The Azores are an unbelievably beautiful set of 9 volcanic islands in the mid-Atlantic. Donald and I only visited Sao Miguel on this trip – the biggest island (still less than 100 miles across!). Even though we spent over a week on this one island, we never ran out of things to do, most of which were free!. Here’s a general itinerary of our adventures and recommendations in 4 posts: (1)Getting around, (2)Hiking + Swimming, (3)Azorean Eats, and (4)What to Wear in the Azores. First up: Getting Around…
SATA (also known as Azores Air) flies direct form Boston, Providence (seasonally), Toronto, Montreal, and San Francisco. From Boston is was a super quick 4.5-hour flight for just $550. It was a red-eye flight — for some reason they served dinner at midnight, then turned off the lights for a couple hours before we landed. Which really messed up our sleep schedule. We still don’t have a good answer, but other than that, it was a great airline.
PRO TIP: On SATA, carry on bags can only weigh about 14 pounds. If it’s over you are required to check them – which is free. NBD, but a heads up would have been nice.
Amazing accommodations are super affordable (about $60/night) for a beach front apartment.
We stayed in 3 locations on Sao Miguel during our stay: Sao Roque (Air BnB), Furnas (Air BnB), and Caloura (Hotel). I’m glad we stayed in more than one place – it gave us a chance to focus on both sides of the oblong island independently, and cut down on driving times. Though I wouldn’t have stayed in Furnas longer than a night or two – it’s more touristy. It was also chilly and damp when we were there and our bathing suits and towels from the hot springs stayed wet for days. Staying in a quaint fishing town might have been a more unique experience (like Povoacao). Opt for fresh local options instead of sub-par hotel food at 3x the price.
Azoreans are extremely hospitable. Everyone was incredibly nice and helpful wherever we went. Our airbnb host even served us a full Azorean breakfast when we arrived. I was reluctant/delirious after being awake for over 24 hours, but the cheese, butter and Portuguese sweetbread was such a warm welcome to the country!
It was also a nice surprise that everyone knew at least a little English. Our Portuguese abilities were pretty much non-existent. We got by on Olá (Hello), Obrigado/a (Thank you), Praia? (Beach?), Inglês? (English?), and our Google Translate app’s camera translation feature, which is something straight out of a Harry Potter book. Complete wizardry.
I’d highly recommend booking through Autatlantis – they have multiple locations around the island, including the airport. If you are traveling with 2, or solo, the Smart ForTwo car is the one you’ll want – at 20 euro per day, with unlimited mileage, it’s a steal. And most of them are automatic (and surprisingly fun to drive!). Make sure you email them to reserve an automatic if you aren’t incredibly familiar with stick shift. The hills are killer and we really needed that automatic. The Smart Car just barely fits 2 American-carry-on-sized bags in the “trunk”, so pack accordingly! No big luggage here.
We also figured out that you can download areas on Google Maps for offline access on our iPhones, so we could use regular navigation around the island instead of navigating by map screen shots. This feature has probably been around forever, but it was news to us and made life much easier! Ultimately we decided we could have gotten everywhere without google maps since everything was so well labeled with street signs.
The island is incredibly clean and is full of amenities – just when you think are “off the beaten path” and about to go on a big adventure through the jungle, the trails end up being well marked and maintained. Everywhere on the island also felt very safe. We saw no panhandling, and lots of people cleaning the streets, beaches and public areas.
We walked around Ponta Delgata quite a bit while staying in Sao Roque – the cobblestone sidewalks are works of art. I’m glad I brought good walking boots, my heels would have been destroyed.
Next up: Azores Part 2: Hiking and Swimming