Flores Azores itinerary: what to see and do in the westernmost island of Europe

View of Ponta da Fajã in Flores Island Azores

The first time I returned to Flores in 2016, we booked Tours of Flores for one full day. Sílvio Medina is always our choice because I’ve known him for years, he knows the island very well (much better than me), and he speaks English fluently. But our trip was short then. One-day tours are great but exhausting.

This time we decided to split it into two half-days, always in the morning. In the end, we traveled for the same time (a total of 10 hours), but it was more comfortable. Some of Flores’ curvy roads take a toll on me, so I like to take it slowly.

Sílvio pulled up his island map, flattened it on the dashboard, and asked us if we’d prefer to split the tours into North/South or East/West. Now, he does this with everyone he takes on trips, not just locals. He understands that for a great experience he must let the tourists decide how they want to travel while pointing to them the pros and cons of each option. If someone is not interested in a particular kind of attraction, he simply skips it. That’s how you provide an excellent service.

To be clear, this is not a fit-as-much-as-you-can kind of itinerary. This is based on two trips as a tourist, that I took in 2016 and 2018 — I haven’t lived on the island since my teen years, so I have the outsider/insider perspective now. There are places I’ve skipped, like the Fazenda Natural Park, although I often visited as a kid with my parents and relatives. Although it’s beautiful and great for family picnics, I don’t find it relevant to me anymore. However, if you have the time and are traveling with kids feel free to visit — there’s plenty of space to run around, animals to look at, and picnic spots. At the time of its creation, 1989, it was a breakthrough project.

If you want to skip to a specific topic, just click on the section you want on the table of contents below.

Best way to reach

Flores Island is remote but not unreachable. I think most people give up when they are browsing flights and are scared away by the number of layovers. Santa Cruz das Flores’ airport is too small for large planes (that are typically used in long-haul flights), so it always takes at least one layover in São Miguel, Terceira, or Faial before reaching Flores.

That said, the best way to reach Flores Island is always by plane, on Azores Airlines (or SATA Air Açores) — the only airline that operates the inter-island connecting flights.

The inter-island connecting flights are the equivalent of public transportation for islanders, so think of them like a bus route that may need to stop on other islands before you reach your final destination. Although annoying, especially if you already had a long flight, layovers are short, no more than 30 minutes.

Azores Airlines airplane at Santa Cruz das Flores airport, Flores Island Azores

If you’re flying into the archipelago from one of the main airports in Portugal (Faro, Lisboa, Porto, and Funchal), you can fly low-cost on Ryanair to Ponta Delgada (São Miguel island) or Lajes (Terceira island) and then book a free inter-island connecting flight. Is there a catch? Yes, sort of. You cannot stay at the gateway island (Terceira or São Miguel) for more than 24 hours.

In Europe, it probably pays off to book a low-cost flight to Lisbon and then a separate one from Lisbon to the Azores to make use of the free inter-island flights. If you don’t mind the hassle and if your traveling dates are flexible.

In the United States and Canada, it’s much easier to book directly with Azores Airlines (check the official Azores Airlines website for updated routes) or Delta Airlines (operating direct flights from JFK to Ponta Delgada since May 2018).

Best time to visit

The best time to visit Flores depends on your degree of resilience. I can say the safest time to visit is between July and September — it’s summertime, and the weather is perfect; however, it’s also the time of year when everyone visits.

The months of May, June, and October are kind of a shoulder season, but when it comes to weather, it’s the luck of the draw. It does provide travelers with that true islander experience if that’s what you’re aiming for.

View of Flores from Corvo

As for the rest of the year, why not visit? The island is beautiful all year round, but some activities won’t be available in the winter. It’s not that you shouldn’t visit, because people obviously live on the island all year. But adjust your expectations to why you’ve decided to travel to Flores.

How many days to visit

In short, three days is not enough, three weeks is too much, and five days to two weeks is just right. Again, this depends on your plans on the island. However, Flores Island is not the place to go to tick must-see items off your bucket list. If all you want is a collection of postcard-perfect shots, I can email you some of my photos, or you can download them from Tripper’s Instagram account. Pardon the sarcasm.

If you’re free to plan your trip (if you’re not in Flores for a particular event or on a business trip, etc.), ideally you should plan for six days. Three days to see Flores, whether you want to include some activities or not, one day to visit Corvo (with one extra day in the schedule if you want to stay there overnight; if not, you can use this extra day to explore more of Flores), and one extra day for wiggle room (a sudden change of the weather forced you to change your plans, your trip to Corvo was rescheduled, you want an extra day to revisit a sight you loved, your flight into Flores was delayed, etc.).

