An award-winning destination, the Azores is now considered one of the world’s best places for sustainable tourism.
Do not expect large islands, or white sandy beaches, but rather beautiful natural and man-made landscapes scattered over nine small, volcanic islands. Besides fumaroles, caverns, and crater lakes, flowers are everywhere to enjoy, especially in spring.
Need more reasons to visit this archipelago belonging to Portugal? Here are the top attractions in the Azores to explore on your next trip.
1. Lagoa das Sete Cidades – São Miguel
The beautiful lake is on top of every list of sights in the Azores. Take a walk around the top of the caldera and try to capture the blue and green colours of the two adjacent lakes. Every view is breathtaking. If you’re staying in Ponta Delgada, São Miguel’s capital, you can drive yourself, take a tour or a taxi to visit Sete Cidades. The little village at the bottom of the caldera is also a lovely place to stay.
2. Algar do Carvão – Terceira
Algar do Carvão is a dormant volcano, and perhaps the most impressive visit on Terceira Island. Being inside this volcano, a 100-metre deep cave with a pool of crystal-clear water, is an amazing experience. Admire the silica stalactites and stalagmites on the cave’s ceiling and walls, which are unique in the context of the Azores’ volcanoes.
3. Capelinhos – Faial
The arid landscape of the Capelinhos volcanic complex is one of Faial’s main attractions. From the top of the lighthouse, you can take amazing photos. But the adjacent Capelinhos Volcano Interpretation Centre located underground is actually the starting point to learn about the volcanic eruptions of 1957-58, the transformation of the landscape, and the geology of the Azores. The centre uses interesting multimedia exhibitions and 3D films.
4. Pico Mountain
At 2,351 metres (7,713 feet), Pico is Portugal’s highest mountain. Climbing to the top can be physically challenging. Some people use guides because of their added knowledge of the terrain, but you can climb on your own. You do need adequate footwear though. Also, wear layers as the weather changes abruptly at different points of the climb. Of course, take food and water too.
The hike is 3-4 hours each way (athletic people may take less time), just follow the 45 marker poles. The descent can actually be the most challenging part due to the steepness and treacherous loose rocks. The climb begins at Casa da Montanha at about 1,230 metres (4,035 feet), where climbers pay about €20, and are given a GPS to wear.
5. Rocha dos Bordões – Flores
Located on Flores’s west coast, between Lajes das Flores and Fajã Grande, the columnar basalt formation is one of the island’s most fascinating attractions. It’s worth stopping in several viewpoints along the way to admire the rock formation and the beautiful surrounding area.
6. Pico Vineyards
The landscape of the Pico Island vineyard culture is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The rich lava soil, a warm and dry climate, and the lava-rock enclosures, protecting vineyards from sea winds, produce a unique fresh, fruity, dry and light wine, known as “verdelho”. Lajido da Criação Velha and Lajido de Santa Luzia are the best places to visit Pico’s volcanic vineyards.
7. Furnas – São Miguel
Furnas is famous for its hot springs and fumaroles. It’s the place to discover the Azorean geothermal cuisine with the famous cozido das Furnas, a kind of stew with layers of meat, vegetables, chouriço and blood sausage, that simmers for about five hours in the Furnas caldera. Order this volcano-cooked dish at a local restaurant. The gardens near the hot springs are also worth a visit.
8. Serra do Cume – Terceira
Serra do Cume’s viewpoint offers one of Terceira’s most amazing views, with Praia da Vitória’s bay on one side and the Azorean fields that resemble a “manta de retalhos” (patchwork blanket) on the opposite side.
9. Biscoitos’ Swimming Pools – Terceira
To the east of Biscoitos, there are natural pools which are geological formations resulting from volcanic eruptions, and now used for swimming. To enjoy the views, walk along the paths near the lava rocks. Biscoitos is also known for its vineyards where a special wine is produced. The grapevines are planted in tiny lava rock enclosures that protect them from the salty breezes.
10. Furna do Enxofre – Graciosa
The 183 steps that descent into the volcanic cavern offer quite a unique experience on Graciosa Island. There’s a large underground lake that you can only view from a distance due to CO2 emissions, and a fumarole that makes the place even more interesting. The area around the cavern is also beautiful, and you can take a walk to enjoy the great sea views.