What to do in São Miguel?

This is a question people ask me all the time when they’re planning to visit. Funny enough, there is a common misconception the Azores is a place to go when you are older because there is absolutely nothing to do.

There are indeed many island destinations where it’s expected for you to relax on a sun bed holding a mojito every single day because there is little to do apart from dive and tan.

But São Miguel and the Azores in general are much more than that. In fact, it has tremendous potential in terms of outdoor activities and spoiler: it’s all about nature!

https://www.instagram.com/p/BG1fmVxs-EU/

With low-cost airlines flying regularly there since 2015, things changed dramatically. There are more tours, trails and other activities to be directly in contact with nature in São Miguel than ever before!




Our Active Holidays in Azores

Going to Azores is always special for me. Not only almost my entire family is living there, but there are long-time friends I’m always delighted to see. Even though distance can be a relationship killer, I’m glad we always end up catching up instantaneously.

The first few days in my home island, São Miguel, are exactly like that. Friends, family, getting fat with mom food and many couchpotato-ing sessions.

Eventually I get to explore the island, specially when friends come to visit me. And that’s when the fun starts!

This is what happened in June 2015, I had visitors to show volcanos, lakes and dark-sand beaches they never seen before. We were off to explore São Miguel with a quite exciting 4-day itinerary of the island in mind.

As we say in Portugal, to stop is to die. So here’s a taste of what we did and what can you do in São Miguel!

Hiking in São Miguel, Azores

what to do in São Miguel island - Hiking
Shades of green.

The Azores are home to some of the most scenic hiking trails you can find anywhere. Particularly São Miguel island is packed with vulcano craters, lagoons, small rivers and waterfalls which are accessible only on foot. There at least 20 official trails in the island, with all ranges of difficulties and distances and covering all kinds of landscapes.

I’ve done several trails in the island in the past and they were all worth it. This time our plan was to do the Salto do Prego which leads to a remote waterfall next to Faial da Terra, but after a long night and a lazy morning we unfortunately ran out of time.

We did go down to Lagoa do Fogo (Fogo Lagoon) though. I’ll be talking about it in a future post! Bottom line is: unless you don’t have two functional legs, doing a hike trail should absolutely be in your Azores bucket list.

WHERE: All over the island. Salto do Cabrito or Salto do Prego both lead to a waterfall in the middle of the forest. Gorreana allows for a hike amongst a tea plantation (the only one in Europe) and dramatic views of the northern coast of the island.

HOW MUCH: Free.

VALUABLE TIP: Always bring a jacket. Weather in Azores is truly unpredictable.

Whale-Watching in São Miguel, Azores

what to do in São Miguel azores portugal - Dolphin calling
CUTENESS OVERLOAD.

Many whale and dolphin species choose Azores as part of their migration route or even as their permanent home, including sperm and blue whales, as well as common and bottlenose dolphins (see this yearly calendar of the cetacean species in the Azores).

Not surprisingly, Azores are praised as a worldwide mecca to watch cetaceans in their natural habitat. And trust me, after this you’ll never want to see dolphins in an aquarium or a zoo again.

We were lucky enough to go on perfect conditions. A cloudless day, and a flat ocean – it can be really rough out there in the azorean sea – resulted in three sperm whales, a turtle (!) and countless dolphins. You know it’s being an outstanding whale watching day when the skipper and the marine biologist who guide the tour can’t stop taking pictures! See the video I shared in Facebook.

Don’t let the prices rise more. Book your accommodation in São Miguel now!



Booking.com

The chance of seeing either dolphins or whales is around 98%. Lookouts in the shore guide the boats to where they can see some activity using powerful binoculars. Still, if you really are with bad luck and couldn’t see anything at all, Picos de Aventura, the company I went with, refunds you the money.

WHERE: Even though Faial and Pico islands are the whale sweet spot in the archipelago, there are many companies in São Miguel doing it with great results. Boats leave from Ponta Delgada’s marina.

HOW MUCH: 55EUR.

