August 23, 2018
Azores part 2
As promised in my previous post I’m going to talk a little about the things to do on the island and helpful tips.
I mentioned before Azores is not very touristy & definitely is not a party scene. If you’re looking to get away from your fast-paced life and leave your worries behind, the Azores is the place to enjoy beautiful views, connect with nature and partake in outdoor activities. Have I mentioned that it’s affordable too?
10 Things to do & see on Sao Miguel Island
In no particular order here are some of the things we did, most of which were free and some of which we found accidently while driving around and following the “Miradouro” signs
#1 The City of Ponta Delgada
Ponta Delgada is the largest city on the island and it is absolutely worth spending a day or two wandering around. You won’t need a car if your hotel is close by as ours was. It was a short walk to the city center where you can check out the local bars, restaurants, shops, harbor, marble churches, colorful building and cobblestone roads. The people are very friendly, most speak English although many people initially spoke Portuguese to me (maybe my natural tan complexion help me fit in lol). Sao Miguel isn’t the type of place where you have to worry about being harassed by locals. We spent many nights walking back to the hotel after 11pm in the dark and felt completely at ease. We were only approached once (in daylight) by an older gentleman asking for money, we declined, he thanked us and walked away without incident.
#2 Lagoa das Sete Cidades
This is a must see!! These are twin lakes (one blue which reflects the sky and the other which is green and reflects the ground) are situated in the crater of a volcano. It is one of the 7 Natural Wonders of Portugal and worth seeing. The legend behind Sete Cidades is that the two lakes were formed from the tears of a shepherd and a princess who shared a forbidden love. There is an easy 20.3-kilometer (roughly 12.6 mile) hike with amazing views along the perimeter of the lakes. For the non-hiker there is an amazing view from Hotel Monte Palace, which is an abandoned hotel on top of the crater.
#3 Caldeira Velha
Situated on the north slope of the Fogo Volcano are three natural thermal pools where you can swim surrounded by lush green vegetation, making you feel as if you were in the middle of the rainforest. The main pool is fed by an iron-rich warm waterfall filling the pool below. These pools continue to be heated naturally by geothermal activity underground. Two of the pools are quite warm around 102 degrees Fahrenheit and the 3rd pool is a bit cooler. I recommend you start with the coldest pool first and work your way up. All 3 pools are relatively shallow (around waist deep) and I recommend you do the obligatory photo standing under the small waterfall. Keep in mind that these pools are rich in iron giving the water a brownish tint and a slight sulfur aroma. Because these pools are all natural there are no filters so there is a good chance there will be leaves or debris floating in the water giving you an authentic experience. There is small entrance fee of €8 ($9.27) along with lockers and changing rooms available. If you are looking for something more adventurous there are marked trails for hiking in the surrounding area; we unfortunately did not have time to explore these.
#4 Caldeiras das Furnas
This is a great place to see some geothermal activity up close and personal. Set a few meters from the shore of the Lagoa das Furnas, you can walk through the park on a wooden path which weaves in and out of bubbling mud pits and steaming pools of water. These geothermic phenomena providing quite the stark contrast to the placid lake water behind you. As you walk along the paths you will see small mounds with numbers on them, these are pots filled with traditional Portuguese stew that are placed in the ground and are cooked by the geothermal heat. You can enjoy your stew at a nearby local restaurant.
#5 Terra Nostra Gardens
Is a 200-year-old botanical park offering 31 acres of beauty to be explored. The park has a peaceful atmosphere with pathways surrounded by exotic gardens, charming streams, and ponds. The garden is the perfect setting to catch your breath and enjoy the beautiful flowers, wild birds and waterfowl. Although the botanical gardens and landscapes are picturesque, the highlight of the botanical park is the massive geothermal swimming pool; which I highly recommend you spend some time relaxing in. The pool water is supplied by volcanic hot springs making the water temperatures between 95-104 degrees F (35-40 degrees C) and quite therapeutic. The water supplying the pool is rich in iron and essential minerals (both supposedly good to help restore energy) giving it a brownish-orange color. I’ll admit the water doesn’t look appealing, but don’t let that stop you from experiencing the pool and soaking up its restorative minerals leaving you feeling reenergized. I recommend that you rinse your bathing suit off thoroughly in the outdoor showers near the changing rooms after going in the pool to avoid staining. I also recommend you wear a darker colored bathing suit as light colors may be brown-tinged even after rinsing. If you are really turned off by the color of the water there are two smaller geothermal pools, cloudy greenish-blue in color, near the changing rooms.
#6 Lagoa do Fogo
In the center of São Miguel Island, you will find Lagoa do Fogo which is a crater lake within the Água de Pau Massif stratovolcano. There is a viewing point from the road which you can see the entire lake. The view is just stunning! I could have just sat there all day taking in the spectacular views or enjoying a picnic lunch. There is a path which you can hike down to the lake but be aware the path is steep in some areas and can be slippery if wet. If you’re able to do so, I recommend you hike down the mountain and walk along the lake; it’s a very peaceful spot with gorgeous views. Being down in the crater, looking up at the tall mountains, surrounded by thick green vegetation and hearing the birds echoing off the mountain made me feel like I was in Jurassic Park (hopefully you have all seen the movie).
