Travel Guide

São Miguel, Azores: Full travel guide with places to go, food & more

São Miguel, Azores. The ideal setting for nature lovers who want a different kind of vacations, in touch with nature and filled with memorable experiences. This São Miguel guide will give you the necessary insider advice to travel smart on my home island!

Located a two-hour flight from mainland Portugal, Azores are the Atlantic’s best well kept secret. Here you can find all kinds of nature delights to get you back in touch with unspoiled nature: crater lakes, valleys, hot springs, whales and dramatic cliffs.

São Miguel is the largest island in the archipelago and home to the biggest city: Ponta Delgada. At any part of each island you will be amazed with the contrast of the blue of the ocean with the vivid green landscapes.

Hey, and it’s not because it’s my home island. It’s just rare to see a place with so much raw beauty these days.

Sections of this São Miguel guide

São Miguel, Azores

sao miguel azores guide travel blog

How To Get to São Miguel, Azores

First step is getting there. Unless you want a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, the easiest way to get to São Miguel is by plane. During many years, only Azores Airlines had flights to the Azores, which made it a very expensive and remote destination.

Nowadays, you can fly from both mainland Portugal and countries like Spain, Canada, United Kingdom and the United States.

The island is served by many airline companies, including Delta Airlines, TAP Portugal or Ryanair.

For more info on how to get to São Miguel, check my Azores flights page or how to get around in the Azores islands.

Best Time To Visit São Miguel

Weather-wise, the Azores are known for their ever-changing weather. Locals know we can have the four seasons in just one day! It’s a leap of faith. Having that said, the best time to go are the Summer months, June to September.

Make sure you check Spot Azores. With this website and mobile app, you can check live webcams and chase the sun all around the islands. Make sure you know what to pack for Azores too.

But choosing the best time to visit the Azores is much more than just looking at the good weather. Eventually it all comes down on your interests and which activities are you most willing to experience in the islands:

azores travel blog sao miguel guide travel
Take a moment to find the optimal time for you to visit Azores.

Adding all these criteria to the mix, June or September looks like winners to me. But you can find a month-by-month analysis on my page about the best time to visit the islands.

No more wait, find where to stay in São Miguel today!



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Main attractions in São Miguel, Azores

You can expect dozens of awesome spots in the island – I’ve highlighted at least 20 of them in my São Miguel itinerary article.

These are some of the places you can’t miss in São Miguel.

Lagoa do Fogo (Fire Lake)

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Lagoa do Fogo (Fire Lake).

This is the kind of gorgeous nature that grabs hold of you tightly. It’s one of the wildest areas in the island – modern construction is not permitted here. Once you’re next to this lagoon, all you can hear are the seagulls around you. A truly magical place and one of the top places in my São Miguel itinerary.

Furnas

São Miguel azores guide places to go furnas

The charming settlement of Furnas, sided by lush hills on all sides is a must on your trip to São Miguel. Whilst a small village, there’s enough to keep you busy here for a whole day!

  • Caldeiras – dozens of steam holes give the whole area a eerie and moon-ish look. Not to mention the sulphur smell.
  • Terra Nostra Park – a lush and vibrant park with thousands of species of plants from all over the world. The big attraction is the open-air thermal pool rich in iron and other minerals. The water is orange and is at a 35-40C temperature, 100% heated by nature.
  • Poça Dona Beija – another popular spot to enjoy the hot springs. A set of 5 open-air thermal pools alongside a small creek and palm trees.

Oh and just a 5-min drive away, make sure you stop by Lagoa das Furnas (see next section).

Lagoa das Furnas (Furnas Lake)

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Another one of the 3 main lakes in São Miguel. The hike to the gothic church sitting in the west shore holds beautiful sights. There’s also a new Interpretation Centre to better understand the efforts being done to preserve the lake as it is, despite the agriculture and tourism pressures.

On the opposite shore of the lagoon, there are hot springs where you can actually see boiling water and muds as well as holes in which they cook the famous Cozido das Furnas (Furnas stew).

Things to do in Furnas Valley
 
Continue reading more about Furnas and learn more about Furnas Lake, the hot springs, beaches and where to eat!

Lagoa das Sete Cidades

Lagoa das Sete Cidades (Sete Cidades Lagoon) with its green and blue lakes is the most well-known postcard of the Azores. You’ll see it in every brochure, ad or article about the islands.

However, the whole area of Sete Cidades in the west of the island is filled with lakes, lagoons and spectacular views.

