My name is Joao Santos and I am a resident of the Azores (Terceira). During my free time and when I have vacations, I love to explore the other islands of the Azores archipelago – taking with me my camera equipment to photograph the green and unique landscapes of these islands.
My taste for photography was born in 2017 when I bought my first drone. From the different perspectives offered with photography and drones, and the incredible landscapes of the Azores, I was fascinated and this led me to exploring this part of Portugal a little bit more with every passing year.
The Azores are an archipelago home to some of the most diverse and unique landscapes not only in Portugal but on the entire planet – from green pastures and fantastic forests, to majestic lagoons and towering volcanoes! This diversity inspires me to get outside and explore nature.
Living in the Azores is truly wonderful because it gives me the chance to explore the most stunning landscapes in the world and at the same time enjoy the calm of small cities/towns without being in a bustling metropolis. Additionally, the gastronomy here is fantastic with a rich array of dishes and the people of these islands are amazing too – they are always very friendly!
The people of the Azores are notorious for their welcoming attitude when it comes to tourists. Being small islands, the pace they live life at on a day-to-day basis is slow and peaceful – without the hustle and bustle of large urban centers. The atmosphere is calmer than the Portuguese mainland.
Nine Islands of the Azores
The Azores consists of nine islands: Sao Miguel, Santa Maria, Terceira, Graciosa, Sao Jorge, Pico, Faial, Flores and Corvo. I have visited six of the nine so far. My goal is to visit all nine of the islands and explore them as much as humanly possible, creating a photographic record along the way.
Each island has its own beauty but my favorites are Sao Jorge with its unique “fajas”, Sao Miguel due to its diversity from large lagoons to green pastures to dormant volcanoes, and finally Terceira island home to the fantastic city of Angra do Heroismo (classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and green patchwork pastures surrounded by stone walls.
12 Best Things To Do in the Azores
There are endless adventures to be experienced in the Azores – whether you enjoy hikes up towering volcanoes or around colorful lakes, or if you prefer to get in the water and go sailing, diving or surfing. Knowing where to go and what to do can be difficult for first-time visitors. So I have put together this list of 12 things to do in the Azores to help you plan your trip.
1. Spot Whales and Dolphins in the Azores Islands
The Azores are one of the world’s largest whale sanctuaries and you would be mad not to go whale watching on your vacation here! Among the resident and migrant species are more than 20 different types of cetaceans that you can spot on the islands. By booking a boat tour you will be able to see everything from dolphins to sperm whales, and even killer whales!
The best time to go whale watching in the Azores is between April and October. Nothing is guaranteed, like any wildlife adventure, but these months will give you the best chance of seeing these sea creatures. All nine islands offer this experience but normally people flock to Pico, Terceira and Sao Miguel to tick this activity off their bucket list.
2. Climb Mount Pico, the Highest Point in Portugal
This is a unique experience where you can watch the sunrise or sunset on one of the most incredible volcanoes in the world. There are two different mountains at Pico: one is called Pico (which is the volcano itself) and the other is a tiny mountain situated inside the crater called Piquinho. At 2,351 meters above sea level, the views from up here are simply breathtaking!
You shouldn’t let the small height fool you though – this is a difficult hike. Almost a third of hikers don’t make it to the top! So Mount Pico is definitely not to be underestimated. I recommend going with a guide in order to have the best climb possible. Most of the hike is uphill (of course) and it’s very steep in parts, so your guide will help you make it to the summit.
One of my best experiences in the Azores was when I climbed Mount Pico in 2021. Although it was tiring, it was well worth it to spend time watching the sunset. It’s an incredibly rewarding experience to witness a 360-degree view at the summit of Mount Pico (the highest point in Portugal).
3. Visit the Beautiful City of Angra do Heroismo
Angra do Heroismo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and that fact alone should motivate you to visit! The city is full of cultural and religious heritage, and colorful streets and buildings. Being a port city means you can feel the history around every corner and how it all related to trade. There is a mix of old and new here, combining both the Discoveries and Renaissance eras.
How you spend your time in the city depends on what you enjoy doing. The restaurants and cafes are fantastic for foodies, the sea views are amazing for photographers, and the churches, monuments and fortress walls make for great learning for those history-buffs out there! Angra do Heroismo is a must-visit destination when exploring the beautiful island of Terceira.
4. Experience the Epic Walking Trails of the Azores
Head along the spectacular walking trails across all nine islands where (through walking) you can enjoy the green landscapes and beautiful nature all around you. This network of trails was established by the Regional Government of the Azores to promote safety and resources for avid walkers.
Walking has a rich history in these islands. Centuries ago, before the advent of cars and land transport, the easiest way to get around was by walking. Footpaths have been used by Azores residents for generations and were normally accompanied by horses. Boats have always been a big part of the Azores too but land transport only came decades later.
These old paths were restored by the Azores Government in an effort to give locals and tourists access to remote corners of the islands. The landscapes that you come across on these walks are stunning and you can go for days and days without ever getting bored of the vistas.
