São Miguel in the Azores is a vibrant garden in the middle of the Atlantic. With so many different landscapes and things to do there, planning a route to explore the island is essential. This is the exact road trip itinerary I use when I get friends visiting São Miguel island and now I’m sharing it with you. Insider tips from a local FOR FREE. Here’s how to do São Miguel in 4 days!
Usually I go back home, there are 2 phases.
Phase 1. Nothing to report. I don’t think people would be interested to read about how much weight I’ve put in with mom’s food or about my zapping sessions through Portuguese TV morning shows.
An unexplored niche for sure, but not exactly the one I want to be in as a blogger.
Phase 2 is more interesting. I usually have friends visiting so we spend some days exploring the island. Extra pressure to make sure I keep them busy with a not-too-ambitious-but-not-too-boring itinerary!
Not only I want to create a cute 4-day route of São Miguel, I want to create THE BEST one! So just keep scrolling down or jump directly to one of the sections:
Mission: create the ultimate itinerary of São Miguel
You know I love to plan itineraries. It’s kind of my thing.
This itinerary for São Miguel was first created when I got friends visiting in 2015. They were first time visitors and loved it! Since then more friends have visited (in 2016 and 2017) and I’ve now tweaked the itinerary and completed it with more information.
Important things to know about this São Miguel itinerary
- It’s tailored for first-time visitors. If that’s your case, have a read at the top things to know before going to the Azores to complement the info here.
- It assumes you’ll have a car. I highly recommend you get your own wheels in Azores. Check this article to find out why and for more transportation info useful for your planning.
- It’s not intended to be a rally course. I’ve seen some crazy “itineraries” from other bloggers who are only doable by spending days straight incarcerated in a car ticking spots off the list. When you arrive somewhere make sure you spend AT LEAST an hour to take it all in. Quality over quantity!
- It should be flexible. You’ll most likely need to change something and accommodate other factors. The best example is the unstable azorean weather. You can check the forecast in advance for the major places in the island with SpotAzores website and app.
Don’t save it for last minute, find where to stay in São Miguel soon.
So without any more delays, here’s what I’ve put together!
Itinerary of São Miguel on a map
You can use my itinerary map in Google Maps as a reference. The pins below represent the places we’ve been (including small descriptions) separated in four different days:
- Day 1 – Yellow pins
- Day 2 – Blue pins
- Day 3 – Green pins
- Day 4 – Orange pins
Itinerary Day 1 – Yellow pins
This day is to explore the west side of the island. Make sure the weather is clear for Sete Cidades area or all that you’ll see are clouds!
Miradouro da Vista Do Rei
Lagoa das Sete Cidades (Sete Cidades Lake) is the most well-known postcard of the Azores. You’ll see it in every brochure, ad or article about the islands.
The first contact you’ll have with the lakes will probably be from Vista do Rei (literally translated as King’s view). The spot is just at the right distance to appreciate the view over the lakes.
They’re actually the same lake separated by a bridge, they just reflect the light differently due to the surrounding vegetation. You can drive or walk around along the dirt road (Cumeeiras) to get views from different angles. This exact road is the most spectacular track on the World Rallye Championship.
Vista do Rei is also the location for an abandoned hotel called Monte Palace. Built in the 70s and operational for less than 2 years, this is now a popular site to get an even better perspective over the lake. You can freely explore the building as long as you’re careful with the debris (the building has had 0 maintenance). Make sure you go to the top floor for a superb open view.
However, I’ve seen too many horror movies to dare visit it at night.
The Sete Cidades Tale
There’s a cute little story about the reason why one of the lakes is blue and the other green. Legend has it that once upon a time a sheperd and a Princess fell in love, but were prohibited to see each other due to their different family statuses.
When they met for the last time, they cried so much that the Sete Cidades lakes were formed. The blue-eyed shepherd gave origin to the blue lake while the green-eyed princess formed the green lake.
Miradouro da Boca do Inferno
While the view from Vista do Rei is inspiring, the one from Miradouro da Boca do Inferno will make your jaw drop. Have you ever felt goosebumps when arriving to a beautiful place? If so, it will probably happen here again.
From up there, apart from the crazy views of the mountains and the sea in the background, two other lagoons are visible: Rasa and Santiago in a complete 360 degree nature experience. The view is wide open to the entire volcanic crater of Sete Cidades, formed 22,000 years ago.
In a bright sunny day, this holds the title as the most incredible view I’ve seen. Yap. EVER.
