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10 Reasons You Have to Visit the Azores




The Azores archipelago is Portuguese, but is situated very far away from the mainland in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. 


The Azores are ripe with delicious foods, geographical wonders and landscapes straight out of Jurassic Park. However, due to their isolated location and how expensive it was to reach them, they're sadly often missed out by visitors to Portugal, and even the Portuguese themselves. 

sete cidades lake

caldeira velha

But this spring, cheap flights finally opened up from Lisbon, so we were able to visit. We loved it and ended up spending a whole month on the largest of the islands - Sao Miguel.

caldeira velha


Sao Miguel pretty much has something for everyone so here are 

10 Reasons we think You Must Visit Sao Miguel and the Azores



1. Sete Cidades lake

sete cidades lake

The Sete Cidades lake was named one of the seven natural wonders of Portugal. Portugal is so beautiful that it had a lot of competition, but when you visit it you can see why it won: 

sete cidades lake

The lake is situated in an ancient, dormant volcano. You can walk all around the lake and all around the top of the volcano. If you do walk around the top you really notice where the lava has affected the earth (i.e. how the forest looks like four tongues).  

sete cidades forrest

Even though it really looks like there are two lakes, there is actually only one. (It's divided by a bridge). The sunlight reflects differently on the opposite sides of the lake making one part look blue and the other green. 

sete cidades lake

This prompted a legend about a King refusing to let his daughter marry a shepherd. They cried so much that they filled up the lakes. A guy we met told us the blue lake is the daughter's because girls cry more, but he was wrong (and sexist). The blue lake is the SHEPHERD'S because his eyes were blue (and he probably cried more). 

lake azores

Sexism aside, this kind of beauty was one of the main reasons we wanted to come to the Azores and it did not disappoint.


sete cidades lake

Tips for Sete Cidades: 
  • DO spend all day there, you can hike round the bottom, walk round the top, even hike from the top to the bottom (that takes ages don't do that). You can also walk right underneath the volcano, but actually.. 
  • DON'T walk in the tunnel underneath the volcano, it takes about 20 minutes, is pitch black and is a nightmare for anyone whose seen 'Creep' or 'the Descent' or any horror film really.
  • DON'T now go and watch the trailer for 'the Descent' I'm now super scared. Okay, deep breaths..
  • DO make sure you go on a sunny day 
  • DO see the second reason to go to the Azores for the best view of Sete Cidades. 







2. Sete Cidades' haunted hotel: Monte Palace 

monte palace azores

Okay, so speaking of horror films, how would you like to visit the set of a French one? 

monte palace azores

Monte Palace was a French, yuppie, bad investment in the 80s. 30 years ahead of it's time it over-estimated the amount of tourists heading to Sao Miguel. Within a year it was closed down. 

monte palace azores

For ten years or so, guards (and guard dogs) were employed to make sure no one broke in to steal the furniture/carpets/windows. But when the money finally ran out, nature was allowed to take over.

monte palace azores
Photo credit: Petar Dimitrov, polygot
Well nature, the graffiti artists, and the annoying tourists:

monte palace azores

Apparently a few years ago a French horror film was shot here, but we can't for the life of us find it's name :( or what it's about. We'd love to see it, so if anyone does know it (or can use Google.fr) please help!

It was creepy, but if you can, you MUST go on the roof. The views are the best. 


sete cidades lake

Tips for Monte Palace: 
  • DO go in the rooms and imagine how luxurious the hotel would be with a view like this
  • DON'T worry about being told off about going in there, there are no signs that say you can't, the doors are wide open and there are lots of other tourists there.
  • DON'T go at night, unless you are super brave
  • DO be careful, there are lots of old lifts you can fall down

3. Caldeira Velha

caldeira velha azores

Located very close to Lagoa do Fogo (another volcanic lake) is Caldeira Velha - and it's the best! It's basically three hot lakes heated by the volcano.

This is the top one, it's about 25°C and has a waterfall

caldeira velha azores


We (foolishly) went in this one first, thinking that it would be warmer than it was. 

caldeira velha azores

Then we got in the next one (38°C) it was much warmer (duh). 


caldeira velha azores

Having complained that the first one was too cold, we soon discovered that the second one was too hot (eat your heart out Goldilocks). No really, eat your heart out Goldilocks: 

caldeira velha azores
Now who has the gold-iest locks?

It really was very relaxing, but because of the sunny weather we couldn't stay in for too long.

