JL

São Miguel – Exploring The Azores Islands

December 22, 2019
Written by: Jenny

São Miguel – Exploring the Azores

During my time as an Erasmus student in Faro, Portugal I had quite a lot of time to think about my next travel destinations and I wanted them to be special ones. Portugal is a really good base for traveling, in only a few hours you get to see Spain, Gibraltar, Morocco or the beautiful Algarve itself – and of course the Azores or Madeira. I compared Madeira and the Azores and decided for myself that the Azores would be more adventurous. 
 
Me and my roommate booked our flights at 2am for 40€ one month in advance and were super excited to get to see that beautiful nature of the island São Miguel. Yes, we had only a few days off, so we sadly couldn’t visit the other islands.
We were lucky though and got a great airbnb for less because it was not the high season. 

Day I

So we ended up staying in the city center at the harbor of Ponta Delgada, the capital, with our backpacks but without any plans. We arrived at noon on our first day and we still wanted to do something so we walked towards the taxi stand and asked a few drivers to take us to a street close to one of the famous natural hot springs (Caldeira Velha). They told us we were crazy to walk all that way up there from the street but we tried it anyways. I thought, there has to be someone for sure, who can take us back home to the capital after our hike. We even tried hitchhiking on our way up but no one would give us a ride or even stop. Yes, the taxi drivers were right. It took us about 1-2h to get to the hot spring. Now I started to worry about how to get back. But we went inside the little national park to get to the springs and had some nice baths in 3 different ones with temperatures varying from 29°C to 39°C. One of them even had a (hot!) waterfall! This is definitely a great photo spot but even in December it was kinda crowded. We met an old German couple that offered us a ride back home so we gladly accepted the offer. And it was not the only time we met that couple but more of that later. They told us about all the things they did and saw on the island so we had some ideas for the upcoming days.
I was strictly against renting a car because I wanted to save money and I thought hitchhiking is more adventurous and fun buuuut we realized that hitchhiking on São Miguel isn’t really a thing and people aren’t really open for that, so we decided to look for a rental car the next day. 

Day II

There are a few options for that on the island but we trusted the owner of our airbnb (Atlantic Home Azores, which I can highly recommend btw.) and went to Rent-a-car Auto-ramalhense. We were able to pay cash, didn’t need a credit card and got full insurance for only 100€ for 4 days and 2 underage drivers. This company is renting cars on all the Azores islands and I can only recommend them as well as they are super friendly and helping. 
Now that we had a car, we had way more options so our first stop ended up being a pineapple plantation (Ananases A Arruda) near the city. There were about 14 greenhouses and the pineapples in each of them were in a different state of growth. It was really interesting to see how (long) pineapples grow. The plantation also had its own little shop but the prices were very high so we decided to buy our ananás somewhere else. 
Next stop: The Chá Gorreana Tea plantation. There’s two tea plantations on São Miguel right next to each other and this is the bigger one. Strolling through the fields it feels like being on a rice plantation somewhere in Asia. Of course we also took a look at the museum and tried the black and green tea. It was the first time in my life I actually liked the taste of black tea. On the way we stopped at a view point (Miradouro de Santa Iria) that we passed. We couldn’t resist to stop to take a few pictures of the coast. By the way, the water of the ocean is ice blue everywhere around the island – so beautiful and full of contrasts in combination with the black sand. 
Like Madeira, the Azores are known for their colorful flowers and plants. But in December you can’t see a lot of them sadly. 
The one thing that you can see the whole year though, are the hot springs – and I mean the really hot ones with boiling water and stinky dust rising up. I spotted those springs on some postcards at the tea plantation so we made it our next stop. 
Luckily the island is really small and the streets were completely empty (at least in winter) so we reached all our destinations in under one hour. 
As we reached the little village Furnas in the middle of the volcano Lagoa das Furnas it started smelling like rotten eggs and we got to see all of the little springs (Caldeiras), each with its own name. We drove up further to get to the lake inside the crater and finally got to buy our ananás from a local guy selling it on the street close to a picnic park. In this region are less tourists by the way because most of them only visit Sete Cidades, the most famous volcano of the Azores but we wanted to see all of the three on this island. 
Eating our ananás we walked a bit through the beautiful nature around the lake and suddenly found some weird holes in the ground. The locals explained that they use the massive heat underground for cooking so they lower down their cooking pots on a rope and let the food boil underground. Kinda cool! At selected restaurants they even sell it to tourists if you make a reservation before. 
Close to the hot springs I mentioned earlier there’s another hot spring (Poça da Dona Beija) that they made to a public pool and since it was really hot we decided to cool down for a little bit. ‘Cool’ down in springs with temperatures of 39°C of course! If you ever go inside of a hot spring, be careful to keep your hair up if it’s colored because the color can change or fade. That’s because of the iron inside of the water. It’s also the reason why the pools are mostly orange and green. 
We were still hungry for adventure after so we drove down south, left the volcano behind us and got to the coast at Ribeira Quente. A Portuguese friend of ours recommended the beach Praia do Fogo and it was definitely one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. Especially with the sun setting the black sand and icy water just looked amazing! We spent some time here to take pictures and I was happy to collect some lava rocks and black sand for my sand collection at home. 

