Until a few years, most people hardly knew of the existence of this archipelago; now the Azores have almost become fashionable (exactly as Madeira Island)! It is a bit strong phrase indeed, but thanks to the low cost airline flights to Sao Miguel and word of mouth, there is no doubt that they are experiencing a real boom from a tourist point of view. Those who discover them for the first time then fall in love with them and keep coming back. This because the Azores islands are a true paradise, especially for those who love nature and active holidays.
Before going there myself I was not sure what to expect, but when I got there I was literally ecstatic! What struck me most of all is that each island is completely different from the other and to those who ask me "which one did you like best" I really can't give an answer. I loved them all, for different reasons: Sao Miguel because it is the most varied, Terceira (Azores) because it has the most beautiful town in the Azores and incredible caves, Sao jorge for fantastic trekking, Pico for the volcano and for the vineyards e Faial for the magnificent post-apocalyptic landscapes. What then I have only visited the 5 central islands .. but already I can not wait to go back to visit too Flores, Corvo, Santa Maria and Graciosa.
Where are the Azores islands and how to reach them
The Azores are the last European outpost in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and belong to the Portugal. If you are traveling to the archipelago, for a long time you will be surrounded only by the blue of the ocean, then suddenly appear out of nowhere, these magnificent green islands.
Unless you decide to cross the Atlantic by sailboat, the plane is the only way to reach the Azores. There are no direct flights from Spain, but you always make a stopover in Lisbon (there are also some flights from Porto in fact). From Lisbon there are regular flights to the islands of Sao Miguel and Terceira (every day), Faial, Pico and Santa Maria (only a few days a week). Airlines flying to the Azores are there TAP and SATA (the Azorean company). From 2015 onwards, to avoid tourists visiting only Sao Miguel, which is the largest and most developed island for tourism, there is the so-called encaminhamento: if within the next 24 hours from the arrival in Sao Miguel another one is reached by plane , it is possible to request a refund of the money for the second leg. To request it you will have to go to this site.
However, you should know that the encamination only applies if you reach the Azores with a flight from Portugal (and always return to Portugal), so not if you buy a flight with a stopover in Lisbon or Porto. If you want to take advantage of this refund, you should buy the return flight to Portugal and the return flight to the Azores separately.
How to move between the islands and on the islands
Internal connections between the 9 islands of the Azores are ensured by regular flights always from SATA. Each island has its own mini-airport. The prices of domestic flights (2018-2019) are around 80 euros each way.
Depending on the time of year, there are more or less sea connections between the 9 islands of the Azores; in the winter months some stop the service or reduce the hours. The most comfortable connections to make by ferry are certainly those between the central islands (Pico, Faial and Sao Jorge): these operate all year round and in summer they are quite frequent (they cost around 15 euros each way). The other routes are much longer and not very suitable to do by ferry, especially if you suffer from seasickness. Find all the routes, timetables and prices on this site.
Getting around the islands: cars and taxis
A Sao Miguel and Terceira (Azores) there are many bus lines, but many tourist destinations are not reachable by bus. In general my advice is to rent a car (there are several local and international companies, I usually book them through the Rentalcars website to save some money ), at least on the islands of Terceira, Sao Miguel and Pico. In Sao Jorge and Faial, especially if you are at least 3/4 people, you can move around Taxi. You will always find them at the arrival of the ferries and outside the airports, but it is preferable to contact them first (in English, on whatsup is fine), especially if you visit the Azores in high season (July and August). This way you can be picked up when you arrive on the island and agree on prices and itineraries (they are incredibly precise!)
For tourist destinations there are fixed prices that you will also find displayed in the information offices of the islands, otherwise the taximeter is used.
- Taxi Sao Jorge: Jorge +351 916667020, with him you can agree on the itineraries you want to do on the island, and he is available in case of last minute changes due to flight / boat delays. You can write to him.