ℹPlaces to see in Sete Cidades
  • Lagoa das Sete Cidades – the popular twin blue & lakes
  • Lagoa do Canário – for some reason tourists started to call it Snapchat lake because it resembles their logo 🤷
  • Lagoa de São Tiago – the greenest of them all
  • Lagoa das Empadadas – a set of smaller lakes scattered in the hills; great hiking spot!
  • Miradouro da Boca do Inferno – check next section
  • Serra Devassa – popular hiking trail

Miradouro da Boca do Inferno

Miradouro da Lagoa do Canário

This viewpoint is also known as Miradouro da Lagoa do Canário and is located in Sete Cidades, in the western part of São Miguel island. When the weather cooperates – only about 20% of the days are sunny around here – it has a breathtaking view of the old volcanic crater with all its lakes, meadows, and hills.

Fingers crossed for this one – make sure you leave the day with best weather forecast to go here, it’s worth it!

Ilhéu de Vila Franca

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How cool that is an almost perfectly-shaped circle?

This islet off the coast of Vila Franca do Campo is a swimming and bathing paradise. The natural bay has got with crystal clear waters and protects swimmers from the Atlantic waves. A wonder for kids or grown-ups like me who still feel like kids on the inside.

Bring swimwear and snorkeling gear. Note however you won’t find much comfort to lay down or towel. The best option is to nest next to some rocks or concrete platform – the only beach in the islet gets flooded during high tide.

ℹHow to get to ilheu de Vila Franca

You can only get to Vila Franca’s islet there by a small boat departing from Vila Franca’s marina. You need to buy your tickets online or in a booth in the marina itself.

I suggest buying them in advance as the demand is high during summer. Only 400 tickets are sold each day and if you don’t get there at the earliest hour, it’s likely they are sold out.

Unique things to do in São Miguel, Azores

In such a naturally gifted place, outdoor activities should be on top of your priorities. I’ve listed the main adventure stuff the island has to offer, but here’s some of the most unique things you can do in São Miguel.

Walk through a tea plantation

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I may or may not be too excited to take photos with my new drone.

The Azores is the only European region with tea plantations. Gorreana and Porto Formoso tea estates have been producing biological tea for centuries now.

Bring some comfortable shoes and hike around this unique landscape with the sea as a backdrop.

Whale-Watching

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Whale spotted!

Azores are a renowned world-class whale watching spot, so I’d highly recommend adding this to your bucket list when you’re in the islands. Up to 10% of ALL known cetacean species can be seen in a single three-hour trip.

April to June are the months of the year where the migratory routes of cetaceans overlap the most. Check the full whale-watching calendar here.

Hiking

azores travel blog sao miguel guide hiking

São Miguel island is home to many scenic hiking trails, packed with volcano craters, lagoons, small rivers and waterfalls which are accessible only on foot.

Perhaps the most popular one is hiking down Lagoa do Fogo, but there at least 20 official trails in the island. These cover all ranges of difficulties, lengths and all kinds of landscapes.

Have a volcanic lunch (Furnas stew)

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Might sound weird but this is a bunch of starving people watching their lunch being taken out of the underground.

Cozido das Furnas (Furnas Stew) is a stew cooked that is boiled… underground. Yap. The food is placed in holes of the hot springs of Furnas and the volcanic heat works its magic during 4+ hours to add an unique flavour to the meat and vegetables.

Don’t worry though – you can skip the cooking process and go straight to the tasting part in one of the several restaurants in Furnas. Look for Cozido das Furnas on the menu.

Getting around in São Miguel, Azores

Public transportation in the island is very limited and not reliable for two reasons. Firstly, it’s not a frequent service – some routes only operate 2/3 times a day. But more importantly, most routes don’t take you to the places you want to see; they’re optimized for locals to move around between towns, not for tourists.

I predict this might change in the near future, but for now private guides (if you have the budget), day tours, or car rentals are better choices. I strongly recommend you getting your own wheels and rent a car to explore the island independently. Trust me, it adds to the sense of adventure!

Read more about getting around the Azores Islands.

São Miguel Food

The food you can expect to eat in São Miguel does not differ much from what you can find in mainland Portugal This includes a diet with a lot of fresh fish – specially cod, vegetables and many meat-based comfort food.

Apart from the cozido das Furnas mentioned before, there are some local delicacies filled with tradition and unique flavour you have to try in São Miguel!

What to Eat in São Miguel

  • Ananás: Seems rather odd to highlight a piece of fruit, but the very famous Azorean pineapple is famous for a reason. Its extra sweetness it will probably make all the pineapples you’ve ever tasted banal.
  • Bolo Lêvedo: A hybrid between a cake and a bread you can eat anytime. Try it with jam, butter or even as an hamburger!
  • Bife à Regional (Regional Steak): So many happy cows living the green pastures of São Miguel also means… good beef. The meat in Azores is simply delicious, so unless you’re a hardcore vegetarian, you MUST try the steak, azorean style.
sao miguel guide azores travel blog bife regional
Bife à Regional (yummmm).

