All you need to know before renting a car in the Azores: the most reliable companies, car insurance, and how to find a good deal and avoid getting scammed.
Planning a trip to the Azores, my beautiful homeland, and considering renting a car to explore the islands? Renting a car is the most convenient and enjoyable way to get around, but there are some things to consider to make sure you have a safe and worry-free rental experience.
Secure your car in Azores sooner than later
Do I really need to rent a car?
First off – do you even need to rent a car in Azores? Short answer is yes, I highly recommend renting a car in each island in Azores. It allows you to venture off the beaten path, discover hidden gems at your own pace, and have potential to immerse yourself in a breathtaking scenery.
The alternatives are not great either. Taxis can be expensive and the main natural sights are hard to reach by if you rely on a public bus network more catered at connecting villages. This is specially true in the smaller, more remote islands like Flores or Santa Maria.
That said, driving in a different country may not be suitable for everyone and an added reason of anxiety. For those coming to São Miguel and Terceira, the good news is that there are more options to explore the islands with organized tours and, hey, not all of them are terrible.
Requirements to rent a car in Azores
If you are from any country in the European Union, you’re legally able to drive in the Azores. If you come from the United States or Canada, you are legally allowed to drive in Azores for up to six months.
It’s not required to own an International Driver’s Permit if you’re a non-EU citizen driving in Portugal. However, it is still a good idea to arrange one as some local companies in Azores may not be acquainted with these rules. In other countries (eg. Spain), it’s actually required by law.
📝 Requirements to rent a car in Azores
- Age 👨🦳👵: The minimum legal age to drive in Azores is 18 years old, however for most car hire companies, if you’re under 25 or over 70, you might have to pay an additional fee.
- Valid driving license : Some cases may require an International Driving Permit (IDP), although it’s not a universal requirement in Azores.
- Credit card 💳: Used for payment and to secure a deposit/deductible. Important: the card has to be in the driver’s name.
- ID/Passport 🛂
1Booking a car online
Always reserve your car online. Leaving the car rental booking to when you arrive to Azores is a risk considering there are some periods where there are virtually NO CARS available in some islands. Plus, booking online allows you to compare prices easily.
I always use car rental search engines to find the best deals and my favorite is Rental Cars. Easy, reliable, transparent and with free cancellation on most bookings.
Start your search for the best car deal with pick up at Ponta Delgada airport (São Miguel island).
2Car rental agencies
There are car rental agencies with offices in all islands and airports in Azores, from heavyweights like Avis and Sixt to regional companies you’re probably never heard of. Generally speaking, local companies are more reliable and you’re supporting a local business, usually family-owned. There are some exceptions though.
The following companies are reliable, professional and have fair prices. I’ve known people who rented from them OR I’ve done it myself.
- Azores Easy Rent
- Ilha Verde – avoid at all costs. Long queues, high prices, and bad service. According to online reviews, they often try to make tourists pay for old damage when returning their cars.
- Avis – Avis is operated by Ilha Verde in Azores, so again, avoid like the plague.
- Sixt – they can be a bit sketchy trying to get more money out of you.
- Autotlantis – used to love them, but they became way too expensive.
💰 How much does a rental car cost in Azores?
Renting a car in Azores can be more expensive than the European average. Typical prices range from 30-60 euros/day but if you’re coming in the June-September period, I’ve seen people get charged 1,000 euros/week or more.
Manual cars cheaper expensive than automatic ones and naturally, the larger your car, the more expensive it will get.
It’s strongly recommended to book as early as possible, ideally as soon as you book your flights. And it’s not only for a better chance to get a better deal – in recent years, several islands have faced a shortage of rental cars during the summer period.
3Picking the right vehicle
My main recommendation is to pick a small car in Azores. Apart from being cheaper, you don’t need a lot of traction for most of the time and trips are not that long that justify the extra comfort.
In fact, the extra size will only cause more trouble when you’re navigating the narrow streets of cities like Ponta Delgada or when finding a place to park at the major sights.
Manual vs Automatic
Locals predominantly drive manual cars and those are in bigger supply at rental agencies. No worries though, there are options to rent automatic cars if you have never learned how to drive a manual car or simply prefer automatic transmission. Keep in mind though these are more expensive and ran out a lot quicker (sometimes months in advance).
Diesel vs petrol cars
Canadians and Americans, this is for you. Diesel cars are quite common in Europe, so make sure to ask the type of gas your car uses. You can either get diesel (gasóleo) or unleaded petrol (gasolina) 95 and 98. There’s usually a colored sticker in your rental car that has the information. It’s either on the car key, on the fuel door, or on the dashboard and it matches the color on the gas stations’ pump you should use.
Even so, when filling up gas, double check – it can be quite an expensive mistake 🙃.
Car vs bike
I’ve targeted this article at car rentals, but more and more people are renting motorcycles to tour the islands too. This is perfectly doable, particularly in smaller islands. The only thing to keep in mind is the weather: it’s ever-changing in Azores so depending on the weather gods, the chances you’ll get wet are usually high.
