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Hitch-hiking in the Azores - the perfect place for first time hitch-hikers



Everything you need to know about hitch-hiking in the Azores - the perfect place for first time hitch-hikers

Hitch-hiking in the Azores is an ideal way to see everything that these beautiful islands have to offer. It's a great way to meet friendly, interesting Azoreans or other travellers and, furthermore, it's the perfect place to try hitch-hiking for the first time. 

hitchhiking azores

First things first - Is hitch-hiking in the Azores safe?! - is hitch-hiking ever safe?

Hitch-hiking safety note
best place hitchhike virgins

I'm not going to disrespect people attacked or even killed whilst hitch-hiking by saying that hitching is 100% safe, because it's disingenuous and it dishonours their memory. BUT I will say these three things:

first time hitch hiking

1. NOTHING is 100% safe: people have accidents everyday whilst driving their own cars or getting run over crossing the street. Hell, people choke on their food or drown in the bath. If you've seen Final Destination you'll know that pretty much anything can be a threat, even things that are meant to keep you safe - like fire escape ladders. 

Sure, I'm not recommending inviting accidents in with open arms by purposefully putting yourself at risk, but that brings me on to point two:

hitchhiking safe

2. Hitch-hikers are NOT disproportionately victims of crime - this is a real live actual fact. Hitch-hiking is less risky than standing under a coconut tree. Fact. 

hitchhiking risks

3. And finally, This: 

I really believe that thanks to smart phones and modern technology a) the world is a lot smaller then it used to be and b) hitch-hiking is safer than it was back in the day. 

hitchhiking facts

I hope that helps, I'm by no means a risky person, in fact by most people's standards I'm pretty wimpy (for example, I'd never bungee jump - I don't want to break my neck). But even I think that hitch-hiking, in the great scheme of things, is not a massive gamble. 

fear

Pressumably though, you're here to learn about hitch-hiking in the Azores, not have a lecture from me about FEAR (False Evidence Appearing Real) so I'm going to get on with that now: 

sao miguel hitch hiking

This post is divided into three sections:
  • Tips for hitch-hiking virgins
  • Tips for hitch-hiking in the Azores
  • Our own personal stories form hitch-hiking in the Azores
So feel free to skip to whatever's relevant to you:

Tips for hitch-hiking virgins
azores hitch hike

If it's your first time hitch-hiking (as it was for us when we arrived on Sao Miguel - the largest of the island in the Azores,) these tips and tricks should help you out: 

Don't stand where it's impossible for cars to stop 
hitchhiking tips

Don't stand on the motorway or places cars can't legally stop, or on the wrong side of the road. Bus stops are great and petrol stations are good too (though there aren't many of those on Sao Miguel).




Do stand after a junction
It's so annoying when you finally get someone to stop, and then find out they're going a different way. Thus, stand at a spot that can only mean that they're going the same way as you. 

Don't expect the first car to pick you up
hitchhiking tips for newbies
So you've built up your courage, stood in a good spot (cars can stop, they're all going in your direction), stuck out your thumb, and BOOM the car sails on by. Don't worry, they were probably late for work, had no space or simply just didn't see you (it's actually scary how unaware lots of drivers are of their surroundings). Don't despair, the law of averages says that you will be picked up soon!  

But don't wait around for more than an hour
Sometimes you just won't be picked up, maybe it's harder for cars to stop there than you thought, maybe not enough cars are coming past, maybe there's something about that spot, don't give up, just give up on that spot. Walk in the direction you are going until you find a more successful spot. 

If you don't want to get in a car, don't! 
hitchhiking tips for virgins
I firmly believe that, thanks to the scaremongering of the media and Hollywood, our society has  unjustly conditioned us to be scared of hitch-hiking. 

However, I do still believe in a little bit of gut instinct and if it doesn't feel right, just know that you don't have to get into the car: you can just pretend you're asking for directions; or ask if they're going somewhere outrageously far away, and if they say they'll take you half way, answer you'd rather wait for a car going the whole way... 

With the first few cars that stopped for us, we made up excuses because we 'didn't like the look of them'.. having hitch-hiked a lot now, I feel bad about that, but I'm still telling you about it to show you that you can say no to cars that stop! It's fine!