- Taxi Faial : Terry's Cab +351 966950136 (same as above)
Health insurance is recommended
Being in Europe, as Spanish citizens we have the right to health care, but there are specific conditions and ceilings. My advice is to still take a classic medical-luggage insurance that can cover you during the trip, even for Covid-19. I am very happy with many insurance companies, a site that compares the policies of different companies and proposes the most convenient policy for that particular trip. To do this you will have to enter the data relating to your trip and they will send you an email with the best proposal that you can then buy directly online (!!!). All travel insurances also cover medical assistance in the event of a coronavirus infection, including testing if necessary. There is also coverage for the extension of the stay in the hotel due to the quarantine. Likewise, the trip cancellation guarantee includes coverage for illness or death of the traveler or a family member due to COVID-19.
The climate in the Azores: when to go
The Azores enjoy a temperate climate throughout the year, without large variations in temperature. Temperatures vary between a minimum annual average of 14 ° and a maximum of 25-26 ° (average for the month of August). This means that there is not a strictly cold and a very hot time of year; instead there is some variability and within a single day you can have thunderstorms and then the sun within 10 minutes. The locals say that in the Azores it is possible to experience the 4 seasons in just one day! The variability is much more marked in winter so let's say that the best times to visit them are definitely the other 3 seasons: spring, summer and autumn. The average water temperature of the sea, influenced by the famous Gulf Stream, is located between 16 ° and 22 ° throughout the year.
What you need to book first
The peak of the high season is August: if you travel during this month you will have to book everything well in advance because the Azores have not yet been equipped to receive the boom in tourists and you may encounter several problems. The things to book absolutely in advance are the accommodation and internal flights (even 2/3 months before). For ferries and excursions a week before it is just fine, ditto for restaurants if you are a large group of people (actually I had problems finding a place for dinner for 2 people by booking 2 days in advance in Sao Miguel!). As for the daily programs, you can do them but with the awareness that, based on the weather, it may be necessary to modify them. Let's say that the Azores require a certain talent of improvisation.
Even if you are interested in the typical village festivals and the many music festivals that take place in the various islands, you will have to choose the month of August. If you are mainly interested in trekking and water sports, all the other months from May to October are fine.
How many and which islands to visit
Unless you have at least 3/4 weeks of time you will not be able to see all 9 islands and you will necessarily have to select 4/5. Most people approaching the Azores for the first time usually choose to visit the 2 largest and most touristically developed islands, Sao Miguel and Terceira, and the 3 central islands, Pico, Sao Jorge and Faial. This choice derives above all from the proximity between these 5 islands because the others, especially Corvo, Flores and Santa Maria, are really very distant.
Having available 2 settimane, these are the days I would dedicate to the individual islands:
- Sao Miguel: 4 days
- Terceira (Azores): 3 days
- Sao jorge: 2 days
- Pico: 2 days
- Faial: 2 days
How much is spent in the Azores
The Azores are a fairly inexpensive destination for us: on average you sleep for 30 euros per night and have a full meal in a nice place for around 15 euros. Excursions (eg dolphin and whale watching, snorkeling, etc.) have a variable price, but on average they are around 30-40 euros.
Where to sleep in the Azores
As I wrote in the paragraph above, if you go there in August, book even 2/3 months in advance to avoid surprises! Some islands are very small and the accommodation facilities are very limited: last minute bookings are very risky!
Where sleeping in Terceira
To sleep in Terceira I recommend that you base yourself in Angra do Heroismo. This town located on the south coast of the island is much prettier than Vitoria Beach (the largest town where the airport is located). Angra is full of historic buildings, has a nice beach, lots of great restaurants, and is central (so perfect for exploring the rest of the island!).
- Memoria Boutique Hostel (Angra do Heroismo). This design hostel is located right in the center of Angra. It has both dorms and double rooms (all with private bathroom anyway) and a beautiful terrace. It is clean, modern and functional and the breakfast (which is included in the price) is great.
- Black Basalt AL (Angra do Heroismo). If you are looking for a more bucolic and less urban structure (but a stone's throw from the city), the Basalto Negro is perfect! It is located just outside Angra, the rooms have a sea view and there is also a nice outdoor jacuzzi.
