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November 23, 2020
I’m so excited to finally share my Azores Travel Guide with you! It’s a long one, but I wanted to make sure to get all the info you needed in one place. The Azores are made up of nine beautiful islands right in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. The islands are owned by Portugal, but they’re actually over 900 miles away from the coast. The locals there do speak Portuguese, but it is very different from the Portuguese spoken on the mainland. In fact, the dialects can vary greatly just from village to village. Most people do speak English though, so getting around and communicating isn’t really much of an issue!
Though most people do speak English, what I loved about The Azores is that it is pretty much untouched by tourists. I had never heard of The Azores until I saw a flight deal and bought a ticket there, and I wasn’t surprised to hear that most of my friends had never heard of the Portuguese islands either. Since it’s not a super popular tourist destination, we felt like we could really settle in and mingle with the locals, which is the whole reason I like to travel in the first place! Anyway, let’s go ahead and dive in!
What to Know
As I mentioned, The Azores are Portuguese islands, so the language spoken there is Portuguese (although kind of a slang variation) and the currency used is euros. Prices are pretty much the same as things here in the US, besides the drinks. Those are cheap, especially the local beer, Especial. We obviously had a lot of that. One of the biggest unique things about The Azores is all the blue hydrangeas. They are everywhere. I’m talking like 10 foot high bushes full of them lining the streets on both sides. It is absolutely beautiful!
The biggest industries in the Azores are agriculture, dairy farming, and livestock. Just as there are blue hydrangeas everywhere, there are cows and dairy farmers everywhere, which means bomb cheese and supposedly steak. I don’t eat meat (I totally would have tried a bite though), so I wouldn’t really know, but I’ve heard it’s amazing. Fishing is huge there too, and the fish at the restaurant is the freshest you could imagine – more on that below!
Since The Azores are pretty remote and not overrun with tourists, there is no Uber or Lyft. They do have public buses, but they are not super reliable. Your best bet is definitely to rent a car. Driving there is super easy and having your own car is by far the best way to explore. We used Let’s Rent and were blown away by the hospitality. Not only did they meet us at the airport with a sign to greet us, but they gave us their personal numbers in case we needed anything. Our contact even gave us tons of recommendations in the city. The car was absolutely perfect (you already know I requested white!) and the overall experience was stellar. If you go to The Azores, rent a car from Let’s Rent, trust me!
What to Pack
This was a major problem for me during this trip. Obviously I want to look cute for the blog, but when you’re doing the daytime activities, you need athletic clothes, and more importantly, shoes. The Azores are not tropical. You’re going to be walking and hiking a lot if you want to see all the gorgeous sites. We didn’t wear a bathing suit at all except for the hot springs. There’s one beach on the island and it’s tiny. That’s not what you go to The Azores for. You go to explore. So bring hiking clothes, sturdy shoes, and casual outfits to wear in Ponta Delgada. Definitely leave the heels at home (the city streets are made of cobblestone anyway), and if you really want to look cute, keep it simple with a maxi dress or pants and a cute top. People don’t really dress up in The Azores – they’re super chill.
Where to Stay
São Miguel is made up of one main city and a bunch of little villages. All of the action is in Ponta Delgada, so I would definitely recommend staying there as a home base and then exploring with your rental car during the day. We stayed a little further out in Fajã de Baixo and that was really convenient. We were right next to a grocery store and other big stores. The home we stayed in was absolutely stunning. The grounds were so incredibly gorgeous and while the home itself certainly wasn’t luxurious, we totally felt like we were living like locals. I always recommend staying in an Airbnb when you’re going on an adventurous trip like this and it was definitely the right choice this time! Use this link for $40 off your first Airbnb stay!
Where to Eat
If you’re looking for a more upscale experience, 4Platanos is your best bet on the island. They have amazing food and you can’t beat the views. The potatoes were incredible, they had the freshest salmon I’ve ever had and best of all, they even have a shuttle that will come pick you up and drop you off. It seriously does not get better than this!
Poco Azul was the best small, local place we went to. It’s a buffet and is totally family style. The owner was so welcoming and excited to show us everything they offer there. It was by far the warmest welcome I’ve ever received in my life. He explained the local cuisine and made sure we were happy every step of the way. When we left, he gave us all double kisses (the tradition there) and invited us to come back anytime. “You’re my family now!” he said. What a sweetie! The restaurant is named after the gorgeous little lagoon, which is how we discovered it – it ended up being my favorite thing we did the whole time we were in The Azores!
Forneria Sao Dinis
If you’re missing more American style food, Forneria Sao Dinis is an amazing choice. The inside is so super cute and the food is absolutely delicious. You know I can’t go too long without pizza, so this is where I got my fix. Some of the best pizza I’ve ever had! Prices were reasonable to slightly high and the atmosphere was my favorite of any place we went out to eat in The Azores.
Oh man, Arriba!! I absolutely love this place and what it led to that night. Arriba is one of the only, if not the only, Mexican restaurant in São Miguel. One day, my bestie and I were craving Mexican, so we decided to check it out. The food is good and the decor is super mexican which is fun. It’s really cute because they have an old school boom box back in the corner where they play actual CDs for the music. I’m talking like what you used to have in your room in high school. We loved that! Anyway, the best part is that when you get your check, they also bring you a tequila shot. The “Arriba Man,” as he became known that night, slams the shot glass on yur table, yells “TEQUILA!” and gives you the shot. Then as you take it, he yells, “AAAARRRRRRIBA!!!!!” It was so much fun!
