Ostatnia aktualizacja: 2020-05-03. Autor: Milena
One of the questions you ask me regularly is “Azores – which island to go?”
I understand that each of us has limited time and possibilities, so we want to choose what’s the best for us. Let me guide you in this article „Azores – which island to go” through the Azorean islands so that you can check which destination is for you. Or – which destination is for you now. Later there may be others.
You must have heard that each Azorean island is different.
I won’t pretend that it’s not like that. Each island really is different. Each has its atmosphere, each has something specific to offer. What is common for them, are the Atlantic Ocean, greenery and volcanoes. And variable weather. You can experience 4 seasons in one day in the Azores, do you already know about it? You have to be prepared for everything.
(On the day when I’m writing it, I hung a towel behind my house, for it to dry. The sun was shining and there was strong wind. At some point, I heard big noise. I went close to the window – it was raining. A 3-minute torrent. I guess my towel was safer in the bathroom.)
If you’re going to the Azores, make sure you come prepared – also in terms of the sustainable tourism. Azores are still a pristine location and let’s all keep it that way. Want to make sure how to do it? Check in the article „20 ways to be a perfect tourist„.
There are 9 islands in the Azores. They are located about 1500 km from the Portuguese coast and scattered in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean in the distance of about 650 km. They are all seismically active and all extremely interesting. I haven’t visited all of them (status for March 2020), but they are all on my list. But from those I visited, I can see well that the statement that each island is different is fully justified.
So, should we make a small trip around each of the islands?
Terceira – go inside the volcano and celebrate holidays that don’t exist in any other place in the world
Of course, Terceira goes first. Why? Because I live here and I love this island. This is the first Azorean island I got to know and the first one I fell in love with. The ubiquitous greenery absolutely captivated me. And this peace, this warmth. And a huge dose of joy in the air. For me – the perfect combination.
I’ve heard lately that somebody made a good publicity to Terceira, claiming that there’s nothing on it. Thanks to this, there are no random tourists here, only those who are really curious about the world. They arrive – and quickly begin to wonder why they arrived only for x days, not twice as much.
So what is so unique in Terceira?
There is the Algar do Carvão volcano, unique on a global scale. In this volcano, you can enter the magmatic chamber. There are only three such volcanoes in the world, of which only two are open to visitors. One of them is in Terceira.
The Azores are volcanic islands, so there is no shortage of landscapes full of volcanic cones on Terceira. The island’s highest peak, Serra de Santa Bárbara (1021 m a.s.l.), from which most of the island can be seen, is an active volcano. You can also visit the lava tunnel Gruta do Natal, watch the fumaroles in Furnas do Enxofre, look at Terceira Rift, take a bath in natural rock pools, e.g. in Biscoitos. And after the bath, drink wine from the local vineyard.
Terceira – these are happy cows living with ocean views, delicious cheese and trails full of endemic plants. (The university is full of researchers from around the world who are coming to Terceira to study plant species endemic for the Azores and for Terceira itself.) This is the island’s historic capital, Angra do Heroísmo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s delicious Donas Amélias, local alcatra and freshly removed from the rocks lapas.
Terceira is also a paradise for water sports enthusiasts – diving, snorkeling, sailing, SUP, kayaking, coasteering. Plus, watching whales and dolphins, and on land – canyoning and an rope park. You can lie down on a cliff and do nothing – or you can get really tired. Whatever you prefer.
Terceira means holidays that are not celebrated anywhere else
It is said that there are 8 islands and one entertainment park in the Azores. This entertainment park is Terceira. People here love to have fun. Maybe that’s why traditions that are nowhere else in the world have survived to this day. This is where you can take part in the Festas do Espírito Santo, i.e. the celebration of the Holy Spirit. This is where you can see people gathering for touradas à corda, often without even seeing the bull. They focus on the so-called „Quinto touro”, that is the „fifth bull” – the party.
It is on Terceira that the largest concentration of amateur theaters in the world in Portuguese takes place, i.e. the bailinhos carnival performances (read more HERE and HERE) – the only such tradition in the whole world. After all, it’s on Terceira where you can take part in the largest profane festival in the Azores, Sanjoaninas.
There are enough things to do, the calendar is bursting at the seams. But if you prefer peace and quiet, there will always be a place for you in the bosom of nature. In the middle of nowhere. With a view for the lush green volcanic hills, the calming checkerboard of fields and pastures, and the intensely blue ocean. Unmixed blessing. And for this I value Terceira.
Do you want to get to know what else you can find in Terceira? Which hills to go to and where to get tired in a positive way? You’ll find the answers in the article „10 places worth visiting in Terceira„.
I know I wrote a lot about Terceira
But this is a place I know very well and that’s why I know how much it offers. And no, I do not urge you to come here;) And I do not urge you to visit this island with me 😉 That’s why I’m moving on to other islands, which are also amazing!