How to get to Boca do Inferno viewpoint
- Coming from Vista do Rei, DO NOT turn left on the first exit down to the Sete Cidades village. Continue straight for about 10 minutes, following the signs to Lagoa do Canário
- After about 7 minutes, you’ll notice a car park on the right, where an hiking trail begins, and a small entrance to a dirt road just on the opposite side. Go in with there your car.
- Continue for about 3-4 more minutes until you see a set of stairs upwards next to some picnic tables.
- Start the hike up. You’re 5 minutes away from paradise!
Boca do Inferno – Tips
- ⏱ How long: I’d say a minimum of 1 hour to fully take the view in.
- 💰 How much: Entrance is free.
- 💡 Tip: Come here just before the sunset on a clear day to see the colors changing in the sky.
Sete Cidades is also the name of the small village down at the same level of the lake. Everything seems untouched since the 30s here, but this area holds some of the best outdoor activities you can do in São Miguel.
Biking across the lagoon shore or kayaking in the lake are just 2 of the options to spend your afternoon. I’ve done both and still can’t decide which one is more scenic. Oh, the feeling of being literally inside a dormant volcano crater…
Whatever you do, weather is a key factor in Sete Cidades. If you happen to go on a sunny day, I can assure you the colors around you will be vibrant and the views will be breathtaking.
Ponta da Ferraria is a small cove surrounded by gigantic lava rock cliffs where the ocean water is warmed up by a geo-thermal natural spring beneath. Not your everyday view hun? It’s quite an experience to swim in an ocean which is a mix of cold and hot sea water while the waves slosh you around!
Just make sure you don’t go on low tide as it gets VERY HOT. There are housed baths with an outdoor swimming pool, but who wants to pay when you can go for the thrilling (and completely free) swim in the ocean right next to it?
If you still have time, head to Mosteiros to watch the perfect sunset and eat some local seafood – you can’t go wrong with lapas!
Itinerary Day 2 – Blue pins
Whale-Watching (from Ponta Delgada)
Whale watching is a must-do activity to do in the Azores, specially if you are able to
time your trip right to see several different species of cetaceans. The ideal time for this is between April and June.
A ticket is not exactly cheap but is definitely worth the unique experience. We chose to go with Picos de Aventura and overall it surpassed my expectations. A great friendly staff, concerned with safety but also with having fun. We ended up seeing three sperm whales, dozens of dolphins and even a turtle – a “very good day” according to our guides.
Safe to say we had a blast (see video below!).
Little fun fact: when speaking with Paola, the oceanographer on board of our semi-rigid boat, I find out she took the exact opposite life route from me. She’s from Barcelona and now she’s living in the Azores!
Tips for Whale-Watching in São Miguel
- If you’re visiting Faial or Pico on the same trip, I’d recommend to do the Whale-Watching there. Specially in Pico. São Miguel has good observation conditions, but they have great ones.
- Make sure the company you go with complies with all the safety and ethical regulations to avoid stressing out the animals.
- Expect to pay at least 55 Euros for a 3-hour trip.
- Most companies depart from Ponta Delgada or Vila Franca marinas, usually at 3 different time slots in the day (8:30, 13:30, 19:30).
- Make a reservation for the tour with at least 2-3 days in advance.
People used to stare at me like an hungry raged wolf looks to an innocent lamb when I said Ponta Delgada was not worth it. SHOCKING statement about my own birth place. Hey, it was the truth. Putting myself on the shoes of a traveler, I’d much rather spend my precious time exploring the rest of the island.
In recent times, the city was slowly awaken and trendy restaurants, kitsch shops and quaint cafés have been showing up. Buildings abandoned for decades have gained a new life. And today I’m pleased to announce there are some stuff to keep you busy for a day if you want to!
Main suggestions: walking along the seaside promenade (locally called “Avenida”), visit the farmers market in Mercado da Graça – great place for shopping souvenirs and local food! – and take a stroll around the area of Igreja Matriz (Matriz Church).
Ponta Delgada is also a great place to base yourself in. Not only it has more restaurants, shops and overall infrastructure than anywhere else, but it’s also geographically located almost in the center of the island. For me that is the definition of a good hub. It has also got a wide choice of hotels, but I do have a favorite.
⭐ My top hotel suggestion in Ponta Delgada⭐
Lagoa do Fogo
Consider yourself extremely lucky if you go to Lagoa do Fogo on a clear day. This is very rare up in this part of the island.
Lagoa do Fogo is my favorite lake of them all and one of my top special places not only in São Miguel, but in the whole planet.