Where sleeping in Sao Jorge
To sleep in Sao Roque I recommend you stay or in the capital (Candles) o in the zone Urzelin, 10 km south, a nice little village where you will find a micro-beach, a supermarket and several good restaurants (see below).
- Casa D'Avo Guesthouse (Urzelina). Casa D'Avo is one of the most beautiful places to stay in the Azores! It is a family house converted into a b & b whose garden overlooks the sea. The rooms are very nice, as are the common areas; there is a huge kitchen and patio where you can eat outside. The owner, Victor, is an exquisite and super helpful person. It has few rooms so book it well in advance. NB the small port and the rocks of Urzelina for swimming are 2 'on foot.
- Antonio's House (Candles). Casa do Antonio is a very nice b & b which is centrally located, close to the city, the beach and the ferry terminal. The staff are very welcoming and friendly, and the rooms clean and comfortable. There is also an outside area for having breakfast (great!) Or relaxing in the sun.
- Atlantic Retreat (Urzelina). Have you ever slept in a yurt (the tent of Central Asian nomads)? Here you can do it! The Retiro Atlantico is a rural glamping, totally immersed in nature. Each tent is fully equipped and has its own private bathroom outside. A truly heavenly place !!
Where sleeping in Pico
To sleep in Pico I recommend you stay in Sao Roque do Pico, rather than in the capital (Madalena). Sao Roque is a small town, but it is nice and lively (also because several ferries arriving from Sao Jorge stop here) where you will find a little everything you need (restaurants, bars, etc.). It is also more central and convenient for visiting the rest of the island.
- Sara Village Sportfish (Sao Roque do Pico). Sara Village consists of several houses, built in the typical Azorean style, with double rooms and mini-apartments with kitchen inside. Everything is new and each apartment / room also has a terrace or outdoor space. Sara Village is located slightly high above the village of Sao Roque, and from here you can enjoy a magnificent view of the island of Sao Jorge which is opposite. There is a reserved parking and the owner, Michel Angelo, is a really nice and helpful person.
- Adegas do Pico (São Roque do Pico). The apartments / studios of Adegas do Pico have a wonderful location to say the least: they are isolated but not too much and right in front of the ocean. The various buildings are made of lava stone, are modern and have a large solarium; in addition to this, always outside there is a barbecue corner and a small garden. The view from here is exceptional! Truly a beautiful location for those who love tranquility and nature.
Where sleeping in Sao Miguel
On the island of Sao Miguel I recommend you sleep in the "capital", that is Punta Delgada, because it is a very nice town and it is also the only one in all the Azores where you can have a minimum of social / night life. Last but not least, here are the best restaurants in the archipelago (and there are so many !!).
- Casa do Contador - Ponta Delgada (Ponta Delgada). Very nice structure with small apartments of different sizes and capacities (from 2 to 4 people) in a completely renovated building. The property is located very close to the center, it is modern, with an internal garden (beautiful) and every kind of comfort.
- Quinta de Santa Clara (Ponta Delgada). If you want to pamper yourself a little. this property is just perfect! It is located 4 km outside Ponta Delgada (10 'by car) and has different types of apartments for 2 or 4 people (fully equipped) surrounded by greenery. The apartments are tastefully decorated and there is also a nice swimming pool.
Where to eat in the Azores
The cuisine of the Azores is good but quite heavy because they use butter and garlic in profusion, even on fish. The typical dishes are mainly based on beef, cheeses and fresh fish and the typical dish par excellence is the alcatra: pieces of beef cooked over low heat in an earthenware pan in a wine-based sauce. The Sao Jorge cheese is also very good, very seasoned and tasty.
Where to eat in Sao Miguel
- A Tasca (Ponta Delgada): one of the most popular restaurants in the city. A rustic loacle where you can eat excellent Azorean cuisine. It is always full so book at least 3/4 days in advance.
- Green Island Routes (Ponta Delgada): a cute vegetarian restaurant in the heart of Punta Delgada. You practically enter a house. Very welcoming place and excellent cuisine. Same as above: book several days in advance.
- Suplex (Ponta Delgada) : a hipster burger joint in the city center. Small and well-kept place where you cannot book: you just have to line up and have a beer or a wine in the outdoor area just outside.
