Most people that travel to the Azores, spend some time on the main island of Sao Miguel and never venture over to any of the other islands. As beautiful as Sao Miguel is, I believe people are missing out by not visiting any of the other islands. Do you enjoy visiting places with lots of unspoiled nature and very few tourists, then a trip to one of the other islands is definitely for you!
When I visited the Azores in 2013, we decided to visit the island of Pico. Known as the “Mountain Island” on this island you can climb up to the crater of a dormant volcano, visit the largest lava tube in Portugal, swim in the natural swimming pools and visit local wineries. With a population of around 14,000 and very minimal tourists, our group of nine friends sometimes felt like the only people on the island. What’s not to love about that?
Three days would be an ideal amout of time to spend on this island. Below is a great three day itinerary for you.
3 Day Pico Itinerary
Day 1 – Drive around the island and visit Gruta das Torres:
Renting a car in Pico is a must and it’s also a great way to see the island. Our first day in Pico we got in the car and just drove around. From beautiful small towns to coastal views to lakes, horses and lava rock, there is so much to stop and take in just driving around the island.
One thing to note when driving around the island, cars take second priority to the cows. The cows seemed to be everywhere in Pico and if they were in the road and you drive up to them, don’t expect them to be in any hurry at all to get out of your way, it’s their road, not the car’s road. As a true city girl, I highly enjoyed all the cow encounters along the way, by the last day on the island, it became quite comical each time they blocked the road. This was the only traffic on the island and the only type of traffic I want to deal with on a vacation.
While driving, we experienced all sorts of different weather throughout the island, from warm sunny skies to drizzling rain to foggy views. One of the things to note about Pico is that the focal point of the island, Montanha do Pico (Mount Pico) can be seen from almost everywhere on the island. My favorite view was with the fog rolling over it while we drove around the island. It was so beautiful to see the fog taking over this large mountain.
On the western side of the island, make sure to visit Gruta das Torres to learn more about the volcanic origins of the island. Gruta das Torres is the largest lava tube in Portugal. The lava tube was first documented in 1991 and the length of 3,350 metres has been explored to date, but it’s estimated to be over 5,200 metres long.
You can visit Gruta das Torres and go down into the lava tube. You will be provided with helmets and head lamps and a guide will take down groups of 15 at a time. It’s quite the experience to head down into the lava tube and definitely a must see on the island of Pico.
After checking out the lava tube, grab something to eat and relax since day two will be a busy and active day of hiking.
Day 2 – Hiking Montanha do Pico:
Climbing Montanha do Pico is probably the most difficult hike I’ve ever done, but I am so glad that I conquered it! It’s an absolute must if you are visiting Pico, but definitely be prepared for a long strenuous day.
Montanha do Pico is 2,351 meters (7,713 feet), the trail starts at 1,200 meters (3,937 feet) so expect to be climbing 1,151 meters (3,776 feet). Unlike most hiking trails, there is a fee of 15 euros and they limit the amount of people on the trail to 160 at a time. You must register to hike up and when you do they provide you with a GPS device that is to be returned when you check back in after ending your hike. So many requirements, you can tell this is definitely not the easiest of hikes.
You can hike up the mountain on your own or you can hire a guide. I personally recommend hiring a guide ahead of time as it will guarantee you a spot as part of the 160 people they let hike up at a time. Also, if you are like me and not the strongest of hikers, it’s comforting to have a guide with you on such a difficult hike.
Definitely be prepared for changing weather, I recommend wearing layers, top layer being a rain jacket, just in case. Hiking boots are an absolute MUST! I was the only one in the group of my friends wearing hiking boots, the rest were just wearing sneakers and the guide was pretty nervous about how they would handle the hike without the proper footwear. Based on my experience with the hiking boots, I’m almost sure I would have gotten hurt if I didn’t have them on this hike, I don’t know how my friends made it down without them!
Plan on a good 7-8 hours for the hike. Unlike most hikes where the descent takes less time than the ascent, this descent definitely takes a bit longer on this hike. The loose volcanic rock makes for a much slower hike down. Bring a lunch to enjoy on the crater, definitely one of the top places I’ve ever had lunch at!
We lucked out on our hike, the weather wasn’t too bad, no rain and a little fog that then cleared up and there was the most beautiful rainbow as we made our way above the clouds. After we had lunch, we walked around and explored the crater. I seriously felt like we were on another planet while walking around the crater, it was amazing. There is an option to camp on top of the crater and we actually were supposed to do that but there were high winds forecasted the night we were going to camp and they cancelled it. I definitely need to go back and camp up there, that would definitely be a once in a lifetime experience!
As I mentioned above this was the most difficult hike I’ve ever done. The descent was really slow going, I’m pretty clumsy to begin with so all the loose volcanic rock had me walking as slow as a turtle down that mountain. At times I didn’t think I’d make it down but I did and it was one of the most rewarding experiences and I’m so proud of myself for completing this hike.
Day 3 – Wineries and Natural Swimming Pools:
After a strenuous hike, the last day is all about relaxing. Time to reward yourself for the hike by trying some Pico wine and relaxing in the natural swimming pools.
Pico has been producing wine since the 15th century. The vineyards in Pico look different than the typical vineyard. The vines run along the lava soil on the ground with basalt rock around the vines. The basalt rock is there to protect the vines from the wind coming off the ocean. These were the most beautiful vineyards I have ever seen!
Pico has many different varieties of white and red wines. Stop by a winery for a tasting.
Later in the day spend some time relaxing in one of the many natural swimming pools on the island. The lava rock on the island help create these beautiful swimming pools, but be prepared, this is the Northern Atlantic Ocean, so the water is on the colder side. While heading to the swimming pools take in the beautiful views of the coast.
If you are looking for somewhere to stay in Pico, I highly recommend the Adegas do Pico in the village of Prainha. We stayed in two of the stone houses here. While it was off the beaten path, the views were amazing. One of the houses we stayed in had a beautiful porch overlooking the ocean which we enjoyed ending each day on.
I hope that if you travel to the Azores that you decide to visit one of the more secluded islands to see more of the unspoiled nature of the Azores. Pico is just one of the 9 islands, to learn more of the other islands, check out my overview of the 9 Islands of the Azores. No visit to the Azores is complete though without visiting the main island of Sao Miguel, so be sure to check out my Itinerary for Sao Miguel as well.