I've just returned from the most amazing week on São Miguel Island. I've shared some of our adventures below for anyone planning a trip there and looking for inspiration on what to to...
Where are the Azores?When we told friends where we were heading on our holiday this year we were met with a lot of blank faces. The islands of the Azores are situated off the coast of mainland Portugal and are about five hours from London Gatwick.
|The horizon over Caloura village|
Stuff to know before you goI carried out a lot of research before I went and read quite a few travel blogs and guides. The island has lots of activities but they are mostly geared towards sporty outdoorsy pursuits. A party island it isn't.
|The Nordeste coastline|
|Praia dos Moinhos|
I would recommend looking at different excursions and booking some before you go. We booked kayaking and whale watching before we went and didn't have to pay until we arrived so if you have a change of plan when you get there it’s pretty flexible. We tried to book a boat trip from the marina in Ponta Delgada on our last day and it was fully booked so if you do plan on booking on arrival, visit the tour operator a few days before to get tickets. This wasn’t because the island is busy; there are just limited tour operators so less spaces available on trips.
|Hiking trail from Furnas Lake|
Where to stayI debated staying in Ponta Delgada (the biggest town) but we wanted to get away from anywhere busy and built-up so we opted for Caloura in Agua De Pau. It’s a village on the south coast and is in the centre of the island, making it perfect for getting around.
We were walking distance from two small, quiet beaches and also had a local fishery nearby where you could go for a swim and enjoy the catch of the day at the restaurant overlooking the ocean - the scene could have been taken straight from a Wes Anderson film.
What to do if you have a week in São MiguelFirst of all, I would highly recommend renting a car and picking it up from the airport. The island is small but there are so many beautiful drives and it saves you the hassle of waiting around for buses. We discussed renting bikes to get around but now that I've been I wouldn't recommend it. The island is incredibly mountainous and even the car struggled on some of the slopes.
1. Lagoa do Fogo
The fire lake was my favourite of all the lakes. To get there you descend into a volcanic crater which you can access from the lookout point. There are some steps to guide you but it’s a steep climb so wear trainers. It took us about 20 minutes to get down…maybe a little longer to climb back up as we had to stop to catch our breath.
2. Snorkelling on Ilheu da Vila
|The view of the island from Vila Franca do Campo|
The island is 10 minutes boat ride from the marina at Vila Franca do Campo (look out for the tour operator stand where you buy tickets). We took our snorkels and flippers with us, as well as towels and packed lunches/water. The island is a nature reserve and there is a limit to how many people can visit per day so I would recommend setting off early to avoid the crowds. In the centre of the island is a natural swimming pool which is pretty shallow but you can see lots of fish if you stick to the rocks around the edges.
3. Praia de Santa Barbara
This was the biggest beach out of all that we visited. It has lots of facilities so you can just turn up with your towel – there is a café and showers so you can grab an ice lolly and wash the sand out your pants. The waves tend to fill you swimsuit with handfuls of the stuff!
4. Dolphin/whale watching
We booked with Sea Colours – mainly because they were marine biologists and loved nature.
|The view from Pico de Ferro|
Furnas is cool. It’s a village and it has a big lake nearby. You can’t swim in this one though but they have canoe hire.
5. Sete Cidades
These twin lakes – Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Verde – are stunning. We went kayaking here and booked it through a guy called Dioniso (or Didi as he preferred to be called). He turned out to be super helpful and we contacted him throughout the week for recommendations for restaurants, surf shops and activities. We kayaked for a few hours between the two sides of the lake. We found a corner where there was an amazing echo that reverberated around the crater. The backdrop was beautiful and it felt like we could have been surrounded by a tropical rainforest.
Other places worth a visit:
- Caloura beach – take a BBQ down there in the evening and check out the stars. The Milky Way looked unreal!
- Bar Caloura – our favourite spot for dinner.
- Mosteros beach - on the west of the island.
- Gorreana Tea Plantation – you get to sample the free tea. We took some of the orange one home with us, it’s so refreshing.
- Calderia Velha (near Ribeira Grand) – a nature reserve with hot springs and waterfalls to swim in.
- Nordeste – the drive up the mountains through the forests is spectacular.
- Praia dos Moinhos in Porto Formoso - small quiet beach with a beach bar and showers//toilets.