The Azores consist of nine islands in the northern Atlantic Ocean 870 miles west of Lisbon, Portugal. These islands are definitely a hidden gem with few tourists and the unspoiled beauty of nature. Each island has it’s own sense of beauty which makes it difficult to decide which islands to visit. For an overview of each island, make sure to check out my previous post Discover the Azores: The Atlantic’s Best Kept Secret.
The main island of the Azores, home to the capital city and the island you are most likely to fly into, Sao Miguel, is a must for any Azores Itinerary. You could easily spend a week on Sao Miguel itself, but should definitely spend a good 3 or 4 days to take in the all the top spots. When I visited the island, we were there for three and half days and really wish we had a full four days. This post will cover a full four day Sao Miguel Itinerary.
Day 1: Explore the Sights of Furnas
Furnas was top on our list of places to visit on Sao Miguel and it did not disappoint. Furnas is located 44 kilometers from Ponta Delgada, the capital of Sao Miguel. It was one of the more unique places I have ever been to.
Our first stop was Lagoa das Furnas (Furnas Lake). We headed to the eastern side of the lake where the Caldiera das Furnas are located. The lake itself and the area around it were beautiful. I couldn’t get over how tall the trees were.
But as beautiful as the lake is, the main attraction is the Caldiera das Furnas. Located on the shore of the lake, Caldiera das Furnas features steaming holes in the ground known as fumarolas. These fumarolas are used to cook food in the ground known as Cozido das Furnas, which is cooked under ground for up to 6 hours. I recommend visiting in the late morning so you will be there to see them raise the pots out of the ground so they can deliver the Cozido das Furnas to local restaurants in time for the lunch service. The cozido is a selection of meats and vegetables and is quite delicious. Definitely make sure to have the cozido for lunch. We had lunch at the Terra Nostra Gardens Hotel and it was delicious. It’s definitely a very unique experience to see your food being raised out of the ground and then heading over to the restaurant to eat that same food.
After lunch, explore the Terra Nostra Gardens. These beautiful gardens have been around for 200 years and include hundred year old trees and plants and flowers native to the Azores. The Gardens are open daily from 10:30am – 4:30pm and costs 8 Euros to get in.
The highlight of the Terra Nostra Gardens is the Thermal Water Pool. The Thermal Pool was built in 1780 and features water from the volcanic hot springs of the Azores. This water is 35-40 degrees celsius (95-104 degrees fahrenheit) and the minerals in the water from the hot springs are said to promote rest and relaxation. Due to these minerals, the water is orange in color so make sure to not wear your favorite swimwear as it very likely could stain. Your skin will turn a bit orange as well and it may take quite a long shower to get the orange tint to go away, but the relaxation is definitely worth it.
No trip to Furnas is complete without a dip in a thermal pool. If you don’t have a chance to get in the Thermal Water Pool at Terra Nostra Gardens, there are plenty of others outside of the Gardens to check out.
Less than a kilometer from Terra Nostra Gardens, is Poca da Dona Beija. This beautiful and relaxing location is open daily from 10am – 11pm and costs 6 Euros for Adults and 4 Euros for children 6 years old and younger. Poca da Dona Beija features multiple pools at different water depths and a relaxing atmosphere that includes waterfalls and beautiful plant life. Included with admission are changing rooms, lockers and the necessary cold water shower to help take the orange color out of your swimwear and your skin after your time in the thermal pools
Day 2: Explore the Capital of the Azores, Ponta Delgada
On the second day head out to explore Ponta Delgada. Ponta Delgada is the capital city of the Azores and is full of history.
Ponta Delgada was named the capital of the Azores in 1640. Start your day by visiting the many historic sites in this beautiful capital city:
- Portas da Cidade – these city gates served as the entrance gates to the city dating all the way back to the 18th century.
- Forte de Sao Bras – Built in the 16th century to defend the island from pirate raids, this fort is still in use today as a base for the Portuguese navy.
- Igreja Matriz de Sao Sebastiao – This church was founded in the 16th century as a small chapel and in the 18th century it was renovated to add the clock tower. The church is beautiful and best visited just before sunset when the sunlight hits it, creating a warm glow over the building. I absolutely loved the cobblestone street with stars that was just outside the church.
- Convento e Capela de Nossa Senhora da Esperanca – This convent and chapel was built in the 16th century and is still in use as a convent to this day. Inside there are numerous religious art pieces. On the fifth Sunday after Easter, this is the location of the Santo Cristo dos Milagres or Saint Christ of Miracles. During this festival, the outside of the convent is illuminated at night.
While walking thru the city visiting the historic sites, take in the beautiful architecture of the buildings made with black basalt stone. Stop into some of the local shops and restaurants and take in the atomosphere of this beautiful city.
