“São Miguel Azores: tips on planning your trip” is the second 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 specific requests, 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.
Table of Contents (Click to skip to a section)
- About São Miguel
- Top things to do in São Miguel Island
- Top cultural events in São Miguel Island
- Azores food: what to eat in São Miguel
- Local souvenirs
- Where to stay in São Miguel Island
- Know before you go
About São Miguel
Perfect island destination for exploring mysterious lagoons and relaxing in natural spas.
Sao Miguel is the biggest island in the Archipelago, dubbed “the green island” for its luscious green landscapes, and with some unusual attractions, for European standards that is — famous for its local production of pineapples, the land with the oldest tea plantation in all of the old continent (since 1883), and the island where a valley is known for the local delicacy, “Cozido das Furnas”, that takes 6 hours to cook underground (using nothing else but the power of Earth’s steam). This is the real “slow food”.
The island was discovered shortly after Santa Maria (just 81Km away) in the mid-1400s and was settled by Portuguese from the North and the South, and later by foreign communities of Moors (North African Muslims), Jewish, French, and English. Quite the melting pot of cultures and influences, wouldn’t you agree?
Sao Miguel is the more “urban” of all islands, for lack of a better description — if you want to experience island life but are not ready yet to go completely offbeat, this is probably your best first stop to ease into it.
Top things to do in São Miguel island
I had a difficult time narrowing down activities for this island for two reasons — first, there is a lot to do here and second, there is a lot of land and sea to cover. But I had to leave something out so I chose to include only the activities that allow you to enjoy nature and that bring you closer to the local culture (as is the mission of this blog).
The balance between Earth, Ocean, and Humankind is a fragile one, and the local population knows what it’s like to endure storms and earthquakes. The most popular activities in the island focus on our relationship with the sea (through diving and responsible whale watching); hiking, biking, and canyoning give you a glimpse of how we actually work around nature and not the opposite; geo-tourism puts you in touch with the land’s heartbeat.
Please note that I’m not listing ALL the local companies. These are local companies listed on Visit Azores website, with a website in English, and easy to contact from abroad (via social media or email). I do my best to update the blog, but if you notice that any of this information is outdated let me know.
- BigBlue Adventures (bike tours/MTB, geotourism, hiking, horseback riding, yachting) – www.bigblue-adventures.com
- Futurismo (bike tours/MTB, birdwatching, canoeing/kayaking, canyoning, geotourism, hiking, whale watching) – www.futurismo.pt
- Picos de Aventura (bike tours/MTB, birdwatching, canoeing/kayaking, canyoning, hiking, horseback riding, whale watching) – www.picosdeaventura.com
- Azores Whale Watching Terra Azul (birdwatching, geotourism, whale watching) – www.azoreswhalewatch.com
- Azores GreenMark (birdwatching, geotourism, hiking, scuba diving) – www.azoresgreenmark.com
- Bio and Bird Tours (birdwatching) – www.bioandbird.com
- Centro Ambiental do Priolo (birdwatching) – www.centropriolo.com
- Geo Fun (bike tours/MTB, birdwatching, canoeing/kayaking, canyoning, geotourism, hiking) – www.geo-fun.com
- Gerby Birding (birdwatching) – www.gerbybirding.com
- Azores Epic Adventures (canoeing/kayaking, canyoning, hiking) – www.azoresepicadventures.com
- Azores For All (accessible tourism: bike tours/MTB, canoeing/kayaking, hiking) – www.azoresforall.com
- Azorean Active Blueberry (canyoning) – www.azoreanactiveblueberry.com
- Azores Adventure Islands (bike tours/MTB, geotourism, hiking) – www.azoresadventureislands.com
- Azores Sub Dive Center (scuba diving, yachting) – www.azoressub.com
- Espírito Azul (scuba diving, yachting) – www.espiritoazul.com
- Pure Sail Azores (yachting) – www.puresailazores.com
- SailZen (yachting) – www.sailzen.net
- SeaBottom Azores (hiking, yachting) – www.seabottomazores.com
Top cultural events in São Miguel island
The most important local cultural event is a religious one: Santo Cristo dos Milagres (“Holy Christ of Miracles”, roughly translated). Every year, on the fifth Sunday after Easter, a crowd of devotees to this religious figure gather around Convento da Esperança. The nuns in this local convent are responsible for maintaining the Catholic cult, and it’s one of the busiest times of the year for the city of Ponta Delgada. I am not a religious person but, speaking from personal experience, the manifestations around Santo Cristo are some of the most powerful I’ve ever seen. The local Catholic community is incredibly dedicated to this.