View of Corvo from Flores

The number of “wiggle room days” change according to the season. In the Summer, you shouldn’t need to set aside more than one day. In October, however, despite the weather being relatively nice on land, how the ocean behaves is an entirely different story (in case you’re planning a boat trip to Corvo).

My best advice is to remain flexible and keep an open mind. Traveling to Flores is an experience, not a vacation.

Traveling to #Flores #Azores is an experience, not a vacation. Click To Tweet

Where to stay

In Lisbon, you will hardly hear me suggest you stay at a short-term rental but circumstances on Flores Island are different. There are three hotels and two or three eco-tourism and rural tourism units on the whole island that fill up fast in high season.

After seeing people on the island in the Summer of 2018 who arrived without having booked accommodation, I cannot stress this enough: always book accommodation in advance. In fact, book accommodation before you book the flight.

I personally recommend using Booking.com to look for accommodation in Flores* (short-term rentals included) and book on the platform directly. For other destinations, I’ve used other search platforms before to browse prices, but by the time I was redirected to the booking platform, the price had increased. I simply don’t like the experience but feel free to compare prices using as many tools as you’d like, or even booking directly with the hotel when possible.

Traditional accommodation

For the sake of traditional accommodation in Flores Island, I’m talking everything that’s not a short-term rental. By short-term rental I mean an independent house or apartment that’s registered, according to the Portuguese law, as AL (alojamento local) and where travelers are relatively independent and don’t have access to traditional hotel services like complimentary breakfast, laundry, room service, etc.

My two suggestions are the combination of friends’ references (when I’m in Flores, I stay in my family house, so I don’t need to book accommodation), locals opinions, and knowing the people who founded or manage both businesses.

Can you see Aldeia da Cuada?

Aldeia da Cuada* was the first eco-tourism project on the island, 17 years ago. The original owners bought the houses of an abandoned village and, over the years, transformed them into a village tourism business. Their younger daughter and her husband are the current managers.

If you prefer a more classic accommodation option, INATEL Flores* is minutes away from the airport, next door to one of the must-see landmarks on the island (Fábrica da Baleia), and has a spectacular view to the São Pedro bay and Corvo Island. Double check the hotel’s availability because it might close on some months during the low season.

Short term rentals

Unlike other places in the world where Airbnb and other short-term rental companies pose a threat, in Flores island, it’s actually a great alternative considering the low number of hotels on the island. My three suggestions are in different locations, two come from friends who’ve stayed there and one is the house of a local writer and a friend.

Casa da Cruz is in Santa Cruz das Flores, about 5 minutes from the airport, driving. If you’re light on luggage, you can also walk up to the house (it’s less than 2 km). If you’re lazy like me, get a cab (especially in those Summer days when it’s too hot and too humid to walk).

The town of Santa Cruz at dusk

Of course, my friend’s Gabriela Silva house had to be called Casa dos Araçás. Araçás are a typical fruit of Flores, available in the Fall months — I prefer them in jam form, but I hear they taste great fresh or mixed in a fruit salad. Gabriela will not only host you, but she’ll also make sure you’ll have the best Flores experience, and that will most likely include getting to know some of the island’s resident artists and other friends. Her house is close to the other town in the South, Lajes.

The third and final suggestion is Casa da Sogra* in Fajã Grande. Can’t argue with the house’s location, you’ll wake up to beautiful scenery every day, and you will be officially and geographically at the far west end of Europe.

Where to eat

A Sereia has a catch-of-the-day type of menu and the fish is always fresh, guaranteed. The owner is a professional fisherman, and the environment is family-friendly, laid back, and, as a friend of mine would say, honest. It’s still one of our family’s favorite places to eat out on special occasions.

I tried O Pescador for the first time on my 2018 trip and had a pleasant surprise. The fish on the menu is whatever the owner and his son caught that morning. It’s one of the few restaurants on the island that serves meals even if it’s “off the schedule.” Depending on which season you’re visiting, call to book ahead.

Servi-Flor, the restaurant at the hotel with the same name, is a bit more formal in atmosphere although no one will bar you from entering if you’re not in formal attire. Also a restaurant my family frequents on special occasions, it’s packed with local History and memories. It’s located at the old French quarter, a former military base and neighborhood for the French armed forces. After they left in the mid-1990s, the old Officer’s Mess was transformed into a hotel and restaurant. The current owner kept the tableware, some items on the menu, and the military habit of serving the espresso after the meal at the bar.

Simple and tasty appetisers at O Pescador: local cottage cheese

Por do Sol (sunset, in English) hits the trifactor: authenticity, great food, and a killer view. It’s still one of my favorite places to eat on the island, although I’ve heard less stellar reviews from recent visitors regarding service. Let’s hope it’s a minor glitch that will be fixed soon. It’s best to call to book ahead and confirm schedules.

Aldeia da Cuada has an in-house restaurant that also serves outside customers. All ingredients are locally sourced and the food is simple.

Papadiamandis is a good option if you’re staying in or close to Fajã Grande. Considering its location by the ocean, the high season months will be busier. Fun fact: the restaurant is named after the cargo ship with the same name that wrecked nearby, in 1965, on its journey from New Orleans (USA) to Hamburg (Germany); there were no casualties thanks to the prompt help of locals. I ate at this restaurant in 2016. Food was okay, but service was a bit slow and disorganized. Nothing that cannot be improved over time.

What to see on Flores Island

Lagoons

Even if you only manage to see two of the seven lagoons, I assure you won’t regret it. The most photogenic ones, and coincidently the most photographed, are Rasa and Funda (side by side) and Negra and Comprida (also side by side). If you manage to visit at least these four, it’s not so bad.

The question of timing here is crucial, and it’s not related to a time of day or schedules. It’s a weather issue. Sightseeing in Flores is done slowly and with loads of patience, especially in days when the sky isn’t so clear. I still think it looks beautiful even with fog.

Unique landscapes

Every landscape in Flores is unique, simply because you won’t find it elsewhere. Yes, I realize I’m stating an obvious fact. However, some parts of the island may look like some other place you’ve seen before, and you’ll probably feel the need to compare both.

But my two favorites, the ones that still leave me speechless after all these years and that I can’t resist to photograph, are Poço da Ribeira do Ferreiro and Rocha dos Bordões. Poço da Ribeira do Ferreiro is a short 20-minute hike away. I’m a certified tripper (yes, that’s where the name of the blog comes from but more on that later), so I love the trail going up but not so much coming down. That’s a steep, slippery fall. No words needed to describe them, just see the photos below.

Rocha dos Bordões, Flores Island’s most famous postcard picture

Poço da Ribeira do Ferreiro: you reach this unreal landscape after a 20-minute hike

20+ viewpoints in the island

The island map I got from the tourism office shows me close to 20 official viewpoints on the island (and that includes the ones close to the lagoons) but, technically, anywhere you can stop the car to see the view becomes a viewpoint. The map I got also doesn’t include the newly-opened one at Ponta da Caveira. If Sílvio hadn’t taken us there, I wouldn’t know it existed.

That one has quickly become one of my favorites because I get to see Santa Cruz from a new angle. Other favorites include the one near the skate park (Santa Cruz), Ponta do Albarnaz (Ponta Delgada), Rocha dos Bordões (the official one and the view from bottom-to-top you can see if you stop, safely, further down the road), and Miradouro do Portal (look closely to spot the black basalt houses of Aldeia da Cuada from the top).

Watermill

Local islanders always were self-sufficient and knew well how to use the local resources for their benefit. The power of water was one of them. This watermill in the Lajes county reminded me of my grandmother’s stories when she carried the corn her brothers and father harvested and took it to the nearest mill to make flour. Of course, this is not the same mill she used to go to.

You can see the watermill at work, and the owner will also show you the difference between local corn (white) and foreign corn (yellow).

Must-visit typical water mill on Flores Island

Must-visit typical water mill

Convento de São Boaventura

Unless they’re very well curated, museums usually lack appeal. But this one is special. Firstly, it’s close to home (metaphorically and literally). Secondly, it holds important pieces of History that shaped the island as you’ll now know it. That includes the religious order that once lived there (oh the stories I heard of secret tunnels built under the convent so monks could escape the pirates in case of an invasion), the shipwreck of the Slavonia in 1909 (and the impact that had in a remote island community), and the French military families who lived and worked on the island between 1965 and 1993 (and how that shaped the local mentality).

Casa do Sr. Machado

Not officially a museum and another place that if it weren’t for Sílvio, I would not have known about. I visited it for the first time in 2016 and again in 2018. I could get lost in there for hours. Mr. Machado set up a tiny house as they were in the past — one room, where people cooked, stayed, and slept, no indoor plumbing, and no bathroom. It’s the kind of house my mother lived in and that she’d tell me about so not that long ago in the past.

