The Azores are living up to their reputation! People are friendly and the sites are amazing. It’s still relatively inexpensive and like most European cities, the coffee and wine are both inexpensive and plentiful.
The Azores are a group of nine islands in the North Atlantic ocean, roughly 1350km west of Portugal. The largest island, Sao Miguel, is home to most of the population and most of the tourism. I only visited Sao Miguel, although I wish I’d managed to visit some of the other islands, as they’re each unique and becoming more accessible.
Ponta Delgada is the capital and largest city on Sao Miguel. It’s very close to the airport (I think I read somewhere that it’s only 6km from the centre of town. I arrived on a Sunday and forgot how a lot of places still close down on Sundays, especially when it’s not high tourism season. It looked like a ghost town!
You can see the Portuguese influence in Ponta Delgada, with the narrow streets and patterns in the cobblestones. It always amazes me how cars can navigate these narrow streets, barely missing the parked cars on one side and pedestrians pushed up the side of the buildings on the other side.
One thing you notice in Ponta Delgada and around the island, is the whitewash buildings with dark brown trim. It’s striking! (But it makes it hard to tell the churches apart!)
In the center of town is the large Church of San Sebastian. It was one of the first places I visited and is truly impressive. No pictures allowed on the inside, so you’ll have to take my word that it’s worth stopping in to see! Across from the church is the city’s main gate. The gates used to lead right to the water but were moved when the avenue and pathway were constructed along the water.
Around town it’s easy to wander the streets, admiring the building and window shopping, or just stopping at a cafe and people watching. If you head towards the east end of town, and have the energy to climb up a bit of a hill (and then more steps!), you’ll find the Mother of God Church. The church itself is worth a visit, but the main reason to visit is the views of the city and surrounding area!
There is a great path running right along the length of the harbour, perfect for running or strolling and admiring the port. It’s not too busy right now, but I’m sure in the summer it would be packed! On the last day, I discovered a spot towards the end of the port where they’ve made a swimming area. Even in March, there were several people in swimming and exercising!
But if you come to Sao Miguel, you NEED to get outside of the city and see the rest of the island. The Azores are volcanic islands and known for the amazing scenery (and whale watching although I was there at the wrong time of the year to see any whales). I joined a day tour to visit the volcanic crater, as it was the easiest option for me, but you could easily rent a car and tour the island on your own.
First we headed up to the west side of the island, stopping a few times for some photos. We stopped at Lagoa do Empadadas and Lagao do Santiago. Unfortunately the weather started to turn cloudy and overcast. There was lots of fog as we moved higher up. Even with the fog, you could see that the lakes were gorgeous. As we were standing looking at the lake, the fog would blow in and out. One minute you couldn’t see more than a few feet ahead, and then the wind would blow and you could see parts of the lake emerge from the fog. I’m sure on a clear day, the lakes would be stunning!
And then we arrived at Sete Cidades. The village of Sete Cidades is quite pretty but it is really known the twin crater lakes. The lakes were formed at different times, and there is the possibility of a third lake being formed in the future. On a clear day, the view is amazing! (Unfortunately, I didn’t have a clear day….but still impressive).
Leaving the west part of the island and heading towards the center, we stopped for lunch and had a traditional Portuguese meal. Bread and cheese to start. First course was a grilled tuna steak, served over a giant slice of yam, alongside “cooked” potato. It was excellent! Then the second course arrived – pork chops with hot pepper sauce and french fries. Salad was also on the table, sliced cabbage and lettuce, with tomato. And of course, wine.
Then we were off to see Lagoa do Fogo. This is another crater lake in the middle of the island. Here though, the area is protected so no one is allowed to build or live in the area. We managed to arrive at the top just in time for a great view. Very windy and pretty chilly but amazing view.
Furnas is also worth a stop. It’s the other hot spot in the island. Alongside Lake Furnas are several spots where the steam escapes from the ground and bubbles up. Local families and restaurants actually cook their meals underground! They bury a big pot loaded with veggies, meat and blood sausage and let it cook underground for several hours. Around noon, they come and pull out the pot and serve it for lunch! After walking around the lake and village, which has more geysers, we tried some of the natural hot water – it tastes like iron! We went to a restaurant in town (which is by reservation only in the summer) and had the lunch which was cooked underground. I even tried the blood sausage!
After our lunch, we headed to Terra Nostra Natural park and enjoyed a soak in the hot springs – a big pool that looks like a mud bath but is SO nice. After a long soak, I walked around the park for a bit. You could easily spend more time here.
We headed up to the north coast to visit Gorreana Tea Factory – the only tea plantation in Europe. The views along the north coast are amazing!
Back in Ponta Delgada, there are a few must-see spots. Did you know there’s a pineapple plantation? It’s free to visit and they do an excellent job of explaining how pineapple grows (I didn’t know it takes up to 24 months!). The market in Ponta Delgada is also worth a visit. It operates year round and has lots of fruits and veggies – pineapple too! – along with fish, plants and flowers, jams and hot sauces.
Also worth a stop is Antonio Borges garden. A botanical garden, right in the middle of the city. I stopped in for a visit several times while I was there.
Although it wasn’t the warmest weather when I visited, the temperature is pretty moderate throughout the winter. Apparently I had the worst weather they’d seen all winter. The summer would be beautiful – hot weather and all flowers in full bloom. I think I will definitely be back!
Getting there and away: There are no buses from the airport to the city. Taxis charge a flat rate of 9 euro one way. Most hotels offer a shuttle service, which is usually cheaper than the taxi. As it’s a smaller airport, you don’t need to be there any earlier than 1.5 hours before your flight. There is a small cafe on either side of security and a few shops but not much else to do (other than free wifi) while you’re waiting for your flight. (My flight was delayed over 2.5 hours which made for a LONG wait).