The Azores Islands: Europe’s Best Kept Secret

The Azores Islands are a chain of volcanic islands about 1,000 miles west of mainland Portugal and honestly, if you’re planning a trip to Portugal, the Azores cannot be missed!  There are cheap flights on airlines such as: Tap, Ryan air, Azores Airlines, and many others directly from Lisbon or Porto. The largest of the islands, Sao Miguel, is one of the most beautifully untouched places I have stepped foot on! I truly believe that the Azores Islands are Europe’s best kept secret. When we were in mainland Portugal, we sat next to a very sweet German couple who had never even heard of the Azores!

Azores Islands, Must Do Azores, Sao Miguel Island, Portugal vacation

I’ve heard it compared to Iceland, Ireland, Hawaii etc. But the truth is, the Azores are completely different and deserve the world’s attention!

(P.S- These islands are only growing in popularity, so I would go before the herds of tourists show up)!

Sao Miguel Tips

  1. Rent a car. You’ll definitely want to! The island isn’t huge, you’ll probably never drive more than 1.5 hours to get to something. However, the freedom of having your own car is something I highly recommend here! Driving was super easy, street signs weren’t hard to follow, and roads were over all really well paved!
  2. Plan your days. The thing about Sao Miguel, is that you should probably break up your days into seeing certain sections of the island. For example, day 1 could be spent seeing all of the spots on the East side of the island, day 2 could be more central, etc. We didn’t do this our first day and ended up driving all over the island!
  3. Everything closes early. Gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores, you won’t find a ton open outside of Ponta Delgada past 9.

Azores Islands, Must Do Azores, Sao Miguel Island, Portugal vacation

If you DO take a trip to Sao Miguel Island, here is a quick “Must Do & See” list for your time there!

  • Boca Do Inferno Viewpoint- If you google image “Azores” or “Sao Miguel” these pictures will be the first to come up. This is the most incredible viewpoint and will literally knock you in the gut when you see it! It is a short hike up some stairs to see this beauty. My advice is to go later in the afternoon, after tour groups have gone through. In the Azores, you never know what the weather is going to be like. It could be perfectly clear to totally foggy! So be prepared to change up your plans.

Sao miguel hotels, Azores islands, where to stay in the Azores

  • Miradouro Lagoa Do Fogo- This viewpoint was so underrated and took my breath away just as much as the others. This lake was SO blue and the mountains around it were a nice added touch. We saw people biking to the top to see this, but you can also easily drive if you’re on a time crunch.IMG_1106-2
  • Furnas- This whole town was one of our favorite stops on our Sao Miguel Road Trip. A town of hot springs, botanical gardens, quiet lakes, and beautiful views, Furnas was a dream! Our first stop was Poça da Dona Beija. This place isn’t like the pricey and crowded Blue Lagoon of Iceland (which was still amazing, btw). We basically had the entire place to ourselves and it cost $3 pp to go in. We brought our own towels, but you can purchase some there as well. There were different temperatures of baths and it was the most relaxing experience. The gardens surrounded the springs are beautifully kept and I could’ve stayed here all day, which you can! The grounds open at 9am and don’t close until later in the evening.
  • You should also go to Furnas Lake and see all the steam coming out from the ground. We originally thought those were the hot springs and went to get in them when we realized we werent allowed and would have died, but that is a different story!

TIP: Wear a bathing suit you don’t really care about! It may get ruined in there. I wore a black sports bra and was fine 🙂 

Furnas, hot springs, azores island, what to do in the azores, sao miguel

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  • Terra Nostra- These botanical gardens are SO fun to just walk through. Its a little more expensive, about $10 USD pp. But this place has some hot springs as well, and some really beautiful walking trails. There are paths of bamboo, caves, flower gardens, etc. You could spend a good amount of time wandering around! In my personal opinion, we enjoyed the other hot springs much more.

Sao Miguel Island, Azores islands, Portugal travel, What to do in the Azores

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  • Caldeira Velha- This place is filled with hot springs and was surrounded by all the jungle vibes you could want! I recommend going early when they open!
  • Waterfalls- By no means do the waterfalls of Sao Miguel compare to places like Iceland, but you can have some easy hikes to some beautiful ones!
  • Whale Watching- Whale watching in the Azores is a “must do” when doing research on the islands! We went with Terra Azul. We saw many dolphins too! It was the perfect clear day when we went out, and Sao Miguel by boat looked even more beautiful!

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Also, there is an ocean hot spring (yes, thats a thing!) Depending on the tide, you can swim in a certain part of the ocean on the northwest side that has volcanic sand, the heat from the ground warms the water! A few locals told us that it gets pretty crowded and the water is never really hot, only warm, so we skipped it just because we crammed so much else into 3 days!

 Where To Stay on Sao Miguel Island

We did an affordable airbnb the first few nights we were there. You can see that place hereThe location of this place was about 20 minutes east of Ponta Delgada and we really enjoyed the location. The place even had a swimming pool down on the water!

Where to stay in the Azores, Sao miguel budget hotels, portugal travel

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Although we enjoyed our stay in our little villa, when you are searching for hotels on Sao Miguel Island, nothing compared to our next hotel on the North side, Pedras Do Mar Resort & Spa.  This was one of our favorite hotel stays for the price we got it for. It was incredibly updated and modern, comfy as can be, had a beautiful game room, spa, outdoor and indoor pool, restaurant and bar, and the best part was the backyard views of the hotel. Just past the pool, you can take some incredible walks along the most beautiful cliffs!

Sao Miguel Hotels, Azores trip, what to do in the azores, sao Miguel island tips

Sao miguel hotels, Azores islands, where to stay in the Azores

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(This was literally a minute walk down from our hotel!)

What To Eat

Queijadas – The local pastries made in the Azores were some of my husbands favorite! I am not a big pastry lover, but if you are, then you must try them! They are sold in all the restaurants and cafes, but do yourself a favor and stop into the small factory where they make them in the town of Villa Franca Do Campo.

Lapas- If you’re a fan of mussels then you must try Lapas! They are essentially at every good and local restaurant in Sao Miguel, you must order it! 🙂

There ARE other islands besides Sao Miguel

You know when you’re traveling and have the “I wish I could’ve seen/done more” thought? That is how we felt when leaving Sao Miguel. There are many other islands we wish we could have explored that we fully intend to one day soon! We met a couple on the plane ride home that took a boat to two other islands, we were super jealous!

My final advice for Sao Miguel is this, however many days you think you want to spend in the Azores, add an extra day. Between rest and weather, you never know what you’re gonna need.

azores islands, sao miguel island travel

azores islands, sao miguel island travel

Lastly, the Azores are truly for the adventure seekers. These islands are for the couple who desire hiking, breathtaking view points, hidden waterfalls, and spa like hot springs to end the day, there is a little something for everybody in the Azores, and I hope you find it! 🙂

 

 

 

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