As a local, I know a thing or two (maybe more) about traveling to the Azores and I get a lot of emails with, often, the same questions. There’s plenty of information out there but the readers who reach out to me have trouble in either believing the source or finding all they are looking for in one spot.
Before I wrote this massive blog post, I had another one with roughly the same title but that had deplorable content. As in, it was a laundry list of tips that, frankly, helped no one.
So here I am with a new and improved blog post on how you can travel to the Azores independently!
You can bookmark this for later, click the right button of your mouse and print it, or simply click on one of the sections in the table of contents and skip to the part you’re most interested in. You, the reader, are in command.
Table of contents:
- Where is the Azores on a map?
- How to get to the Azores?
- Flights to the Azores: all you need to know
- Getting around in the Azores
- Weather in the Azores: a (somewhat) delicate issue
- Hotels in the Azores: how far in advance to book and what to look for
- Tourism in the Azores: things you need to know
- Best time to visit the Azores and what island(s) to visit
- Best Azores apps
- The FAQ section
Where is the Azores on a map?
These days everyone seems to be talking about, writing about, or dreaming about the Azores but most don’t know how to find it on a map. Better yet, they can find where is the Azores on the map but I think grasping how remote the islands are is a whole other story.
Saying the Portuguese archipelago is 898 miles from Lisbon and 2391 miles from Boston is also not enough. It would be convenient, though, if you were driving there. But, of course, you’re not. Also, this only measures the distance between those two cities and the bigger island (with the main airport).
I set this map of the Azores with a pre-defined view on Google so you could see how the islands are (literally) in the middle of the North Atlantic. The blue pinpoints mark the East Group (the islands of São Miguel and Santa Maria), the purple pinpoints mark the Central Group (the islands of Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge, Pico, and Faial), and the orange pinpoints mark the West Group (the islands of Flores and Corvo).
It looks like pretty much a cluster doesn’t it?
Now, I encourage you to slowly begin to zoom in on the map to see how far each island is from one another and how the West Group is the most remote and the most isolated from all others.
Why does this matter? Well, I’m not interested in analysing the map of the Azores just for fun nor is this a Geography lesson. But to plan an independent trip to the Azores you need to account for time and distance in a different way, especially if you are looking to visit more than one island.
How to get to the Azores
Unless you’re an experienced sailor, hopping on a plane is the easiest and fastest way to get to the Azores.
Ponta Delgada port (in São Miguel island) is also a stop for some cruises but this post is meant to include all the islands and how to travel there, not just one. I’m also not the biggest fan of cruises for sustainable tourism – passengers don’t stay long enough to get to know their destination and all tours are pre-paid and everything is so expensive (and included) on board that tourists aren’t as likely to spend time on land to support the local economy in any way.
Flights to the Azores: all you need to know
Taking a glance at my notes, this was bound to be a long section so I split it into smaller categories. Some links included are affiliates (as always, marked with *) but they don’t change your experience as a reader whatsoever and should you make a purchase through one of those links it just means I make a small commission from them (without any extra charge to you).
Flying to the Azores can be cheap (if you’re flexible and set up price alerts like I do) but flying between the islands is completely different. That’s why this section is so big.
About the airports in the Azores
This is a crucial information to plan your trip. Why? Because although all islands have an airport (locals fly frequently either because they’re students in another island or have to seek medical care elsewhere), not all airports get flights from all destinations. Not to mention, not all planes have the right size to land on all strips.
The main airport in the Azores is the João Paulo II in Ponta Delgada (São Miguel island). All international flights land here. So, if you are, for example, searching for a flight from Boston to the Azores but your final destination is Flores island, you will notice you can only find flights with one layover (or more).
The smallest airport (more like an airdrome, actually) is the one on Corvo Island. This island gets the smaller planes and it also means that, when island hopping, you may have to look for more flexible alternatives like taking a boat from the neighboring Flores Island to reach Corvo.
