Since childhood, I have always loved to travel and live life to the fullest. Thus people always ask me: “mas tu nunca paras quieta?” (don’t you ever stop?). Over the years this has become the expression that best characterizes me.
Why Sao Miguel Island is Paradise
The first time I visited Sao Miguel Island was in 2017 to visit some friends that live there. They showed me around the island. Since then, I try to go back every year to explore this paradise known as the “Green Island” (Ilha Verde). In total, I have spent 32 days on the island across four separate trips.
My first impressions were: wow! So much incredible nature. The island is entirely green, there are waterfalls everywhere and the sea hugs the island in such a way that you can see the sunset from all corners. That is why I call it my Portuguese paradise. You can experience nature in its purest form.
Latest Trip to Sao Miguel Island
My latest trip to Sao Miguel Island was earlier this month in August, 2020. I stayed there for seven days. During these extraordinary times, because of COVID-19, it is a safe destination where one can relax and be calm.
I love to walk, hike and trek around the island. Therefore, on this trip, I visited some well-known places as well as some hidden gems. Sao Miguel Island is blessed with many beautiful trails. You can find my favourites here: www.nuncaparasquieta.com/single-post/trilhosemsãomiguel/
Favourite Place: Faial da Terra Trail
I love capturing the raw beauty of Sao Miguel Island through photography. This enables me to turn every moment into a story without using words.
In my opinion, the Ribeira do Faial da Terra hiking trail is a mandatory place that every traveler should visit. The spectacular waterfalls of “Salto do Prego” and “Salto do Cagarrao” are must-see highlights of this hiking trail.
Walking through nature, listening to the birds and the water running, smelling the aromas of the vegetation, and dipping my toes into the waterfalls are all experiences which I need to repeat every time I am on the island. This is why Faial da Terra is my favourite place in Sao Miguel.
30 Things To Do in Sao Miguel Island
Sao Miguel is the largest and one of the greenest islands of the Azores. Home to forest-wrapped volcanic peaks, azure lakes, incredible hiking trails, serene waterfalls and extraordinary calderas – there is never a shortage of things to do here. Below are my top 30 experiences (in no particular order):
1. Check out the Views at Miradouro de Santa Iria
Miradouro de Santa Iria offers incredible views of the coast of Sao Miguel Island. This viewpoint is located on the north coast of the island between Ribeirinha and Porto Formoso. Enjoy views of the lush landscape that makes its way down to the sea at the beautiful Bay of Santa Iria.
2. Relax at the Charming Praia de Porto Formoso
Praia de Porto Formoso is a lovely spot to visit for the afternoon on a warm summer’s day. Head down to the beach which offers clear waters and black sand. The perfect place for sunbathing and boat rides on the water.
3. Stay at Ponta Delgada in Sao Miguel Island
Ponta Delgada is the capital of Azores. There’s plenty of things to see and do in this city. Explore the churches, monuments, museums, forts and harbour of this fascinating capital. You can easily spend 2-3 days here and it’s the perfect introduction to Sao Miguel Island.
4. Stroll around the Fishing Village of Caloura
Caloura is a fishing village on the south coast of Sao Miguel. This cute neighborhood is situated in a narrow creek and is sheltered by high cliffs bursting with vegetation. Visitors can stroll around the Baroque style village and also enjoy diving and marine life adventures under-water.
5. Trek around the Lagoa do Fogo Crater Lake
One of the best crater lakes on Sao Miguel for hiking is Lagoa do Fogo. It’s a crater lake that translates to “Lake of Fire” and is a protected natural reserve. Here you can hike around the area and enjoy a variety of plant species, birds and stunning views of the lake from miradouros (viewpoints).
6. Dip in the Thermal Baths of Poca da Dona Beija
The Azores archipelago was formed naturally over thousands of years from a series of volcanic eruptions. This means the islands, including Sao Miguel, are teeming with natural hot springs bubbling up from beneath the earth’s crust. One of the best is Poca da Dona Beija located in the town of Furnas.