After a 30-min hike down in a dodgy trail, we had a wild beach just
for ourselves (edit: the last time I was there the beach had at least 20-30 people!).
Down there and despite the sensation overload of smells, sounds and vivid colors, there’s a blissful peace. It’s the kind of gorgeous that grabs hold of you tightly. Pictures don’t do it justice!
Every single time I go to Lagoa do Fogo I fell a bit more in love with it. Modern construction is not permitted in this area, so there is no worry of the views being spoiled any time soon.
Please be aware this has been a site of unspoiled nature for centuries. Don’t help spoil it now. As a Nature Reserve, this is perhaps a more sensitive place than anywhere else in the island.
It’s key that you take ALL your trash with you, avoid swimming in the lake after applying sunscreen and keep the silence as much as you can to not disturb the peace of this magical land. Last time I was here I was shocked to see a group of tourists listening to schizophrenic hip-hop with speakers down there. WTF!
Pro tip: right next to Lagoa do Fogo, stop in Pico da Barrosa to enjoy the magnificent views. It’s one of the few places in São Miguel where you can see the south and north coasts at the same time. It really puts the island in perspective!
Located halfway in the road between Lagoa do Fogo and the city of Ribeira Grande, this is a set of hot springs with a very pre-historic feel. Caldeira Velha is a hot spring (>20ºC) with a waterfall located at the end of the park. There is also a smaller and hotter spring (>35ºC). Both are stone-walled and surrounded by intense lush foliage which really adds to an unique feel.
It’s just like stepping into Jurassic Park: a Velociraptor could jump out the bushes at any moment. The difference is that there’s no Chris Pratt to save you!
Not surprisingly, we spent most of the time in the smaller spring: a natural jacuzzi. Technically, this would be like sharing a bath with a bunch of strangers, but don’t let these thoughts take away the experience.
Try to leave Caldeira Velha for late afternoon too. It’s just the perfect soothing end of the day. There are locker rooms and showers (cold water though!) available to change afterwards.
Caldeira Velha – Tips
- ⏱ How long: You’ll need at least 1 hour here to relax and go through all the springs.
- 💰 How much: The entrance is 2 Euros (as per 2015).
- 💡 Pro tip: Use a dark and old bathing suit. The minerals in the water can easily leave an awful and PERMANENT orange stain!
There are not many hotels in São Miguel. Book your hotel as soon as possible for the best deal!
I’ve made your life easier and you can start your search with my pre-selection of the hotels/guesthouses/villas in the island of São Miguel. This list only includes the top-rated reviewed hotels in São Miguel, with wifi included. Hard to go wrong with these!
Or explore the latest hotel deals:
Itinerary Day 3 – Green pins
Our initial plan for this day had a 2-hour hiking trail in Sanguinho – Salto do Prego -leading to a waterfall in the middle of the forest. But it was too risky to do it with bad weather so we decided to skip it.
In any case, it’s not a bad idea to pick the day with the most dodgy weather for this route. You’ll understand why in a bit.
Lagoa das Furnas
Lagoa das Furnas is one of the 3 main lagoons in São Miguel. The hike to the gothic church sitting in the west shore holds beautiful sights.
On the opposite shore of the lagoon there are hot springs – Caldeiras – where you can actually see boiling water in the holes and geysers. This are the holes in which they cook the famous Cozido das Furnas (Furnas stew).
Although I personally think there’s better local food available in the island, this is also a novelty. A meal cooked by Mother Nature is not your everyday lunch and gives it a special charisma.
I’ll leave it to you to decide if it’s for the better or for the worse. 🙂
Where to eat Furnas stew (Cozido das Furnas)
There are several restaurants in Furnas village which put their stews to cook in the holes every morning. The most famous ones are Tony’s and the restaurant of Terra Nostra hotel.
If you opt to have lunch on the latter, the entrance to the Terra Nostra park and the thermal pool are complimentary (see details below).
This area of São Miguel is the one with most active volcanic phenomena. In Caldeiras, the hot springs and steam holes give the whole area a VERY strong smell of sulfur. Anyhow, you get to see in loco how does it feel and smell when planet Earth is alive.
During my childhood, the highlight of going to Furnas was getting to eat the corn cooked in huge bags directly in these mud holes. I searched for the old ladies who used to sell it, but they weren’t there. IF YOU ARE READING THIS, PLEASE BE THERE FOR ME NEXT TIME!
