August 3, 2018
Azores part 1
A lot of people have asked me questions about my trip to the Azores, so I've decided to write a post about it. My trip to the Azores was one of my favorite trips, and there is a lot I can talk about, but I will try to keep this short and to the point. The Azores are an Autonomous Region of Portugal located in the Mid-Atlantic Ocean (between North Carolina & Portugal). An archipelago, they are made up of 9 Islands scattered across roughly 400 miles of ocean with Sao Miguel being the largest. They have their own Airline, SATA, which offers direct flights from Boston multiple times a day during their summer months (June-Sept). The flight is a quick 4hr & 40 mins. The Azores are known as the "hidden gem of the Atlantic" because there not a well-known tourist destination, although tourism is starting to pick up.
I can only speak about Sao Miguel as it is the only island I visited. We had initially planned to spend 2 days exploring another island, but we were having too much fun on Sao Miguel, we decided to stay and fully explore the main island. We do plan to go back and explore the other islands soon, as each island offers a different flavour of life. It is very easy to island hop as they offer ferry rides & short plane rides to the other islands daily, however, make sure you check the ferry schedule in the off season as it doesn't run as frequently. Sao Miguel is roughly 40 miles long and 10 miles wide, making it very easy to see in its entirety! Being that it's not very touristy, there aren't a ton of hotels/resorts to pick from and things generally close pretty early at night (10-11ish) even on the main strip by the harbor. This includes most restaurants & bars; so, if you are looking for the wild party clubbing scene this is not the vacation spot for you.
We stayed at The Lince Azores Great Hotel, Conference & Spa in Ponta Delgada, the capital. Located conveniently within a short walking distance to the city center and the harbor, it proved to be a perfect location for us and it had an underground parking garage. The hotel was accommodating and the rooms were simple and clean (always important). The staff was very friendly, especially a pair of the bartenders who we've kept in contact with via facebook. Other than our bartender friends, the highlight of the hotel was the breakfast which was fully stocked with fresh fruit and fresh locally made cheese.
What to expect:
The best way I can explain this island is that it's a combination of Hawaii & Ireland. On the island itself you have volcanic scenery, including dormant craters transformed into lakes filled with crystal clear water, or hot springs bubbling up from beneath a canopy of trees. When driving around the island you’ll have the chance to see tea plantations with rows of tea plants lined up in one place, and in other areas you will see tons of beautiful flowers (hydrangeas are everywhere!!) and other native flora. But be prepared if you’re driving, you can be going along some cliffs with dramatic ocean views and not another car in sight, turn a corner and find yourself face to face with cattle wandering along the side of the road with beautiful green rolling hills serving as the backdrop. The views are what really get you and I can’t say that enough. There are amazing ocean views from everywhere like the edge of a cliff or from a whale watching boat out in the ocean where you can see marine life including whales and dolphins.
Drive on the Right!
You have a few options for getting around on the island. You can rent a car or scooter, take a tour bus or van or 4-wheeler tour. Most hotels have information on bus, van or quad tours right in the lobby, but doing your due diligence with a quick google search or asking the hotel before you get there might save you some stress. When we travel we typically (90% of the time) rent a car, it gives us the freedom to do things on our own schedule, so that’s what we decided on. Although the downside of renting is the cost, but tour transportation isn’t free, so for us it balances out, and we will pay a bit extra for convenience.
Our rental agency, Autatlantis, was located right in the airport and we picked our car up right there. If you do rent I highly recommend renting a small car as MOST of the roadways in the smaller towns are very tiny, as in what we here in the US would consider a one way, but in fact they are 2-way roads! On the back roads there is very little traffic so we could take our time and take in the scenery. You will see a ton of “Miradouro” road signs meaning sightseeing & tourist attraction; make sure you stop and look, I promise you won't be disappointed; the dramatic cliffs & lakes are like something out of a movie. We did do some driving on the highways in rush hour, but it was nothing compared to rush hour at home. In short, driving is doable.
I will touch on some of the things we had the opportunity to see and do on Sao Miguel in my next post!