São Miguel in the Azores is a vibrant garden in the middle of the Atlantic. With so many different landscapes and things to do, planning a route to explore the island is essential! This is the exact itinerary I use when I get friends visiting São Miguel island and now I’m sharing it with you. Insider tips from a local FOR FREE. Here’s how to do São Miguel in 4 days!
Usually I go back home, there are 2 phases.
Phase 1. For the first couple of days I’ve nothing to report. I don’t think people would be interested to read about how much weight I’ve put in with mom’s food or about my zapping sessions through Portuguese TV morning shows.
An unexplored niche for sure, but not exactly the one I want to be in as a blogger.
Phase 2 is more interesting. I usually have friends visiting so we spend some days exploring the island. Extra pressure to make sure I keep them busy with a not-too-ambitious-but-not-too-boring itinerary!
Not only I want to create a cute 4-day route, I want to create THE BEST itinerary of São Miguel! So just keep scrolling down or jump directly to one of the sections:
Mission: create the ultimate itinerary of São Miguel
You know I love to plan itineraries. It’s kind of my thing.
This itinerary for São Miguel was first created when I got friends visiting back in June 2015. They were first time visitors and loved it! So I thought I should share with you the actual route we used to explore the island in 4 days.
UPDATE (OCTOBER 2016): After this, I had more friends visiting and I’ve now tweaked the itinerary and completed it with some more information.
Important things to know about this São Miguel itinerary
- It’s tailored for first-time visitors. If that’s your case, have a read at the top things to know before going to the Azores to complement the info here.
- It assumes you’ll have a car. I highly recommend you get your own wheels in Azores.Check this article to find out why and for more transportation info useful for your planning.
- It’s not intended to be a rally course. If you arrive somewhere make sure you spend AT LEAST half an hour to take it all in. Spending days straight incarcerated in a car spending 5 minutes at each sight just for the sake of seeing everything is not a good experience. Quality over quantity!
- It should be flexible. You’ll most likely need to change something and accommodate other factors, the best example being the typically unstable azorean weather. Make sure you check the weather in advance for the major places in the island with SpotAzores website and app.
So without any more delays, here’s what I’ve put together!
Itinerary of São Miguel on a map
You can use my itinerary map in Google Maps as a reference. The pins below represent the places we’ve been (including small descriptions) separated in four different days:
- Day 1 – Yellow pins
- Day 2 – Blue pins
- Day 3 – Green pins
- Day 4 – Orange pins
Itinerary Day 1 – Yellow pins
This day is to explore the west side of the island. Make sure the weather is clear for Sete Cidades area or all that you’ll see are clouds!
Miradouro da Vista Do Rei
Lagoa das Sete Cidades (Sete Cidades Lake) is the most well-known postcard of the Azores. You’ll see it in every brochure, ad or article about the islands.
The first contact you’ll have with the lakes will probably be from Vista do Rei (literally translated as King’s view). The spot is just at the right distance to appreciate the view over the lakes.
They’re actually the same lake separated by a bridge, they just reflect the light differently due to the surrounding vegetation. You can drive or walk around along the dirt road (Cumeeiras) to get views from different angles. As a matter of fact, this exact road is the most spetacular track on World Rallye Championship.
Vista do Rei is also the place where an abandoned hotel called Monte Palace. Built in the 70s, the site is now a popular site to get an even better perspective over the lake. You can freely explore the building, make sure you go to the top floor for a superb open view. I wouldn’t do at night though, the hotel can be creepy and I’ve seen too many horror movies!
The Sete Cidades Tale
There’s a cute little story about the reason why one of the lakes is blue and the other green. Legend has it that once upon a time a sheperd and a Princess fell in love, but were prohibited to see each other due to their different family statuses.
When they met for the last time, they cried so much that the Sete Cidades lakes were formed. The blue-eyed shepherd gave origin to the blue lake while the green-eyed princess formed the green lake.
