Thinking of traveling to the Azores? Here’s all you need to know BEFORE going. Follow these insider Azores travel tips for a safe and worry-free trip to one of the most remote and beautiful places in Europe!
Showing off a huge collection of natural landscapes and wonders, delicious foods and lots of outdoor sports activities, the Azores islands are of the Europe‘s best-kept secrets.
Now that they are definitely becoming more popular and a travel destination in demand, people come for me for all kinds of advice. Food, lifestyle and even what to pack.
So I’ve decided to compile everything I usually say in one article. Here are the top tips and things you need to know before traveling to the Azores!
1It’s NOT a party destination.
This is the first thing I say: don’t expect party in the Azores.
Simply put, if you’re seeking huge Ibiza-like nightclubs or fancy “dress-to-impress” cocktail bars, this is not the place for you.
The Azores are in essence a remote and tranquil destination, and locals are extremely proud of that. They simply don’t care about big parties and clubs or the latest trends in fashion. Probably that’s why I’m not a fan of clubs/discos myself, it’s not in my genes!
Of course there are small unpretentious clubs, bars and pubs where people meet up and those are great places to have a chat and a peek into local culture. Visiting the Azores is all about unwinding and switching to the mindset of enjoying the little things in life.
2The weather is unpredictable.
The Azores are remotely located in the middle of the Atlantic which causes the weather to be truly unstable. Any azorean knows the weather can change dramatically at any minute. I used to go to school with an umbrella in my backpack, even in the shiniest and brightest of the days. Having a clear blue sky in the morning and a storm in the afternoon is not uncommon!
This unpredictability might be a bit inconvenient, but also adds a pinch of charm and fun into it. You never know what you’ll find which makes the whole experience more… real. Just take that into account while packing and make sure you have Spot Azores to check the weather real-time.
What to pack for the Azores islands
Dress code is relaxed and practical everywhere in the islands. Very important tip when packing to the Azores: bring comfortable clothes and shoes.
During summertime, it can get quite hot but it’s a good idea to always carry a light jacket with you. Specially if you’re hiking. Shorts are a good idea, even for rainy days as legs dry faster than any fabric. Flip flops however are NOT a good shout. They are poor choices both on the muddy, slippery surfaces of trails/lakes as well as on the cobblestones of the major cities.
While temperatures in winter are not unbearable, the number of rainy days is high. And oh boy, when wind and rain combine, it can get really ugly. A rain jacket will be your best friend.
Book in advance and find where to stay in São Miguel today!
3There are signs of volcanic activity everywhere.
The Azores are considered to be the european Hawaii and for sure the volcanic activity is a big reason behind it. Yet another reason why you get to see nature at its purest form.
You can find some volcanic activity manifestations all around:
- The dark black sand of the beaches.
- The geysers in Furnas where hot steam literally comes from deep under the ground, where one of the most active volcanoes in the islands is located. You can actually taste food cooked underground.
- The Capelinhos volcano where you can literally walk on the apocalyptic lava remains of a recent eruption (the closest you’ll have to walking on the moon!).
Oh and of course: the hot springs!
4Bathing in hot springs is a must-do!
Even though the Azores are blessed with a warm current, the wild Atlantic can be still be cold. The good news is that there are warm waters where you can have a delightful swim in.
Natural thermal pools like Poça Dona Beija, Caldeira Velha or Terra Nostra are surrounded by wild forest of palms and conifers. It creates a surreal landscape perfect to relax after a long day of sightseeing!
Pro tip: pick the most gloomy day of your trip to go to hot springs. Warm water feel better when it’s cold and rainy outside.
Hot Springs in São Miguel
São Miguel is the best island for hot springs. There are three main places where you can enjoy a mineral-enriched bath in the island:
5It’s the place to try new activities.
From hiking to horse riding on land, diving to world-class whale-watching in the sea or paragliding in the air, there are loads of outdoor activities you can do in the Azores.
My suggestion is since you’re already in a cool place, make sure you also do cool stuff to go with it. Dare to try new things! In São Miguel, I recommend Picos de Aventura, they have a wide range of expeditions and tours to choose from.
Outdoor activities to do in the Azores
Here’s a comprehensive list of the activities you can do in the islands:
- Whale Watching
- Horse Riding
- Swimming with dolphins
There are literally dozens of official hiking trails in the islands. The most challenging one is the highest mountain in Portugal: Pico (2,351m).
Waterfalls surrounded by lush green forest are the ideal place to give this a try.
The Azores are a top-notch whale-watching destination. Choose the best time to go to increase the chances of seeing more species. Faial and Pico are the top islands to do this.
