I arrived at the airport in São Miguel groggy and unprepared. It was 7am and I’d left Lisbon without planning how I’d navigate my way around this tiny Atlantic island. After haggling the price down on a rental car, I zipped off into the lush green landscape in the distance. São Miguel, one of the nine volcanic islands that make up the Azores, is the biggest of the bunch. Despite the fact that you can drive from one end of the island to the other in under two hours, there’s still a lot to see and do. Below, I’ve mapped a short itinerary and travel tips for enjoying your time in São Miguel.
Day 1: Stretch your legs
Having spent hours in the airport and even more on a plane, I knew I wanted to recover by hiking on my first day. I picked up a map and found a trail 30-minutes driving distance from the airport. The drive led up this beautiful mountain with 360-degree views of the island. On one side were grazing cows and on the other was Lagoa do Fogo–a crater lake in the center of the island. The trailhead for the lake is a mile from this mountain summit. It’s a quick 30-45 minute hike to the base of the lake and back up.
After visiting the lake, I hit up one of the island’s tea plantations, Chá Gorreana. Situated on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic, Gorreana is one of the oldest tea plantations in Europe. The plantation is also recognized for growing tea without using herbicides, pesticides, fungicides dyes, or preservatives. You can walk through some of the fields or learn about the history of the tea in their tea shop.
With my belly full of tea, I continued on to Furnas to soak in the town’s natural hot springs. There are two springs you can visit in Furnas, but if you only have time to visit one, it’s worth going to Terra Nostra Garden. The thermal pool’s high iron content turns the water into a shocking orange hue and leaves your skin feeling smooth.
When I’d sufficiently soaked in the hot baths, I drove back to my hostel in Ponta Delgada. If you’re looking for a central and cozy hostel, book with Out of the Blue Hostel. The staff was incredibly welcoming and every night they hosted different events at the hostel. The night I arrived, they were having a pizza making workshop in the garden behind the hostel. Also, if homemade pizza isn't enough to convince you, every morning you're served fresh pancakes, locally baked bread, and granola...for free!
Day 2: Spend time by the water
I had heard about an enchanting ocean hot spring west of the island and ventured there on my second day. The drive down the cliff to the water was a bit precarious, but it was well worth it for what’s at the end. I walked down a volcanic rock path and saw a sapphire blue ocean come into view. Where the rock and water meet, some locals were milling around in tidepools. Below them was a naturally formed ocean pool that was heated by geothermal energy. As I climbed down a ladder into the water, a wave rushed into the pool, mixing cold and warm water together. I spent an hour in the pool before the tide rose and brought stronger waves into the cove.
The next stop on the list was Sete Cidades and Lagoa Azul. This lake is one of the biggest on the island and is best seen from the surrounding mountaintops. The scenic route up the hill ends at Hotel Monte Palace–a five-star hotel that was abandoned in the 1980s. Nowadays, the hotel has become a lookout point for tourists trying to get a photo of the lake. It's mold-covered interior and apocalyptic appearance aren't very welcoming, so enter if you dare ;).
When I'd finished being sufficiently freaked out by the haunted hotel, I returned to Ponta Delgada for a much-needed meal. Enter: the best cheese platter I've ever tasted. I showed up to Taberna Açor early before the crowds arrived and snagged a seat right by the entrance. I'm not embarrassed to say I ordered a cheese platter and ate the whole thing by myself. Honestly, the cheese was that amazing. If you want to try some traditional Portuguese tapas and sample local cheeses, go to Taberna Açor.
Day 3: Go where the lighthouse meets the water
The day before I left São Miguel, I walked around Ponta Delgada and went into this coffee shop called Cafetaria Armazéns Cogumbreiro. The cafe is hard to miss. It's inside a beautiful historic building on a busy street and when you walk inside, you'll find a quiet atmosphere that's perfect for enjoy artisan coffee. Its minimalist interior and delicious drinks are a great way to start your last full day on the island. If you need a spot to grab wifi, you can also come here to work for a few hours.
On the other side of the island, you'll find the town of Nordeste. Just outside the town is a beautiful lighthouse overlooking seaside cliffs and a tiny fisherman's village–and by village, I mean four cottages. Park at the top of the hill and walk down towards the lighthouse. The road down is really steep so if you have knee problems maybe consider taking pictures from the top!
After enjoying the views in Nordeste, drive to the Faial Da Terra trailhead to see some waterfalls. The scenic drive into this village is amazing. Park anywhere along the creek and follow the path parallel to the water up towards the trailhead. It takes about 30 minutes to walk to the first waterfall and the trail is fairly flat until the end.
- You’ll want to rent a car on the Azores. It’s hard to get around without one, but if you choose not to, you can try hitchhiking or making friends with someone who has a car at a hostel.
- Wi-Fi is pretty sparse on the island so if you don’t have a data plan, download maps on your phone beforehand.
- Have fun! When you visit the Azores you don’t need to see everything on your list. Lingering longer in one spot is better than rushing off to the next viewpoint.
Thanks for reading! If you have any questions about the islands or want more tips for your trip, leave a comment below.