Other semi-religious festivities on the island include St. Peter in Ribeira Grande (the other city, in the North) and St. John in Vila Franca do Campo (in the South), both in June.
On a lighter, and not religious, note, Carnaval is celebrated in a peculiar way. On “Mardi Gras” (“fat Tuesday”) people gather in the streets of Ponta Delgada for a ruthless, but harmless, and very wet “lime battle” (“batalha das limas”, in Portuguese). I should explain that no, people don’t go crazy throwing fruit at each other… The “limes” used to be small balls made of very thin wax that people filled with water — when they hit the target, the “lime” would burst and get the “enemy” wet. These days, and because the costs of making wax “limes” were increasing, the ammunition of choice is water-filled plastic bags. Not the cleanest of local traditions…
Azores food: what to eat in São Miguel
By far, “cozido das Furnas” is the most famous dish on the island. A combination of meats, potatoes (sweet and white), local yams, and cabbages, slowly stewed inside a pot that’s put inside a hole covered in dirt for about five to six hours.
Local sausages, beef, and seafood are, of course, excellent choices, especially if you start your meal with a slice of cottage cheese with “pimenta da terra” (a locally produced chili that is used as a seasoning in many dishes).
Passionfruit and pineapple are perfect for dessert but don’t leave the island without trying the “queijadas da vila” in Vila Franca do Campo. Or you can have “queijadas” for breakfast; this is Portugal, it’s totally acceptable to have pastries for breakfast — wash it down with a hot cup of Gorreana green tea just to keep things balanced.
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The typical blue and white china from Lagoa and pottery from Vila Franca do Campo are great souvenirs. Dolls made from dried corn leaves and flowers made from fish scales are unique, unusual, and a sign of great creativity in using what you have around.
If you want to extend your gastronomic experiences when you return home, and knowing that you can’t exactly take a “cozido das furnas” with you (well, you can take the “cozido”, but you can’t take the “furnas”), get your souvenirs from the local supermarket: grab a pineapple, a bag of “bolos levedos” (it’s a kind of flat but fluffy cake), some Gorreana tea, a box of “queijadas da vila”, some cans of tuna, and a bottle of passion fruit liquor “do Ezequiel” (that, most likely, won’t make past the security check at the airport). This would be the “beginner’s pack”. I could go on with this list for hours.
Where to stay in São Miguel island
Please note that I’m not listing ALL accommodations available on the island, just the ones you can book via Booking.com* for convenience.
Know before you go
These are the most frequently asked questions about the Azores islands in general (and the island of São Miguel in particular). If you have a question that’s not on this list, feel free to email me.
São Miguel is one of the two islands in the Eastern Group (Grupo Oriental) of the Azores Archipelago, an autonomous region of Portugal.
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, public health clinics (known as centros de saúde) and a hospital 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 São Miguel island is 744.70 square kilometers (approximately 287.53 square miles).
1,448 km (approximately 900 miles).
137,699 people, according to the last census of 2011.
São Miguel has five main towns (concelhos in Portuguese), Nordeste, Ponta Delgada (where the airport is), Povoação, Ribeira Grande, and Vila Franca do Campo.
SATA Air Acores – between islands
Azores Airlines, Tap Air Portugal, and Ryanair – from the Portuguese mainland and other countries
By boat (seasonal, from May to September, between islands):
The climate is mild temperate. Temperature: average high 22°C/72°F. Average low 13°C/55°F. Average relative humidity: 80.5%.
May, for the local festivities of Santo Cristo; June to September, for the whale watching season.
Frequently, but they are not considered dangerous. (Source)
*Note: seismic activity is constantly monitored in the Azores.
Yes, 3G and 4G.
Tips on planning your trip to the other Azores islands: