There has been much talk about the Azores Islands recently, the small group of nine islands that lie 930 miles off the coast of Portugal. Surrounded by the wild Atlantic Ocean, they are particularly well known for their natural beauty and wildlife viewing opportunities. Here are our 10 top things to do in the Azores Islands:
1) Go whale watching
Whale watching is one of the top things to do in the Azores Islands, as it is one of the best places in the world for it. Around 25 different whale species can be seen in the deep waters off the coasts, most common are the sperm whales, however even the blue whale and the fin whale can sometimes be seen here. Up until 1984, people were still hunting whales around the islands, but now, thankfully many of the hunters have become the tour guides instead.
2) Cook your food geo-thermally in pots in underground
On the island of São Miguel, in an area known as Furnas, lies one of the richest hydrologic regions in Europe, filled with over 30 different natural springs and geothermal activity. Here you can even cook your food by volcanic heat. The dish known as Cozido das Furnas is made from meats and vegetables such as sausage, chicken, cabbage, carrots and potatoes, and is cooked very slowly underground for around eight hours. These cooking holes are very important culturally too and each local family has their own cooking hole, which they pass down through the generations.
4) Go for a stroll in Terra Nostra Park
The Terra Nostra Park is one of the most beautiful parks in Europe and is filled with sub-tropical plants, sculpted gardens, ponds and fountains. You can also swim in the large natural geothermal pool in the centre. Although the brown water may not look to appealing to swim in, the warm geothermal waters are a treat and are said to have healing properties too. You can also bathe in the hot springs at the popular Ponta da Ferraria, which has been used since the 15th century.
4) Hike up Mount Pico
At 2,351 metres, Mount Pico is the highest point in Portugal and is located on Pico Island. The area has been a nature reserve since 1982 and provides the best view over the islands and Atlantic Ocean beyond. It’s a seven hour round trip to the top, but even if you don’t feel like climbing all the way, just stopping at the base, halfway up, still affords spectacular views.
5) Have a drink at the O Peter Café Sport
World famous amongst sailors, this charming pub is located on the island of Faial. It opened in 1918 and has changed little since. It used to be a meeting place for many who visited the island, from whalers, to seamen and even secret agents. After your drink, head down to the Marina of Horta, one of the busiest and most famous ports in the world. Here you can see many murals, painted by sailors before they left on their voyages, to provide divine protection for the rest of their trip.
6) Go canyoning
Canyoning is the process of following a river from its source to its mouth and has become a popular adventure sport. There are over 50 equipped routes throughout the islands of São Miguel, Santa Maria, São Jorge and Flores. Some have small drops, which are perfect for beginners, and others have very extreme vertical drops that will challenge even the most experienced canyoner.
7) Admire the architecture in Angra do Heroísmo
Along with its many natural attractions, the Azores has many historical and cultural ones too. Located on Terceira Island, Angra do Heroísmo is the only city in the archipelago that has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Full of colourful Portuguese-style architecture and cute buildings with wrought iron balconies, it makes for a lovely afternoon’s exploration. The city holds many cultural festivals throughout the year too.
8) Visit the vineyards of Santa Luiza
The Azores are known for their excellent wine and unique wine production. Stroll around the Caminos of Santa Luiza on the island of Pico and you’ll see the grapes of vedelhowine, planted by the coastline and protected by walls of black stone laid out in rectangular plots. So unique is this growing method and production in fact, that that it was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.
9) Go kayaking around the Sete Cidades Lakes
One of the 7 Natural Wonders of Portugal, the stunning emerald green and sapphire blues lagoons of the Sete Cidades are best explored by kayak. Located on the island of São Miguel, it is said that they were formed from the tears of a shepherd and a princess who shared a forbidden love. One of the highlights of the area is the Santiago Lagoon.
10) Go bird watching at Serra Tronqueira
There are many great bird watching spots in the Azores due to the fact their geographical location lies along the migratory route of many bird species. In fact, for many nature enthusiasts, this is one of the top things to do in the Azores Islands, as there are more than 350 species in the archipelago, and of those 27 species usually nest here. Among the birds you may spot are the Corey’s sheawater, the Monteiro’s storm petrel, the common buzzard, the seate tern and the common tern. Serra Tronqueira is also home to Azores bullfinch, one of the rarest species in Europe and is endemic to the island of São Miguel. The ideal time for bird watching here is between the months of September and November.