The Azores have been on my mind for almost a year now and I really felt like it would be the perfect place for our family to start our world adventures. This collection of islands belonging to Portugal in the middle of the Atlantic ocean are an untouched natural paradise. We, of course, love to hike and be in nature, so we knew we had to go!
Since we were going on a super short trip, something we will never do again, and spending most our days hiking, we felt as though we should leave the two youngest at home, something we will also never do again!
We arrived in Sao Miguel early in the morning and grabbed our rental car. First things first, we drove to the local open air market and Continente to stock up on groceries. $114 euros later we had our groceries set for the week, including all local fair. I, of course, didn’t add this sum to the total cost breakdown, because obviously we need to eat at home, and since I was spending my allotted weekly budget here, it’s like it never happened 🙂
After checking into our beautiful home overlooking the ocean, we drove down the road to Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego. This is one of those stops you absolutely must make! The small garden (free entrance) overlooking the towering cliffs is sure to inspire. We packed a picnic since there are BBQ’s and tables and enjoyed the sights with the local stray cats.
Next, we drove to Ribeira dos Caldeiros, a small (also free) park on the northern end of the island. This breathtaking park is like stepping into Jurassic Park. The entire park is filled with jungle-like vegetation, however, the strangest thing is you will be hard-pressed to find a single animal. The hike along the park is strenuous and we, many times, were forced to hike with our hands guiding the way through the terrain. I suspect we off roaded when we shouldn’t have. Either way, it made for an eventful day!Tip: Before entering the park, keep to the left where you will find this beautiful waterfall. This park is also the only home to the Azorean bullfinch!There is a snack bar on site also if you fancy a treat. We opted to pack our own food and spend time with the cats.
We hit the ground running today and drove to Lagoa do Fogo. We drove up nice and high and found a lookout viewing the incredible lagoon. At this point, the clouds were low and almost covered the crater so that you could not see the mountain tips. We ventured down the mountain to reach the abandoned beach.
The hike down only took about 20 minutes, and absolutely worth the effort. We stayed for awhile on the pier listening to the flocks of Royal Terns.
After spending some time at the beach, which you can swim in, we continued up to the tip of the mountain Pico da Barrosa. Once you have parked you have two options at the top of the mountain.
So high you can touch the clouds!
Keep left at the top of the mountain to walk around the mouth of the crater, where you will have amazing views of Lagoa do Fogo.
Keep to the right and you will find views of both the North and South coast at the same time. You can also view Vila Franca from here and if you are lucky, whales!
On our way down the mountain, we stopped at Caldeira Velha to soak in a natural hot spring. Admission was 2 euros per person, children were only 1 euro. This hot spring is certainly a tourist destination as we had to soak along a number of strangers who arrived by bus. Not exactly my idea of a good time, but worth the visit.
Tip: be sure to pin your hair up and wash immediately after exiting the warm waters. Due to the high iron content, you will leave with a stained bathing suit as well as coloured hair.
As the sun was setting we pulled into Santa Iria. Once again, breathtaking views and friendly kitties. Be sure to go at sundown to be serenaded by a fine Portuguese gentleman on the accordion. One of those moments where we stopped and just revelled in the beauty.
Today we swung by Cha Gorreana, one of the only tea plantations found in all of Europe, actually both are found on Sao Miguel! Here you can go on a tour, wander through the hundreds of tea bushes and sample the delicious tea and snacks. Aside from the pastries, everything was free!
We drove down to the town of Furnas (parking was 1 euro onsite) where the famous Cozido stew can be found. Because Sao Miguel is geothermal, the locals place meat and veggies into a steal pot and lower it into the ground. The heat from the ground cooks the stew in approximately 6 hours when they will lift the pot from the ground and serve it. Most restaurants in the area cook their cozido this way every day!
We decided to swing by the natural hot springs of. For 4 euros a person, we were soaking in various pools all with different temperatures fed by the geothermal activity of the active volcanos. It was raining on and off today, so it was a perfect way to spend a few hours.
On our way home to stopped in Faial da Terra where you can find the famous hike and waterfall, Salto do Prego. Start your journey to the right as opposed to the left. The cobblestone walkway may entice you, but trust me, you want to walk down that pathway as opposed to up. We explored the “haunted” village of Faial, a collection of homes that have been abandoned and are now taken over by the earth.
Along your hike you will find various animals; cats, goats and even chickens along with many fruit and vegetable gardens. Please don’t pick any of the food as it does belong to the small family farms.
This 5 km loop is difficult in areas, but all in all a very enjoyable trek to a beautiful waterfall. If you are brave, jump in, but be forewarned, it is cold!
We were in the mood for a slower paced day and knew that Fogo Beach was the place for us. We had a quick lunch (21 euros) at the snack bar overlooking the beautiful bay. Fogo beach is a small area of protected water that is home to several submarine geothermal vents. These vents release hot water into the bay warming the water to an approximate 73 degrees. Being as we are basically in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, this is a welcome change.
We spent several hours soaking up the sun on the black sands and jumping into the waves. We swam around looking for the vents, they are easily recognizable by the bubbling water, careful not to get too close.
On our way home we drove through Villa da Franco, home to the Red Bull Diving Championships. During the summer months you can take a boat out to the islet, which we of course were unable to do.
Today we hopped in the car to drive to the opposite island to Sete Cidades. The twin lakes found in the tiny village are probably the most iconic viewpoint in Sao Miguel, if not the entire Azores archipelago. First up, the Miradouro Lagoa do Canario. Park at the entrance of the initial hike, but cross the road where you will find a steel gate. Walk, or drive (the gate is locked at 3pm) to the end of the trail where you will find the famous viewpoint.
This is probably one of my favourite moments, and one I was eagerly anticipating.
Before reaching the twin lakes, we stopped at Vista do Rei, another hugely popular site. If you visit in the summer, the hydrangea are everywhere. And I mean EVERYWHERE! It was a beautiful sight, but I can’t imagine just how beautiful when the flowers are in bloom.
If you have a chance, go into the abandoned 5* hotel Monte Palace. It was so incredibly walking through the abandoned rooms and corridors just imaging what a vision this hotel must have been. We made our way, carefully, to the rooftop where you can see the entire west side of the island. So beautiful!
Ponta da Ferraria was one of my favourite excursions by far! For free, you can swim in a natural pool fed by several geothermal vents. The natural hot tub can get quite hot when the tide is low, however as the tide comes in, you are welcomed by large cold waves crashing over the rocks.
The pool is equipped with ropes to hold onto as you let your body be swayed back and forth by the current. When we swam here it was quite rough, although invigorating! The power of the ocean is so apparent as you hold on for dear life. My biggest regret is not documenting this excursion more, it really was the highlight of my trip and an absolute must do!
Tip: Hold on to the ropes on the opposite side of the waves, otherwise you may get a nasty case of rope burn (which we learned the hard way)
Before heading home, we stopped in Mosteiros for a supper of limpets and shrimp. One of our more costly dinners (52 euros with wine), but the most delicious seafood we have ever had.
We spent our final day in the city of Ponta Delgada exploring this beautiful town while we waited for our flight. We feasted on sushi, fish soup and pastry for 36 euros total including a few pints. It was a perfect way to end an amazing trip. Goodby Sao Miguel – till next time!
Total Cost Breakdown
6 nights in private Airbnb home $350.00
Car rental for 6 days $114.00
Flight for 3 to Sao Miguel $1590.00
3 Meals out $151.00
*rounded up the nearest dollar – all currency is CDN (approx $1759.77 USD)