Miradouro da Boca do Inferno
While the view from Vista do Rei is inspiring, the one from Miradouro da Boca do Inferno will make your jaw drop. Have you ever felt goosebumps when arriving to a beautiful place? If so, it will probably happen here again.
From up there, apart from the crazy views of the mountains and the sea in the background, two other lagoons are visible: Rasa and Santiago in a complete 360 degree nature experience. The view is wide open to the entire volcanic crater of Sete Cidades, formed 22,000 years ago.
In a bright sunny day, this holds the title as the most incredible view I’ve seen. Yap. EVER.
How to get to Boca do Inferno viewpoint
- Coming from Vista do Rei, DO NOT turn left on the first exit down to the Sete Cidades village. Continue straight for about 10 minutes, following the signs to Lagoa do Canário
- After about 7 minutes, you’ll notice a car park on the right, where an hiking trail begins, and a small entrance to a dirt road just on the opposite side. Go in with there your car.
- Continue for about 3-4 more minute until you see a set of stairs upwards next to some picnic tables.
- Start the hike up. You’re 5 minutes away from paradise!
Sete Cidades is also the name of the small village down at the same level of the lake. Everything seems untouched since the 30s here, but you still can find plenty of things to do there.
Biking across the lagoon shore or kayaking inside a volcanic crater are just two of the options to spend your afternoon. These are simply some of the best outdoor activities you can do in São Miguel.
I’ve done both and still can’t decide which one is more scenic. Oh, the feeling of being literally inside a dormant volcano crater…
Whatever you do, weather is a key factor in Sete Cidades. If you happen to go on a sunny day, I can assure you the views will be breathtaking.
No more wait, find where to stay in São Miguel today!
Ponta da Ferraria is a small cove surrounded by gigantic lava rock cliffs where the ocean water is warmed up by a geo-thermal natural spring beneath. Not your everyday view hun? It’s quite an experience to swim in an ocean which is a mix of cold and hot sea water while the waves slosh you around!
Just make sure you don’t go on low tide as it gets VERY HOT. There are housed baths with an outdoor swimming pool, but who wants to pay when you can go for the thrilling (and completely free) swim in the ocean right next to it?
If you still have time, head to Mosteiros to watch the perfect sunset and eat some local seafood – you can’t go wrong with lapas!
Itinerary Day 2 – Blue pins
If you are traveling in one of best times of the year to see cetaceans in the Azores, make a reservation for a whale-watching tour the day before. It will take roughly half of your day.
Whale-Watching (from Ponta Delgada)
Whale watching is a must-do activity to do in the Azores, specially if you are able to
time your trip right to see several different species of cetaceans. The ideal time for this is between April and June.
A ticket is not cheap but is definitely worth the experience. We chose to go with Picos de Aventura and overall it surpassed my expectations. A great friendly staff, concerned with safety but also with having fun. We ended up seeing three sperm whales, dozens of dolphins and even a turtle – a “very good day” according to our guides.
Safe to say we had a blast (see video below!).
Little fun fact: when speaking with Paola, the oceanographer on board of our semi-rigid boat, I find out she took the exact opposite life route from me. She’s from Barcelona and now she’s living in the Azores!
Tips for Whale-Watching in São Miguel
- If you’re visiting Faial or Pico on the same trip, I’d recommend to do the Whale-Watching there. São Miguel has good observation conditions, but they’re better.
- Expect to pay at least 55 Euros for a 3-hour trip.
- Most companies depart from Ponta Delgada or Vila Franca marinas, usually at three different time slots in the day (8:30, 13:30, 19:30).
I hate to say this about my birth place, but is not worth to waste more than one or two hours in Ponta Delgada.
SHOCKING, I know.
People stare at me like an hungry raged wolf looks to an innocent lamb when I say this. But hey, it’s the truth. Putting myself on the shoes of a traveler, I’d much rather spend my precious time exploring the rest of the island.