VALUABLE TIP: Ask to go on a semi-rigid boat. It’s way more adventurous and it allows for a more immersing experience. Just be careful for your gadgets don’t get wet!

Paradliging in São Miguel, Azores

what to do sao miguel - Paragliding sao miguel azores
Photo credits: Jean-Baptiste Chandelier, professional paragliding pilot.

While this is a terrible idea for me as I’m afraid of heights, this can be a true one-of-a-kind experience to have during your holidays.

Paragliding has become huge in São Miguel. The island provides many top-notch takeoff and landing spots and particularly flies over the volcanic craters of Furnas and Sete Cidades are now very popular during summer months. The international Azores Paragliding Festival takes place in August for a week.

WHERE: The craters of Fogo and Sete Cidades are the ideal places to paraglide.

HOW MUCH: Prices are negotiable. Please contact Clube Asas de São Miguel for getting a quote on private flights.

Canoeing/Canyoning in São Miguel, Azores

First of all, do not confuse canyoning with canoeing. I used to do it, but eventually I got it right. Canyoning does not involve a boat, instead you explore a river and try so surpass the obstacles put in front of you (currents, waterfalls, rocks, etc). Sort of a nature version of parkour.

Canoeing is the boating activity you might relate the best: a canoe, one or more paddlers, each with a paddle on their hands. Which apparently is not the same as kayaking, but for me it looks exactly THE SAME thing (if you know the difference, please enlighten me in the comment section!).

what to do in the island of São Miguel - Kayaking
A cute kayak couple enjoying the Sete Cidades scenery.

Anyway. When I lived in São Miguel, canyoning was almost inexistent, but it risen in popularity over the years. Now it has became the next thing I want to do in São Miguel. The idea of climbing, jumping and sliding down a small river and waterfall somehow awakens the inner child in me. Plus, the swim suit and helmet outfit make anyone look a badass.

As for canoeing, the best places are undoubtely the Sete Cidades and Furnas lagoons. Sea canoeing is also available and a popular option is to row until reaching Ilhéu de Vila Franca do Campo (Vila Franca islet) which doubles as summer bathing site. The most adventurous might want to try other spots in the shore with free access to caves and small hidden beaches.

WHERE: For canyoning it’s advisable to have some expert with you so booking a day trip with Futurismo or Picos de Aventura might be a good idea. They take you to Ribeira dos Caldeirões, in the northeast edge of the island.
Canoeing is easier to do, just head to the shore of Sete Cidades lagoon and you’ll find a stall there with kayaks to rent at a hourly rate.

HOW MUCH: Canyoning: 75EUR, including transport and lunch. Canoeing can be as low as 30EUR/day or around 9EUR/hour.

VALUABLE TIP: Unless you’re some kind of canoe god, sea canoeing might become dangerous. Azorean waters can be rough, remind yourself this is the Atlantic ocean!

Start your search for accommodation in São Miguel with my pre-selected list of hotels/guesthouses/villas with wifi and best value-for-money relation in Booking.com!

Biking in São Miguel, Azores

what to do in São Miguel island - biking

One thing we knew we wanted to do was to bike in a volcano crater. Sounds something worthy of a bucket list doesn’t it? So I googled a bike rental company in São Miguel even before I got there. To my surprise, there was only ONE Google search result constantly appearing.

I had no option but to contact them and I was shocked to find out the cost of transporting the bike to the lagoon would be 28EUR alone (apart from the daily rental fee). In other words, an elegant form of robbery!

I skipped prebooking and once I got to São Miguel, I contacted Cresaçor, a small company located in even smaller house in the heart of the Sete Cidades village (Rua Nova, 45). No reservation, no caution fees and it cost only 8EUR per half a day. Easy.

We biked around half the Sete Cidades lagoon, a total of two and a half hours through an absolutely STUNNING landscape. We got so excited we missed the time window to rent a canoe, but turned out to be one of the best experiences we had!

