In September this year, we visited the largest and “main” island of Azores, with the goal to explore, surf, and do a bunch of outdoor activities. The website Visit Azores is relatively full about all of the activities, and we had a look at how to connect all those dots together.
From airport to Ponta Delgada
We landed on the airport near Ponta Delgada. From the airport, there is a small bus going to Ponta Delgada regularly, so we just purchased the tickets for it and caught the bus. The ticket cost 5€ and it’s a round ticket, which means it valid for the return transport as well, from anywhere in the city of Ponta Delgada to the airport. When you purchase the ticket you can also arrange the pick-up place and time.
Hostel in Ponta Delgada
In Azores in general, there are so called “Pousadas de juventude”, which are some kind of youth hostels. We booked our stay at Pousada de Juventude de Ponta Delgada for 2 nights, and that’s pretty much what we can recommend you to do, to check out the Ponta Delgada city.
Cheap rent-a-car in Azores
After checking the city, we first did a small adventure towards the first camping with the bus, but it costed us a whole lot of energy and time, and we learned that the only way to really see the whole Sao Miguel in 2 weeks, and spend quality time there, is to rent a car.
Car rentals in Sao Miguel are generally very expensive compared to car rentals in other islands (for example Madeira or Canary Islands); the price is around 2x or more higher if you try to book on the Internet. What we can recommend are 2 things:
- don’t search with the main rent a car providers on the Internet. Instead, google for some smaller providers, and send an e-mail to all of them. As they reply with prices, simply negotiate over the e-mail. This is the approach that worked for some of the people who rented a car for a good price.
- another option is to do it while there: walk around the city and talk with multiple car rentals about the prices they can offer, and try to bargain in person. This is what we did. We got a bit larger car, a Skoda Fabia Combi (for 39€/day), but you can get cheaply the small Smart cars, which should be priced around 33 EUR per day or so – that is a good reference. If you want to find the locations of the car rentals, we can suggest you to simply look them up in Google Maps. That’s what we did, and so we visited them one by one. Finally, we rented with local rent-a-car provider (AzoresCar – sorry couldn’t find it online) although this one was not on the Google map, but we saw it while walking through the city.
What to wear?
We were there in September for 2 weeks, mainly camping, so I would suggest: 2 pairs of long pants, some pairs of short pants, T-shirts, sweater, and a rain-jacket. The nights can get a bit colder, and when you get high up the hills, it can get a bit colder as well. It rains often in that time, but don’t see that as a turn-off – just wear a rain jacket and enjoy your time. It’s beautiful as well. On the other hand, when you are on the beach and when it’s sunny, it’s a pure summer feeling.
Now finally to the outdoor activities….
Swimming and Snorkeling
Since you are in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean it’s pretty logical that you will be swimming. You can swim almost everywhere around the island, there are a many sandy beaches. I would highly not recommend you to going into the water where the rocks are high, because the waves can get quite high and strong. Also note that you are really in the middle of the Ocean so the currents can be pretty strong, too. On most of the public sandy beaches there are life-guard, who are going to warn you in case of bad conditions.
You should definitely visit emblematic volcanic island next to Vila Franca do Campo, the Ilhéu da Vila Franca. The water there is pretty shallow, so grab some diving mask and explore the beauty of the crater. You can rent the snorkeling equipment just where you buy the tickets for the boat which will take you to the little crater-island. Note that in high tourist season you might not be able to go there any day, since they limited the number of visitors per day on 400 for the purpose of nature protection. I am not completely sure now, but according to the memory, the little boat can take you to the island every hour from 10am to 5pm.
Surfing beach breaks in Azores
Surf rental is in general very expensive in Azores: you will easily pay 20 EUR per day for a surfboard which is in so bad state that you could buy it for 120 EUR in Portugal. And the day is charged from the morning to the evening, therefore not from 4PM today to 4PM tomorrow. So if you can bring your own board (and SATA – Azores Airlines – takes it for free in some cases), then bring it. For sure if you are there mainly to surf.
