Which Azores islands should you visit?

19/10/2016 09:28

Written by Bradt Travel Guides

Sao Miguel is the most diverse island, and is best if you only have limited amount of time. Photo by Tony Zelenoff, Shutterstock

Sao Miguel is the most diverse island, and is best if you only have limited amount of time © Tony Zelenoff, Shutterstock

The pace of the Azores is slow, and slowly is how one should discover them. 

There are nine islands and if you were to attempt to see them all in one visit to the archipelago you would need several weeks to do them all justice. Should you try to visit too many islands in a short period you will end up spending a disproportionate amount of time waiting in airports or for ferries. If you have just a week, then you might be well advised to concentrate on the largest and most diverse island, São Miguel, which is also the aviation hub. If you have more time, maybe combine São Miguel with Faial, and Pico, with perhaps Terceira as well, for your first visit (these islands will easily take up two weeks) and then see other islands on return visits. Various islands suit different means of touring.

Plan your trip carefully and consider hiring a car for just some rather than all of your stay on each island. If you like to hire a car and take your time exploring then São Miguel, Santa Maria, Terceira, Pico, São Jorge and Flores would make the best choices.

If you prefer to tour with someone else driving, then much of São Miguel can be accessed by bus. Graciosa is small, there are buses, but distances are so short taxi fares are reasonable. Terceira largely means the city of Angra, for which you do not need a car, and adjacent Monte Brasil can also be explored on foot. A half-day taxi tour would provide a glimpse of many of the other highlights. Faial offers Horta and nearby attractions, and a half-day taxi tour will take in the island’s main features. Pico can be visited in a day from Horta, with a half-day tour seeing the western sector, but do stay a night or two there, especially if you intend to conquer the summit.

Hiking in Fajã da Caldeira do Santo Cristo by Azoresphotos.visitazores.com, Carlos DuarteHiking in Fajã da Caldeira do Santo Cristo © Azoresphotos.visitazores.com, Carlos Duarte

For walkers, São Jorge, São Miguel, Faial and Flores are all excellent, and there is Pico if you want to climb Portugal’s highest mountain. In truth, there are now walks on every island. For cycling, São Miguel is the most developed, with activity companies to guide you, though bikes are easy to rent on Pico and Santa Maria, too. São Miguel is best for gardens and Pico has the most accessible native flora. Birdwatchers should give priority to São Miguel, São Jorge, Pico and especially Flores and Corvo in the autumn, although the old quarry at Praia on Terceira is also excellent for rare waders at this time, and the airport area of Santa Maria attracts many species as well.

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