For reference (and to make sure you’re looking at the right airport), keep in mind the codes and location of each one:
- PDL – Ponta Delgada, São Miguel
- SMA – Vila Nova do Porto, Santa Maria
- TER – Lajes, Terceira (also an American Military Base)
- GRW – Santa Cruz, Graciosa
- SJZ – Santo Amaro, São Jorge
- PIX – Madalena, Pico
- HOR – Horta, Faial
- FLW – Santa Cruz das Flores, Flores
- CVU – Vila do Corvo, Corvo
Flying to the Azores: choosing an airline and setting price alerts
The window to visit the Azores when the weather is just right is, unfortunately, very small. The high season is, typically, between June and September and this is when everyone is traveling to the Azores, from tourists to emigrants based in the U.S. and Canada.
Hotels and flights are most likely to be fully booked and, when they’re not, the last spots available can either be very expensive or not exactly what you were looking for. I wish I was one of those bloggers that knows all the travel hacks to book a cheap flight but I’m not. In fact, I’m the last minute planner. That’s when setting a price alert on Skyscanner comes in handy. No, it won’t magically make your desired flight cheaper but if the price drops (or, sadly, rises) you’ll be the first to know.
Which airlines fly to the Azores and from where?
Azores Airlines is the official airline of the archipelago operating some international flights and the only company operating all flights between islands (still known as SATA Air Açores).
Here’s a breakdown of which airlines fly to the Azores and from where (I’ll keep this post updated as much as possible, but keep in mind that routes available may change over time):
- Azores Airlines:
- From London Gatwick to São Miguel – Direct flights (May to October)
- From Boston to São Miguel and Terceira – Direct flights
- From Toronto to São Miguel and Terceira – Direct flights
- From Lisbon, Faro, Porto, Funchal, and Porto Santo to São Miguel – Direct flights
- From Amsterdam, Stockholm, Barcelona, Billund, Copenhagen, Dublin, Frankfurt, Las Palmas, Madrid, Munich, Paris, Oslo, and Zurich to São Miguel – Flights may be operated in partnership with other airlines
- From London Stansted to São Miguel – Direct flights (frequency changes according to season; check their official website for an accurate schedule)
- From Lisbon to Terceira – Direct flights (frequency changes according to season; check their official website for an accurate schedule)
- TAP Air Portugal:
- From Manchester and Heathrow, via Lisbon
- From Lisbon to Terceira and Faial – Direct flights (usually in partnership with Azores Airlines)
- Delta Airlines:
- From New York (JFK) to São Miguel (starting May 2018) – Direct flights five times a week (except Mondays and Wednesdays). Check the Delta Airlines official website for more details.
- Azores Airlines:
How to set up a price alert on Skyscanner?
1. First, use the search box below to look for a flight. If you don’t have a set date for traveling and are just browsing for the cheapest possibility, don’t choose a date.
2. Once you select the dates you want, based on the flight price, click on the green button below the calendar that says “show flights”.
3. Skyscanner will then list all flights and all the prices for the dates you selected. Now, the dates are just right and the traveling time too, everything is perfect except that price and you’re not ready to commit yet? Click the “get price alerts” button on the top left. It will show a pop-up box where you can write your email address to be notified every time the price changes.
What if prices never get lower than that? Well, it’s always a gamble but, so far, I have always been lucky (it doesn’t always come at a time I can quickly book it and pay for it, but that’s another story).
Getting around in the Azores
Island hopping in the Azores
Like anything else in the archipelago, island hopping in the Azores needs a little extra planning so it’s unlikely to be the appropriate way of traveling for those who like to book flights on a whim.
You can do it only by boat, you can do it only by plane, or you can mix both. Mixing both is what I call the optimal choice, considering the proximity of some of the islands, how regular boat and flight connections are, and in what season you are traveling to the Azores.
I’ve had readers do it all by plane in just two weeks so I know it’s possible. It was probably a race against time and they didn’t spend much time on each island, but they pulled it off. The only downside of this? They had to leave one island out because they couldn’t find a suitable connection without layovers and a ridiculous back and forth.
Like I mentioned before, SATA Air Açores is the airline that connects all islands but, depending on the time of year, you have to account for frequency and, very important, layovers. Remember that they have to cover all nine islands and having only direct flights between them is not a smart use of resources. Think of it like a bus with different stops along the way from point A to point B – some people get off and some people get on.