WHERE: The lagoon shores are amongst the best places to bike in the island, so try Lagoa das Sete Cidades or Lagoa das Furnas. If you’re feeling adventurous, there are many trails and inner roads which allow for great mountain biking (MTB) rides.

HOW MUCH: Prices can be as low as 15EUR/day or 8EUR/half a day.

VALUABLE TIP: Do NOT rent a bike online if you’re on a budget. It’s way cheaper to rent it directly from small local places.

Other Outdoor Activities in the Azores Islands

  • SURF: 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 right next to the city of Ribeira Grande (Santa Bárbara beach, see the Instagram photo below).
  • BIRDWATCHING: If you are an enthusiast for birds, then you might don’t want to leave the Azores. 400+ American and European birds can be found here, including the Priôlo – Azorean bullfinch – and the Monteiro’s storm petrel which can’t be found anywhere else in the world.
  • DIVING: The potential of Azores in terms of diving spots is huge. Caves, shipwrecks, rocky shores and clear waters create the perfect place whether you’re an expert or you’re about to do your diving baptism.

 

Vulcanic sands. #azores #beach #igers_azores

A photo posted by BRUNØ (@bruno_mb) on

São Miguel island, like the rest of Azores allows for a direct contact with unspoiled nature like few places in the world, even in short itineraries.

We biked a lot, hiked even more, swam in outdoor thermal waters and got to watch whales and dolphins. By the end we were damn tired but rejoiced with the power of nature. And the best is that there is so much more I still haven’t tried!

Paragliding is not in the list, but next time we’ll definitely be canoeing and maybe even diving!

As you can see, whether you book an activity with some tour company or do it on your own, São Miguel won’t get you bored. The opportunities to do something memorable are more than many and with the expectable three-fold growth in the number tourists this year only, I reckon there will be even more things to keep you busy.

Just pick your favorite activity, get your ass of that chair and enjoy mother nature!

How to fly to Azores

As a rule of thumb, flights to Azores are considerably cheaper from Porto, Lisbon or London. Ponta Delgada airport has the highest number of flight connections. Note from there you can get a connecting flight to other islands for FREE – check with Azores Airlines, the regional airline company, for more details.

If you’re coming to Azores from the US, Azores Getaways have some pretty good packages to some islands offering flight + hotels + experiences starting at 500USD!

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.

Find my top suggestions of places to stay below.

My top hotel recommendations in São Miguel

 

Hotel Marina Atlântico, Ponta Delgada
 
Modern design, close to the city center as well as the seaside. Great value-for-money.
Book now


 
 

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 Hotel+Flight Deals

I usually don’t use travel agencies to book holidays. They usually provide a service I can do for myself for a cheaper price.

Having that said I have to make an exception for Azores Getaways because I really think they have some pretty good prices for flight + hotel packages to the Azores. Starting at 499USD, you can have a full trip to the islands, which is great.

I particularly recommend them if:

  • Are flying from the United States
  • Don’t have much time to plan your holidays
  • Like to have everything sorted when arriving your destination

If you don’t fall into these categories, you’re better off by booking your flight and hotel in São Miguel independently:



Booking.com

More about the Azores

Find more tips and insider advice in my complete travel guide about the Azores islands. Including:

What would you like to try doing in the Azores?

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24 comments

  1. Olá Bruno, parabéns pelo excelente post sobre os Açores!
    Estou agora a planear a minha visita a são Miguel em setembro e nós gostávamos de aproveitar e passar também na Ilha do Pico no entanto os voos de uma ilha para a outra são caríssimos e parece não haver barcos… Tens alguma ideia ou sugestão ou a nossa única hipótese é mesmo um voo de 160€?

    1. Antes de mais peço desculpa pelo atraso na resposta, mas este comentário escapou-me completamente! Sei que já vou tarde, mas ainda assim mais gente pode ter a mesma dúvida.