#7 Termas da Ferraria
The Termas da Ferraria is a tidal pool created by an old lava flow. This tidal pool is filled by the cool ocean water which mixes with the hot water from below the surface creating a comfortably warm swimming hole. There are ropes that go across from each rock/lava edge to hold on to, so you can float while waves come crashing into the pool. The View is amazing, the water a perfect temperature and makes for an overall amazing adventure that is a must see! There are limited changing rooms, so we just covered our car window with a towel and changed in the car. There is a wooden pathway from the road and parking area down to the rocks, however the walk to the actual tidal pool is very uneven as you are walking on old dried lava. To enter the pool there is a metal ladder, or you can just jump right in if you are feeling adventurous. There are well marked signs along the road which is how we came across Termas.
#8 Arruda Pineapple plantation
Have you ever wondered where a pineapple grows, on a tree, in a bush? Well I must be honest, I never actually knew how pineapples grew until visiting the pineapple plantation. I was quite surprised to learn that growing one pineapple was quite a lengthy process. So, if you are like me and love pineapples stop by the pineapple plantation which offers free tours through the greenhouses, giving you a chance to see the different stages of pineapples growing. There is a small little gift shop where you can buy pineapple products. One thing we bought and enjoyed was Pineapple flavored liqueur. The plantation is small and there isn’t a lot do so or see so 30-40 minutes is probably more than enough time.
#9 Gruta do Carvão
Take a guided tour through this cave which has been created entirely by lava. The cave is the longest known lava tunnel in Sao Miguel and is estimated to be around 5000 to 12,000-years-old. Although the pathway is a little uneven it is a fairly easy walk.
#10 Beaches & Ribeira Grande Beach
There are beaches all along Sao Miguel which are well marked with signs. As we drove along the Island, whenever we saw a sign for a beach we stopped to take a quick dip to cool off. The one thing I want to mention about most of the beaches in Sao Miguel is that they are not white sandy tropical beaches. Most of them are rocky or have concrete areas in which you can sit or lay your towel on and sunbathe. This took a little getting used to for me as these small local beaches were not what I was used to. But do not let this stop you from checking out the local beaches! I can assure you we still have fun swimming in the warm beautifully colored ocean and relaxing on the rocks or concrete areas while soaking up the sun and marveling at the amazing views. If you are looking for a beach with sand check out Ribeira Grande! This is the type of beach I’m used to (Virginia Beach or Myrtle Beach, minus the crowded boardwalks with stores, restaurants & amusement parks). During our trip we were lucky enough to be there during the 2016 VISSLA ISA World Junior Surfing Championship, which was a pretty cool experience to stumble across.
Helpful hints & Tips
If you decided to be adventurous and rented a car while visiting Sao Miguel, GPS is very helpful. We had our cell phones unlocked prior to arriving in Sao Miguel with hopes we could buy a SIM card and use our phones while there, but that did not work out. From what I recall from our trip the car rental companies did not have Garmin’s or any other GPS device available for rent; this may have changed since 2016. However, if GPS is still not an option I recommend buying a WIFI hub and minutes from Vodafone. There is a Vodafone right in the airport and they are fairly cheap. This was completely worth the money as we were able to connect our cell phones to the WIFI hub to get driving directions from Google Maps. Just be sure to keep your cell phone in Airplane mode & connect using WIFI so you don’t rack up a large unexpected roaming fee.
Out of the 9 days we were there, we maybe ate lunch only 2-3 times. We didn’t skip lunch on purpose, we just didn’t realize that most of the restaurants shut down during the afternoon for a couple of hours (12pm -3pm). Although I enjoyed ice cream, candy bars, espresso and Especial (a local beer) for lunch most days, we did finally manage to plan our day accordingly and enjoy a real lunch.
#3 Bigger is not always better!
If you can, rent a smaller car. A lot of the back roads are very narrow and curvy. What may look like a one-way street to you is actually a 2-way road; and be prepared for a large tour bus on the other side of that sharp curve. Also, most cars available to rent are manual transmission, so if you prefer an automatic it is probably best to reserve your rental car early on in your planning phase.
#4 Have a flexible schedule
While it’s nice to have your day planned or at the very least have an idea of what you want to do and see each day, leave some extra time to be spontaneous. As I mentioned earlier, most of the things saw or did were by accident. While driving along to our planned location, every time we saw a sign for a cave, beach, tidal pool, viewing point, picnic area, waterfall, park, historical landmark, lighthouse, furnas (geothermal hotspot), etc... we stopped to check it out and we were never disappointed.
I really hope you get the opportunity to experience the Azores! So far, the Azores has been one of my favorite holidays and I hope to someday return and check out the other islands. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment. Don’t forget to check out my photos page as I have posted a picture of each place mentioned above and more. You can also see more pics on Instagram!