Since surfing was just one of the activities for us, we rented the boards and entered the water just a few days. If you are looking for the sandy beaches, then on the north of the island, you may visit:
- Praia Santa Barbara is where you can rent a surfboard. There is a small bar called TukaTula bar, a nice parking, and in general a lot of beach infrastructure. The beach is also monitored. For surfing, the beach didn’t work in 2016, according to the locals it’s because there was a strange placement of the sand on the bottom of the sea, which was in that condition from the winter. It was generally all closing out, no matter if big or small conditions.
- Monte Verde is a beach just east of Praia Santa Barbara which is easily accessible with the car (there is a parking above the beach), easy to enter, and in general a nice sandy beach. When the conditions are a bit bigger, there can be a lot of current. You can also access the beach by walking from Praia Santa Barbara towards the east through a small village, but the walk will take quite a long time (20 minutes maybe) and it’s not practical to do it with the surfboard.
On the south, you can find 2 sandy beaches: both are named Populo and are situated between Ponta Delgada and Lagoa. On one of them (the larger one) it’s also possible to rent the surfboard.
In general, if you are looking to surf, we suggest you to rent a car, rent a board for a few days, and then trip the island a bit – if the forecast is good, of course. The distances across the island are really small, so you can quickly reach southern beach from the north, or vice-versa. For surfing, we stayed more or less in the middle of the island, in the Quinta da Laranjeiras, and we surfed both on the north and on the south.
For hiking, the possibilities are endless. You can find the maps and the tracks on the Visit Azores website. We simply downloaded the maps and did a few trails:
- a very nice trail to the highest peak Pico da Vara. For this trail, it’s necessary to have at least good running/walking shoes from our point of view, but officially they recommend the real hiking shoes. To us, it looked like the easier Alpine (but true Alpine!) trails. From the top, you can see almost the whole island on a beautiful day, and it’s definitely something we highly recommend you to do. If you wish to camp nearby, we recommend you the Nordoeste camping, further described here.
- a beautiful hiking trail to the Fogo lake from the south. This is a good trail to take on the way from Furnas towards the eastern part of the island, or when you are going in the other direction. The trail through the woods is picturesque, and when you reach the lake, you can even swim there.
- when visiting the Furnas lake from the eastern side where you also get close to the warm soil (in which they bake and cook for the nearby restaurant) and the hot springs, there is a path which rises above the lake and offers amazing view over the lake. Simply follow the road on the eastern side which connects the warm soil and the main road, and looking from the direction of the main road towards the warm soil, on the right, you will find the trail which takes you to a nice viewpoint.
Furnas is the perfect place for a day or two to “turn off”. There is a natural hot water everywhere: in the park, in the rivers, as well as in the pools. It’s a place to stay to relax and just enjoy the thermal water. It really does feel good after all of the hiking and other activities. The thermal water comes out of the underworld, as you probably know the Azores are of volcanic origin, therefore the hot water is dark orange color and the wars of sulfur. Also in Furnas, there is a nice campsite Camping Furnas.
One of the most beautiful parts of the island. We can suggest you to rent a kayak (or a SUP) by the Azul lake and have a paddle across the lake. After or before visiting Sete Cidades you must take a ride on the hill above the lakes to a visiting point called “Vista do Rei” because it really is a King view! There is also a abandoned hotel Monte Palace with an amazing story, visiting which gives you goosebumps on your skin – guaranteed.
If you take a ride with a car to the seaside on this part (west) of the island, you will reach Ponta de Ferraria where you can swim in a sea which is as warm as the thermal pool – because there are hot springs on the bottom of the sea. Pretty amazing!
That’s how to spend 2 weeks on Sao Miguel, Azores, without a single minute of boredom. What I can personally say is that this is probably the most diverse, interesting, and to me appealing island that I visited up to now. A little paradise in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.