If you get seasick easily I would never recommend traveling between the islands by boat, for two reasons. One, I get seasick easily and the North Atlantic isn’t always kind to poorly prepared sailors. Two, even if you think summer is a safe bet, some trips are easier than others (that’s when knowing the distance between islands comes in handy):
- Approximate distances between the islands (in miles):
- Flores and Corvo – 14.91
- Faial and Pico – 5.5
- Faial and São Jorge – 24.23
- Pico and São Jorge – 11.80
- São Jorge and Graciosa – 37.90
- Graciosa and Terceira – 50.33
- São Miguel and Santa Maria – 63.37
- Approximate distances between the islands (in miles):
Have you started forming a picture for island hopping in your head just yet? It’s always tricky to narrow down the best option because you have to consider all factors beyond distance – are you okay with traveling by boat? Is it worth it to go through all the airport security procedures just to travel between islands that are so close together? Is it cheaper, safer, easier?
I can’t make the final decision for you, but I can tell you a few things regarding island hopping by boat:
- There are three lines operating regularly (Green Line between Faial, Pico, and São Jorge; Blue Line, between Faial and Pico; Pink Line between Flores and Corvo)
- The Yellow Line only runs from 3rd of May to 29th September and includes all islands except Corvo
- Traveling by boat is the easiest (and most frequent) between Corvo and Flores, Faial and Pico, Pico and São Jorge, Faial and São Jorge
- Pico Island is the middle island of the “triangle” (Faial, Pico, São Jorge), which means it’s easier to set Pico as a base and travel by boat to Faial and São Jorge
- Boat tickets for some destinations can be expensive
- Check the official website of boat operator Atlantico Line for prices and schedules
Traveling between the islands for free
Improving air travel in the country, from the mainland or from the Madeira islands to the Azores, was long overdue. It’s usually cheaper to book a flight to another city in Europe or another country elsewhere than booking a flight to the Azores.
When low-cost airlines, like Ryanair and, for some time, easyJet, were allowed to fly to and from the Azores, it became dirt-cheap to reach the main island, São Miguel, but it meant the other eight islands were missing out on the opportunity.
Therefore, the free inter-island connecting flights were created. Like any other service, there are some ground rules:
- Your origin must be an airport in mainland Portugal (Porto, Lisbon, or Faro) or Madeira island (if you’re flying in from Boston and have a layover in Lisbon, for example, you’re not eligible for the free connecting flight)
- Your final destination must be any other island other than the island of entry (for example, your final destination is Corvo island but to enter the Azores you must fly in via São Miguel)
- You cannot stay at your point of entry in the Azores for more than 24 hours
- You must request your connecting flight on this website
Renting a car, hiring a taxi, or using public transportation?
Ah, the million dollar question when it comes to getting around in the Azores. Again, there isn’t one fit-all simple answer to this. It vastly depends on how much time you’re spending there, which island you are visiting, what activities you planned, and where you are staying.
Let’s break this down one by one.
Car rental in the Azores
I often receive emails about this complaining about one of these two things: the company is charging my reader a deposit fee that’s outrageously high or the fees are too high for the time they’re spending there.
To be clear, I don’t drive nor I rent cars so I have no idea what expensive car rental means. What I do know is that there are probably fewer cars available at an Azores car rental than there are in any other part of the country (which could explain the high fees).
Also, be mindful that driving in the Azores might be a challenge for some people who aren’t used to narrow streets or driving on cliffs. Occasionally, and this is not an urban myth, you will face the most common traffic jam in rural areas on the islands – a massive herd of cows being moved from one pasture to the other.
Instead of looking for an international or a chain car rental company, I strongly suggest comparing prices at local companies for a number of reasons: most of them have a website where you can plan it all even before you leave your country, they offer airport pickup, they have multiple ways of payment, and if you’re traveling to more than one island you can have a car waiting for you at every step of the way.