7. Soak in the Warm Waters of Caldeira Velha
Caldeira Velha is a nature preserve with hot springs, a waterfall and lush vegetation. You can swim in one of the three man-made thermal pools and take a dip in the natural waterfall pool. The waters are warm and the surrounding nature is lovely. Definitely one of the highlights of the island.
8. Take in the Stunning Views from Ponta do Sossego
Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego is a beautiful lookout point offering sweeping views of verdant mountainside gardens and the shimmering blue of the sea. The intricately gardened area covers over 13,000 square metres across many terraces at different heights of altitude.
9. Have a Picnic at Miradouro da Despe-te que Suas
This is another lookout in Sao Miguel Island with amazing sea views. The area is decked out with tables and benches – so on a warm summer’s day you can come here and enjoy a picnic and marvel at the views.
10. Go See Grena Park and Lagoa das Furnas
Grena Park is situated next to the well-known Lagoa das Furnas and covers 18 hectares of untouched nature. You can see both of these attractions on a single outing. Highlights include the Waterfall Valley with stunning waterfalls and a Historic House which makes for a great visit.
11. Roam through Jardim da Alameda in Furnas
The idyllic paradise of Jardim da Alameda is situated in Furnas and offers beautiful green spaces and gardens to roam through. Discover a variety of flowers, shrubs, plants and trees – some dating back more than 200 years.
12. Immerse in the Nature of Parque Terra Nostra
The romantic botanical garden of Parque Terra Nostra was built in the 18th and 19th centuries and is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. Walk through exotic gardens, take a dip in the geothermal swimming pool and marvel at the magnificent views on offer throughout the park.
13. Gaze at the Vistas of Miradouro do Salto do Cavalo
Miradouro do Salto do Cavalo is located in the parish of Salga and provides visitors with awesome views of the Furnas Valley, as well as the north and south coast of Sao Miguel Island. Trek up 760 meters for outstanding views.
14. Try the “Agua Peideira” in Furnas
There are many historic fountains and springs in Furnas which used to play a critical role in providing locals with their water supply. You can even try tasting the water from some of them. One type of water is known as “agua peideira” which means “sour water”. Don’t worry – it’s safe to drink!
15. Canoe Ribeira dos Caldeiroes of San Miguel Island
Ribeira dos Caldeiroes is a river that stretches across a protected area of Ribeira dos Caldeiroes Natural Park. This natural park is situated on the slopes of Serra da Tronqueira and is the perfect spot to go canoeing.
16. Walk to Miradouro do Salto da Farinha
Walk a short distance to the Salto da Farinha lookout and appreciate the views over the north coast of Sao Miguel Island and the mountains in the northeast. From this viewpoint you can also discover a cool waterfall which is more than 40 meters high and is quite an astonishing sight to see.
17. Venture to Vila Franca Islet off Sao Miguel Island
Vila Franca Islet known as “Ilheu de Vila Franca” in Portuguese is an incredibly unique islet covered in vegetation. The islet is located off the south-central coast of the island of Sao Miguel. Highlights include getting the chance to go whale-watching, cliff-diving and swimming.
18. Enjoy Tea at Gorreana Tea Factory
The Gorreana Tea Factory and Plantation is a family-run tea producer which has been operating since 1883. You can wander around the beautiful tea plantation as well as look inside the factory. The aromas of this place are wonderful and the tea is even better. Highly recommended!
19. Eat Pineapple at Plantacao de Ananas Os Arruda
This has to be one of the most unique attractions. At this plantation you can eat some delicious pineapple. Visits here are free and you can shop a wide variety of products such as pineapple liquor, pineapple juice, pineapple cake, pineapple mojito and of course, pineapple itself.
20. Marvel at the Wonderful Muro das Nove Janelas
Located near the Serra Devassa lies the Nove Janelas Wall which is an aqueduct of historic value. The aqueduct was built in the 17th and 18th centuries to provide water for the locals of Ponta Delgada. This is an amazing place to learn about history and also take some unique photos.
21. Get Lost in the Monte Palace Hotel Ruins
Monte Palace Hotel used to be a grandiose five star hotel with views of Vista do Rei. Today, it’s a former shadow of itself as it’s totally abandoned. Get lost around the haunting rooms and buildings of the hotel and marvel at the wonderful views. This is a must-see for any visit to Sao Miguel Island.