      Sim, os voos inter-ilhas são muito mais caros do que deviam ser. No entanto, sugiro que des uma olhada nos reencaminhamentos gratuitos da Azores Airlines. Se comprares um voo para São Miguel, podes ir para outra ilha (e.g. Pico) gratuitamente, desde que não fiques mais de 24 horas em Ponta Delgada.

  2. I am visiting the Azores with my family at the beginning of August. Do you think we need to pre book the bicycles or do you think we’ll be able to arrange this when we are there.

    1. What about MTB/DH bikes? Is it worth reserving them or are they available on the spot as well?

  3. Hi, do you have any idea how is it with free / wild camping in Azores (Sao Miguel, Flores, Corvo, Faial, Pico, Sao Jorge)? We are going there in two weeks for backpacking, however, it is not always possible to sleep in the camps. I was for example wondering about sleeping near Lagoa do Fogo but I haven’t found anywhere whether it is allowed or not. Thank you.

    1. Wild camping in Portugal is illegal. Despite being often overlooked by the police, you still can’t camp on natural parks or Reserves like Lagoa do Fogo.

  4. Thanks for such a great and informative article! I will be returning to Sao Miguel for the second time this June and am beyond excited. I have looked into flights to the islands as I hadn’t been before, and I find them quite expensive – you mention that SATA sometimes offers free flights to the other islands? That doesn’t seem like a realistic option in the 21st century :)) thanks for clarifying! Cheers

    1. SATA offers forwarding flights. Although there are no direct flights from Lisbon to São Jorge, you can fly Lisbon – São Miguel and then the flight to São Jorge is free. Conditions apply though.

      Have a great time!

  5. Hi
    I will be in San Miguel October 4-11, 2016 and would like to find a local hiking group to join for a hike.

    Can you help me find one?

    Thank you.

  6. Thrilled to have found this and we will definitely take in your suggestions when we visit for the second time in March. I would love some restaurant recommendations. We will be visiting for 8 days, staying at hotel Marina Atlantico. We are foodies and very adventurous with our selections. Any suggestions will be most welcomed.

  7. Olá! Texto muito bom! Parabéns! Encontrei-o quando estava à procura de coisas a fazer em São Miguel. Vou ficar lá durante 6 dias agora em Julho. O meu plano é ficar duas noites em Ponta Delgada e depois ir caminhando e acampando (selvagem) pela ilha durante os restantes dias e ficar a descansar ao pé de umas lagoas. Que lagoas recomendas? Gosto bastante das Sete Cidades mas parece já demasiado turístico. Que achas da Caldeira Velha?
    Abraço

    1. Obrigado Cédric!

      Caldeira Velha (não é uma lagoa) é excelente para relaxar depois de um dia de explorações!
      Sete Cidades é turístico, mas se ficares lá a acampar na zona da vila é super relaxante, aconselho vivamente a ires. Lagoa do Fogo é completamente selvagem (nem sei se é permitido ficares lá a pernoitar?) mas de qualquer forma é um must-go. Se quiseres lagos mais fora do roteiro mais turístico, tens a do Canário, Empadadas e a Lagoa Rasa.

      Have a great time!

      Abraço
      Bruno

  8. Hiking and biking would be definitely my favourite activities to do in Sao Miguel. I always love to spend my time in a foreign country in a very active way!

  9. I had, honestly, never even thought about traveling to the Azores for the very reason you stated. I’m psyched to learn that there is so much to do! You should be working for the tourism board! Lol! Thanks for enlightening me and maybe I’ll see you in the Azores some day 🙂

    1. Well it’s always good to add a place to your bucket list, isn’t it? 😀
      Sure, let me know when you are around, I go there frequently!

  10. Okay, it’s time for me to unsubscribe because it’s not fair to keep wanting me to visit this gorgeous places! 😛 Seriously, I’ve always wanted to go to the Azores , I hope to do it one day. When I do, you can be sure I’ll ask you for tips 😀

    1. Please don’t, I promise I’ll post about horrible places from now on 😛
      Hope you do, you won’t get disappointed. And for sure expect some insider tips!