💸 Additional rental charges
Car rental companies will take the opportunity to add a few more optional fees and charges.
- Additional driver – if you want someone else to share the driving task. It’s either a flat fee (per rental) or a per-day basis (up to extra $30/day!
- Age – renting a car is probably the only situation where it’s actually not beneficial being younger than 25
- Child seat – some car rental agencies charge for this
- GPS – use Waze or Google Maps instead
To rent a car in Azores – and in entire Portugal for that matter – it is mandatory that you have basic third-party liability insurance called Collision Damage Waiver (CDW). This is automatically included in your car rental price, but rental agencies also lock a large deductible sum in your card to cover for car damage. We’re talking $1,000 and upwards (outrageous in my humble opinion, but hey, I don’t make the rules). Be prepared with enough available credit on your card for the rental agency to hold.
Now the good news. It’s possible to get this fee waived. While additional insurance is not mandatory, I always recommend to add Super CDW (note: sometimes this has a different name). I find it removes anxiety 1) from driving in a foreign place where you don’t know the roads or driving etiquette and 2) from having a ridiculous amount of money blocked on your card. Opt for Super CDW in your initial booking, prices are usually lower than at the counter.
5Car pickup and drop-off
Right, so you arrive the Azores and it’s time to pick-up your car! Choose a rental car agency with airport pickup – it’s the easiest way to get your journey started and avoids having to arrange a transfer to your hotel.
For instance, you can pick up your car directly at Ponta Delgada airport with at least 5-10 different agencies. In other airports, the offer is more limited.
When you’re given the car keys, make sure to check the type of gas your car has and also what’s the fuel policy (usually you return it exactly as you receive it).
📸 Always collect evidence
I always recommend checking the car and take photos and videos of the vehicle at the time you’re picking it up. Point out to the staff any scratches or paint imperfections you notice on the outside and inside of the car, no matter how trivial it may look. If the event of any dispute, you’ll have evidence to back you up.
For the drop-off, arrange to leave the car back at the airport for convenience. In São Miguel and Terceira, I would count on scheduling your airport drop-off around 2 hours before your flight to account for any unexpected delays. In the other islands, the airports are smaller, so 1:30 before your flight is usually enough.
Tips for driving in Azores
Get ready for windy roads
Driving in Azores is fairly straightforward, and the road network is overall well maintained and in very good condition. That said, some sections of the islands have (a lot) more windy roads than you’re probably used to back home. Slow down, don’t get distracted by the views, and bring some meds if you’re more prone to getting car sick.
Drive on the right side of the road
If you are coming from Canada, the United States, or most countries in Europe, this is not a problem. However, visitors from Australia, United Kingdom, Ireland, or Malta, or any other country that drives on the left side of the road, just be aware driving can be a nerve-wracking experience at first.
The good news is that if there’s a place to give it a go at driving on the other side of the road, it’s the Azores. There’s far less traffic, the roads are in good shape, and generally speaking, locals will be patient when they see a car rental label on your car. You’ll be fine.
Beware of driving in city centers
Driving in the historic centers of cities can be tricky because of the very narrow streets. Whenever possible, I recommend explore Ponta Delgada, Horta, or Angra do Heroísmo on foot as they’re fairly small and flat.
In Ponta Delgada, parking is an added problem. The narrow streets don’t leave much room and parking lots are usually filled with a mix of local and rental cars, particularly in summer months. If you decide to stay in a city, I always recommend picking a hotel with parking available.
It’s not expensive
While car rentals can be quite costly, once you have the car, it’s fairly cheap to drive in the Azores. First of all, there are no toll roads anywhere in Azores. Gas prices are usually cheaper than in mainland Portugal – expect prices to be on pair with most countries in Europe with both diesel and petrol hovering around 1,5-1,8 euros/liter. All gas stations in Azores have the exact same price.
Parking in the Azores is usually free, but even in cities like Ponta Delgada or Ribeira Grande (in Sao Miguel) parking is affordable: around 0,60 euros/hour.
Watch out for the cows!
Driving in Azores is generally very safe. Honestly, you may get more frightened by… cows 🐮. When changing pastures, herds of cows temporarily occupy some roads and create traffic jams. Relax, slow down or even stop the car and just expect them to get on with their lives. They’re harmless!
Rent a car in Azores – FAQ
More info about the Azores islands
- The 13 Most Beautiful Azores Beaches
- When Is The Best Time to Go To Azores?
- Hiking in Azores: An Insider Guide
- 18 Exciting Things To Do in São Miguel, Azores
- The Ultimate Itinerary of São Miguel Island (Made By An Azorean)
- The Best Hotels in São Miguel, Azores For All Kinds Of Travelers
- Azores: 20 Travel Tips To Know Before You Go
- How to Get Around Azores
- What & Where To Eat In São Miguel, Azores
- Furnas, Azores: Unique things to do in the Furnas Valley