Just like the myth of Atlantis, it’s time for the islands of Azores to rise and shine from its long sleep. Yap, they’re on track to become the next big travel destination!
The puzzled face of people when I say I’m from the Azores is a frequent dejà-vu in my life.
And I understand: for decades the islands has been under the shadow of other destinations and remained as one of the most exotic and remote places in Europe. Eventually the conversation reaches one question.
How is it like in your home island?
I like to answer back: How do you think it is? and find amazing how different can preconceived ideas on the exact same thing be.
Some people imagine Azores as the Canary Islands or even Malta: full of top-notch beaches and with warm dry climate all year. Nope. Others see it more like Madeira: flowers, impressive cliffs and hotels everywhere. Still very far away from the truth. Idilic rocky beaches like in some Croatian islands? *Wrong buzzer sound*.
Although I love how everyone thinks I come from some idyllic enigmatic place – wouldn’t mind to keep that mystery in the air -, I feel it’s about time to put some light on it once and for all, as I’m sure Azores can be the next big travel destination in Europe!
Where are the Azores?
Let’s start with the basics. Azores are a group of nine volcanic islands in North Atlantic ocean and a autonomous region of Portugal.
São Miguel is the biggest and most populous island (160,000 inhabitants) and also holds the largest city of the archipelago: Ponta Delgada.
They were first settled in the 15th century and today only 5-10% of the territory is build-up area, the rest is occupied by nature. The wild humid climate, dramatic landscapes, green pastures and fishing villages all result in a relaxing and remote-feel scenario. Excited already?
Azores map in the Atlantic
A common misconception is that Azores are “just off the coast of Portugal”. That’s what I grew up thinking too. But after taking several 2-hour flights to reach mainland Portugal, I started thinking either the airplanes were terribly efficient or I lived far more remotely than I imagined.
Turns out the islands are about 2/3 of the way between the U.S. and Europe, so I was pretty much based in the Atlantic ocean.
So… how are the Azores like?
For a start, just think of Azores as if like one day someone grabbed Iceland, moved it south – no ice anymore, just greenery – and smashed it in nine pieces in the middle of the Atlantic.
Let’s get more visual. The landscape is actually insanely green in different shades with hills, meadows and lush vegetation as the most striking features. The craters from several volcanos are now occupied by awe-inspiring blue lakes and lagoons creating quite eye-catching contrasts.
The super black igneous volcanic rock makes up all the coastline. Finally some spots of white here and there from the numerous Frisian cows (they compete with humans for the most populous animal in the islands).
I now have this mental exercise of trying to define random stuff in #hashtags (don’t ask). If I had to do it for the Azores it would be something like the following.
#nature #islands #volcanic #relax #green #cows
Apart from this nature-designed scenery that can (and will) step you back in time, the standard of living is not from decades ago. There are restaurants, spas, cafés and a wide range of supermarkets. And yes, computers, mobile phones and wi-fi connections are all available and DO work seamlessly. I would say living in one of the largest cities/villages is now equivalent to living in any european small-medium sized city.
Why you should go to the Azores
1. Nature. Nature. Nature.
For some reason Azores are constantly named as one of the most sustainable travel destinations in the world (they have actually reached the top spot in a couple of occasions). The best motivation to go to the islands is to be in direct contact with nature.
2. There’s a lot to do.
A few years ago Azores may have been a somewhat boring destination, but today there’s a tremendous potential in terms of activities to feed your adventurous and sporty side.
While they have always been sort of a diving mecca, they are now becoming increasingly popular for outdoor activities such as hiking, bird and whale watching and surfing. Here’s a quick introduction as what can you do in the island of São Miguel .
If you ever are in the islands, you’ll see this name everywhere. Kima is a soft drink made from pulp of the passion fruit. It’s only available in the Azores so it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to drink this nectar of the Gods.
4. The volcanic experience.
Due to its volcanic origin, across all islands it’s possible to find volcanic phenomena such as thermal baths, hot springs (the bathable ones) and hot hot springs (the ones you’ll get boiled alive). In Furnas, it’s even possible to use the energy of the planet to cook your lunch.
Also, beaches in Azores are slight different to what you might be used to experience, as the sand is of a dark grey colour – I’ve even had eeewww reactions when I shared this with some people. Seriously? Can’t understand why, golden beaches are so last century!
5. Four seasons of the year in just one day.
Yap. Even though the climate in Azores is tricky, don’t let it bring you down. The wind can get a bit crazy, it rains often and most importantly: the weather changes quickly and frequently. But that just adds to the thrill of it, right?
6. The timing of going to Azores couldn’t be better.
In my opinion, this is key, When I was living in Lisbon, in a very good day I’d get a return deal to Azores from about 200EUR. Two years ago I even paid 430EUR. Sure it was kind of a last-minute purchase – my fault for not complying with the buying airline tickets most basic rules – but still, paying that amount of money for a 2 hour-long flight is ro-bbe-ry.
So… what has changed?
Short answer: everything!
Long answer: Since March 2015, the air space in Azores has finally been liberalised, which means literally any airline company can now fly there. Ryanair and Easyjet have already regular routes from Lisbon, Porto and London (they’ve promised more routes).
Nowadays, flights can be as low as 30EUR. To cater this herd of new low-cost tourists, guesthouses, hostels and other cool accommodation as well as new creative tours/things to do have been popping out like mushrooms. All of a sudden, EVERYONE IS COMING!
Anyway the islands are still gaining momentum in their state of semi-discovery. Which means now it’s that sweet spot where the minimum amount of tourism offers and services are in place to get you the maximum experience exploring the unspoiled nature of the islands. Take advantage of it.
The secret is unlocked!
So far the impact from the sudden improvement in Azores’ flight accessibility has been tremendously positive – with a respectable 30% increase in tourism already! – but there’s an obvious potential downside to this.
There’s a huge debate happening right now whether the islands will be able to maintain its seal of sustainable travel destination. If you want to help, here’s some things you need to know before going.
Don’t get me wrong. Portugal as a whole is damn good as a travel destination. But Azores have been doing even better all these years, possessing that kind of power to take you where nothing else can’t. It’s an injection of nature in its purest form that will make you want to not only fill up your lungs but also run, smell, climb and swim like crazy.
Whatever you decide to do in Azores, it’ll make you feel alive for a few days that will look like a few weeks in green volcanic craters, dark sand beaches and the bluest of lakes. A true nature therapy.
The thing is: there is no turning back. Now that the secret is unlocked, the challenge is to remain exactly as it is: pure, inspiring, blissful. If it does like I think it will, I have got no doubts my home will quickly turn into the next big travel destination in Europe. Because nature always wins.
AZORES TRAVEL INFORMATION
How to get to Azores Islands
You can reach the Azores islands by boat or much more conveniently, by plane. SATA, Easyjet, TAP Portugal, Ryanair and others fly regularly to Azores. Flights are considerably cheaper from Porto, Lisbon or London.
Ponta Delgada airport has the highest number of flight connections. Note in some cases you can get a inter-island connecting flight for FREE. More info here.
Where to stay in Azores
Booking.com has a lot of accommodation available in Azores, from charming guesthouses to typical houses surrounded by nature. To make your life easier, use this list of the best-reviewed hotels/guesthouses/villas in the Azores with wifi.
Where to stay in São Miguel
If you are coming to Azores, chances are you will be at least spending some days in the largest island São Miguel. It happens to be my home island and these are my top recommendations for accommodation:
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
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. This 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
More about the Azores
Find more tips and insider advice in my complete travel guide about the Azores islands. Including: