From extreme marine life to a relaxing atmosphere, the Azores offer a wide variety of travel experiences. Here, Sunvil Holidays describe why you should fall in love with this natural paradise in the mid-Atlantic.
Azores - Travel and visas
Portugal with the Azores are full members of the European Union, and nationals of other EU countries do not require a visa. Should you need consular assistance during your stay, these are the contact numbers of those consulates represented in the Azores.
Largely these responsibilities are undertaken by private individuals in an honorary capacity without official premises. They can issue emergency passports and contact relatives.
Flying via Lisbon has the advantage that you can fly to one island and return from certain others, thus saving you an inter-island flight or two and maybe some hours out of your holiday waiting at airports; you can also break your return journey and spend some nights in Lisbon. Flights take approximately two hours to Lisbon and another two hours from Lisbon to the Azores.From the UK there are direct flights with Azores Airlines, formerly SATA Internacional from Gatwick to Ponta Delgada every Saturday between April and October, with a flying time of 4 hours. Ryanair currently offers once-weekly flights on a Saturday direct from Stansted to Ponta Delgada. TAP Air Portugal has departures throughout the year from Heathrow or Gatwick changing in Lisbon to Ponta Delgada, and with less frequency from Lisbon to Horta (on Faial), Lajes (Terceira), Santa Maria and Pico. Ryanair is due to fly from Lisbon and Porto directly to Terceira by the end of 2016.
Road on Sao Jorge © Rui Vale Sousa, Shutterstock
From the rest of Europe there are direct flights from Gran Canaria and connections from Frankfurt, Munich, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Paris; from Portugal there are direct flights from Faro, Lisbon, Porto and Funchal (Madeira). From the US and Canada there are direct Azores Airlines flights throughout the year from Boston and Toronto to Ponta Delgada and now a weekly flight from Boston to Terceira. Flights generally increase in summer, and there are codeshare flights via various cities to/from other US and Canadian cities.
By cruise ship
About 100 cruise ships are currently calling in at the Azores, and this number is expected to increase with expanding facilities. Three ports now take large cruise ships, with Ponta Delgada receiving the most cruise visitors. Small-ship cruises also operate, visiting all nine islands using onboard Zodiac craft for some excursions. It was in 1867 that the first scheduled cruise ship put in at Horta, steaming from New York on a five-month cruise to the Mediterranean
Facilities are concentrated in the four principal ports, the most popular of which for transatlantic yachts is Horta on Faial. Opened in 1986, and having held the European Blue Flag since 1987, it can take 300 vessels and claims to be the fourth-most-visited ocean marina.
Second-most popular is Ponta Delgada on São Miguel, with a new marina taking 470 yachts, followed by Praia da Vitória on Terceira. All three provide fuel, water, waste handling and repair services. There are also small marinas opened in recent years at Velas on São Jorge, Madalena on Pico, Lajes on Flores and Vila do Porto on Santa Maria. The website www.noonsite.com/Countries/Azores gives latest information on facilities, immigration, etc, and anchorages on the other islands.
Flights are inevitably subject to the weather, and can be delayed or cancelled. When it happens, it is bad luck and you simply have to be philosophical about it and make sure there is a good book to hand. Getting between the islands is not always straightforward, especially in winter, but more flights are being introduced every year, and independent travellers should spend time studying the Azores Airlines website.
Most flights between each island take about 30 minutes, except São Miguel to Flores, which takes 80 minutes. For travellers with an international SATA air ticket, the airline offers some advanced purchase reductions; again see their website.
Taking a boat is great fun if you have the time; there are always seabirds to look out for, and if you are lucky there is a chance of seeing dolphins or maybe even a whale. Tickets can be purchased at the quayside office a few days in advance, or for longer journeys from travel agents in advance. Not all services operate year-round; some are summer only and some see an increased schedule in the warmer months.
Throughout the year there are several sailings daily between Horta (Faial) and Madalena (Pico), a 30-minute crossing, costing around €4.
In summer, there is a daily Horta–Velas (São Jorge) service via Pico (Madalena and some sailings also via São Roque), less often in winter. The single fare is around €16, and the journey time is 105 minutes. This means that, in summer at least, it is quite possible to make day excursions to São Jorge from Faial or Pico, and vice versa.
On certain days expect services between Terceira and Velas, taking 4.5 hours. In summer there has been a ferry service between the Eastern and Central island groups, even very infrequently to Flores. Distances did not allow regular sailings on set days and, of course, all is subject to the weather so flexibility is needed if planning a holiday using ferries. Unfortunately the Azores do not have a ship of their own and therefore rely on chartering a vessel: in 2009, it was several weeks late arriving from the UK.
It is frustratingly difficult to organise journeys in advance and local travel agents are understandably very reluctant to commit themselves. In 30 years of visiting, I have never managed more than Santa Maria to São Miguel, made possible because there are sometimes summer weekend excursions between the islands. For details of the current ferry services, check the websites(www.atlanticoline.pt.
As in Portugal, driving is on the right. At crossroads vehicles approaching from the right have priority. There is a maximum speed limit of 80km/h, 50km/h in built-up areas. Seat belts have to be worn at all times, including the rear passengers.
The new main roads are good but the small country roads can be pot-holed and narrow. One thing to be very careful about when driving in fog or low cloud and poor visibility is the Azorean black-and-white cow wandering on the road, either singly or in a scattered herd; in such conditions they are superbly camouflaged!
Many of the minor roads are not signposted. Diversions for roadworks are signposted, but if the sign disappears after a few days it is seldom replaced because by then it is assumed everyone knows the way!
For UK drivers, a full driving licence is required and those aged under 25 years should check minimum requirements for hiring a car at the time of making a booking. Citizens from non-European countries similarly require a driving licence, along with a passport or other form of official identification.
Normally there is no upper age limit but again this should be checked at the time of booking. In peak summer season there is a shortage of hire cars, and reservations should be made well in advance.
Some islands are better served than others. On São Miguel you can see a lot of the island by public bus. You can make a circuit on the islands of Faial and Pico, and some trips by bus on Terceira and São Jorge. For the other four islands, bus services are not very convenient.