- Otaka (Ponta Delgada) : a very good Japanese restaurant almost on the main square. Decorated in a minimal style, it offers gourmet Japanese cuisine at more than acceptable prices. If it had a Michelin star, no one would be surprised. Attentive and trained staff. Reservation required.
- Tasquinha Vieira (Ponta Delgada) : small restaurant in the center of Ponta Delgada run by young chefs and staff who offer Azorean cuisine with a gourmet twist. They don't take reservations… you arrive and you queue outside to wait. They offer you a glass of wine and you wait your turn but it's worth it.
- Agricultural Association (Ribeira Grande) : large restaurant in the industrial area, on the other side of the island. The interior is welcoming, the service is attentive, the quality of the meat (but not only) is excellent, as is the wine list. The prices are a bit higher than the average on the island.
- Mané Gypsy (Ponta Delgada) : classic Portuguese tavern where you share the table with other diners. Very simple place, but great food. A limited menu with a dish of the day and a few other choices between meat and fish. Friendly and fast service. Very good fried sardines accompanied by boiled potatoes and bean pie. Good place.
Where to eat in Pico
- Cell Bar (Madelena). By far the coolest bar-restaurant in the Azores, you can't not go there! The futuristic capsule-shaped wooden location also won the Building of the Year architecture award in 2016. You can drink and eat both outside, on the terraces, and inside, but you cannot book. I recommend that you go there before sunset and then stay there for dinner. Marvelous!! It costs a little more than usual but it's worth it.
- Mountain (Sao Roque do Pico). Restaurant well known and also frequented by locals, it has a well-made menu and also very rich in vegetarian dishes (after having eaten the heavy Azorean cuisine for a while you will appreciate even more the salads or rice with vegetables!). Good choice!
- Aco Snack Bar (Sao Roque do Pico) . Not very easy to find because from the outside it looks like an ordinary bar. Once inside, you cross an anonymous bar before arriving in the back garden, which is much nicer and more welcoming. The highlight here is the meat, but there is no shortage of fish.
Where to eat in Terceira
- Adega Lusitania (Angra do Heroismo): the typical restaurant par excellence of Angra do Heroismo. It offers excellent Azorean cuisine and above all an excellent alcatra (huge portions). Also perfect for tables.
- Tasca das Tias (Angra do Heroismo) . Very nice restaurant in the center of Angra; tastefully decorated and well managed. The cuisine is also very good (mainly traditional but not only).
- O Chico (Angra do Heroismo). A good tavern in one of the main streets, a stone's throw from the beach. Excellent dishes of the typical cuisine, especially the alcatra (huge portion, calculate 1 every 2/3 people!).
- Seaside (San Mateus) . An excellent fresh fish restaurant with a wide choice, right on the sea, in a town a few kilometers from Angra. The dishes are abundant, well cared for, and the staff very kind and helpful, the service is fast. Reservation required and good value for money.
Where to eat in Sao Jorge
- Urzelina (Urzelina). Typical Azorean cuisine restaurant. At lunch it is a buffet of three or four dishes all very typical and at dinner instead of à la carte. Good quality.
- Castelinho (Urzelina) . Very nice fish restaurant which is right on the marina. Large portions and very fresh grilled fish. The must apparently is the octopus (which I don't eat though, so I can't judge).
What to bring to the Azores
The clothing to bring to the Azores is quite similar between summer and winter, because the temperature fluctuations are not so marked. Therefore, regardless of the season, you will need to have in your suitcase:
- windproof and rainproof jacket
- comfortable long pants
- comfortable shorts
- rock shoes
You might also be interested in these other articles I wrote about Portugal:
- Lisbon: what to see in 3 days
- Unusual Lisbon: 15 places to see to feel local
- Where to sleep in Lisbon: better neighborhoods and hotels
- Azores: what to see and what to do in these dream islands
- Alentejo (Portugal): what to see
- What to see in the Algarve: a road trip in southern Portugal
- Madeira: what to see on the island of eternal spring