Pico Azores: tips on planning your trip
If you’re planning to travel to the Azores in times of COVID-19 please refer to these official sources when planning:COVID-19 Information from the U. S. Embassy in PortugalOfficial Azores Government’s Information for Passengers Traveling to the Azores
“Pico Azores: tips on planning your trip” is the sixth installment of a series of nine blog posts about the Azores islands. The posts are meant to give you a detailed overview of each one of them to help you plan your trip, whether you decide to visit one, two, or all nine. If you have any questions or a specific request, feel free to drop me an email and I’ll do my best to answer it or to put you in touch with the right contact.
Perfect island destination for fans of mountain climbing, UNESCO World Heritage wineries and cultural events.
The island’s (and the country’s) highest peak rises 2350 meters (7700 feet) above sea level, thus dubbing the second largest island in the archipelago as the “mountain island”. This should be quite enough to impress every visitor, don’t you agree? Well, it should. But to sweeten the deal, Pico tops it off with its Landscape of Vineyard Culture (listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004) and the contemporary Cella Bar (one of the winners of ArchDaily’s 2016 Building of the Year Awards).
Settled by Portuguese from the North in the late 1400s, the main economic activities were based on the production of wheat and dye plants (as was very common in the other settlements in the archipelago). However, soon the settlers realized the potential of the lava soils and switched to wine producing instead. If you have ever tasted Pico wine, you know it was a smart move.
Pico has a very strong Historical link to the whaling activities, first as sperm whale hunters from the late 1800s until it was banned in 1986, and now as watchers and protectors. The uniqueness of the volcanic soil has also boosted the wine making industry. The tourism industry rides these both waves (of whale watching and wine producing) brilliantly, determined to highlight the “grey island” as a culturally diverse travel destination.
Top things to do in Pico island
Climbing Portugal’s highest peak is obviously an experience of a lifetime, especially if it’s improved by the knowledge and experience of a local guide. Touring the local vineyards and getting to know the whale species you can spot should also be on your to-do list.
- NaturFactor (bike tours/MTB, birdwatching, canoeing/kayaking, hiking, yachting) – www.naturfactor.com
- Tripx Azores (geotourism, hiking) – www.tripixazores.com
- Espaço Talassa (whale watching, yachting) – www.espacotalassa.com
- Cetacean Watching (whale watching) – www.cwazores.com
- Aqua Açores (whale watching, yachting) – www.aquaacores.com.pt
- Pico Sport (scuba diving, whale watching) – www.pico-sport.com
Top cultural events in Pico island
Local religious events, especially the Holy Ghost festivities, are as common here as in any other island of the Azores. But the most important cultural events here are those that honor the heritage and History of wine producing and the whaling industry.
The Whaling Week (“Semana dos Baleeiros”) happens in the town of Lajes every August. It’s a mix of cultural events and concerts, but with a great focus on the whaling heritage. The most special happening of them all is the race of traditional whaling boats — not so much for the race itself, but for the chance of seeing those tiny vessels in the ocean and to imagine how small they look compared to the whales their sailors used to hunt.
The Grape Harvest Festival (“Festas das Vindimas”) happens in the town of Madalena every September. Expect ethnographic and folklore events related to the wine industry, guided wine tours, local cuisine and, of course, plenty of wine tasting.
For out-of-the-ordinary cultural events, MiratecArts has been proudly hosting the Azores Fringe Festival in Pico since 2013, among other art-related events on the mountain island.
Azores food: what to eat in Pico
Local wine and cheese are the bases of Pico’s gastronomy, which seems to be quite the start of a love affair with the island. Doesn’t it all sound perfect? Mountain, sea, cheese and wine? But because all these views (and probably the mountain climb) will make you crave for a little more sustenance, the island is also famous for its stewed octopus in “vinho de cheiro” (roughly translated to “fragrant wine”, it’s a typical local wine produced from an American variety of hybrid grapes known as “Isabella”) and fried pork sausage with boiled or baked taro roots (although they’re called “inhames” in Portuguese and sound like yams in English, they’re not the same. They’re brownish in color and may not look like the most attractive food on the plate, but your taste buds will have a different saying on the matter.)
In the height of the whaling industry, the engraved sperm whale teeth were a common souvenir. These days the whaling industry is remembered through handmade small-scale models of the old whaling boats.
The local Handicrafts School keeps the artisan traditions alive while creating typical local straw hats and flowers made with fish scales.
Where to stay in Pico Island
Know before you go
These are the most frequently asked questions about the Azores islands in general (and the island of Pico in particular). If you have a question that’s not on this list, feel free to email me.
Pico is one of the five islands in the Central Group (Grupo Central) of the Azores Archipelago, an autonomous region of Portugal.
Portuguese. The Azoreans are also fluent in some foreign languages (mostly English), especially those who work in the tourism industry.
GMT -1 hour
You need a visa to enter all Schengen area territories, including the Azores islands. Click here for detailed information.
* Please note that this information may change over time. Refer to the Portuguese Embassy or Consulate in the country of your departure for updated information.
Special vaccination is not mandatory to enter the Azores region. If you have special health conditions, please seek medical advice.
There are pharmacies and public health clinics (known as centros de saúde with emergency services on the island.
220 volts (round two-pin plugs).
Yes, there are buses and taxis. You can also rent a car (check the local car rental companies for information).
The area of Pico island is 444.9 square kilometers (approximately 171.77 square miles).
1,670 km (approximately 1,037 miles).
14,148 people, according to the last census of 2011.
Pico has three main towns (concelhos in Portuguese): Lajes do Pico, Madalena (where the airport and one of the ferry stations is), and São Roque do Pico (where the second ferry boat station is).
The climate is mild temperate. Temperature: average high 19.9°C/67.8°F. Average low 14.9°C/58.8°F. Snow is common on the mountain in the winter.
In the summer, for the local unique cultural events.
There’s been low activity in recent years. (Source)
*Note: seismic activity is constantly monitored in the Azores.
Yes, 3G and 4G.