However, I’m listing all available car rental companies in the Azores, with a website, and with an office or a representative at the airport (as listed on their pages):
- Autlantis (local) – São Miguel, Santa Maria, Terceira, Pico, São Jorge, and Flores
- Ilha Verde Rent a Car (local) – São Miguel, Santa Maria, Flores, Terceira, Faial, Pico, and São Jorge
- Varela Rent-a-Car (local) – São Miguel, Terceira, Faial, Pico, and São Jorge
- Hertz (global) – Faial, Pico, São Miguel, and Terceira
- Europcar – Terceira, Faial, Pico, São Miguel, Santa Maria, Flores, and São Jorge
- Guerin (global) – Flores, Faial, Pico, São Miguel, São Jorge, Terceira, and Santa Maria
- Sixt (global) – São Jorge, Flores, Terceira, São Miguel, and Santa Maria
Note: please confirm prices, insurance needed, extra fees, documentation, and payment modes available on the Azores car rental companies websites before booking.
Hiring a taxi in the Azores
All islands have taxis, except Corvo. Due to the island’s small area, you can practically walk everywhere.
When does it pay off to hire a taxi? As a transfer between the airport and your hotel (and vice versa) if you have a lot of luggage or the distance justifies it, and when you want to do some sightseeing as an independent traveler but with the perks of a tour guide who knows the island well (without being part of a guided tour).
All airports have taxis outside, so getting one shouldn’t be too difficult. Also, some hotels offer transfer services, so check the prices for that and compare it with how much a taxi will cost. The taxi ride will most likely cost you a fixed fee – a daily fee for long trips and a tariff based on distance for short trips.
I tested different tools to see how a trip between the airport and a hotel in a central location would cost me and used São Miguel as an example because I know typically a taxi for this route costs approximately €7 (USD 8.63). So far, this one is the most accurate. To check average taxi prices in the Azores in English, simply click your mouse right button and select “translate to English”.
Note: taxis in the Azores are cream-colored with two navy-blue stripes.
Using public transportation in the Azores
The bigger the island, the more frequent buses are. When it comes to public transportation in the Azores, that’s pretty much the only option you have on land. In smaller towns, where having a regular bus route twice a day is more than enough, you’re better off renting a car or hiring a taxi for a full day or a half day.
In Ponta Delgada, the main city on São Miguel island, the PDL Mini Bus works well if you want to move around in the city only. More details on the PDL Mini Bus routes and prices here.
Weather in the Azores: a (somewhat) delicate issue
Remember the map at the beginning of this blog post? As you can imagine, accurately forecasting weather in the Azores is most of the times a hit and miss. And I’ve heard all the weather-related jokes from “it’s always raining on the islands” to “you get all four seasons at the same time in one day”. Technically, you don’t get all four seasons in one day (although it does happen to rain and then be sunny five minutes later, I hardly call it a full season and this can happen anywhere in the world).
The islands are small. That means that going from point A to point B is quicker and so is the possibility to experience different weather in two different places on the same island. It’s not rocket science. It’s just… science?
Instead of asking what the weather is like in the Azores, ask instead what the climate in the Azores is like because it’s a little simpler to answer. If you want my advice, skip the weather forecast altogether. And, yes, it is possible to do that and still pack light (we’ll get to that a little later).
The Atlantic Ocean has its ways of keeping things balanced on the islands when it comes to temperature. The coldest month is February (around 13C/75F degrees on average) and the warmest (and driest) is August (around 22C/71F on average). That’s the rule of thumb but of course, it doesn’t mean one day is like the other.
If you think your tour guide is rushing you to get to that viewpoint, they probably are. Once the fog settles over a lagoon it could take hours (or days) to clear up – and either you’re patient and have a lot of time on your hands or you have to let go of that perfect shot you had in mind.
Azoreans are slightly obsessed with weather and it isn’t unlikely to find someone who can tell if it’s going to rain the next day just by looking at the sky or noticing a shift in the ocean tide. I’m not an expert, so I usually look at my phone app like everyone else.