Stick your thumb out, smile and make eye contact
Stick out your thumb kind of goes without saying (it's the international sign for hitch-hiking), but don't forget to smile and make eye contact along with it. Smiling shows you're a happy human being who would be nice to share a ride with. Eye contact makes people feel more awkward when they ignore you. 

sao miguel azores

These are just a few tips when hitch-hiking for the first time, if you'd like an extended list check out hitchwiki.orgwiki travel - tips for hitchhiking and, the one we found most useful: How To: Hitch-Hike Safely and Successfully by our friends at Nomader How Far. 

Now for some specific Azores hitch-hiking tips:

Tips for hitch-hiking Sao Miguel Island, Azores
hitch-hiking sao miguel azores
Pick up a map at the airport
Very nicely (especially considering they don't offer a decent shuttle service to Ponta Delgada), Ponta Delgada Airport does give out free, good, maps of Sao Miguel. These are perfect - you will always know which direction you're headed. 




Only hitch-hike on the EN1-1A
Here is a map of Sao Miguel Island:

The big yellow road (the EN1-1A) that runs around the edge is the perfect place to hitch-hike because cars go past very regularly. 

Hitch-hiking along any of the little white roads (EN2-1A, EN3-1A, EN4-1A) is nearly impossible, because not enough cars go that way. 


Take an umbrella
The Azores are situated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, which means that the weather is extremely volatile. Be prepared for it to rain, even if it looks really sunny. If you're drenched, people won't feel sorry for you and pick you up, they won't want their cars to be wet and will sail on by. 


Real experience: hitch-hiking in the Azores
hitchhiking open road

I'm going to end this post by telling you a few stories of what it was actually like to hitch-hike in the Azores because, like when I wrote A Guide For First Time House Sitters, I think tips can only take you so far: the real learning comes from hearing real examples of what can (and has) happened:

Our first hitch-hiking experience in the Azores = a disaster
real experience hitch-hiking azores
This is how not to hitch-hike in the Azores:  We arrived at the airport on Sao Miguel in the afternoon, we'd been told in advance by our Airbnb host that to get to his house were two options: an expensive taxi or an expensive lift from him. There were no buses and it was too far to walk.




Knowing in advance that the buses on Sao Miguel range from poor service to non-existent, we prepared ourselves for secret option number three: hitch-hiking, our Airbnb host had assured us that hitching was a great way to get around the Azores. 

So we walked eastward away from the airport and towards Ponta Delgada, we knew any cars driving past would almost certainly be heading to Ponta Delgada which wasn't where we were going, so we waited until we'd turned off north before we anxiously put our thumbs out.

real story hitch-hiking azores

We'd never really hitch-hiked before and were super nervous about doing it, my plan was to carry on walking north, with my back to the cars and my thumb out. If anyone stopped that looked like an axe-murderer I would simply say I didn't mean to have my thumb out, it's just the way I walk.

azores succesful hitch hike

Not many cars passed, and unsurprisingly none stopped. 

We carried on walking. After about 45 minutes we got bored of walking, got our nerve up and stopped to face the cars, if any of them looked 'alright' we put our thumb out. No one stopped.

azores unsuccesful hitch hike

We continued walking north. The road got smaller and the cars became practically non existent.

At about the one and a half hour mark (halfway there according to Google), it started to rain. With all our luggage, but particularly our cameras and laptops we started to worry. A few more cars came past but none stopped, one waved apologetically but that was it!

ponta delgada to capellas


One and a half hours later (so three hours in total) we arrived at our Airbnb. Tired, wet and extremely annoyed with our host who'd insisted that hitch-hiking on the Azores was a big thing.

After we'd showered and rested we went to him to ask him what was up.

He laughed at us and revealed it was near impossible to hitch on those smaller roads we'd been walking on, but super easy on the main road. He couldn't believe we'd walked for three hours, with all our luggage. 

Our second attempt - nervous but exciting
sete cidades lake azores
Luckily our second attempt went a lot better: though it started in a pretty similar way. 