5. Discover Lagoa das Sete Cidades, Sao Miguel
Lagoa das Sete Cidades on Sao Miguel is home to two beautiful lagoons with two enchanting colors (blue and green), situated in the crater of a dormant volcano. It’s been called “One of the Seven Natural Wonders of Portugal” and when you visit yourself it would be hard to argue with that summary! Head to Miradouro da Vista do Rei for the best lookout point.
6. Marvel at the Jaw-Dropping “Fajas” of Sao Jorge
Visit the “fajas” on the island of Sao Jorge where you can take in the nature of this remarkable Azores paradise. Fajas are steep island cliffs that lead down to flat bits of earth. Seeing them in person will take your breath away, especially if you enjoy drone photography as the pictures you can take are very unique and can’t really be found anywhere else on earth.
Sao Jorge is the best island to experience fajas because this island is long and narrow – 53 kilometers long and eight kilometers wide – and it has a high plateau of volcanoes that run along the middle of the island, eventually leading down to fajas. These natural phenomena were caused by lava flows many thousands of years ago that went down the cliffs.
If seeing these fajas tickles your fancy then head to the northern coast of Sao Jorge where you can discover no more than 46 of them! Some fajas can be accessed on foot by hiking the trails while others can only be experienced by boat. One unique way to see as many fajas as possible is to book a boat trip where you can navigate the coast and stop as you please.
7. Go Swimming and Surfing at the Best Beaches
For bathing lovers, the beaches of Santa Barbara (Sao Miguel) and Praia Grande (Terceira) are the best choices. Both of these beaches have the biggest sands in the Azores. Other notable beaches worth visiting are Agua de Alto Beach (Sao Miguel) and Caldeira do Santo Cristo Beach (Sao Jorge).
8. Relax in the Gardens of Parque Terra Nostra
Home to peaceful gardens, geothermal pools and amazing views throughout – this park is a must-visit for a day of rest and relaxation while visiting Sao Miguel. The park has two major areas: the upper area with its beautiful woods and gardens and the lower part with its lake, stream, pools and fountains. Here you can find palm trees, ferns and camellias.
9. Travel to the “Triangle Islands” of the Azores
The “Triangle Islands” represent Pico, Sao Jorge and Faial. Visiting all three makes for a unique experience as you get the feeling that you are truly in the middle of an archipelago, with epic views of the neighboring islands every day. The proximity of these three islands is quite the sight!
Each of these islands are unique in their own way, but all three combine to create the “Triangle” effect. Taking the ferry between Faial and Pico takes 30 minutes and there are numerous crossings per day. Another alternative route is to go from Sao Miguel to Pico. Travelers can even book a cruise to visit all three islands in an easy and all-inclusive travel package.
10. Explore Algar do Carvao Natural Reserve, Terceira
Visiting Algar do Carvao gives you the opportunity to enter the interior of a volcano! A series of massive volcanic eruptions occurred here thousands (if not millions) of years ago and it set the stage for this one-of-a-kind attraction. Visitors can go inside the volcano and marvel at the natural processes that led to this earth opening. A must-do in Terceira!
11. Taste the Delicious Local Cuisine of the Azores
The gastronomy of the Azores is very rich and there are excellent dishes wherever you go – always prepared with fresh ingredients. Proof of this can be found in the following dishes and delicacies: Sopa do Espirito Santo, Alcatra de Carne, Cozido das Furnas, Morcela and Lapas Grelhadas.
There is a wide range of restaurants in the Azores where you can taste these amazing local dishes, some of which include: Taberna Roberto (Terceira), Restaurante Beira Mar (Terceira), Tasca Das Tias (Terceira), Restaurante Miroma (Sao Miguel), Bar Caloura (Sao Miguel), Caffe 5 “Cinq” (Pico), Restaurante Ponta da Ilha (Pico) and Restaurante Magma (Pico).
12. Stay at the Best Hotels/Airbnbs of the Azores
Just like with the restaurants, there is fantastic choice when it comes to accommodation. From my experiences I can recommend the following: Azoris Royal Garden (Sao Miguel), Villa Da Madalena (Pico), Terceira Mar Hotel (Terceira), Hotel Caracol (Terceira), Barcelo Marina Hotel (Terceira), Caloura Hotel Resort (Sao Miguel) and Hotel Verde Mar & Spa (Sao Miguel).
Travel Tips for Visiting the Azores
For those who want to visit the Azores, I suggest that you plan for a few weeks of travel. Anything less won’t give you enough time. There is so much to see and you need to set aside a good amount of time! Another tip is to bring appropriate clothing because the weather in the Azores is unpredictable and you can have four seasons in a day.
Finally, if you want to visit all nine islands I recommend going by boat. The majority of the islands have some sort of boat connection and this way of travel can be a lot cheaper than going by plane. That being said, there are a couple of airports on the islands. Thanks for reading everyone! If you would like more tips on what to do in the Azores feel free to reach out to me.