The only reason we’re obsessed with the weather, especially on the more remote islands, is because bad weather for us means a canceled flight, a late shipment (and by late, I mean it can take weeks until it’s safe for a cargo ship to dock again), something that can potentially disrupt our normal routines. I haven’t lived in my home island for over 20 years, and I still feel wary about storm alerts!
Regarding rain, yes, the islands are rainy, especially from September to March. You can’t have all that green and lagoons and waterfalls without a lot of rain. I think it’s a fair price to pay, don’t you?
Hotels in the Azores: how far in advance to book and what to look for
While tourists will probably complain there aren’t enough hotels in the Azores, I’ll say the number of hotels per island is just right (although it’s about to increase). The tourism high season is from June to September and most islands (if not all) cash in during those months to prepare for the rest of the year when not much happens.
Some of the most remote islands might get the occasional visit of the intrepid adventurer who doesn’t mind the rough weather, but that’s hardly enough to keep a hotel open all year round. On smaller islands, yes, it’s normal for some accommodation units to close in the winter.
Like I mentioned before, not all islands in the Azores are meant for those who book last minute and travel on a whim. To assure a smooth trip, follow these steps:
- Pick the island(s) you want to visit
- Browse and book accommodation (I strongly suggest you use a service like Booking.com* where you can, usually, book now and pay later or at least cancel the reservation without penalties if you change your mind)
- Browse and book flights (or set up a price alert if you think you have a chance of getting a cheaper flight)
The environment and sustainability are two of the most important pillars of the tourism industry in the Azores. The region is one of the top sustainable and ecotourism destinations in the world for a reason, and we’re not bluffing when we say most of the natural landscapes in the Azores are untouched.
So how green is your hotel in the Azores? That depends on how many Miosótis it got (miosótis is the Portuguese word for the forget-me-not flowers; although not as famous as the hydrangeas, this is an endemic species on the islands).
The Miosótis award is given every year by the local government to hotels and other types of accommodation on the islands that stick to a strict set of rules and criteria, all to promote and enforce sustainable tourism. You can see the whole list here and also learn what those criteria for selection are.
If you want to know what are the best hotels in the Azores, I suggest you start with that list.
Tourism in the Azores: things you need to know
I’m preparing a post with a long list of all the things to do in the Azores but every time I think I’m done, I remember one more thing to add. Yes, the list is longer than most people expect (even me). So, I won’t be listing all activities here.
Instead, and because I want this to work as your starting point to plan your trip to the Azores, I want to address what tourism means for the islands.
First, visiting the Azores is a once-in-a-lifetime experience so please treat it as such. I’m a little peeved whenever someone writes about a nasty experience about any of the islands (not just “my” two islands). I think we as travelers sometimes forget that by visiting a destination we’re actually visiting someone’s home, we’re using someone else’s resources (based on hospitality and financial transactions), and we’re seeing the reality of a place where we only spent a few days.
Sometimes, the weather will be shitty and you won’t be able to Instagram your way through the island as you dreamed of.
Sometimes, you’ll go out on a whale watching expedition and none of the animals felt like acknowledging your presence. Because they’re animals. In the wild. Enjoy the moment, enjoy the ride, and learn a little bit more from the tour guide with you on the boat that day.
Sometimes, you’ll step into a restaurant with crappy food or without a vegan/vegetarian option or with only one thing on the menu. Before bitching about it, put yourself in the locals’ shoes. Do they have access to big chain supermarkets or do they rely on a cargo ship coming over every two weeks with supplies they can’t grow on the island? Despite being surrounded by the North Atlantic ocean, did you know that fishing certain protected species, even if in small quantities, is illegal and it’s not as easy as catching something nice and fresh to put on the menu?
Yes, some islands in the Azores have a long way to go to achieve a certain high standard of customer service, I will agree on that. Yes, it’s far from perfect and the reality is that most of the people who work in tourism weren’t quite ready for the sudden influx of tourists because the Azores are so popular right now.
I want you to spend as much time in the Azores as you want and I want you to experience life in the Azores to the fullest, even if it’s just for a couple of days. I say this with all my heart, as a local who’s been away from the islands for 20 years but who still feels like an islander. You can take the girl out of the island but you can’t take the island out of the girl, right?