My Favorite Places to Eat in São Miguel

  • Associação Agrícola: While it can be a bit expensive for Azorean standards, it’s one of the best places in the island for having a juicy tender steak. Not suitable for vegetarians.
  • Terra Nostra Garden: Located literally in the middle of the majestic Terra Nostra Park in Furnas, this hotel restaurant is open for everyone to taste the delicious local food in a beautiful setting. Great value-for-money!
  • A Tasca: Great local food with a lively atmosphere in the center of Ponta Delgada. This is as azorean as it gets. It’s always packed.

Note: I used to recommend Cais 20 as one must-go for seafood, but not anymore. My last experiences there were dreadful. I’ll only say it includes seafood soup made from Knorr packages. Totally overrated!

Still hungry for more? Check my food guide of São Miguel, with the best places to eat in the island.

Where To Stay In São Miguel

I recommend staying at least three to four full days in São Miguel. Allow yourself some time to unwind and explore the landscapes the island has to offer.

These are my three best hotel suggestions in the island:

⭐ My top hotel recommendations in São Miguel ⭐

 

Hotel Azor, Ponta Delgada
 
Premium hotel with modern design (opened in 2016) and within walking distance to the city center and to the ocean. Ah and there’s a gorgeous pool on the terrace!


 
 

Furnas Boutique Hotel, Furnas
 
Located in Furnas, its full-wellness program and nature-inspired-interiors make it the ideal place to relax.


 
 

Out of the Blue, Ponta Delgada
 
Stylish, clean, comfortable hotel at a very reasonable price. Excellent value for money!

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!

Holiday Packages in São Miguel

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.

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

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

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



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How Many Days To Stay In São Miguel

While the island is not too big, there are a ton of activities which can take up some time. Also, the weather is quite unpredictable, so it would be a good idea to have some days to act as a time buffer.

I suggest a minimum of 4 full days in São Miguel, which coincides with my island itinerary. This is enough to get a good grasp of the island vibe and have time to enjoy stuff like whale-watching or just relax the entire afternoon on an hot spring.

Ezpecially if you’re looking to hike a lot or try out several activities, consider staying for longer: up until a full week there’s a lot of things to see and do.

São Miguel Travel Review

Whenever I write about my home island, I try to see things on the shoes of a traveler. It helps avoiding getting my bias out of control.

But it’s hard to not get excited about São Miguel. I’m sure the vibrant green of the fields, the bright blue of the lagoons and the dramatic landscapes will win you over in a heartbeat. In a well-connected world where more and more people travel everyday, it’s very hard to find a place with such unspoiled beauty and at the same time, safe and friendly.

I really think it’s one of these places it will boom as a travel destination over the next few years – with all good & bad things this will entail. Meanwhile, trust me, the best time to go is now!

São Miguel Travel Ratings

☆☆☆☆☆ – nhec!
★★★★★ – wow!

  • Accessibility: ★★★☆☆
  • Accommodation: ★★★☆☆
  • Activities/Things to do: ★★★★☆
  • Cost (Overall): ★★★★☆
  • Food: ★★★★☆
  • Getting Around: ★★☆☆☆
  • People and Culture: ★★★★☆
  • Safety: ★★★★★
  • Scenery and Environment: ★★★★★
  • Uniqueness: ★★★★★
  • OVERALL TRAVEL SCORE: 39/50

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32 comments 💬

  1. Hi Bruno ! Thank you so much for this incredible blog ! It help a lot for planning a trip to the Azores !
    We are visiting Sao Miguel next July for an entire week. We’ll for sure rent a car to go aoround the island but I’d just like to ask your opinion about the staying. Would you recommend us to book just one hotel in Ponta Delgada for the whole week or we should book different hotel in different places (where the main attractions are) ?

    I look forward for your answer !
    Have a great one
    Aurora

  2. Hi there! What an excellent and very informative blog. We are travelling to Sao Miguel on May. I am a sommelier by profession, and obviously very keen on trying Azorean wine. Do you know if there are any shops stocking it?

    Thanks, Johanna

    1. Technically yes, but you’d have to be in extremely good shape to be able to cover the main sights of the island by bicycle.