Another great way to see the city is to take a horse drawn carriage ride thru the city. On this ride, the major sites will be pointed out to you and it’s a great way to relax while taking in the sites.
Ponta Delgada is located right on the coast, so make sure to check out the harbor front. Avenida Infante Dom Henrique is the promenade along the harbor and a great area to take a walk and admire the harbor views. Along the promenade, you can visit the shops, bars and cafes for a relaxing afternoon.
If you are visiting between April and October, make sure to book one of the whale and dolphine watching tours that leave from the marina. There are more than 25 different species of whales and dolphins in the Azores. If you are looking to get into the water, there are also swim with dolphin tours available. The great thing about these swim with dolphin tours is you will be swimming with them in their own natural habitat guided by a marine biologist. Definitely a better experience than swimming with them at an aquarium like some swim with dolphin tours in other parts of the world.
I bet the Azores was not a place you think of when thinking of where pineapples are grown. But a can’t miss site just outside of Ponta Delgada is the Arruda Pineapple Plantation. How on earth did they decide to grown pineapples in a climate that isn’t exactly tropical?
Pineapple seeds were brought over to the Azores from Central and South America in the 19th century and by the 20th century they had become the main export of the island. They are grown in greenhouses that recreate the hot and humid climate they are normally grown in. The Azores Pineapple is smaller than your typical pineapple but are also much sweeter.
Admission to the plantation is free and you can take a tour to see how the pineapples are grown. There is also a store where you can purchase pineapples and other pineapple products to take home, include Pineapple Liqueur, which they offer tastings of.
Day 3: Miradouros and Hiking in Sete Cidades
After a day in the city, it’s time to get out into nature. Sete Cidades is a can’t miss location in the Azores. For the people who have seen pictures of the Azores, Sete Cidades is most likely the photos they have seen.
Sete Cidades or Seven Cities is a town on the western part of the island with a population of less than 1,000 people. The town is known for the two lakes, Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Verde in the center of a volcanic crater. As the names suggest, these two lakes are different colors, one being blue and one green.
Why are these lakes that are just separated by a narrow road different colors? Well according to legend, the lakes were created by the tears of a princess and her lover. The king forbade the princess to see her lover so the last time they met up, they both shed their tears to form the two lakes with water the color of each of their eyes. Legend aside, the more likely explanation is the way the sun reflects off of each lake creates the color of each lake.
Miradouros or viewpoints of this area are a can’t miss! Two popular ones to check out in the area are:
Miradouro da Boca do Inferno:
Otherwise known as Hell’s Mouth Viewpoint, this is the view that most people associate with the Azores. This is most definitely the most beautiful view on the island. There is a dirt staircase and then a dirt path out to the viewpoint. As this is a popular view, it will get crowded, but it’s definitely a can’t miss!
Miradouro da Vista do Rei:
This is a great viewpoint to be able to see the difference in color of the two lakes and is another must visit.
Sete Cidades is a great area for some of the best hiking in Sao Miguel. There are trails that go around the perimeter of the crater with beautiful views of the lakes and the valley below. You could definitely spend a full day hiking around this beautiful area with probably a lot of stopping for photos or just to take in the amazing views.
Day 4: Lagoa do Fogo and Caldiera Velha
On your last day, it’s a day of hiking and another lake, followed by some much needed relaxation in the thermal pools.
Another beautiful views on Sao Miguel is definitely Lagoa do Fogo or Lake of Fire. Stop at the Miradouro da Lagoa do Fogo to take in this beautiful lake.
From this viewpoint, you can take a 30 minute hike down to the sandy shore of the lake. The hike can be steep so it may be difficult for some. Once you are at the lake, feel free to walk around the lake to extend the length of the hike or to just find a less crowded area to take in the views of the lake.
If you are looking for a longer hike, the Praia – Lagoa do Fogo hike starts about 30 minutes away from the miradouro and will take you about 4 hours roadtrip. This is a much less popular hike, so if you are looking for a way to see the lake without the crowds and are up for a longer hike, this is it!
After a couple of days of hiking, I bet your body could use some relaxation! About a 10 minute drive from Lagoa do Fogo is Caldiera Velha.
Caldiera Velha has thermal pools and waterfalls for all your relaxation needs. Although I did not have time to visit her on my trip as our last day was only a half day, I really wish this was how I ended the trip. Who doesn’t want to end their time on Sao Miguel with relaxing in the thermal spas the islands are known for.
I hope this Sao Miguel Itinerary helps you see how you can see all the top spots on the island in four days. Make sure to extend your trip to the islands of the Azores for longer than four days so you can take a plane or ferry to some of the other islands for a few days. There are definitely more beautiful Miradouros and Hiking trails on the eight other islands of the Azores as well.