This is not a house. It’s a treasure trove. Think of old furniture, pots, and pans, farming tools, rugs, and blankets. The old barbershop chair is my favorite because I remember going to that barbershop while my dad got a haircut. It’s beautifully restored and brings me back a lot of memories.

Admission is free, but there’s a donation box (and it is an old church’s donation box, of course) by the door if you care to give something back. If the owner offers you a shot of homemade blackberry or araçá liqueur, take it if you’re not driving. It’s sweet and warm, but there’s definitely a kick to it.

Fábrica da Baleia

Whale hunting in Flores and Corvo wasn’t as strong as it was in, for example, Faial and Pico. But it was an important enough activity to have a fully functioning “whale factory” where sperm whales were chopped down and transformed.

This activity was forbidden in the 1980s to prevent whale extinction, and this factory was abandoned for a long time. Whale hunting was a brutal activity, but it was an important source of income, and that’s what this museum explains despite, of course, acknowledging the brutality of the industry.

It’s an important place to see the issue from different perspectives, and I strongly recommend sticking around (if you can) to watch the French documentary aboard a whale hunting boat. There’s a particular scene that always gets to me, but I won’t spoil it for you. As kids, we watched that film many times at the City Council or some other public place I can’t remember.

What to do on Flores Island

Canyoning

I’m not a canyoning expert but those who are rave about Flores as one of the best places in the world for this sport. Well, considering the hundreds of streams and waterfalls, I assume it is so. Check out Experience OC’s website for more details on canyoning.

Hiking

Hiking is the activity the Azores are best known for. Flores has five official and clearly marked hiking trails that you can check at the Azores Trails official website. If you’re not an experienced hiker, I strongly recommend that you either book a guided hiking tour with a local operator or choose the easiest trail possible.

Diving

Also not my area of expertise but for those who love diving and have done so in Flores, it was the experience of a lifetime. For your own safety and out of respect for the ocean, always book a diving expedition with a local service. Check Hotel Ocidental (Santa Cruz) and Flores Dive Center (Fajã Grande) for more information.

Beach

If beach for you means long stretches of sand, well Flores is not exactly the place for you. The beaches in Lajes and Fajã Grande are probably the only two that resemble what you may be looking for. Other than that, try the harbor in Ponta Delgada and the natural swimming pools in Santa Cruz. Mind the time of year and the currents, and when in doubt ask a local what spots to choose and which ones to avoid.

Nothing

My absolute favorite thing to do in Flores. Nothing. As an alternative, you can pick a location by the sea and bring a book. Although gazing at the ocean for an hour does wonders to your stress levels (if you manage to feel stressed in Flores, that is).

View of Santa Cruz from Monte das Cruzes

View of Santa Cruz from Monte das Cruzes

Bonus activity: Day trip to Corvo Island

For the record, Corvo deserves a separate trip of its own where you should stay for at least a couple of days. However, and I understand budget or timing might be an issue, a day trip to the neighboring island is better than nothing. In fact, on my last trip, I saw people traveling with a cooler just to stay a few hours on the island and have a picnic. It’s an option, of course, but I think you miss out on the whole experience.

Corvo is 40 to 45 minutes away from Flores by boat. You can either travel in Ariel, the public transportation boat that connects both islands every day in the summer. For other months check the full schedule here. Or you can choose one of the speedboat operators instead.

Caldeirão lagoon in Corvo Island

The pros of Ariel: it’s cheaper and stays longer in Corvo (you’ll arrive around 10 am and leave later in the afternoon), and you can buy the tickets online. The cons: not a great option if you suffer from seasickness and it’s a public transportation on a set route, so if you come across a group of dolphins, the boat won’t stop or take a detour for you to see them.

The pros of speedboats: it’s a touristic transportation that locals occasionally use as well, the drivers take you on a scenic route through the coast (no extra charge), and if you come across dolphins, they will stop and take whatever detour it takes for you to see them (never too close to the wild animals). The cons: if you’re on a budget and traveling with a group it might be tight, and they stay for a very short period of time in Corvo (just enough to see the highlights but not enough to experience the island, in my opinion fully).

There are two speedboat operators on the island, Cristino Malheiros Serpa and Carlos Alberto Mendes (click the names to see more information on their official websites). I’ve traveled with both on numerous occasions, without issues.

I find it impossible to fit the perfect Flores island itinerary on a blog post, but I believe these are good pointers for you to start planning. Knowing the how’s and do’s and dont’s is always the toughest part of the planning. If you have further questions, let me know in the comments or drop me an email. The only thing I ask in return is that you travel responsibly and sustainably, respect the local community, and give back to the local economy as much as you can.

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