Welcome to part 2 of 4 of our Azores adventures.
HIKING in the Azores
This is an island for frugal people like me! Most of the fun stuff – like hiking and swimming – is completely free. The island is set up for exploring – be sure to pack your adventure shoes!
First, some vocabulary: MIRADUORO refers to a viewpoint. They are all over the island and are very well marked with brown signs, and they all have parking. Some miraduoros are elaborate well-maintained gardens or historical buildings, others are picnic areas with a dozen grills, picnic tables and pagodas, and others are trail heads or mountain tops. All overlook a beautiful vista. Most of the adventures below began at a miraduoro.
Lagoa do Fogo – There is a small parking area (you’ll see the most cars at this miraduoro) and steps (LOTS of steps) leading down to the lake. It seems farther than it is! The hike down took only 20 minutes. From there we hiked about a 1/4 of the way around the crater lake and swam at one of the beaches. Even though the trail was busy, once at the lake it felt like we were the only ones there. The dreaded hike back up took about 30 minutes, with plenty of breathing breaks.
Bath house – Later in the afternoon, after hiking our way up the Lagoa do Fogo staircase,we stopped at the Santa Iria Miraduoro. Wild, well fed cats studded the grass and brick patio overlooking the sweeping vista of Atlantic coastline. From here we could see ruins on the cliffs below and decided to find them. We drove down the road that looked like it would take us there – through Porto Formoso and a hand-drawn sign that said PRAIA (beach).
We turned onto a narrow side street that lead us out of town where we found a small wooden sign that pointed us to a trail near where the ruins should be. We followed it -down, down, down more earthen steps with wooden railings. And found the ruins! But the tail continued, and we found the actual baths fed by a natural hot spring – and a few fisherman casting in the surf.
Sete Cidades – The Million Dollar View: we parked at the Lagoa Canario miraduoro – ideally you can drive through the gate and take your first left down a dirt road. We had to try to find this viewpoint twice because the first time we were on foot and couldn’t find it! If you’re on foot, it will be a long walk. Once you park, the views are Instagram gold. The blue and green lakes sparkle under the hydrangea hedges and the wooden rail fence. Make sure to go here on a sunny day.
Sete Cidades – Hotel Monte Palace Ruins: This 5 star hotel was recently abandoned after only operating for a few years. In such a short time – only about 5 years, the hotel went from sparkling charm to total ruin. A nice reminder that timing is everything – only 2 years ago regular passenger flights to the Azores began – this venture missed the jackpot by only a couple years. The tiles, fixtures, windows, doors, and utilities have all been stripped. There’s no caution tape, just open elevator shafts and laundry chutes masquerading as open doors. Despite it’s disrepair, the zombie hotel’s roof still commands one of the most breathtaking vistas on the island.
From the same starting place as the ruins, youll find a ridge trail leading ultimately to the town of Sete Cidades. It’s a good walk along a thin ridge before the steep decent to Sete Cidades, so we opted out of that part of the hike.
Cha Gorreana -This is Europe’s only tea plantation. There are a couple hike options beginning in the plantation. We took the long loop and missed a turn because I was busy taking pictures of the darkest forest I have EVER seen! The thick Japanese cedar trees didn’t let any light hit the ground, and I realized why the European fairy tales always caution against going into the dark scary woods. It would have been terrifying if any large or dangerous animals lived in the Azores (but there aren’t any! Except for cows.). This adventure sent us high into the pastures and the clouds where we stumbled across a cute ruined stone house (a fixer upper!) in the fog, overlooking miles and miles of pastures, forest, and the ocean.
Eventually we found our way back to the missed turn and finally headed down hill. Its difficult to actually get lost on this island (despite our best efforts).
Terra Nostra Botanical Garden –This Botanical garden takes 2-3 hours to fully explore. It’s in the same space as the baths (see “Hot Springs” below) so you can really make a day of it and bring your bathing suit. I’m sure it’s gorgeous when the flowers are in bloom, but not much was blooming in mid-October. My favorite part was the palm tree forest.
Ribeira dos Caldeirões Natural Park, Achadinha (Waterfalls!) – We could have missed this place, as the signage wasn’t as good as the other sites we visited, but it’s well worth the drive! This park sits on the edge of Nordeste region – the wild, mountainous east coast of Sao Miguel. It is a retired Mill town with a showcase waterfall. Plenty of trails surround the waterfall, which lead to more waterfalls deep in the muddy jungle.
SWIMMING in the Azores
There are seemingly infinite beaches on Sao Miguel, but these are the few we stumbled upon. The gulf stream keeps the water fairly warm late in the season, and even though it’s off season the beaches were well maintained and incredibly very clean.
Ferraria – Follow the signs to the pools at Ferraria. It leads you to a public pool. Nothing remarkable happening here – but walk a little down the lava rock coastline and you’ll find a boardwalk, which leads to a deck with modern changing pods and bathrooms, and then to natural pools in the ocean, with ropes stretched across to hold onto so the churning waves don’t pull you out to sea. This deep pool is supposedly heated by underwater vents, but it just felt like cold ocean water to me.
Mosteiros – On the way to this beach we followed signs to another set of natural pools with cliffs of lava rocks that Don jumped off of into the pool. The waves in the ocean were massive this day, but the pools where completely protected.
After driving just a little way down the coast, we arrived at Mosteiros beach in a small fishing village. We lounged on the beach for a couple hours waiting for sunset, and bought some “mini” beers and a Magnum from the Snack bar truck at the street. I have enormous respect for a country where an ice cream bar is twice as expensive as a beer. This beach had the blackest sand we saw on the island. With towering monoliths just off shore – they served as perfect props for the sunset photoshoot that ensued as soon as the sky started turning.
Porto Formoso – There is a giant shore break here – The waves were ~8+ feet tall. We got mini cheap beers from the snack bar truck to sip on while Donald dodged the waves. There was also a quiet marina here with these colorful fish/surf shacks.
Ribiera Quinte – A quaint village and a big beach with an intricate retaining wall. By the size of the parking lot, and the helipad next to it, this beach is POPPING in the summer. There is also a sweet beach bar right on the sand. Luckily the only people in this town were Donald, me and the snack bar guy slinging mini beers and ice cream.
Sao Roque – Right next to our Airbnb was a really amazing beach next to an old church, punctuated with lava rock boulders, and covered in ultra-weathered seaglass. Apparently beachcombing isn’t really a thing here.
Caloura – A beautiful beach with a mysterious cave tucked back behind some rocks. Fire ashes outside of the cave were still smoldering, but there was no one in sight. The beach was beautiful and the bathroom pods and showers look like they’re from the future.
The Caloura Beach Resort also has a private path to pools among the lava flows.
Caldeira Velha Nature Reserve – These pools and nature park are on the way back from Sete Cidades. It’s a quick stop, with changing rooms and a few pools and a waterfall.
Poça da Dona Beija – This was a great set of sulfer and iron pools in Furnas. Most were about the same temperature. It was busy, but not overly crowded.
Terra Nostra – Hot tip: Arrive within an hour of closing time and get in for 1 euro! It sure beats the 6 euro it usually costs. This admission gets you into the hot springs and the entire garden park. The hot springs include a HUGE iron/sulfur pool, and 3-4 other smaller pools set off to the side. There are changing areas and bathrooms near the smaller pools, which we didn’t find until we explored the park, after changing under our towels behind a giant tropical plant. The baths are 5 feet deep, so be prepared to swim (or hitch a ride on your BF’s back) if you’re short like me.
I’m sure I missed a bunch of things, but this post is already pretty long, so lets wrap it up.
Stay tuned for Part 3: Azorean Eats!