Azores 2023: the bittersweetness of being the best

Azores 2023: the bittersweetness of being the best

Whenever a major travel publication includes the Azores in their “best of” lists, I’m torn. I celebrate, but I also wonder about balance.

In late October 2022, National Geographic Travel published the 25 breathtaking places and experiences for 2023, including the Azores Islands, in the section dedicated to the best destinations for nature lovers. I believe they are (personal bias aside), and I’m proud to see “my islands” make the list.

That said, it’s the end of 2022, a lot has been written and talked about the Azores (I know I do it all the time here on the blog), and here we still are insisting on promoting the islands for “just” nature when there is so much more to discover.

Maybe I’m nit-picking, but if we continue to showcase only the nature side of the Azores (which is breathtaking, mind you), travelers might forget that people live on the islands and that balance between locals and visitors is very easily shaken. I’ve seen it happen (and heard about it from friends on other islands): tourists so blind to get to those picture-worthy landscapes and lagoons that they’ll park anywhere they please and block up the road for miles, hindering local commuters from getting to work or home on time.

But I want to keep an open mind and this blog post positive. In part because the Azorean tourism industry took such a big hit during the pandemic lockdowns and because many islanders rely on tourism to make a living.

waterfalls and green hills on Flores Island, Azores

Dear travelers, the islands are gorgeous, one is not like the other, and none should be visited just once. They have lagoons, mountains, dormant volcanoes, grazing cows, green pastures, the ocean, black sand beaches, and waterfalls. And the food? My god, the food! I believe ANYTHING tastes better (and different) in the Azores.

But the islands also have a vibrant cultural and artistic community that often makes omelets without cracking eggs because they are severely underfunded.

Visit Discover Azores for a list of local artists (and the website doesn’t list them all), find out about their projects, and learn how you can support them. And in addition to that, Ponta Delgada (and all of the islands by association) is on the run to be the 2027 European Capital of Culture — I’m keeping my fingers and toes crossed until the results come out at the end of 2022 because this would mean so much to the region, you have no idea.

Different artists performing at the same time at the Azores Fringe Festival

Dear Azores Tourism Board and business owners, don’t be afraid to educate travelers on everything the islands are about. Don’t just show them what you think they want to see. Sometimes they are amazed and appreciate the insider knowledge; other times, they want what everyone told them they should get. Both are valid options (even if one makes me sadder than the other).

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