Day III

If you google for Azores or check it out on Instagram what you’ll find are mostly pictures of Sete Cidades that I mentioned before. So of course we had to see it ourselfs and went there on our third day. The drive up there was a funny one full of serpentine roads reminding me of the south of Germany. We stopped at a few view points before we reached the inside of the volcano and the beautiful lake. Then we decided to drive back up and hike around so we spotted some really nice views. It just feels amazing to stand on top of a volcano looking down on the beautiful lake inside of it and seeing the ocean in the background.
If you look for the typical Instagram spot here, you’ll find it at Miradouro da Boca do Inferno after a short hike.
We took another hiking trail (Serra Devassa) close but after a while it got super foggy. We didn’t see anything anymore and were kinda lost on top of the mountain ridge. But still, the atmosphere just felt amazing. 
On our way back we stopped at a famous abandoned hotel (Hotel abandonado – Monte Palace) to take a look around and a few pictures. First, we had to find a way to climb inside the overgrown fortress. 
Then we crossed the volcano one last time to get to the north western part of the island to Mosteiros. We stopped at a few beaches and bays (Ponta da Ferraria for example) to soak in some ocean breezes and watch the strong, high waves. One of the most stunning sunsets I’ve ever seen was right here. 

Day IV

Our trip was almost over so we wanted to hike a little bit more and drove towards the waterfall Salto do Cabrito. After hiking around there for a bit we drove back down to the coast to Porto Formoso to take a longer hiking trail – after a black tea at the beach (Praia dos Moinhos). During this hike I felt like being in the jungle and not like being on an European island! Between banana trees and other palmtrees we discovered not only a (cold) but also another waterfall (Água Férrea das Pachecas). I strongly recommend this trail in summer and especially when you travel with kids. 
After our 2h hike we had nothing else to do so we stopped by the other tea plantation (Fábrica de Chá do Porto Formoso) to take a look around but we didn’t really like this one.

Day V

On our last day we checked out the botanical garden of José do Canto and got to see some really special plants and flowers. Inside, there’s also the beautiful Palácio de Sant’Ana.
Now I’ve told you about two volcanos (Sete Cidades & Lagoa das Furnas) so far so you might think ‘what about the third one?’ Well, the third one, Lagoa do Fogo, is known for being completely covered in fog most of the time. We drove up there a few days ago but didn’t see anything. It was just windy as hell so we thought we wouldn’t get to see it during our stay. Buuut remember the old German couple that we met on our fist day? We fortuitously met them again in Sete Cidades during a hike and they told us about a webcam monitoring the view on the volcano. So before we went to the airport on our last day, we checked the webcam and luckily there was no fog at all! We drove all the way up to see this amazing view. Sadly we didn’t have enough time to hike around in this area but next time, it’s the first thing I’ll do.
After taking a few pictures we drove down to the coast at Praia do Areal de Santa Bárbara and watched some surfers of the Azores Surf Center until we had to go back the airport to get home to Portugal.
About São Miguel in general? It feels like being on Portugal’s mainland, the people are mostly the same, chilled and friendly. The infrastructure is very good, the streets are new. If you plan on going there, 4 days are the right amount of time. We saw and did everything we wanted to. If you have more time you should take a boat or plane to see the other islands of the Azores as well.
Check out my Photo Gallery for more pictures of the Azores and other beautiful spots.
 
And here’s where the Azores are located:
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