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The Best of São Miguel in the Azores

When you hear about the Azores for the first time, there’s a big chance you're not going to know where that is. Hidden in the vast Atlantic Ocean, between Europe and the United States, are nine volcanic islands. The Portuguese archipelago lies about 400 km from the coast of Europe and is a green oasis surrounded by volcanic hot springs, and breathtaking lakes and the best hiking trails.

The largest and most popular island for travelers, São Miguel, is inhabited by 140.000 people and has a recorded history dating back to 1427. The capital of the island, Ponta Delgada, is a city characterized by black and white. The colonial period defines the architectural style of the city; striking white colonial buildings with deep, black outlines around the edges. The black and white mosaics can be found on the streets, contrasting the crisp blue sky on a clear day.

Find the interactive travel guide for São Miguel including 5 day trip routes, all the island's highlights, GPS location, maps, and photos in the travel guide São Miguel, Azores for €4,99.

Best things to do in São Miguel:

Whale Watching Trip

The Azores is known as one of the best places in Europe to see the largest living animal in the world: the whale. With over a quarter of the living species spotted in the Azores, this location is a prime resting and feeding spot for whales before they continue on their long journey towards the North Pole. The best time to spot the whales in the Azores is between May-June, with a 90% chance of sightings. In Ponta Delgada, you can find a few companies offering tours, but for a trusted, sustainable and eco-friendly option- Terra Azul is the one to go with. The tour company is located just out of the center in the town Vila Franca do Campo.

Sete Cidades

This double lake is probably the most well-known attraction of the island. While the lake is actually just one lake, it is deceiving to the eyes because of the two different colors of the water, blue and green, and the bridge that separates the body of waters. The local mythology claims that the difference in colors in the lake is due to the long lost village of Sete Cidades, which lies in the middle of the crater. Starting from here is the beginning of many hiking routes, ranging from 1,5 to 3 hours. If you are hungry, stop by Lagoa Azul Restaurant in Sete Cidades for a €10 buffet, this is where they serve unlimited fish and meats, including house wines, coffee, other drinks, and a small dessert!

Lagoa do Fogo

Lagoa do Fogo, which got its name from the Portuguese word ‘fire’, is usually covered by a layer of mist. For those less adventurous, drive along the beautiful route from Ribeira Grande towards Miradouro de Lagoa do Fogo. The route is a breathtaking highlight itself with an unparalleled view of the north side of the island, which brings you through several bends to the top of the volcano. For those seeking some adventure, hike towards the lake. Park the car in the parking spot and start the hour-long hike down, and depending on your physical abilities, the 1-hour hike back up.

Caldeira Velha Natural Park

As São Miguel is a volcanic island, it’s no surprise there are several points on the island where you can experience volcanic activity. In Caldeira Velha, a small natural park on the route from Ribeira Grande to Lagoa do Fogo, you can swim in natural thermal pools-heated by the volcano. There is also a waterfall for you to wade underneath. Some of the bubbling baths in the natural park are over 70 Degrees C, while other’s heat up around 40 Degrees C. So be careful! The park is rather small, but definitely worth a visit when you are on your way back from a hike near the Lagoa do Fogo. | Entrance fee applicable.

Furnas hotsprings at Poca da Dona Beija

Furnas, a town located in the middle of the island, is another place to experience the natural hotsprings from the volcano. After your hike around the lake (which takes around 2,5 hours) you can enjoy the relaxing thermal baths at Poca da Dona Beija. There is an open-air wellness facilitates with 4 different pools, all with varying temperatures for people to relax in. Visiting the area by night is highly recommended due to the atmosphere created from the thermal activity that warms the hotsprings, especially under the cover of millions of stars. | Entrance fee for the park: €4

Parque Terra Nostra in Furnas

Also located in Furnas is the beautiful botanic garden called Parque Terra Nostra. Make sure to take the map at the entrance, because you are about to be engulfed in the lush, green rainforest, surrounded by tropical plants and hot springs. From palm trees to bamboo, fountains and statues, you'll be able to get lost in this tropical oasis.

Best Place to Stay on São Miguel:

Pedras do Mar Spa & Resort - 11 km from Ponta Delgada

The newly opened resort, Pedras do Mar, is located on the north side of the island, where you'll discover a breathtaking view over the sea. With classic designed lounges and rooms, this hotel is the ideal place to get some rest and relaxation after your long day adventuring. The restaurant offers a bar menu (with burgers and pizza) and a fancier menu to choose from. The resort also provides amenities such as massages, a sauna, indoor and outdoor swimming pool. Outside the hotel, there’s a rather nice hiking route along the cliffs for a morning stroll. Maybe you’ll even spot a whale while doing so!

Best time to visit São Miguel:

The peak seasons are in the summer months, which can get quite busy on the island, and there is less chance of rain. Therefore, it’s recommended to go during the spring or fall, when you can enjoy an active vacation as temperatures remain at 18-20 degrees C- perfect for hiking. The whale season is from May-June, so if you want to avoid the large summer crowds, it’s recommended to visit during this time of year.

As they say on the island “São Miguel has 4 seasons a day” and this is absolutely true all year long. While the day might start off sunny, the weather can change in a split second into large showers to refresh all the green on the island. Make sure to always pack a raincoat when you’re hiking, and check the weather forecast (when possible) before starting a hike to avoid slippery paths.

How to get to the Azores

After opening up the airways to the Azores a couple of years ago, different budget airlines now fly to the island such as TUI, EasyJet, RyanAir, TAP and more. Airports from e.g. Amsterdam, Brussels, Barcelona, Porto, Lisbon fly directly to the Azores.

How to get around on São Miguel:

The best way to get around the island is by car. At the airport you can find different car rentals, like for instance Autatlantis Rent-a-Car. There’s one main highway from Ponta Delgada along the beautiful coastline, flowing into smaller roads across the island. The roads are clearly marked and accessible.

Food & Drinks in the Azores:

  • Try the local dish ‘Lapas’ (sea fruit cooked in garlic, butter and coriander) at Caloura Bar
  • Have a Coffee at ‘Louvre Michaelense’ in Ponta Delgada. This coffee spot is a souvenir shop and bakery, all combined into one, and takes form of an old pharmacy with its large dark wooden cabinets and vitrines.
  • Taste the refreshing local drink Kima- carbonated soda with pineapple or passion fruit flavor.

Things to know:

  • As the Azores are part of Portugal, the Euro currency is used. There are ATMs available in almost every village; therefore you can pay with debit and credit card in most places.
  • European electricity plug are used.
  • You don’t need any vaccinations before traveling to the Azores.
  • The time zone on the island is GMT -1.
  • It’s possible to travel to the other 8 islands from São Miguel, by boat or plane.
  • Most restaurants and hotels offer free WIFI.

Find the interactive travel guide for São Miguel including 5 day trip routes, all the island's highlights, GPS location, maps, and photos in the travel guide São Miguel, Azores for €4,99.

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