There are private companies who arrange tailored horse-riding tours around lakes and other beautiful landscapes.
Flies over the volcanic craters of Furnas and Sete Cidades in São Miguel island are now becoming popular.
In most of the major lakes in São Miguel – except for Lagoa do Fogo, a natural reserve – you can now rent kayaks. Sea kayaking is available across almost all islands.
Any tour agency or private skipper is able to arrange you sailing tours.
The potential of the Azores is almost endless in terms of diving spots. Some of the best experiences are the Rosais reef (São Jorge), the whale sharks in Santa Maria and the Angra do Heroísmo bay (Terceira). There are also some shipwrecks sites in Graciosa and São Miguel.
Only recently I only found out this was possible – can’t wait to try it out!
The wild Atlantic ocean allows for fine surfable waves so it’s no surprise one of the stages of the World Surf League is held in Ribeira Grande in São Miguel island.
6There are plenty of dope lakes all around.
If there’s a ranking of the reasons to visit the Azores, this will most likely be #1. There is an impressive collection of lakes in the islands, of all shapes, altitudes and accessibility levels. I can assure you being there is a sensory overload and the views will take your breath away.
There are even better news. You can at least hike around most of them which is by itself highly promising in terms of views photo opportunities!
The best lakes in Azores islands
- Lagoa das Sete Cidades – São Miguel
- Lagoa do Fogo – São Miguel
- Lagoa das Furnas – São Miguel
- Caldeira Rasa – Flores
- Caldeira Funda – Flores
- Lagoa dos Patos – Flores
- Lagoa Comprida – Flores
- Caldeirão – Corvo
7The food (specially the meat) is delicious.
Food in Portugal is of great quality and actually one of the main reasons to visit. Based on a healthy mediterranean diet, food comes in generous portions with a low price tag.
The Azores are no exception. Heck I’ve dedicated an entire post to food in São Miguel alone!
Perhaps the most typical azorean food is Cozido das Furnas (Furnas Stew), cooked underground with volcanic steam (!) in São Miguel. For sure it’s a novelty which you have to try out, but I personally there are way more delicious things to eat in the islands.
From typical Queijadas to the iconic azorean pineapple, there is a wide range of local delicacies. And then there’s the meat. The bife (steak) in Azores is tender and juicy like I’ve never tasted anywhere else. It’s so good I stopped eating red meat elsewhere.
8Mother Nature is in charge.
This is the most important thing you need to know of them all. Obviously being back in touch with nature is one of the strong selling points of a trip to the islands. Everyone knows that before stepping their feet there.
What is not immediately visible is why the Azores have managed to keep their stunning lakes, cliffs, meadows as beautiful for so long. And it all comes down to respect.
Locals have a deep respect for nature and for the ocean in particular. Sustainability and eco-friendly are big words in the islands!
Do the same. Have this on the back of your mind when you’re out there. Always put trash on the bins – specially plastic and cigarette buns! – and don’t be loud. Loud noises disturb animals (and some humans too) and the overall harmony of the place.
When visiting the Azores , make sure you leave nothing but footprints.
9Traveling between islands is not easy. Or cheap.
As remote and relatively small islands, unfortunately public transportation is not Azores‘ strongest point. For inter-island connections you have two options.
Option 1 is significantly quicker but more costly. Sadly, SATA/Azores Airlines is the only airline doing inter-island flights and with no competition, the prices are far from being reasonable IMHO. The good thing is that you might be eligible for a free connecting flight to other island – check their terms and conditions.
If you’re considering the ferry route (Option 2), the reference company is Atlântico Line. Take into account these journeys can be long though. The trip from São Miguel to Santa Maria alone (the two islands on the Eastern Group) takes at least 3 hours! See more details for the ferries in Azores in the section below.
My personal suggestion is to always fly between islands of different groups – Western, Central and Eastern – and to consider the ferry only for short trips in inter-grouping islands (e.g. Faial to Pico or Corvo to Flores).
In any case, I suggest you leave the exploration of island you’re flying OUT back home for last. This will avoid any problems with journey cancellations which are pretty common due to due to rapidly changing weather and ocean conditions in North Atlantic.
Ferries in Azores
Although there are some sub companies operating inter island ferries in Azores, they all belong to the same parent company: Atlântico Line. It provides a full service (including vehicles) between all the 9 islands.
Check Atlântico Line‘s schedule page for detailed info, but this is what you can expect:
- Eastern Group – São Miguel and Santa Maria
- Central Group – São Jorge, Pico and Faial
- Western Group – Flores and Corvo
Only available during summer months. You can make your reservation directly with Atlântico Line. The trip takes roughly 3 hours.