Following our host's advice, we set off to Capellas and stood in the optimal spot: busy enough, easy place to stop, clear which direction we were going in. 

At the beginning no one stopped for us, and the old men who were sat gossiping outside the cafe started to point and laugh at us. 

But finally someone stopped!! - a guy in a beat up car, but he wasn't going very far so we waved him off.

Then a second guy stopped, in an even worse car, without back doors, a no no for me at the time, and we waved him off too.

Then a couple in a nice company car stopped, they weren't going quite as far as us, but agreed to take us until that point.

They were both lovely, both Azorean, her English impeccable, his non-existent. He insisting on stopping for us at one point so we could take photos of the view:

sao miguel coast


Giddy with our achievement of hitch-hiking for the first time, we continued to walk up to the top of Sete Cidades Volcano. We overestimated the walk (it was super steep and took ages) and we mistakenly walked up a tiny road that no one came up. But we didn't care, we'd officially hitch-hiked!

When we got to the top, it was so misty that we couldn't see anything! 

weather sao miguel

(A real problem in the Azores) but we met a nice American family who took us all the way back down the mountain. 

After that day, inspired by our own hitch-hiking, we found it a lot easier to hitch-hike - we found good spots, we weren't picky about who stopped, and we smiled a LOT. 

A few people stand out in our memory as nice drivers and/or entertaining stories:

The German couple who became our chauffeurs
On our second attempt to conquer Sete Cidades, we met the nicest German couple ever: we were walking up the hill, with our thumbs out when a car stopped and a man asked in a heavy accent "do you need a lift to the top" and we answered in German "yes please!"

At the top we saw the Sete Cidades in all its wonder for the first time:

happy hitchhiking story

After offering to take photos for the couple, they returned the favour:

hitch hike the azores

And then asked if we wanted to join them around the lake. 

They drove us to the bottom, we walked with them around the lake and, my favourite part, we went in the haunted Monte Palace hotel with them:

monte palace haunted hotel azores

We also walked around the volcano and later up to a few view points. Finally they dropped us off at their Airbnb - they were so kind! 


The guy that gave us drugs
monte palace haunted hotel

We always found it a bit hard to hitch-hike out of Ponta Delgada back to Capellas, where we were staying, because there isn't really a good place to stand. One time we were picked up by a young guy, who said he could take us if we both sat in the front seat. It was funny and he was a really nice guy. When he dropped us off he actually gave us some hash (which we had no idea what to do with and gave to our neighbour). 


The plastic man 
funny hitchhiking stories
We were picked up by a good mixture of tourists and native Azoreans. Most of the Azoreans had good-to-perfect English (which was useful as our Portuguese is shamefully non-existent - it's a hard language!)

One guy had absolutely no English, but after a few points on our map happily waved us in. Tanbay sat in the front seat, and I opened the back to see a whole lot of shredded plastic. I just managed to squeeze in and we went on our merry way, whilst I quickly drowned in plastic. 


The Cactus man

A guy in a van stopped for us and said I'd have to sit in the back - aka no seat and blacked out windows. Like the guy with the drugs, this wasn't something I would have done on our first hitch, but like the guys with the drugs, it turned out fine, well almost:

I had a fun time rolling around in the back, hoping that Tanbay would remember to let me out when we got there. Meanwhile, as we went round a bend Tanbay helpfully caught the man's bag as it fell over. At which point the man looked really shocked, worried and started yelling in Portuguese. It turned out that the bag had a cactus in it and poor Tanbay's hand was covered in needles! 


An Azorean an American and a Brazilian 
After a successful hitch to Calderia Velha:



Followed by an unsuccessful hitch up to Lagoa do Fogo we were picked up by an Azorean, an American and a Brazilian. They were all lovely, but the American will always be remembered: after finding out that Tanbay is German, she excitedly said that she loved Heineken (which is Dutch).




Conclusion
hitchhike in the azores
We highly recommend that you try hitch-hiking in the Azores, it's a great way to meet other tourists and real Azoreans themselves. We think it was a great place to hitch-hike for the first time and glad we tried it out there.

We hope this guide has been useful for you, let us know in the comments below if you have any questions! 

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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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