Just saying “the Azores” sounds exotic AF doesn’t it? Well I have good news for you, it really is, in fact I’d describe it as a mixture of Avatar and Hobbiton packed on tiny islands in the middle of the Atlantic ocean just west of Portugal.
There are several Azores islands, with the biggest and most easy-to-access one being Sāo Miguel island, where I just did a two day roadtrip and almost covered the entire island! If you’re planning on going to Portugal, I’d highly recommend making the Azores one of your side-trips. It actually wasn’t as expensive as I imagined it would be to fly there, get a hotel, and rent a car, and totally do-able on a budget!
I’d definitely recommend spending more than two days there like I did (and in the Azores in general), but even if that’s all the time you have, you can still see quite a bit! Here is my itinerary for the roadtrip I did in two days!
Ponta Delgada is the city you’ll fly into (so when searching flights, look for that name), and one of the biggest cities on the island. It’s a cute little town with that authentic Portuguese architecture and charm, as well as tons of places to eat and drink.
This is where I stayed since I had no idea what I was doing, but after doing the roadtrip I might have liked to stay in places as I drove and done a full loop around the island rather than returning back. BUT, the drive back still wasn’t bad…from the farthest point in each direction it was at most 40 minutes…
Where to Stay: VIP Executive Suites (Comfortable and affordable, only $60 per night since it’s just outside of the main city center.)
*Below is a real-time deals finder for hotels in all of Sāo Miguel
Where to Rent a Car: ANC Holidays OR book IN ADVANCE from the airport!
I made the mistake of not booking a rental car in advance, and found out on my way to the airport that they require 25 hours advance bookings from the airport in Ponta Delgada. The cab to my hotel wasn’t bad though (only about 12 euros) and the ANC Holidays company actually saved my booty because they were the only company left that had an automatic car! It’s also a local company so it’s nice to help them out, plus the price for a new Nissan was only €35 a day.
BUT, as with all rental cars, they’ll require you to either put down a massive deposit or pay daily for rental car insurance! You’ll probably want to just get the basic coverage UNLESS you have travel insurance that covers rental car collision and theft! I have annual coverage with Allianz which includes the car rental coverage so I was comfortable just doing the hefty (500 euro) deposit.
If you’re interested in getting either annual travel insurance or even just coverage for the duration of your trip, I’d highly recommend Allianz; they even have an office right in Ponta Delgada in case you need any help!
((Below is my affiliate link for Allianz — in case you do decide to get travel insurance, if you just click my link, I make a small percentage and can keep traveling! #transparentAF))
Get a Free 10-Day Look with Allianz Global Assistance, the world leader in travel insurance. Get a free quote now.
Driving time: 30 minutes
As the name slightly implies (I’m thinking “furnace” in English but I could be making that up) this area is best known for its natural hot springs! You’ll pass a pretty green lake on the way into the main town, and then it’s easy to follow signs for “Termas” (thermal pools). There’s also a little symbol that looks like a little water fountain uh…spraying water droplets…on both the street signs and maps.
The one I found was called Poca da Dona Beija and it was probably one of the most glorious things I’ve ever seen in my life! It’s nestled in a little jungle area with small infinity pools on either side of the hot iron spring that runs down the middle of them.
It only costs €4 to enter and you’ll have access to the changing rooms. For a small additional fee you can also rent a towel, take a shower, and rent a locker.
The lady at the car rental place (I find most of my best local travel tips in the most random places) insisted that if I went to Furnas that I tried the local dish called “cozido”. Cozido is a type of stew with beef or pork and vegetables, but the reason why it’s so unique in the Furnas area is because they cook it underground using the heat from the hot springs! Thus the geothermal type of cooking is called “Cozido das Furnas”.
After the thermal pools just before I got back on the road, I stopped at the first restaurant I saw that had any word that has to do with heat in the name to try to find the cozido dish. The one I chose is called Caldeiras & Vulcões Restaurante Bar. They have meat and vegetarian options, as well as other geothermal-cooked dishes!
The local cheese is also really good! It’s super mild and soft and comes with a semi-sweet pepper sauce!
Driving time: 30 minutes
You’ll definitely want to see at least one thing in the Nordeste area of Sāo Miguel Azores island, so why not make it an awesome waterfall? There’s one that’s super easy to access from the side of the road which is technically located in a park called Parque Natural da Ribiera dos Caldeiroes.
You can walk along the bridge and narrow brick wall to get right in front of it (unless there’s a heavy flow, then water will be cascading over the wall), or you can take the stepping stones over the little river and up the Hobbiton-esque area to the right of the falls.
BONUS TIP: I didn’t have time to go to all the waterfalls on the island, but I obviously researched the crap out of them, so below are some more in case you have time to see them:
Driving time: 30 minutes
Distance to Ponta Delgada: 25 minutes
I mostly just stopped in Riberia Grand for more food and gas since it’s on the way back to Ponta Delgada, but it’s one of the bigger cities on the island so worth taking a look around!
Distance: (from Ponta Delgada): 30 minutes
This place isn’t in many guides, and I actually found it from Google images, but it was so dope that I ended staying there for almost two hours! Essentially it’s an area of the coast that’s also a geothermal region, so there’s a nook in the volcanic rock “coast” you can go in and swim in the warm, bright blue ocean water!
Of course, the ocean isn’t exactly calm in that area, and the jagged volcanic rocks definitely aren’t soft sand between your toes, so if you don’t want to brave the violent geothermal pool, you can opt for the man-made one they have there as well. It’s still all natural geothermal water…just in a calm, safe, swimming pool instead.
The cliff views in this area are fierce and stunning as well; both from below and above at the Ponta do Ferraria viewpoint.
Distance: 25 minutes
This seems to get the most attention when you look for things to do on Sāo Miguel and the Azores islands, but to be honest I was much more impressed with everything else I saw. Sete Ciudades is just an inland area with four lakes of different colors, which make for a cool aerial view from atop the “Visto do Rei” (King’s View) viewpoint.
I actually liked the first viewpoint better, but make sure you know that the first viewpoint you get to isn’t the Visto do Rei one…you have to keep going over and around the mountain (just follow the signs).
Distance: 35 minutes
I didn’t actually do this because I was tired and hungry, but if you have time, and aren’t tired and hungry, I’d recommend going back up the coast to Moisteros. There’s supposed to be some really nice black sand beaches, and beautiful landscapes!
Distance: (from Sete Ciudades) 20 minutes
I wanted to explore the main area a little bit before I had to leave the Azores, so I went back to Ponta Delgada a little early. Parking is super easy and super cheap, and there’s a ton of cute little restaurants along the water. I found a random one that had octopus salad that I was craving, and a half bottle of wine for super cheap!