  3. Hey Bruno…excellent work on your Azores blog!…very informative and a huge help with our planning. We hope to go in May/June 2019 and split our time between Ponta Delgada and Capelas/Santo Antonio, staying on Sao Miguel the entire time. I could not find a “Getting Around” section on your blog but I read you recommend not to use taxis. I am just curious about the public transit on the island? Is there frequent bus service between the other towns on Sao Miguel… people no doubt have to go about their daily business i.e. work, school/uni, etc. and probably not everybody drives. I would rather not rent a car unless necessary, probably on the weekend for trip to northeast of the island. We will be traveling with 3 kids (the oldest is 5 years and the youngest is 2 years). What do you think of the bus network?…is it dependable and safe, etc. Your thoughts are much appreciated. Thanks and keep up the excellent work!

    1. Hey Diogo!
      I’d encourage you to read my recent post about how to get around in each island of Azores.

      In a nutshell, bus transportation is not reliable for two reasons:
      1 – it’s not frequent. For instance, there are only a couple of bus connections between Ponta Delgada and Sete Cidades per day.
      2- you could get a hard time to reach the main attractions. Bus transportation is thought for locals traveling between the main towns, there’s no desire for them to reach lakes, hills and hot springs.

  4. Hi Bruno- thank you so much for all of your information. We are traveling to Sao Miguel in August and bringing our 2 daughters (ages 6 and 9). They are a bit adventurous and I was wondering if you had any recommendations with kids in mind- either must-do activities or things to avoid

    1. I really don’t. I think the islands are safe and you won’t have any trouble in the easiest hiking trails or beaches. Vila Franca islet is a good swimming spot for kids, as it’s basically a bay, almost no waves at all.

  5. Hey! Im planning to go by myself, would recommend travelling there alone? I would like to rent a scooter, do you think its easy to get find the ways and travel, and find the directions?
    Thank you, Krisztina

    1. I’ve recommend the other comment of yours, as it was a duplicate.

      You won’t have problems traveling alone, the island is very safe. I recommend studying a bit the island first to get acquainted with some reference points, but the signs are pretty good and the roads – although windy – are easy to navigate.

  6. Great blog!
    We are going to Sao Miguel for 6 days in August this coming year. Where do you recommend we rent a car? Also, we are coming from the US, are most rentals manual transmission? It seems like a very big price difference for automatic vs manual. If we need automatic, it’s probably better to just take taxis everywhere right?

    1. A local rentacar like Micauto. Yes, mostly will be manual as in the rest of Europe.

      I’d avoid taxis entirely – they can be expensive as they’re not usually metered.

  7. Great Blog Bruno !!
    after reading this i am surely coming to azores this summer, i was thinking to stay for atleast 4 days as you suggested and we are a group of friends (almost 12 of us in mid twenties and we all are nature freaks)
    However at the same time we want to part for a couple of nights, so how is the nightlife in Sao Miguel, are there night clubs which stay open till late night or early morning

  8. Any thoughts on 6 days in just Sao Miguel or splitting that time with another island? I read your 4 day guide and that looks like a great agenda. If you were to go to another island, where would you choose? We are planning on going in mid/late April 2018. Really enjoy your blog – good work!

    1. I’d definitely go to Pico, but 6 days to both is very short. Tbh I’d consider staying in São Miguel the entire time.

  9. Thanks for the great tips, Bruno! We will be going to the Azores for a week in June as part of a trip around the world and are still debating whether to make Sao Miguel or Terceira our home base. I’ve read about the friendly competition between the two islands as to which is the best in the Azores, so I’m guessing you would recommend Sao Miguel, but any other advice would be most appreciated. We are also planning to scuba dive for at least a few days, if that needs to be a factor.

    1. Haha you bet, I do recommend São Miguel. 🙂 I honestly think there’s more to do and see, apart from the fact there are many more connections to mainland Portugal, US and other countries.

  10. Your articles are very informative and really make us excited to visit the Azores. We are going there from Nov 4th to Nov 8th, 2017. Any restaurants that you recommend in Ponte Delgàda itself?

    Thanks,
    Felice.

  11. thanks for a great blog. we’ve just booked to visit at the end of July as a family for 2 weeks and we’re very excited to really explore the island – you bring it to life very well in your writing

  12. Thanks for very nice guide. I found it very useful, as I come to São Miguel in few days.

  13. This blog is great thank you so much for the useful information. My husband and I are going to be there early Oct. We are indecisive on whether to rent a car or hire a taxi. What would you recommend. We also want to get a sim card for our phones while we are there….what service would you recommend.

    1. I’d say rent a car is way more enjoyable. It gives you freedom to explore the island at your own pace.

      As to SIM cards, I’m not quite aware of the latest tariffs, but there travel SIM cards for sure. I recommend Vodafone or MEO for the best network coverage in the island.

  14. Thank you so much for your blog I have found it so useful for planning my trip at the end of October

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