Later that night, I went out to a bar with some new friends I made the previus day and who do I see but Arriba Man!! He was sitting at a table by himself and I absolutely had to go say hi. I ended up buying him a tequila shot. It was too much fun! He hung out with us all night despite not knowing one word of English. These travel stories are what I live for! I caught it all on Instagram stories, so be sure to check it out for a laugh!
Azor Hotel Rooftop Bar
Finally, if you’re looking for somewhere to grab a drink, Azor Hotel Rooftop has an awesome view and the best drink I’ve ever tasted. It’s actually a whale watching rooftop bar, so if you’re there in the daytime, there’s a chance you’ll catch a glimpse of a whale. So cool! And drink wise, 100% get the rose cocktail with gin. It just tastes and smells like straight up roses. Amazing.
What to Do
In recent years, I have become a huge fan of private tours. I despise group tours, so that’s not even an option for me, but I love learning about the places I visit. We did a half day tour with Cizina from Discover Azores. She is actually the cousin of an old friend from high school coincidentally! We learned so much about the island during our tour and got to see so much of what was on our list. We loved how passionate Cizina was and it was really cool to explore the island with a true local. She even drove us around in her car, which was super convenient. We did the Nordeste tour and we got to see botanical gardens, a pretty lighthouse, waterfalls, local towns, and the cute little Poco Azul restaurant.
The green and blue lakes of Sete Cidades are probably the most popular tourist destination in São Miguel. You have to drive up a mountain to get there and then hike a little bit to see the view of the two lakes, but it is absolutely breathtaking! Totally worth the hike (just make sure you wear the right shoes!!). There’s actually a cute little story behind the lakes. According to folklore, there was a blue-eyed princess that fell in love with a green-eyed shepherd. They wanted to be together, but it was of course not allowed since the shepherd was not royalty. They finally built up enough courage to tell the princess’s father, the king. He was not happy and told them they could never see each other again. That night, they snuck out to meet one last time. They embraced and cried all night long. The result was the blue lake from the blue-eyed princess and the green lake from the green-eyed shepherd. Aww, true love!
After the hike and gorgeous view, head down to the little village of Sete Cidades and grab a beer at either the Green Lake or Blue Lake, which are both restaurants right by the lakes. You can also rent kayaks and other little water activities! We opted for some good ole Especial at the Blue Lake.
Terra Nostra is another big attraction on São Miguel. The natural hot springs are not only rich in healing sulfur, but the biggest one is also yellow! Super cool and unique. I did a whole post about Terra Nostra here.
Poço Azul was my favorite thing we saw in The Azores. This little cove is hidden in the middle of the forest after a super long treacherous hike. But it was 100% worth it. Another place that deserved a whole post of its own! Read it here.
Another thing that is an absolute must in The Azores is whale watching. It was my first time ever and we actually saw a whale!!! It was truly majestic. We also saw several different kinds of dolphins – and I mean tons of them. Like hundreds. We went with Terra Azul and it was a phenomenal experience. Before the tour, they educate you on the different species we might possibly see. Then, during the tour, there is even more education. I loved getting to observe these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat and learn about them at the same time. Terra Azul’s boats are small, which I prefer. You can really get up close and personal with the dolphins. It was amazing! At the end of the tour, they also stopped by Ilheu de Vila Franca do Campo, which is this gorgeous little island right off the coast. There is a ferry that runs every hour during the summertime and you can go lay out on the rocks and jump in the water, hang out, whatever. We didn’t have a chance to go, but I’m so glad we got to see it close up during our whale watching tour! The whole tour lasted about 3 hours.
We didn’t plan it, but we were in The Azores during festival season, so our first night there was PDL White Ocean. The entire city of Ponta Delgada is transformed into an underwater dreamland – all in white with blue accents. I was in heaven! Everyone wears white and it’s just a huge dance party in the streets with dj’s, dancer, performers, and tons of alcohol. It wasn’t sloppy at all. In fact, lots of people brought their kids. It was just a good time of people enjoying good music. It was the perfect welcome to The Azores! We left right before Monte Verde, which is another awesome festival that I am completely devastated I missed! I shouldn’t have come back, ugh.
Finally, simply walking the streets of Ponta Delgada is too pretty. Like I mentioned, all the streets are cobblestone. It’s very clean and a gorgeous blend of old world buildings and modern restaurants like Cafe Central. There is a gorgeous cathedral in the city center called Igreja Matriz de São Sebastião. You can walk around and view the stunning architecture and intricate details of the building. It was built in the 16th century and is seriously awe-inspiring. There’s also a clock bell tower and you can hear it every hour all in the city. Across the street is a marina you can walk along or even stop along the way and grab a drink or two at Baia dos Anjos.
There was so much to do and so much to see in Sao Miguel! I was there for just four short days and it definitely was not long enough. If your’e heading to The Azores, I would definitely recommend spending at least a week in Sao Miguel. Island hopping isn’t a thing there and not easy at all, so definitely plan to stay on whatever island you’re going to. Next, I’m heading to Terciera!