In Furnas, there’s this amazing modern new hotel with a built-in spa:
Furnas Thermal Springs
One of the main attractions in São Miguel are the hot spring waters and pools where everyone can treat yourself with a mineral-enriched bath. And Furnas is the best place to do that!
Head to either Poça Dona Beija or to the pool inside Parque Terra Nostra. Both experiences are very similar so I’d say you only need to go to one of them. You’ll feel like a vegetable being cooked in 35-40ºC warm water anyway. I call it a relaxing human soup!
Terra Nostra is just a huge pool in the heart of a tropical garden which holds a luxury and relaxing hotel. The park itself deserves a visit, it feels likes straight out of Jurassic Park.
I personally prefer the hot springs in Dona Beija though. It’s a recently refurbished set of 5 open-air pools at different temperatures that somehow seems more authentic and enjoyable. A night bath there is an awesome experience!
Furnas Thermal Springs – Tips
- ⏱ How long: Anything between 1 hour and an entire morning or afternoon.
- 💰 How much: Entrance fee is 4 euros in Poça Dona Beija and 8 euros in Terra Nostra (as per 2017 prices). Towels can be rented at an extra cost.
- 💡 Pro tip: Pick the most gloomy and cloudy day (or night?) you can for this. A hot bath feels good when it’s actually colder outside!
The district of Nordeste is the wildest and most remote in São Miguel. The vegetation is thicker, the sea cliffs are more steep and roads are more sinuous. There no particular sight to see but at the same time everything around you is impressive and worth stopping your car to take it all in.
Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego and Miradouro da Ponta da Madrugada viewpoints will make your jaw drop of how intense the scenery is. Both are very similar. A vibrant flower garden decorates the path to the edge of green huge scarps contrasting with the blue vast ocean.
A bit farther north, there’s also Farol do Arnel, the oldest lighthouse in the Azores. If you really want to go down, I strongly recommend going there on foot. The road down there is 35º steep (!), so there is a real chance your car won’t have the power to back up. And that’s definitely not a good place to be stuck in.
Itinerary Day 4 – Orange pins
If this is your final day in the island, it’s time to finish the loose ends for a well-rounded exploration of the island.
Vila Franca Islet
Home to a stage of Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, Ilhéu de Vila Franca (Vila Franca islet) is one of the most popular sunbathing places in Azores.
It encloses a almost full-circle bay perfect for swimming or snorkeling, so make sure you don’t forget your mask!
There is a regular boat connection between the Vila Franca marina and the islet operating in the summer months only. You can buy the tickets online.
Again, this is another Nature Reserve so please please leave nothing but footprints and remember noise is also a kind of pollution.
Vila Franca islet – Tips
- ⏱ How long: Allow yourself at least 3 hours here.
- 💰 How much: The boat ticket is 6 euros (online) and 5 on the spot.
- 💡 Pro tip: There are very limited spots to lay your towel. While there is a small beach, it completely disappears during high tide, so I suggest opting for the concrete spots on the opposite side of the islet.
The Azores have been consecutively named one of the top sustainable destinations worldwide. Yet with the increasing tourism pressure, this fragile balance it lies in can quickly be disrupted.
When you’re in the island, please be aware of your impact at all times. Leave nothing but footprints and consider any activities causing visual and noise pollution.
Lagoa do Congro
Lagoa do Congro is a relatively off the beaten track lake in the heart of São Miguel. While Sete Cidades, Furnas and Fogo receive more and more tourists every year, this one remains remote and hidden.
The hike down through the forest is already cool, but it’s at the shore level that the magic happens. It will feel like someone set the saturation level to the max – a vibrant green will take over your eyes.
The silence down there is deafening and only disturbed by the splashes of fish jumps and the birds singing. It’s just like those meditation soundtracks, the only difference being this is the real thing. Perfect place to unwind!
How to get to Congro lake
- Coming from Vila Franca, follow the signs to Furnas (direction East).
- After about 10 minutes, there’s an exit to the left clearly stating “Lagoa do Congro”. Take it.
- Continue for about 5 more minutes and turn left on a dirt road.
- Continue through the middle of pastures about 5 more minutes. The entrance to the hike path should be noticeable on the right as there are usually a couple of cars parked.
- The hike down is easy. It should take you 10-15 minutes (it all will be worth it, I promise!)
Working since 1883, Gorreana is the only tea plantation in Europe which produces quality biologic black and green tea. There are free tea tastings available in the area of the processing plant.