The service runs several times a day the entire year and given the proximity of the islands, it’s very reliable. You can book with Atlântico Line or Transmaçor.
Atlantico Line runs the only ferry to Flores. There is a very small ferry that runs between Flores and Corvo it may hold 10-15 passengers.
10Get your own wheels.
To get around within an island, taxis can be expensive, private guides even worse (if you’re going for these options, make sure you negotiate a price BEFORE). There is also a network of buses between the main towns but they’re not really reliable and doesn’t get you anywhere close to the main sights anyway.
In face of this catastrophic scenario, I HIGHLY recommend getting your own wheels, preferably renting a car. The last two summers they were in a such a high demand there were days with no cars available to rent. I’d book the car rental at least 2 or 3 months in advance.
11It’s always tea o’clock.
Did you know the Azores are the only region in Europe where tea is still cultivated? The tea estates in the island of São Miguel have been producing organic black, green, and orange pekoe teas since 1883.
Make sure you stop by. Getting insights on the way everything works is an original experience and there is even a hiking trail through the tea fields. Plus, the little tea boxes make great gifts for people back home!
12You should try to get there before mass tourism does.
A few years ago when I told I was from the Azores islands hardly anyone had heard of them. They could hardly pinpoint them on the map. There was no major hype on websites or social media either.
For now, you can still enjoy silence and beautiful landscapes without waiting for a spot to take a picture.
But things are changing. With the introduction of low-cost airlines as well as countless mentions on top travel websites like Lonely Planet and National Geographic. Despite their isolated location, now the islands are triggered their path to become a trendy travel destination.
Tourism is increasing every year (30% in 2015 alone!) and that won’t change soon. Honestly the sooner you visit, the better. Unfortunately there is the real danger the magic of Azores get spoiled by mass tourism.
13Your budget won’t get hurt.
You know how much I like value-for-money destinations, where your money can go a long way. There’s no worse feeling than paying an awful amount of money and don’t get a somewhat rewarding experience in return.
Well, I can assure you nothing of that will happen in Azores. While they are still slightly more expensive than mainland Portugal – insularity comes with a price! – food and accommodation are still super cheap compared to Western European standards.
These are some of the prices you can expect in Azores.
Prices of things in Azores (as per 2016)
|Item||Price in Azores|
|Dinner for two + Bottle of wine (inexpensive restaurant)||From 30€|
|Espresso coffee||From 0,60€|
|Bottle of local beer (inexpensive bar)||From 1€|
|Whale-Watching Tour (3 hours)||From 55€|
|Private Double Room (per night)||From 30€|
Holiday Packages in Azores
I usually don’t use travel agencies to book package holidays. However the flight + hotel deal that Azores Getaways have going on is a killer one – starting at 499USD!
Plus, you can customize your package by adding one or two islands to your itinerary which is great. I 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
It’s Time To Visit Azores!
Sometimes I think people think I’m bragging too much about my home islands. Oh Azores this and Azores that, so full of himself. No, I’m not bragging. The islands are really a beautiful – I’d say surreal even – destination.
Don’t take only my word for it – Lonely Planet have included the Azores in the Top Regions to Visit in 2017 worldwide.
My home islands are a travel destination that make a lasting impression on everyone who goes there. Going back to reality is a struggle and usually people need to scream to the world how awesome Azores is. It’s exactly what’s happening right now.
Providing it does matches your expectations, I also encourage you to spread the word afterwards about its beauty, uniqueness and bla bla bla with everyone.
But please also make sure you mention the islands are NOT a party or beach destination like Ibiza or Miami and they need special care when visiting. More than anything, they’re vulnerable and highly dependent on a fragile balance between sustainability and mass tourism.
For many years, the Azores were considered a forgotten garden in the middle of the ocean. They might not be forgotten or hidden anymore, but we all have a tiny share of responsibility of keeping them still a garden. Forever.
- Azores Getaways – killer holiday deals (flights + hotel) to the Azores
- Hiking Trails of São Miguel – official hiking trails in São Miguel
- Spot Azores – the weather app you’ll want to use
- Visit Azores – the tourism board of Azores
More articles about the Azores
- The Ultimate Itinerary of São Miguel Island (Made By An Azorean)
- 13 Important Things To Know Before Traveling To Azores
- What & Where To Eat In São Miguel, Azores
- Azores Travel Blog: São Miguel Guide
- Why Are The Azores The Next Big Travel Destination
- What To Do In São Miguel Island, Azores
Are you planning to visit the Azores? If so, share your travel plans below.
If you have visited already, let me about your top Azores travel tips too!