But I don’t want to scare you off into overthinking every single step you take, so here are my top tips for things to do in the Azores (sustainably and responsibly):
- Diving in the Azores is not only a bucket-list experience, it’s a live lesson in marine biology. Make sure you choose a certified and sustainable company
- Whale watching is what the Azores are best known for but be mindful that not all islands are the perfect spot for this activity. Also remember that the whales and dolphins in the Azores are protected species. Here’s what you can do if you haven’t spotted a whale on your trip or your sea expedition was cancelled due to poor weather conditions:
- Visit a whaling museum and learn more about the transition from whale hunting to whale watching
- Visit a local interpretation center and learn more about the biodiversity in the islands
- Visit an old whale observation post and see if you could spot one
- The best beaches in the Azores are easy to spot: follow the locals or, if you don’t want to feel like a stalker, ask around where to go. Swimming in the Azores can be tricky, even in the summer, because of the sudden shift in currents, so please be mindful of warnings if you’re not an excellent swimmer
- Other outdoor activities:
- Canyoning (the best islands are São Jorge and Flores)
- Sailing (Faial has a long tradition of welcoming sailors and sailing activities)
- Hiking (details for hiking in the Azores safely in the FAQ section)
- Surfing and windsurfing (the favorite spots are on the islands of São Miguel, Terceira, and São Jorge)
- Cliff diving (São Miguel island welcomes one of the legs of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series every year; not for the faint of heart)
- Swimming (no skinny dipping please and take note that your swimsuit will be ruined after) on hot springs (the most famous being at Parque Terra Nostra in São Miguel)
- Birding (Corvo island is one of the birdwatchers favorite place)
- Local culture:
- Wine tasting in Pico, Terceira, and Graciosa
- All islands celebrate a local religious event in honor of the Holy Ghost, from April/May to July (dates and how it’s celebrated across the islands varies)
- Summer time is festivals time: Azores Fringe Festival in Pico (June), Maré de Agosto in Santa Maria (August), Semana do Mar in Faial (August), Semana dos Baleeiros in Pico (August)
- Other cultural events: TREMOR in São Miguel (March), Angra Jazz in Terceira (October), Sanjoaninas in Terceira (June)
Best time to visit the Azores and what island(s) to visit
If you’re looking for a lot of things to do (outdoor activities, guided tours, cultural events, music festivals) go in the Summer (between June and September). It’s high season but it’s also the time when the weather will be better. If you don’t like surprises (although that’s virtually impossible in the Azores), summertime is the time.
For adventurous souls who seek the offbeat paths and the mysteries of island life in the low season, visit during every other month in the year except December, January, and February – the winter months. I’m not saying you can’t travel to the islands then (to be honest, people do live there all year round so if they can manage it, so can you), it’s just that enduring a winter in the Azores can be a challenge.
As for which island to visit, it’s up to what you enjoy doing the most. Here’s a quick overview of what each island is best known for:
- Rugged natural beauty, remote, and offbeat: Corvo, Flores, Graciosa, and Santa Maria
- Cultural vibes: Pico and Terceira
- Island life with an urban touch: São Miguel
- Sailor life and an extinct volcano: Faial
- Secluded and hard-to-reach villages: São Jorge
Best Azores apps
Although I hardly use any when I’m traveling to the islands, a few readers have asked me about the best Azores apps (or if there are any). The good news is that I’ve researched a bit and found close to a dozen mobile apps. The bad news is that most of them have not been updated in over a year or have content that’s not really that relevant.
So, I narrowed it down to these four free apps, for iOS and Android devices:
The official tourism board’s mobile app is basically a handy version of all the information they already list on their website. Keep in mind they might not list all the restaurant and accommodation options available on each island, only the businesses listed on the website already. Click here to download the iOS version and click here to download the Android version.
Parques Naturais dos Açores
This is an app completely dedicated to the nine Azores Natural Parks (one per island). Click the island you’re visiting to download the content (to be used offline) that lists 10 different categories including information about the park (with lots of valuable tips like a code of conduct), trails and circuits, local partners, environmental centers, and suggested itineraries for the must-sees. Click here to download the iOS version and click here to download the Android version.