However Ponta Delgada is a great place to base yourself in. Not only it has more restaurants, shops and overall infrastructure, but it’s also geographically located almost in the center of the island which is the definition of a good hub. It has also got a wide choice of hotels, but I do have a favorite.
Modern design, walking distance to the city center and to the ocean. It’s great value-for-money.
Lagoa do Fogo
We were extremely lucky to go to Lagoa do Fogo on a clear day, which is very rare up in this part of the island. First, we stopped in Pico da Barrosa to enjoy the magnificent views. It’s one of the few places in São Miguel where you can see the south and north coasts at the same time. It really puts the island in perspective.
But the highlight of the day was still to come.
Lagoa do Fogo is my favorite lagoon of them all and one of my top places not only in São Miguel, but also in the whole planet.
After a thirty-minute hike down in a dodgy trail, we had a wild beach just for ourselves. Down there, a beautiful sensation of peace – the only sound was of the seagulls in the spectacular green cliff in the opposite lagoon shore. It’s the kind of gorgeous that grabs hold of you tightly. The way up is much more challenging physically, but overall is worth the effort!
Every single time I go to Lagoa do Fogo I fell a bit more in love with it. Modern construction is not permitted to be built in this area, so there is no worry of the views being spoiled any time soon. This is a definite MUST-GO when you are in São Miguel.
Located halfway in the road between Lagoa do Fogo and the city of Ribeira Grande, this is a set of hot springs with a very pre-historic feel. Caldeira Velha is a hot spring (>20ºC) with a waterfall located at the end of the park. There is also a smaller and hotter spring (>35ºC). Both are stone-walled and surrounded intense lush foliage which really adds to an unique feel.
It’s just like stepping into Jurassic Park: a Velociraptor could jump out the bushes at any moment. The difference is that there’s no Chris Pratt to save you!
Not surprisingly, we spent most of the time in the smaller spring: a natural jacuzzi. If you give it some thought, you’ll be basically taking a bath with a bunch of strangers, but let these thoughts take away the experience.
Try to leave Caldeira Velha for late afternoon too. It’s just the perfect soothing end of the day. The entrance is 2 Euros (as per 2015) and you have locker rooms and showers (cold water!) available to change afterwards.
Pro tip: Use a dark and old bathing suit. The minerals in the water can easily leave an unremovable orange stain!
No more wait, find where to stay in São Miguel today!
Itinerary Day 3 – Green pins
Our initial plan for this day had a 2-hour hiking trail in Sanguinho – Salto do Prego -leading to a waterfall in the middle of the forest. But it was too risky to do it with bad weather so we decided to skip it.
In any case, pick the day with the most dodgy weather for this route. You’ll understand why in a bit.
Lagoa das Furnas
Lagoa das Furnas is one of the three main lagoons in São Miguel. The hike to the gothic church sitting in the west shore holds beautiful sights.
On the opposite shore of the lagoon there are hot springs – Caldeiras – where you can actually see boiling water in the holes and geysers as well as the holes in which they cook the famous Cozido das Furnas (Furnas stew).
Although I personally think there’s better local food available in the island, this is also a novelty. A meal cooked by Mother Nature is not your everyday lunch and gives it a special charisma.
I’ll leave it to you to decide if it’s for the better or for the worse. 🙂
Where to eat Furnas stew (Cozido das Furnas)
There are several restaurants in Furnas village which put their stews to cook in the holes every morning. The most famous ones are Tony’s and the restaurant of Terra Nostra hotel.
If you opt to have lunch on the latter, the entrance to the Terra Nostra park and the thermal pool are complimentary (see details below).
This area of São Miguel is the one with most active volcanic phenomena. In Caldeiras, the hot springs and steam holes give the whole area a VERY strong smell of sulfur. Anyhow, you get to see in loco how does it feel and smell when planet Earth is alive.
During my childhood, the highlight of going to Furnas was getting to eat the corn cooked in huge bags directly in these mud holes. I searched for the old ladies who used to sell it, but they weren’t there. IF YOU ARE READING THIS, PLEASE BE THERE FOR ME NEXT TIME!
