How to plan a trip to São Miguel Island in the Azores
About São Miguel
It’s the perfect island destination for exploring mysterious lagoons and relaxing in natural spas.
São Miguel is the largest island in the Archipelago, called “the green island” for its lush landscapes, and with some unusual attractions, for European standards, that is.
It’s famous for its local production of pineapples. It’s the home of the oldest tea plantation in Europe. The island where a valley is known for the local specialty, Cozido das Furnas.
That dish takes 6 hours to cook underground. This is the real slow food.
The island was discovered shortly after Santa Maria (just 81Km away) in the mid-1400s. Portuguese from the North and the South settled there first. Later, North African Muslims, Jewish, French, and English followed. Quite the melting pot of cultures and influences, wouldn’t you agree?
São Miguel is the more “urban” of all islands, for lack of a better description. Suppose you want to experience island life but are not ready yet to go completely offbeat. In that case, this is probably your best first destination 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 bring you closer to the local culture (as is the mission of this blog).
The balance between Earth, Ocean, and Humankind is fragile, and the local population knows what it’s like to endure storms and earthquakes.
The island’s most popular activities focus on the islanders’ relationship with the sea through diving and responsible whale watching. Hiking, biking, and canyoning give you a glimpse of how to work around nature and not the opposite. Geo-tourism puts you in touch with the land’s heartbeat.
- 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
- Centro Ambiental do Priolo (birdwatching) – www.centropriolo.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
Top cultural events in São Miguel island
The most important local cultural and religious event is Santo Cristo dos Milagres. Every year, on the fifth Sunday after Easter, many devotees gather around Convento da Esperança.
I’m not a religious person, but, speaking from personal experience, the celebrations of 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 São Pedro in Ribeira Grande and São João da Vila, both in June.
On a lighter, and not religious, note, Carnaval is celebrated peculiarly. On Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday), people gather in Ponta Delgada’s streets for a ruthless but harmless and very wet lime battle (batalha das limas).
No, people don’t go crazy throwing fruit at each other. The “limes” used to be small balls made from very thin wax that people filled with water and threw at each other. 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 most environment-friendly of traditions.
What to eat in São Miguel
By far, cozido das Furnas is the most famous dish on the island. A stew of meats, sweet and white potatoes, taros, and cabbages, slowly cooked inside a pot that’s put inside a hole covered in dirt for about 6 hours.
Local sausages, beef, and seafood are, of course, excellent choices. Start your meal with a slice of cottage cheese with pimenta da terra (a locally produced chili 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. It’s totally acceptable to have pastries for breakfast and to wash it down with a hot cup of Gorreana green tea just to keep things balanced.
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 foodie experiences when you return home, and knowing that you can’t exactly take a cozido das Furnas with you, get your souvenirs from the local supermarket.
Grab a pineapple, a bag of bolos levedos (a flat but fluffy cake), some Gorreana tea, a box of queijadas da vila, some cans of tuna, and a bottle of passion fruit liquor Ezequiel.
That would be the “beginner’s pack.” I could go on with this list for hours.
Find a place to stay
Know before you go
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.
The same as in Portugal, the Euro (€).
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.
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.