I used to make fun of my dad for using the Spot Azores website all the time until I began to use it myself, instead of an ordinary weather app. The website (and the mobile apps version) allows you to see specific locations on all islands, in real time, through live webcams. Despite this sounding a lot like spying on your neighbors, it beats any weather forecast (you know, the ones that tell you it’s always raining in the Azores?). If you don’t find it too weird to stalk remote islands in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean (or if you’re feeling homesick, or if you want to show someone what the islands are really like), click here to download the iOS version, or click here to download the Android version. Note: if you’re annoyed by constant ads, you might want to skip this one.
Azores – Guide & Travel Tips
Despite the name, this app only includes a travel guide to the island of São Miguel. Maybe one day they’ll expand it to include other islands, but for now you can rely on content that’s been developed by a local company so you can trust it as an accurate resource. Click here to download the iOS version and here to download the Android version.
The FAQ section
This is the section where a brief answer will suffice, so I don’t need to write more than one paragraph (or a whole blog post) about it. If you have a question that’s not featured here, drop me an email.
Are the Azores part of Portugal?
Yes, the archipelago of the Azores is an autonomous region of Portugal. This means the islands are ruled by a local government (elected by the residents) but not independent of the rest of the country. As part of Portugal, the Azores are also members of the European Union and part of the Schengen area (depending on your country of origin, you may need a visa to enter the Azores if this is your point of entry in Europe).
What’s the language, currency, and time zone in the Azores?
The Azoreans speak Portuguese (although accent and vocabulary may change between islands and even in the same island; it’s not unusual for Azoreans to mix American English words with their Portuguese because of the connection between the two through emigration), the currency is the Euro (€), and the time zone is GMT -1 (one hour less than Lisbon).
Are there ATM machines in the Azores?
Yes, all islands have ATM machines and all islands have banks, so currency exchange won’t be a problem. When you reach the Azores via São Miguel, you can visit the currency exchange office at the airport if you prefer to get cash in the local currency that way.
Health and safety
Portugal is the fifth safest country in the world and the Azores are pretty close to paradise with an extremely low crime rate. Well, the locals joke that running away from the police on an island is pretty useless so why choose that as a career?
As for health, all islands have resident doctors, nurses, and pharmacists. Only Faial, Terceira, and São Miguel have hospitals; the rest of the islands have local public clinics called centros de saúde. In case of a life-threatening emergency, the Portuguese army has medical teams on call ready to fly to wherever they’re needed.
Please remember that people live here, this isn’t a tourist resort, so you will find the same basic facilities you would find elsewhere (or close enough).
Hiking in the Azores
Hiking in the Azores has to be the most famous outdoor activity on the islands, especially for visitors. That sense of exploring and connecting with nature is quite the experience in the Portuguese archipelago.
All islands have clearly marked official hiking trails. If you’re not used to hiking or aren’t familiar with the terrain, I strongly advise you to stick to the mapped trails or, when needed and if available, hire a guide to walk you through it.
The official tourism board has a very comprehensive website dedicated to trails. You can choose where to hike in the Azores based on the island(s) you’re visiting, on the difficulty level (easy, medium, or hard; please be aware that not all islands have a trail for each level), on length, and on the shape (linear or circular).
Once you select your criteria and click the search button, you’ll have a list of all the hiking trails in the Azores that match your preferences, including how many hours it will take to complete (on average).
What to pack for the Azores?
Comfortable shoes (hiking shoes preferred) and rain gear (no need to travel with an umbrella when a light poncho will do). These are the items you’ll always want to have on you.
There, packing list complete! Simple. Well, and of course pack whatever else you want. But these two are the essentials. Oh and remember the humidity; in the summer sometimes it goes up to very close to 100% so wear light, breathable materials.
Are you ready to plan your independent trip to the Azores with confidence? I think I covered everything you need to know about traveling to the Azores but if you believe something is missing, drop me a message on social media or via email.