In Furnas, there’s this amazing modern new hotel with a built-in spa:
Furnas Boutique Hotel, Furnas
Located in Furnas, its full-wellness program and nature-inspired-interiors make it the ideal place to relax. Book now
Furnas Thermal Springs
One of the main attractions in São Miguel are the hot spring waters and pools where everyone can treat yourself with a mineral-enriched bath. And Furnas is the best place to do that!
Head to either Poça Dona Beija or to the pool inside Parque Terra Nostra. Both experiences are very similar so I’d say you only need to go to one of them. You’ll feel like a vegetable being cooked in 35-40ºC warm water anyway. I call it a relaxing human soup!
Terra Nostra is just a huge pool in the heart of a tropical garden which holds a luxury and relaxing hotel. The park itself deserves a visit, it feels likes straight out of Jurassic Park.
I personally prefer the hot springs in Dona Beija though. It’s a recently refurbished set of 5 open-air pools at different temperatures that somehow seems more authentic and enjoyable. A night bath there is an awesome experience!
Tips for Furnas thermal springs
- Entrance fee is 3 euros in Poça Dona Beija and 6 in Terra Nostra (as per 2016).
- Pick the most gloomy and cloudy day (or night?) you can for this. A hot bath feels good when it’s actually colder outside!
- Bring an old and dark swimming suit as light-colored clothing gets stained by the sulphur in the water… forever!
- Towels can be purchased at an extra cost.
The district of Nordeste is the wildest and most remote in São Miguel. The vegetation is thicker, the sea cliffs are more steep and roads are more sinuous. There no particular sight to see but at the same time everything around you is impressive and worth stopping your car to take it all in.
Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego and Miradouro da Ponta da Madrugada viewpoints will make your jaw drop of how intense the scenery is. Both are very similar. A vibrant flower garden decorates the path to the edge of green huge scarps contrasting with the blue vast ocean.
A bit farther north, there’s also Farol do Arnel, the oldest lighthouse in the Azores. If you really want to go down, I strongly recommend going there on foot. The road down there is 35º steep (!), so there is a real chance your car won’t have the power to back up. And that’s definitely not a good place to be stuck in.
Itinerary Day 4 – Orange pins
If this is your final day in the island, it’s time to finish the loose ends for a well-rounded exploration of the island.
Vila Franca Islet
Home to a stage of Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, Ilhéu de Vila Franca (Vila Franca islet) is one of the most popular sunbathing places in Azores.
It encloses a almost full-circle bay perfect for swimming or snorkeling, so make sure you don’t forget your mask!
Tips for the Vila Franca islet
- There is a regular boat connection between the Vila Franca marina and the islet operating in the summer months only.
- Note there are very limited spots to lay your towel. While there is a small beach, it completely disappears during high tide, so I suggest opting for the concrete spots on the opposite side.
- As per 2016, you can now buy tickets online.
Lagoa do Congro
Lagoa do Congro is a relateively off the beaten track lake in the heart of São Miguel. While Sete Cidades, Furnas and Fogo receive more and more tourists every year, this one remains remote and hidden.
The hike down through the forest is already cool, but it’s at the shore level that the magic happens. It will feel like someone set the saturation level to the max – a vibrant green will take over your eyes.
The silence down there is deafening and only disturbed by the splashes of fish jumps and the birds singing. It’s just like those meditation soundtracks, the only difference being this is the real thing. Perfect place to unwind!
How to get to Congro lake
- Coming from Vila Franca, follow the signs to Furnas (direction East).
- After about 10 minutes, there’s an exit to the left clearly stating “Lagoa do Congro”. Take it.
- Continue for about 5 more minutes and turn left on a dirt road.
- Continue through the middle of pastures about 5 more minutes. The entrance to the hike path should be noticeable on the right as there are usually a couple of cars parked.
