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In Azores/ Portugal

5 Days in the Azores: The Best Gift I Ever Gave Myself

5 Days in the Azores

About a month ago, I found paradise on a remote island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. São Miguel, the largest of nine islands forming the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores, is an entirely unspoiled treasure of this planet. São Miguel isn’t your typical spring break destination. It’s not an island of all-inclusive resorts, white sandy beaches, or sunburned tourists sipping daiquiris by the pool. Instead of resorts, you’ll find sweeping coastlines, acres upon acres of organic farms, and brilliant green landscapes dotted with dairy cows. Instead of sand, black volcanic rock. And instead of tourists, passionate travelers and outdoor adventure enthusiasts who have come to explore one of the earth’s very best kept secrets.

There is undeniably something magical about the Azores. It’s something that words just can’t describe- that feeling of being so small and insignificant when surrounded by the beauty and power of simply unbelievable nature. The beauty and tranquility of this tiny dot on the map is unparalleled. The azores will forever be an incredibly special place to me, and spending five days traveling solo on São Miguel Island was the best gift I ever gave myself.


5 Days in the Azores

Paradise on the Green IslandMy trip to the Azores was one I began planning two years ago when I had a layover in Ponta Delgada on my way home from a summer in Europe. I’d never even heard of the Azores until then. But as I peered out the window of the airplane as the very green São Miguel Island came into view below, I promised myself then and there that I’d be back one day.

And few weeks ago, I finally made it happen. I found myself with twelve days off work, no plans, and not a lot of money to spend. So my cheapest option? Portugal. As it turns out, (thanks to my beloved budget European airlines) flying roundtrip from Lisbon to Ponta Delgada is actually quite affordable. So I packed my carry on, spent a lovely weekend soaking up some sun in the Portuguese capital, and then headed off for five days in paradise.

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São Miguel Island

Because I was traveling in the off season and the ferries only run between the islands in the summer, it was only possible for me to see the main island of São Miguel. But this was absolutely no problem. There is plenty to see and do for five days there.

The beautiful island of São Miguel can be broken down into five major sights and regions: Sete Cidades, Lagoa do Fogo & Caldeira Velha, Nordeste, Furnas, and Ponta Delgada. I had the chance to see each of these regions of the island on day trips from Ponta Delgada during my time there. I was blown away every single day by the beauty I saw, not only in the impressive landscapes but also in the way of life of the Azorean people. Five days on the island calmed me, healed me, and provided a much needed break from the craziness of my everyday life in the city. Everything seems to move a little bit slower in the Azores, and the people there have such a respect for the piece of earth on which they live. Read on to get a closer look at the unbelievable beauty of this little-known island.


Sete Cidades

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When you google “the Azores,” the first images to pop up are usually those of Sete Cidades. It’s the one place every visitor to the main island just has to see. A walk along the rim of the huge volcanic crater offers some of the most incredible views you could imagine. The sleepy village of Sete Cidades, built inside the crater, is one of the only places in the world where people live inside an active volcano. It’s one of the most calming, quiet, and unique places I’ve ever visited.

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Hiking the crater walls

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Nicknamed “the green island,” it’s no wonder why…

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The church in Sete Cidades

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A home in the village of Sete Cidades

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Sete Cidades

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Standing at the edge of town in Sete Cidades admiring the lake and crater walls

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At the edge of the village

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A Sete Cidades dairy cow

Lagoa do Fogo & Caldeira Velha

Lagoa do Fogo is another volcanic crater lake on São Miguel. This crater, filled with nothing but completely unpolluted rain, holds the purest water on the island. It’s an impressive sight and another must-see while visiting the Azores.

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The Lagoa do Fogo crater

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Nearby Lagoa do Fogo is Caldeira Velha. Here, you can bring a bathing suit and spend the afternoon enjoying the some of the natural hot springs of the island.

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Nordeste

Nordeste, the northwest region of São Miguel, is considered to be one of the most beautiful parts of the island. With a majestic coastline dotted with vibrant pink flowers in bloom all around, I immediately understood why. Unfortunately, my day in Nordeste was the rainiest of my trip, but that didn’t stop me from photographing one of the best viewpoints of the Azores.

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Nordeste is also home to some of the island’s best waterfalls

Furnas

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Furnas was one of my very favorite parts of the island.  If you’re interested in the island’s volcanic activity (and who wouldn’t be?) it’s the place to see. Exploring Furnas is like setting foot on another planet. Volcanoes are just so cool. The Furnas valley lies within the walls of another one of the island’s volcanic craters. In this particular crater, however, a very special tradition takes place. The volcanic activity here makes it possible for people to cook underground. Every day, restaurants cook up the traditional Furnas stew in underground holes. The stew cooks for hours each morning until lunchtime when the restaurants come to collect it. It comes in a huge portion consisting of several kinds of meats, potatoes, rice, and vegetables, and can be found at any of the restaurants in Furnas.

Besides the beautiful valley and interesting cooking methods, Furnas is also home to the gorgeous Terra Nostra Botanical Gardens. Here, you can visit the gardens and spend the afternoon swimming in the island’s best thermal pool.
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Furnas Lake

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The underground kitchen in Furnas

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Taking lunch out of the oven

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The traditional Furnas stew

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Furnas botanical garden

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The iron-rich and relaxing thermal pool in Furnas

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Ponta Delgada

Finally, Ponta Delgada is the island’s main city. While there isn’t really much to do there, it’s a quaint place to stay full of some really great cafés, bars, and restaurants. Plus, it’s only about a five minute drive from the airport, so it couldn’t be more convenient for travelers.

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The city gates

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Ponta Delgada sunset from my window

Ponta Delgada sunset from my window

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Quaint downtown Ponta Delgada

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Ponta Delgada doorways

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My Recommendations

Accommodation: The Nook Hostel in Ponta Delgada. This lovely little hostel is more like a home. Complete with a free family style breakfast and welcoming host, it the perfect affordable place for backpackers.

Tours: Futurismo and Azores Dream Tours. If you’re traveling alone and can’t afford to rent a car for your stay, both of these companies give excellent tours of the island.

Best restaurant in Ponta Delgada: Hands down Rotas da Ilha Verde (just make sure you have a reservation!) This is one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to in my life. Check out the wonderful and quite affordable menu below. I could go on and on… but food in the Azores is a subject worth a post of its own, so stay tuned for my gastronomical tour of the Azores coming soon!

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Black volcanic beaches

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My five days in the Azores was more than I ever bargained for. I felt so close to nature while I was there, and came back to Madrid feeling completely refreshed. I loved every second of my time spent on the beautiful main island, but for me, five days was just enough to get a good taste. I’m already thinking about my next trip. Good thing it’s conveniently located between the two continents that I call home.

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