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Travel

Azores Islands: Hidden Gem

Claudia Di Capua

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I’ve never been to a country (or set of islands) that I didn’t know existed shortly before booking the flight, until I went to the Azores. A set of nine islands off the coast of Portugal makes up the picturesque, nature filled and lush landscapes. The pictures couldn’t prepare me for the views and intrigue that drew me in more and more each day! Only a short 4 hour direct flight landed me on the islands of Pico and shortly after, São Miguel. This post is meant to share everything we did, share some advice, and provide a glimpse into this untouched, un-commercialized hidden gem called the Azores. I included links to my looks as well, so shop away!


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Stop Number 1: Pico Island

I didn’t know what to expect, but the island surprised me in so many ways. It seemed almost uninhabited, which was of course not true seeing as there are villages every few miles. Although, we didn’t see many people walking through the towns as we drove around. This was perfect for us! It was almost like having a private island. We rarely had to share whatever coastal space we camped out at for the day. It was almost too good to be true that we could drive around the island and basically have it to ourselves!

The best pieces of advice I have for Pico is to rent a car and just drive. There are so many landscapes and cool coastlines to see. You can get around the entire island in under an hour and driving up into the mountains makes for a great photo op! The views are unreal. Below are some of the specific places that were are memorable for us.

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Sites

  • EN3 Road: We found the entrance to this road while exploring the mountains further inland. It looks like. Never-ending road surrounded by rolling hills and cattle. It almost looks cinematic or photoshopped in a way. Highly recommend a drive through here (and pics of course). Photos 1-4 below.
  • Mount Pico: This is the site of the active Volcano on Pico. We gave it our all trying to get to the top, but the clouds were too thick and we were not properly dressed. This is not a hike for wimps, so be ready to climb and reap the rewards in amazing views. Photo 5 below. 
  • Ribeira: While driving around the coast, we came across curbside pools! These pools are either next to the ocean or actually meet the ocean. It’s a great concept and are open to everyone for free in many towns. Photo 6 below. 

Activities

  • Turispico Horseback Riding: This was definitely a top 3 activity in my book. For $40pp, we got a 2 hour private tour by horse through the surrounding towns and a wine/cheese tasting afterwards. You can opt to do a longer or shorter tour, which changes cost. All photos below.
  • Pico Sport dolphin/whale watching: If you want to swim with Wild dolphins in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and see whales surfacing even further from shore, check out Pico Sport. Let it be known that the water is not very warm especially on a cloudy day like we had!

Beaches

  • All coastal locations and beaches we found were places we saw that looked interesting. We just pulled over from our exploratory drives and camped out at beaches, rock formations and cliff sides that are near the water. They are all over the coast, so definitely take a drive and stop at anything that grabs your attention! All photos of various coastal stops below. 

Food

  • Petipe: Amazing place for dessert with a pretty view of the mountains as well as the ocean. All photos below.
  • Restaurante Ponta da Ilha: Cute Seafood restaurant with good food. 
  • Cella Bar: One of the more upscale restaurants we visited. Very cool exterior with amazing sunset views.
  • Bar Esplanada: Great for a quick bite in the capital of Pico, Madalena (next to Pico Sport).

Stop Number 2: São Miguel

This island is definitely a bit more commercialized than Pico given the stores and number of people. It’s a little more fast paced, but the views and sites are just as amazing as in Pico. It took a bit longer than it did in Pico to get around so having a car is super important. It’s pretty easy to find a beach on both islands, but São Miguel had more sand beaches that were more upbeat. There are so many sites to see and activities to do including getting to Sete Cidades, visiting waterfalls and sinking into hot springs. Get all the details below.

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Sites

  • Sete Cidades: Also known as the Seven Cities located at the bottom of a crater. Amazing views of this from Boca do Inferno!
  • Boca do Inferno Viewpoint: This was easily in my top three favorite moments of this trip! Boca do iInferno translates to Hell’s Mouth, which is a viewpoint overlooking Sete Cidades. While it’s a little tricky to find and you need to be lucky with the weather, this view is worth the struggle!
  • Salto do Cabrito: This is a fun waterfall (also tricky to find) where you can go for a quick dip and get a few photos! 

Activities

  • Azores Surf Center: Potentially my favorite activity from the entire trip! For just 30 Euros pp, you get an hour and a half instructional surf lesson. I’ve wanted to do this for the longest time and I can’t wait to go again!
  • Hot Spring Baths: This is a great cloudy day activity. There were five baths with varying temperatures and the location is super serene. 
  • Ponta da Ferraria Natural Thermal-Water Pool: While you need to go to this heated pool in the ocean during low tide, it’s a cute hangout and a nice dip. Get there right at the beginning at low tide to avoid crowds. 

Beaches

  • Praia de Santa Barbara: This beach is the only one we visited while on São Miguel since we were so busy running around the island. It was definitely the best choice for us. The waves were perfect for body boarding, floating and even surf lessons. It’s a huge stretch of beach with a restaurant and great views. 

Food

  • Tukà Tulà Bar: This restaurant is on Praia de Santa Barbara and we ended up going there twice. They serve great drinks (love the frozen mango mojito) and it’s a great place to leave the beach and watch the sunset over dinner. 

Tips

  1. bring windbreakers, good shoes and a backpack as it gets a little chilly and rocks can be hard to walk on at times. 
  2. Everything is pretty cheap! We stayed in Airbnbs and we only ended up paying $15 per day each. 
  3. Groceries are super cheap
  4. Bring a lot of underwear, bathing suits and socks. Since the clouds sit very low, clothing doesn’t dry very quickly. 
  5. Airbnb's are perfect if you rent a car (which you should)