22. Hike to Lagoa do Canario in Sao Miguel Island
Lagoa do Canario is one of the best natural landscapes of Sao Miguel Island. Located in the Ponta Delgada municipality, the lake is 800 metres above sea level and can be accessed on a short hike. The colour of the lagoon/lake is immensely green and will surely take your breath away!
23. Visit Grota do Inferno of Sao Miguel Island
Grota do Inferno in Portuguese translates to “Hell’s Mouth”. The name is derived from the volcanic landscapes which surround the area. Take in epic views of Sete Cidades, Lagoa Azul and many crater lakes.
24. Explore Lagoa das Sete Cidades
Arguably the best lake landscape in Sao Miguel Island, Lagoa das Sete Cidades is home to two small lakes which are connected together by a narrow strait. Enjoy hikes around the lakes, find the best viewpoint and lookouts, and get out on the water for at least an afternoon.
25. Discover Miradouro da Ponta do Escalvado
Another classic view on Sao Miguel Island is Miradouro da Ponta do Escalvado. This lookout offers two incredible views – one of Mosteiros and the other of Ferraria. This is the perfect addition to Lagoa das Sete Cidades.
26. Swim at Piscinas Naturais de Mosteiros
Piscinas Naturais de Mosteiros are a series of rugged natural pools located on the shores of Mosteiros. They were formed over the years from volcanic activity and the daily movement of the sea. Definitely worth visiting for a swim in summer and to take some unique drone photos!
27. Spend a Day at Termas da Ferraria Retreat
Termas da Ferraria is a luxury oceanfront retreat featuring geothermal pools, spa services and a restaurant. It’s the perfect place to go for a day of rest and relaxation. The views from this retreat are remarkable too.
28. Capture the Charm of Farol Ponta do Arnel
The “Faro Ponta do Arnel” lighthouse is one of the most charming places in Sao Miguel Island. Head out there at either sunrise or sunset to capture the lighthouse, sea and surrounding landscapes in all their beauty.
29. Uncover the Hidden Gem of Sao Miguel Island
Lagoa do Congro is a hidden gem surrounded by lush vegetation. Located on the south coast of Sao Miguel Island, this lake is around 500 metres in size and is technically a maar crater formed from volcanic eruptions.
30. Embark into the Gruta do Carvao
Capping off the Top 30 Things To Do in Sao Miguel Island is the amazing Gruta do Carvao. This ancient lava tube is located on the outskirts of Ponta Delgada and makes for a great day trip from the capital city of the Azores.
Culture of Sao Miguel Island
The people of Sao Miguel are awesome. Cheerful, helpful and always smiling. Every time I go there I make new friends. The last one was during the Rota da Agua trail where a shepherd gave us a ride in his 4×4 van to the top of a hill. His name was Ze Maria and he was super sweet.
Food is a big part of the culture on the island. Those who go to Sao Miguel need to put their diet aside. The gastronomy is superb! My top restaurants are: Restaurante Associacao Agricola, Bar Caloura and Restaurante O Silva.
Then, there are a lot of delicacies that you should try: Kima is a drink made in Azores, Azores Liqueurs, Bolo Levedo (a special type of bread), passion fruit and pineapple “pastel”, Queijadas de Vila Franca (in Vila Franca do Campo), and corn cooked in Furnas. Get ready, you will eat very well!!
Tips for Sao Miguel Island
For those who are visiting Sao Miguel Island for the first time, you can visit some of the places I mentioned above and incorporate them into a travel itinerary. All you need to do is open Google Maps and save the locations.
I recommend coming here for at least five days to experience everything the island has to offer. Ideally you should come for 10-14 days. It’s also best practice to check the weather before venturing out to the destinations. The last thing you want to do is drive for miles and arrive to fog and rain!
Remember to bring a decent pair of walking shoes/hiking boots and then flip-flops for beach days. Also a raincoat is a useful item to bring too. These are my essential pieces of advice. Apart from this, just bring a good mood and keep a smile on your face because people here love to talk and smile.
Thanks for reading and enjoy your time in the Sao Miguel Island paradise!