São Jorge – take a dip in the natural rock pool in a fajã and try the local cheese
São Jorge is an island that pleases your eyes even before you land on it. It is said to be a lying dragon. And in fact – the island is long, narrow and high. And very green. From its highest peak, Pico da Esperança (1053 m a.s.l., by the way – Pico da Esperança means the Hope Peak), there is an unforgettable view. From there, you can see all four other islands of the central part of the Azores archipelago: Pico, Faial, Terceira and Graciosa. Of course, when there is no fog, which is not so obvious in the high parts of the Azores.
A distinctive feature of São Jorge are fajãs. Fajãs are rock structures characteristic of the Azores, and in particular of São Jorge. Imagine a cliff coast. Can you see it? So tall, a few hundred meters? Good. Do you also see these amazing waterfalls on the cliffs? Cool. Although it wasn’t supposed to be about waterfalls.
Imagine that a large part of the rocks slides or vertically detaches from the cliff and falls. And creates a new piece of land. This piece of land is called fajã. In some fajãs there is no electricity so far, but there are charming rock pools and … coffee straight from the local plantation.
On the high slopes, cows graze. There are three cows per one person there. These cows give milk, which is later made into the famous cheese from São Jorge.
There’s not too much happening in São Jorge in a cultural and social sense. But if you love nature and want to be close to it, you can really relax there. Go on the trail, swim in rock pools, visit cows on pastures. And then take the ferry and go to the other two „triangle islands” – Pico and Faial.
Pico – climb the highest peak of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and drink wine from UNESCO vineyards
Pico can’t be missed. On this island, there is the highest peak not only of Portugal (can you imagine it? The highest peak of the country is located on a tiny island!), but also the entire Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The summit is named after the island, or Pico. I.e. the „peak”. And it has 2351 m a.s.l. For mountain trekking lovers – perfect.
If you are interested in volcanoes (we are in Azores, hello!), you can also visit the cave called Gruta das Torres. Volcanic, of course. And if you’re interested in the history of whaling, check out one of the museums focused on that topic.
On Pico Island, there are also extensive vineyards inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Pico is the largest wine producer in the entire Azores. You won’t run out of different types of wine throughout your stay.
And if you find that you want a different landscape, you can always get on the ferry and quickly move to São Jorge or Faial – after all, you are still within the triangle islands.
Faial – drink a gin and tonic in the sailors’ mecca and take part in a cross-country race on the caldera
Faial is an island that causes contradictory reactions. Some say that the most beautiful thing on Faial is the view for Pico. Others would roam the little island without end. Among these others are especially sailing enthusiasts.
Why? Well, because Horta is a Mecca for sailors. The marina In Horta is full of yachts and flag drawings from all over the world. There is also the famous Peter Café Sport pub. Apparently, without a visit to this pub, a visit to Hort is invalid. You have to go in and drink a gin and tonic. If it’s a must, it’s a must.
In addition to the marina, Faial also can offer… the newest Azores volcano! Capelinhos, because that’s what we are talking about, erupted in 1957 and enlarged the island by about 2.5 sq km. You can see how it looks live. You can also learn more about it and about volcanism in the Azores and in the world at the local museum.
And at the end of a visit to Faial (though maybe better to start with) – watching whales and dolphins. This is one of the three islands in the Azores where this attraction is available. So if you are not going to Terceira or São Miguel, but are staying within the islands of the triangle – make sure to include such a trip from Faial in your plan.
Graciosa – bask in thermal waters and sleep in one of the windmills
Graciosa is a tiny island where you’ll feel every day like on Sunday. You can drive around it in 45 minutes or bypass it in 7 hours. It’s almost flat, so you can do it without much effort. Just remember to always have food and water with you. There are not many stores there, and even fewer restaurants.
What is not lacking are volcanic landscapes. The green caldera, the green surroundings of Furna do Enxofre, i.e. a huge volcanic cave (I recommend it!), a whale-like rock… These are all products of volcanoes, thanks to which the entire archipelago was created. Just like the Carapacho thermal baths. That is – thermal waters. The building itself, in which you can immerse yourself in a hot pool, is a product of human hands.
In Graciosa you’ll see windmills, you can even spend the night in one of them. You’ll also see delicious melons. Try them, they are delicious! Graciosa, like Santa Maria, specializes in their cultivation. And if you prefer sweets with more sucrose, try Queijadas da Graciosa. And relax – it’s another lazy Sunday after all!
São Miguel – immerse yourself in hot springs and drink tea from a local factory
São Miguel is the largest island in the Azores. Its area is 1/3 of the entire Azores, and the population constitutes 55% of the population of the entire archipelago. It’s also an island that most people think about when they say „Azores.”
