Pico Mountain (Pico)#7 in Best Things To Do in The Azores
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.
Once you reach the top, the views are spectacular. Not only can you see down Pico Island, but on a clear day you can behold the nearby islands of Faial and São Jorge. The scenery along the way is pretty spectacular too, with lush greenery cohabitating beautifully with the volcanic rocks left behind from past eruptions.
Visitors who completed the hike found the experience to be incredible and very rewarding, though strongly warned future hikers to come prepared. Bring ample amounts of water, breathable and weatherproof layers in case of sudden rain, good hiking boots that can withstand the impact of traversing along uneven and rocky paths, a hat, sunscreen, snacks and a meal that is high in essential nutrients. Considering the chance of unforeseen showers, the mountain's volcanic terrain and the length and intensity of the hike, you may want to book a guide if you aren't an experienced hiker or aren't in exceptional athletic shape.
Unlike many natural attractions in the Azores, Pico Mountain does come with a fee. To hike the mountain, you'll have to pay between 2 and 20 euros (about $2.25 to $22), depending on how high you want to climb. To make your journey a bit easier, you can also camp on the crater (which is partway up the mountain), but that'll cost an additional fee as well. You will pay your fee at the mountain's visitor center, where you will need to present your passport and fill out forms and in return they will give you a GPS tracker to monitor you. The number of visitors is limited and monitored, so you'll need to show up early to secure a spot for that day.
Hours for the Mountain House are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. November through April, and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. from May to October. From June to September, the Mountain House is open 24 hours per day. If you prefer to do the hike with a guide, check out Tripix Azores or Épico, which earn high marks from reviewers. Expect to pay approximately 50 to 65 euros (around $55 to $72) for the help of a guide. For more information, visit the Azores government website.
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#1 Whale Watching
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.
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