miradouro do Pico da Barrosa), you can descend down to the lake, which according to recent visitors, takes about 30 minutes. For a longer hike, venture down the stunning Praia – Lagoa do Fogo trail. This nearly 13-mile round-trip hike passes through a variety of landscapes, including farmlands, wooded areas, evergreen valleys and down to the rocky shores of the lake, where, considering the length of the hike, you'll likely run into no one. Do keep in mind that the Azorean government does not allow swimming in the lake.
- #4View all Photos#4 in The AzoresNatural Wonders, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDNatural Wonders, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Ever thought about learning how to dive? If you want to go to the Azores, now is the time. The Azores is overflowing with vibrant sea life. In addition to being a whale sanctuary (that sees more than 20 different species of cetaceans), the Azores is also home to plenty of fish, sharks, octopuses, turtles, mobulas (a type of ray) and so much more. Along with its diverse marine life, the archipelago's underwater topography is just as varied. Take a dive in the Azores and you'll be greeted with volcanic formations, such as crater lakes, caves and pinnacles. Shipwrecks are a common sight here, too. What's more, the archipelago exercises a strong commitment to preserving its natural landscapes, meaning you won't find dive sites that have clearly seen one too many visitors.
You can find dive centers on every island except São Jorge and Corvo. If you know where you want to go, it's best to center your Azores itinerary around the island that has your desired dive site. Popular spots around the islands include Princess Alice Bank in the waters surrounding Pico Island, the Terceirense shipwreck on Graciosa Island and Dom João de Castro Bank between the islands of São Miguel and Terceira, to name a few. New divers should, on the other hand, seek out dive centers that offer lessons or cater to beginners, as they will know the best sites to take novice divers to. The highly-rated Best Spot Azores Dive Center and Season Challenge Azores Island Diving Center, located on São Miguel, both feature dive courses taught by PADI-certified instructors. Summer is the best time to go diving thanks to the warm water temperature and calm ocean conditions. Though if you are intent on spotting whales, the best chance of seeing them is in the early springtime.
- #5View all Photos#5 in The AzoresNatural Wonders, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDNatural Wonders, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
If you want to see the Azores' volcanic activity for yourself, there is no better place than the Furnas Valley. The area of Furnas is basically one giant dormant volcano. As such, the area is full of hot springs, fumaroles, mud springs and geysers. Locals have come to use these geological offerings in a variety of ways, from bathing to cooking. Here, you can take a bath in mineral-filled waters, eat food that has been cooked in steam vents (such as cozido das Furnas stew) and drink tea that has been steeped with water from a volcano (found at Chalet da tia Mercês).
Start your Furnas journey to Caldeiras das Furnas, the best place to see the area's volcanic activity. Here, you can walk through the fumaroles, bubbling mud springs and geysers. Plus, this is where cozido das Furnas is cooked and if you are lucky, you'll see cooks taking the food out of the vents to the nearby restaurants in Furnas. If you're up for a mineral bath, there are a couple options within Furnas. Terra Nostra Park features a large thermal swimming pool, which is always heated between 95 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. There's also Poça da Dona Beija, which features smaller pools in a more intimate setting. Both pools are rich in iron and are surrounded by striking, tropical foliage. If you choose to bathe in the former, be sure to also explore the ground's incredible gardens, which feature more than 2,000 different types of trees, including Japanese red cedars, tulip trees, palm trees and more.
- #6View all PhotosfreeBeaches#6 in The AzoresBeaches, Natural Wonders, Recreation, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Natural Wonders, Recreation, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
You can't visit this island paradise without getting an eyeful of its incredible shorelines. The beaches here are unique in that, like many other natural attractions in the Azores, they feature characteristics that are a result of the islands' volcanic history. You won't find many long, wide expansive beaches here, but rather smaller spots that are flanked by towering cliffs and filled with rocky dark or black sands.
São Miguel boasts a hearty number of beautiful beaches. Praia dos Mosteiros provides a great introduction to the beaches typical of this island chain. The beach is small, but features black sands and is flanked by lush cliffs that stretch for as far as the eye can see. Plus, you'll see some striking volcanic rock formations jutting out from the sea as you gaze at the blue waters of the Atlantic. Praia de Santa Bárbara boasts similar geographic features, but provides beachgoers more room in the sand. The conditions here are known to be rough, making it a popular place for surfers. Like Santa Bárbara , Praia do Fogo is one of the island's bigger shorelines and is particularly breathtaking thanks to the towering, forested cliffs that border the beach. The most unique beach of all on São Miguel is the Islet of Vila Franca do Campo. Located off the central southern coast of São Miguel, the islet is a partially submerged volcanic crater that has turned into one large swimming hole in the middle of the Atlantic. You can reach it via ferry or kayak. Reviewers applaud the islet's beauty, but complain of crowds and a disorganized ferry operation.
- #7View all Photos#7 in The AzoresHiking, Natural Wonders, RecreationTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDHiking, Natural Wonders, RecreationTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
There are plenty of amazing hikes found in the Azores, but Pico Mountain, Portugal's highest mountain, easily takes the cake. Pico Mountain, which is actually a dormant volcano, can be found smack dab in the middle of Pico Island, one of the central islands in the Azores.
Pico rises more than 7,700 feet tall and as such, is not for the faint of heart. Due to its shape, the ascent is entirely uphill (the terrain doesn't level out at any point) and for the most part, is exceptionally steep throughout. It's the kind of hike where you'll need to start first thing in the morning and you likely won't be done until the evening. Know, too, that if want to get to Piquinho, the absolute top of the mountain, you'll have to crawl on your hands and feet at several points on the trail up. Plus, multiple travelers say this particular spot is hot and does emit warm air, so plan accordingly.
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