Why? Probably because the world knows the most about it. I can’t count the publications I saw about this island. To the airport in Ponta Delgada (by the way – the airport is named after John Paul II) also the most aircraft fly, much more than to other Azorean islands. But the truth is also that this island is really beautiful.
São Miguel boasts the largest spaces among all islands. It is here that we will find lakes that can really be called lakes, not bayous. This is where landscapes stretch for miles. This is where the only tea factories in Europe, and the pineapple factory are located. All on one island.
There are also famous hot springs on São Miguel. Under the sunlit or starry sky, among lush greenery, you can relax in full of sulfur soothing warm water. And after bathing (or before) go to Furnas, watch fumaroles, small geysers and eat cozido à portuguesa, prepared in hot soil. Later, for dessert – queijadas da vila.
And if you get tired of inhaling the smell of sulfur, you can go on canyoning or watching whales and dolphins. At the carnival, watch the parades of disguised children, and at the beginning of the Lent – join the penitential procession (Romaria micaelense).
Some complain that there are already too many tourists on São Miguel. Well, I’m not surprised that they want to visit this island. It’s definitely not lacking stunning views.
Do you remember that you can download a list of places worth visiting in the Azores? That list will complete information from this article and help you choose the holidays of your life.[optinform]
Santa Maria – visit the only semi-desert in the Azores and take part in the blues festival
Santa Maria is the oldest Azores island. Old enough that it even has some sedimentary rocks! In addition, it is the southernmost, and thus – the driest. It even has its semi-desert – the only one in the Azores.
If you like melons, you can enjoy them at Santa Maria. And it’s best to pack take-out, because you won’t eat similar ones for a long time. Well, unless you go to Graciosa.
Santa Maria is the least green of all Azores islands – but thanks to this it is an interesting comparison with them. And the least green still means much greener than most European cities. It also has sandy beaches (a rare view of the Azores), waterfalls, interesting rock formations. And for music lovers – the Santa Maria Blues festival.
Every year in mid-July many great musicians and even more blues fans gather on this tiny island. At the festival you can listen to blues, taste local dishes and sweets, and even get to know traditional handicrafts. A few interesting experiences in one!
One remark, as with all the smallest Azores islands – it is worth knowing where and at what times shops and restaurants are open, so that you don’t run hungry.
Flores – get to know the most pristine part of paradise and immerse yourself in the greenery
Flores is the westernmost part of Europe. Well, except that it is already on the North American Plate. Flores is said to be pure nature. Very green nature interspersed with multi-colored hydrangeas and blue veins of waterfalls. And blue rock pools beneath these waterfalls.
Waterfalls mean a paradise for canyoning lovers. If canyoning is your cup of tea and you already have a lot of experience in it, be sure to go to Flores! And if you are a geologist and you like interesting rock formations, you will definitely be very interested in huge basalt columns that fit into the island’s landscape.
Flores is nature. Just like that. If you love nature and do not need too much civilization, this is the place to relax.
Corvo – land on the 800-meter lane at the airport and stand on the edge of the caldera
Corvo is the smallest island in the Azores archipelago. It has 17 sq. km – little more than Warsaw’s Śródmieście. And the inhabitants – about 430 people – would easily fit in a few small blocks of flats. They all live in the only settlement on the island and willingly go out to the airport to see who just landed.
I myself dream about flying one day there and experiencing a landing on the 800-meter runway. Did I mention that this runway extends from one shore to the other?
The caldera occupies a big part of the island. You’ll see it on most photos on the internet. You can go on the trail inside this caldera. You can also visit the museum of wild birds. And above all – you can carry out a sociological experiment on yourself. Staying in a small place with so few people is an inimitable situation.
Most people visit Corvo when they visit Flores, which the locals don’t like very much. They don’t want to be a day trip destination. If you can, take this into account and plan at least two days on the smallest Azorean island. Maybe for example during the music festival called Festival dos Moinhos? You will then have something to talk about!
So again: Azores – which island to go?
There can be only one answer to this question: choose the one that appeals to you right now. And once thanks to it you fall in love with the Azores, you’ll definitely come back for more!
I hope I was able to show you that in fact each of the islands in the archipelago is different. But each is beautiful. And unique. Wherever you go, you’ll want more.
The Azores are the lost Atlantis
I’ve mentioned that the Azores are the lost Atlantis. Many think so – and I agree with that. What is worth remembering when traveling to the Azores? Apart from taking sunglasses and a raincoat? For sure, letting yourself slow down. Stop sometimes, look around. Feel. Turn on the flight mode and absorb the experience with all your senses. You deserve it.
Do you want to learn more? If you haven’t done it yet, download a free list of places worth visiting on each of the Azorean islands. And let me know whenever you need anything!