- The hike down is easy. It should take you 10-15 minutes (it all will be worth it, I promise!)
Working since 1883, Gorreana is the only tea plantation in Europe which produces quality biologic black and green tea. There are free tea tastings available in the area of the processing plant.
Apart from the start of one of the official hiking trails in the island, the tea plantation itself is a stunning scenery overlooking the sea and a great opportunity to change that old Facebook cover. This place always reveal our inner Kardashians and creative photo skills.
Pro tip: Even though you might not be interested in the way the tea is made, there are FREE tea tastings inside!
This beach is a bit more off the beaten track, as it’s not an usual choice for those visiting the island for the first time. But for people who had never put their feet in dark sands, I thought it is interesting to incorporate a volcanic beach experience in the mix.
Although Água d’Alto is my favorite beach in the island, the scenery around Porto Formoso is somewhat more quaint and charismatic. It’s perfect to relax after some intense days!
Miradouro de Santa Iria
Another well-known viewpoint of São Miguel. From up there you can enjoy a clear view over a big portion of the northern coast. It’s a great spot for watching the sunset and a great farewell to São Miguel.
Where to stay in São Miguel
I recommend staying at least three to four full days in São Miguel. If possible, allow yourself some more time to unwind and explore the landscapes the island has to offer.
Ponta Delgada is a good place to set up a base. It’s well connected and has loads of restaurants and shops. If you’re looking for a more remote experience more in touch with nature, Furnas or Sete Cidades might be better for you.
These are my two best hotel suggestions in the island:
My top hotel recommendations in São Miguel
Modern design, close to the city center as well as the seaside. Great value-for-money.
Furnas Boutique Hotel, Furnas
Located in Furnas, its full-wellness program and nature-inspired-interiors make it the ideal place to relax. Book now
Or search for yourself!
To make your life easier, you can start your search with my pre-selection of the hotels/guesthouses/villas in the island of São Miguel. The list only includes rooms with wifi and with good-to-excellent reviews, hard to go wrong with these!
São Miguel Flight + Hotel Deals
I usually don’t use travel agencies to book holidays. I have to make an exception for Azores Getaways because I really think they have some pretty good prices for flight + hotel to the Azores – starting at 499USD.
I particularly recommend using them if you:
- Are flying from the United States
- Don’t have much time to plan your holidays
- Like to have everything sorted when arriving your destination
How to get around in São Miguel island
Public buses are available, but they don’t run frequently nor get to the most remote areas where the best landscapes are located.
So renting a car is key. I recommend either Autotlantis, Ilha Verde or Micauto. These are regional companies which usually have the best prices in the island.
Other heavy weights of the car rental like Avis and Sixt tend to be more expensive, but have the advantage that you can pick up the car right at the airport.
TRAVEL NUMBERS @ SÃO MIGUEL, AZORES
These are the exact numbers of when a couple of my friends visited in 2015. We were 3 in total.
- DURATION OF THE STAY: 4 DAYS
- TOTAL DISTANCE COVERED ON FOOT: 41,9 km
- TOTAL DISTANCE COVERED IN CAR: 312,0 km
- ACCOMMODATION: 0EUR (thanks again Mom!)
- Car Rental: 62EUR
- Meals: 93EUR
- Drinks: 14EUR
- Other regional food (S.Jorge cheese and Gorreana tea): 3,50EUR
- Whale-watching: 55EUR
- Lagoa das Furnas entrance fee: 0,50EUR
- Caldeira Velha entrance: 2EUR
- TOTAL COST (€): 230EUR/pax
These are the exact numbers per person. EUR=€.
More resources about the Azores
- All you need to know if it’s your first visit to the Azores
- A full guide of São Miguel
- A month-by-month analysis on the best time to visit
- Insights on how to fly to Azores
- What and where to eat in São Miguel
- SpotAzores – check the real-time weather in several places of Azores
Have you used this itinerary to visit São Miguel? Which other places you recommend to add? Tell me about your experience below!