Apart from the start of one of the official hiking trails in the island, the tea plantation itself is a stunning scenery overlooking the sea and a great opportunity to change that old Facebook cover. This place always reveal our inner Kardashians and creative photo skills.
Gorreana Tea – Tips
- ⏱ How long: 1 hour is enough to go through the premises and sip on a cup of tea.
- 💰 How much: Free. Niente. Nada. Zero.
- 💡 Pro tip: Even though you might not be interested in the way the tea is made, there are FREE tea tastings inside!
This beach is a bit more off the beaten track, as it’s not an usual choice for those visiting the island for the first time. But for people who had never put their feet in dark sands, I thought it is interesting to incorporate a volcanic beach experience in the mix.
Although Água d’Alto is my favorite beach in the island, the scenery around Porto Formoso is somewhat more quaint and charismatic. It’s perfect to relax after some intense days!
Miradouro de Santa Iria
Another well-known viewpoint of São Miguel. From up there you can enjoy a clear view over a big portion of the northern coast. It’s a great spot for watching the sunset and a great farewell to São Miguel.
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.
Ponta Delgada is a good place to set up a base. It’s well connected and has loads of restaurants and shops. If you’re looking for a more remote experience more in touch with nature, Furnas or Sete Cidades might be better for you.
These are my 3 top hotel suggestions in the island:
⭐ My top hotel recommendations in São Miguel ⭐
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. This list only includes the top-rated reviewed hotels in São Miguel, with wifi included. Hard to go wrong with these!
São Miguel Flight + Hotel Deals
I usually don’t use travel agencies to book holidays. They end up being more expensive in 99% of the times. Yet I have to make an exception for Azores Getaways because I honestly think they have some pretty good prices for a flight + hotel + transfers packages to the Azores – starting at 599USD!
For São Miguel in particular they have loads of deals. 2 examples:
I particularly recommend using them if you are flying from the United States and don’t have much time to plan your holidays.
Planning a São Miguel trip by yourself
Arranging accommodation before going is highly recommendable. São Miguel is in high demand right now and hotels in the island can become full really quickly.
You can start off with this pre-filtered list of hotels, guesthouses and villas in São Miguel. Or explore the latest hotel deals:
Activities in São Miguel island
São Miguel is a gem in terms of outdoor activities and there is a lot to keep you busy. Hiking trails, canyoning, whale-watching, just to name a few.
There are more and more local companies offering tours and/or adventure packages. Before booking any, I strongly suggest asking how many people are going in the tour. Small groups are always a better choice, even if you have to pay a little bit extra.
How to get around in São Miguel island
Public buses are available, but they don’t run frequently nor get to the most remote areas where the best landscapes are located.
So renting a car is key. I recommend either Autotlantis or Micauto. These are regional companies which usually have the best prices in the island. Other heavy weights like Avis and Sixt tend to be slightly more expensive, but have the advantage of picking up the car right at the airport. Same with Ilha Verde, a local company that for some reason is the most expensive of them all – avoid!.
I always use this Skyscanner tool below to compare rental prices. It’s reliable and gives you an overview of prices quickly.
Whatever company you go for, try to book your car as soon as possible. In 2015 there were virtually no cars available to rent in the island for a few days (true story!).
TRAVEL NUMBERS @ SÃO MIGUEL, AZORES
To give you a full idea of the budget you can expect, these are the exact numbers of when a couple of my friends visited in 2015. We were 3 in total.
- DURATION OF THE STAY: 4 DAYS
- TOTAL DISTANCE COVERED ON FOOT: 41,9 km
- TOTAL DISTANCE COVERED IN CAR: 312,0 km
- ACCOMMODATION: 0EUR (thanks again Mom!)
- Car Rental: 62EUR
- Meals: 93EUR
- Drinks: 14EUR
- Other regional food (S.Jorge cheese and Gorreana tea): 3,50EUR
- Whale-watching: 55EUR
- Lagoa das Furnas entrance fee: 0,50EUR
- Caldeira Velha entrance: 2EUR
- TOTAL COST (€): 230EUR/pax
These are the exact numbers per person. EUR=€.
More resources about the Azores
- All you need to know if it’s your first visit to the Azores
- Cruzeiro do Ilhéu – online tickets for the boat to Vila Franca islet
- A full guide of São Miguel
- A month-by-month analysis on the best time to visit
- Insights on how to fly to Azores
- What and where to eat in São Miguel
- SpotAzores – check the real-time weather in several places of Azores
Have you used this itinerary to visit São Miguel? Which other places you recommend to add? Tell me about your experience below!