Why the island of Sao Miguel in Azores, Portugal is the world’s best kept secret

When I first heard of Azores on AirBnB, I was pulled instantly. The promise of a remote island in a volcanic region, dramatic landscapes, lakes situated in craters, hot springs and walking trails was one I knew I couldn’t refuse. The nine islands of the Azores archipelago are all of volcanic origin and lies in the middle of the North Atlantic. The island of São Miguel (the largest of nine) measures approximately 64-km from one side to the other. 

Out of all the places I have travelled to in Europe, Azores has been my absolute favourite. Why? Well, for starters, it looked like paradise. Secondly, and perhaps one of the main reasons I travelled here is to escape mass-tourism. Going off the beaten path, in my eyes, is what makes travelling so special.

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Town of Povoacao

Just think about the last few places you have travelled to – was it Greece, Croatia or France? Yep, undoubtedly, we’ve all been at the mercy of mass-tourism; over-populated sights, overzealous tourists squished like sardines all trying to get the ‘shot’ – it’s a love/hate relationship.

But Azores was different. Mysterious. Untouched. It was so far from mass-tourism and crowds of tourists – most of the time we were the only two people there or at least had no more than a handful around. What you had instead was a fresh change of scenery – mostly free, always beautiful and the hit of nature my heart had been longing for as we drove around the island for days soaking it all in.

But enough about my mass-tourism rant and more about Azores….

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What you need to know before you go:  

  • Direct flights through Ryan Air and Easy Jet only opened up in 2015, making it more accessible for travellers through Europe. You need to fly into Ponta Delgada to get to the other islands
  • It’s not a party destination
  • Minimal mass tourism right now but that’s likely to change in the next few years
  • You should aim to spend at least 4-days but if you have more time, highly recommend going for longer
  • To be able to see the island, it’s ideal if you can drive or at least be with someone who does. I got lucky and met a few people at the hostel who I shared the costs with
  • Car rental on average is between 34-45 euros depending if it’s manual or automatic

Where to stay

As a solo traveller, I opted to stay in a hostel. Hostel Procyon is the one you need to 100% book yourself in! Instantly it felt like home and the beds were the most comfortable hostel beds ever. Not to mention the delicious (and free) breakfast every morning and the lovely hosts who passed on all the local tips and must-do’s during our stay. 

However, if you’re travelling with a friend or partner, head over to AirBnB and check out what’s available. There were a few amazing places I came across that I would have loved to stay at. Word on the street is that the Garajou Nature Retreat with ocean view was the place to be.

My 4-day Itinerary below

Day One – North-West

If there was heaven on Earth, I may have found it here. It’s hard to put into words the beauty of this region, but the reality of a place is better than any picture you see on Instagram. Nature porn peaked at the Sete Citades (twin lakes), which is surrounded by thick forested cliffs, with one blue and one green lagoon (depending where the sun hits it). 

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Next up is the Miradouro da Boca do Inferno viewpoint. Here you can get an ever better view of the Sete Citades. It’s a slightly harder to find but head towards the “Lagoa do Canario” and it’s a short walk from there on foot. We witnessed a sign that said this ‘Paz No Mundo’ which translates to ‘Peace in the World’ in Portuguese. Safe to say I may have found it. 

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After this viewing point, we headed over towards Ponta De Ferraria, a little idyllic location set on a natural pool, where the cold ocean water mixes in with hot mineral springs making it a rather warm ocean. Those ropes that people are holding onto are due to the large nature of waves.

For the perfect sunset location to top of our day, we headed over to Mosteiros black beach and sat along the rocks watching the sunset on the beautiful horizon of the Atlantic ocean. Absolutely perfect day. 

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Day two: North-East 

On the second day, we ventured towards the North East of the Azores which promises to be much more tranquil and green (if that’s even possible). Here are the stops worth visiting:

Drive towards Ribiera Grande, and stop off either at the Gorreana tea plantation (the oldest in Europe) or the Porto Formoso (a newer plantation with a gorgeous view).

Once you’ve had your tea fix, take the exit towards the Ribeira dos Caldeirões, a natural park with waterfalls and a hiking trek you can follow up.

Our hostel hosts highly recommended the drive through the Reserva Florestal, a quiet and tranquil forest free from the disturbance of every day life. There are huge trees which surround this area.

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The last stop for our second day was the tiny town of Faial da Terra. This isn’t really on any tourist map, but the highlight of this was undoubtedly the drive down with jaw-dropping cliffside views all the way down. I would recommend driving around, or going to a higher point to get a better vantage point of the town. It really is quite remarkable.

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Day three: Central side 

The village of Furnas was a standout in the Central side of Sao Migael island for us. It’s situated beside the spectacular lake of the Lagoa das Furnas, but also the best place to try the traditional dish ‘Cazido’ which is slow-cooked inside the volcano and under the Earth for approximately 6-hours. It’s very rich and consists of a combination of meats such as chicken, beef, pork, sausages and vegetables.

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Once our bellies were full, we walked to the famous 200-year old Terra Nostra botanical gardens created by Thomas Hickling, the first USA consol who lived in Azores. This botanical garden was clearly made for serious plant lovers and within it, included a hot springs thermal bath you can bathe in. It cost us about ¢8 to get in, but it was worth every Euro.

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On our drive back we stopped off at Caloura where we stumbled upon this beachside restaurant serving fresh fish and drinks. If you walk a little further, you’ll see Caloura’s natural swimming hole.

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For many years, Azores has remained unknown and with Ryan Air and Easy Jet beginning operation to this island almost five years ago, I’m sure the secret will slowly come out…

I’m just glad I got a taste of it.

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