The third pool was a whopping 61°C! Drastically dangerous to go in, but perfect to dry off next to. 

caldeira velha azores


Tips for Caldeirha Velha: 
  • DO go in the 38°C one first and then the 25°C
  • DO make sure you go in the water, it's very relaxing
  • DO try and go on a colder day, it would be perfect if it was snowing!
  • DON'T step in the 61°C one (duh) 

4. The Wildlife 
azores wildlife
Photo credit: Petar Dimitrov
With a great environment and very few humans, there is a lot of wildlife here. Lots of unique birds, cute frogs: 

azores frogs

and absolutely abundant with one of our favourite animals - Lizards: 

azores lizards

As House Sitters, our favourite animals are dogs, closely followed by cats. But the dogs and cats aren't that great here. Okay some of the dogs are cute but most of them are actually SCARY. We walked across the island one day, passing lots of farms with lots of scary (thankfully chained up) dogs. 






The cats aren't a lot better, they're not really scary (what's are they going to do, bite my toe off?) but they are a bit skanky/underfed/flea-bitten/inbred. We felt a bit sorry for them so gave a couple of them some fish heads. It wasn't long before they came back with an army:

azores cats

but at least it included their cute (inbred) babies!!! 

azores cats

But maybe skanky cats,  scary dogs and lizards aren't your thing.. Don't worry the Azores save their best wildlife FOR THE SEA:

dolphins azores

We saw dolphins and whales with the wonderful Picos de Aventura if you'd like to hear more about that perfect day, please check out this post

5. Furnas

lagoa das furnas

The third volcanic lake of Sao Miguel is called Lagoa das Furnas and the volcano is actually still active (though it's last eruption was in 1630). 

Because of the activeness of the volcano, there are plenty of geysers (hot springs where water sporadically boils) hence all the steam:  

lagoa das furnas

They boil eggs in these waters! 

But we didn't eat eggs, instead we opted for a traditional cozido which had been cooked in the ground: 

lagoa das furnas
Yum

Even though it looks like a mud pie, it's a bit more sophisticated than that. Meats, veg and rice are placed together in a pot and then buried in the earth for five hours. The volcano heats them up and gives you a yummy mess of foods cooked in each others' juices. 

lagoa das furnas travelling weasels
Photo credit: Petar Dimitrov 

These cozidos are cooked right next to the lake, which is beautiful


lagoa das furnas

We mountain biked round the edge of the lake and then kayaked on it. It was a great way to see everything in an interesting way and from all angles. But for more on that check out our other post Canoeing and Mountain Biking on Furnas

mountain biking furnas

Tips for Furnas: 
  • DO go kayaking and mountain biking with Picos de Aventura 
  • DO have the cozido cooked from the ground (unless you're a vegetarian). I can't say it was our favourite food on the island, but the novelty makes up for it. 


6. The Food

azores cheese

So what was our favourite food on the island? All our favourites were found in teeny tiny  place called Capelas on the north side. 

Firstly they have a bakery there which is to die for, not many tourists come to Capelas (there's nothing to do there) so the prices are kept low and the tastes are kept yummy for the natives:

pastel de nata

This 'Pastel de Nata' was the best we've ever had. Pastel de Nata is apparently custard tarts, but I've never had custard tarts like this in the UK. I'm no tart expert (haha, far from it) but I think the difference between the UK ones and the Portuguese ones is the pastry. 

Anyway, Pastel de Natas in Lisbon will set you back about 70 cents. The Pastel de Natas in Capelas are just 39 cents! 






But our absolute favourite food came from our neighbours. They kindly invited us round to have food with them and their friends. It was one of the best meals we've ever had! They cooked most of the things in their wood oven:


azores wood oven

We had bread, fish, potatoes, beef, chorizo, all cooked perfectly in the super hot oven. 

They also had home made cheese which wasn't pasteurised and may be the best cheese we've ever had.

There was also plenty of wine and homemade tangerine liquor.

All the food was either from their garden or from the island, or from the ocean. It was all delicious. 

7. The People
Our neighbours weren't the only nice people we met in Sao Miguel. We also managed to hitch-hike 20 times on the island.

Hitch-hiking was another reason we wanted to come to the Azores. Before the Azores we were pretty much hitch-hiking virgins. In the Azores you have to hitch-hike. Unless you hire a car or like walking for 3 hours. There are basically no buses and the taxis are expensive. 

It turned out hitch-hiking was really easy and really fun on Sao Miguel. As long as you stick to the main roads (so you know lots of people will pass). 

We were picked up by a mixture of natives and tourists (German and America, no British I'm sad to say). A lot of the natives didn't speak English, but it was fine. The ones who did revealed that a lot of the natives dislike tourists, they raise the food prices for the locals and crowd up all the lovely nature things. Oops. 

