Azores – nine wild volcanic islands

When you read about the Azores archipelago, these nine islands dotted in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean sound absolutely unreal. On holiday there you can see cascading waterfalls and hike volcanic peaks, dip into thermal springs and cook food in the bubbling earth. Give way to herds of cows and eat local cheese, tuna and seafood, taste wine at a volcanic winery and go dolphin watching on the sea. The Azores is like nowhere else, com certeza.

Described as a cross between Iceland, New Zealand and Hawaii, the largest island São Miguel actually lives up to those claims. For now it’s the only island I’ve had the chance to visit, and we truly needed all five days to explore.

The nine islands are split into three groups, and next trip I hope to reach the central group with Faial, Graciosa, Pico, São Jorge and Terceira. Each island is said to be as unique as the next and I imagine it’s all the more magic catching a ferry or small seaplane between them.

Then there’s just the tiny Santa Maria Island, which is near São Miguel, and the western group of islands, Corvo and Flores, to tick off.

The autonomous Portuguese region is located a two-and-a-bit hour flight from the mainland.

Essential Azores guides

The nine Azorean islands

1. The biggest island, São Miguel

Spend 4-5 days exploring forests, lagoons and lookouts, swimming in thermal pools and eating local steak or seafood.

2. Climb Portugal’s highest peak, Pico

Surprise, pico means peak and the top of the island is the highest in the country.

3. São Jorge for the cheese

And the surf. But mostly for the strong, bitey cheese.

4. Faial for the views of Pico

An eruption in 1957 added 3km of land. Expect blue hydrangeas in the summer.

5. Terceira, the Emerald Isle

Visit an ancient volcanic cave, and admire emerald patchwork fields.

6. Graciosa, for tiny donkeys

The name means enchanting and you’ll find the endangered Azorean dwarf donkeys here.

7. Corvo for true peace

Find solace on the island with just 468 residents and plenty of migratory birds.

8. Flores, the flower island

Expect a floral landscape of goldenrods and pink and blue hydrangeas at this UNESCO Biosphere Reserves.

9. Tiny Santa Maria

For the golden sandy beaches and great diving.

Best things to do on São Miguel

  • View the Sete Cidades lakes from the Vista do Rei lookout
  • Then go to the Boca do Inferno lookout
  • Take a boat to Ilhéu de Vila Franca
  • Check the thermal activity at Furnas
  • Go whale watching
  • Swim in a forest at Caldeira Velha
  • Visit Lagoa do Fogo
  • Swim at Ponta da Ferraria at low tide
  • Kick back with black sand at Mosteiros
  • Eat Cozido das Furnas
  • Visit a tea plantation

Essential tip… Set in the middle of the wild Altantic Ocean, the islands of the Azores experience every season, every day. The best way to explore the islands is with the free SpotAzores app in your pocket. This gives you access to webcams across the island so you can see which landmarks and sights are experiencing blue sky… and where is under a cover of cloud.

Where to stay

On São Miguel we split our time between the biggest city, Ponta Delgada, and a small village in the northeast. I definitely recommend doing this. While out in the small village we got a great taste of local life and even watched a horse-and-cart pass our window each morning, taking fresh milk to the town co-op.

If you visit the other islands, you can explore accommodation options on Pico, Faial, São Jorge, Terceira, Graciosa, Corvo, Flores and Santa Maria.

What to eat

From grilled limpets to island cheese, the nine remote Azorean islands offer up a buffet of unique dishes and unusual ingredients. Discover what to eat and drink in the Azores with my guide. 

How to get around

There are regular flights from mainland Portugal, the UK, US and some other European countries to the Azores two main airports on São Miguel and Terceira islands. From one of the bigger island airports it’s possible to take a ferry or smaller plane to hop between the islands.

Once you are one of the nine island, you’ll want to explore! And since the Azores is known for its nature, hire a car so you can leave the cities and towns to seek it out. If you can’t drive, definitely join a tour to reach the more remote locations.

My Must Have Azorean Guides

I’m slowly building a library of guides for the Azores – reach out if you have a question

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