We actually wrote a whole post here called Everything you need to know about hitch-hiking in the Azores - the perfect place for first time hitch hikers. 


8. The coast

azores coast

Whilst Sao Miguel doesn't really have any 'proper*' beaches, you can't fault the coast for it's crystal clear waters. 

azores coast

The sea is pretty rough and should only be ventured into by experienced swimmers, but there are still sections you can swim in, because they've cleverly built up the rocks to create a kind of 'sea swimming pool'. You get all the benefits of sea swimming, without having to worry about being swept out to sea! 

*by proper I mean white-sand, enjoyable to lay on type beaches, this is not the Algarve, but that shouldn't put you off visiting!

9. The landscape 

azores landscape

If you're bored of the coast, be sure to check out the inland, which is super green. There are lots of mountains/hills dotted across the island and most of them are in weird pointy shapes. 






We actually walked one day from Ponta Delgada to Capellas (i.e. from the south coast to the north coast). It took three hours but it was absolutely beautiful! 

10. The awesome activities 

mountain biking furnas

Our final reason that we think you'll love the Azores is because of all the chances there are to do cool sports surrounded by beautiful nature. Alongside mountain biking and canoeing/kayaking (which we loved), you can also go fishing, bird watching, canyoning, hiking, horse riding, hang gliding, scuba diving and surfing. 

furnas kayaking

All in all, we absolutely loved the Azores, it's one of the best islands we've ever been to and one of our favourite places in Europe. No matter what you're looking for, be it relaxation, excitement, wildlife, volcanoes, good food, nice people - you're guaranteed to find it in the Azores. So what's stopping you? Well maybe the practicalities, but let's look at those now

landscape azores landscape azoreslandscape azores sao miguel

Things to know before you arrive:

Getting to the island
We flew from Lisbon and thanks to Skyscanner (a website that lets you compare all the plane prices) our flights were pretty cheap.

Getting around the islands
Like I said, we got around solely by walking and hitchhiking. We really recommend hitchhiking, it was loads of fun.

You could of course hire a car here (we recommend doing this on Skyscanner's car comparison site). 

Please do believe us though when we say buses aren't an option. They go about twice a day, if that,  and don't go to the places you want to go. 

Where to stay in the Azores: 

AirBnB
Prices from £13/night 




















As we stayed for a whole month in the Azores we decided to stay with AirBnB. This is because most AirBnBs offer a SUPER CHEAP DISCOUNT if you stay for a whole week and even more if you stay for a whole month!

Staying with AirBnB also meant that we had our own kitchen and washing machine - the ultimate luxuries for those who have been travelling for a long time!

If you fancy the sound of AirBnB but haven't used it before, we can offer you £25 discount off your first AirBnB trip!

Hotels 
Furnas Boutique Hotel
Prices from £124 per night for a Double Room





















Furnas Boutique Hotel is in the perfect location - Furnas! This is the place to go if you're looking for true luxury and relaxing spas. 

Book your room here: TripAdvisor | Agoda

Hotel Acores Atlantico
Prices from £66 for a single room



















If you're looking for a cheaper option, we suggest Hotel Acores Atlantico. It's also in a great location (Ponta Delgada). 

Book your room here: TripAdvisorAgoda


House Sitting
Fancy staying in some fancy accommodation in return for looking after a pet or too? It's definitely worth checking out Trusted House Sitters - Portugal for House Sits in the Azores. 


The Weather 
The Azores have some crazy ever changing weather. Sao Miguel is a pretty small island, but you can have bright sunshine on one side and torrential rain on the other.

Hence we recommend going to the Azores for at least two weeks if you can. There is so much to see and do there, and if you only come for 3 or 4 days, there is a possibility that all you will see is fog! 

Food prices
We were surprised by how cheap food was on Sao Miguel - especially outside Ponta Delgada. We'd (dimly) assumed that everything would be imported and thus expensive, but because of Sao Miguel's fertile lands and intermittent weather they can grow pretty much anything! The pineapples in particular were to die for. 

Conclusion
Sao Miguel has been one of the highlights of our last two years of travelling and we are busy recommending it to everyone. Our only regret is not being able to visit the other islands, but we will be back for that!! But what do you think? Would you like to go to the Azores? Let us know! 

Do you have an Azores pin board yet? Get pinning!!



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ABOUTME

We're Laura and Tanbay, a British/German couple who have successfully weaselled our way out of the rat-race and want you to do the same!

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