“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 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.
Table of Contents (Click to skip to a section)
- An overview of the Azores island of São Miguel
- Top things to do and recommended local companies
- Top cultural events
- What to eat
- What to buy as a souvenir
- Where to stay
- “Know before you go” information
About the Azores island of 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-1400’s 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.
Recommended Local Companies
Please note that I’m not listing ALL the local companies. These are tailored suggestions that fit the editorial tone of this blog. To narrow down the list I used the following criteria:
- Local companies listed on visitazores.com. I use the term “local companies” for companies that are owned by locals and/or operate locally only.
- A website in English where you can easily browse through photos and gather all needed data for an informed decision (such as prices and previous customers’ ratings).
- Easy to follow on social media and/or easy to contact from abroad (with a working email)
Nature lovers who provide unique experiences, Futurismo’s team never loses sight of what makes the Azores the second best island destination for Sustainable Tourism. Rated as Excellent on TripAdvisor
Portas do Mar – Loja 26
9500-771 Ponta Delgada
Activities: Whale and dolphin watching (there are several possible programs with prices starting from 55€/US $60, per person), responsible swimming with wild dolphins (prices start from 65€/US $70, per person), geo-tours (85€/US $92, per person), walking tours (prices start from 37.50€/US $40, per person), mountain bike tours (prices start from 65€/US $70, per person).
They have a wide range of outdoor activities for those who are fans of highly active holidays. Rated as Excellent on TripAdvisor
Activities: snorkeling (35€/US $38, per person), kayaking (40€/US $43, per person), hiking (35€/US $38, per person, for half day; 50€/US $54, per person, for full day), geo-tours and speleology (40€/US $43, per person), climbing (40€/US $43, per person), rappel (40€/US $43, per person), canyoning and cascading (50€/US $54, per person, for half day; 75€/US $81, per person, for full day), coasteering (55€/US $60, per person).
The only PADI 100% AWARE and 5-star Dive Resort in the Azores that takes you to a great variety of diving spots and with Marine Biologists as Dive Leaders. Rated as Excellent on TripAdvisor
Quiosque B – Marina
9500 Ponta Delgada
Activities: Daily scuba diving trips (prices start from 32€/US $34 per dive – 10 dive pack), offshore dives (prices start from 180€/US $196 per person, for 2 dives), PADI dive courses (prices start from 260€/US $283; for each student they give 10€/US $10 for Project AWARE ocean conservation and protection), try out dive (prices start from 40€/US $44, per person).
A company dedicated to Diving and Sea Tourism, founded by three lovers of the sea and diving. Their aim is to offer services to all of those who also love the sea-based activities. Rated as Excellent on TripAdvisor
Marina de Vila Franca do Campo
9680 – 187 Vila Franca do Campo
Activities: Espirito Azul (“blue spirit” in English) specializes in different diving activities, with prices starting from 40€/US $44. All dives include a skipper, underwater guide, boat, fuel (up to 6 miles from base), activity insurance, tank, and weight belt.
Beatriz and her husband Pedro love to travel and like to discover the places on their own and feel the “real thing”. As nature lovers, they used to bicycle alone or with their 2 kids in the island. They decided to open the bicycle rental and tour bicycle company in 2013 combining what they love to do in the way they like to do.
Avenida do Litoral, Armazém 4,
Activities: Sete Cidades Jeep & Bike Safari – Nature, Legend, Adventure & Spa (prices start from 70€/US $76, per person), Furnas Jeep Expedition – Volcano Adventure & Outdoor Natural Spa (prices start from 70€/US $76, per person). Self-guided bike tours: Sete Cidades & Ferraria Spa (prices start from 68€/US $74, per person), Sete Cidades Adventure (prices start from 59€/US $65, per person), Lagoa do Fogo & Tea (prices start from 68€/US $74, per person), Furnas Trail, Lagoon & Spa (prices start from 58€/US $63, per person).
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 in 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…
What to eat in São Miguel island
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.
A photo posted by Portugalia Marketplace (@portugalia_marketplace) on
What to buy as a souvenir
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 accommodation possibilities. These are tailored suggestions that fit the editorial tone of this blog. To narrow down the list of places to stay on the island, I used the following criteria:
- Properties listed on visitazores.com as local accommodation and/or rural tourism (AL, CC, TH, TR). I excluded chain hotels.
- A website in English and/or a listing on Booking.com* where you can easily browse through photos and gather all needed data for an informed decision (such as prices and previous customers’ ratings).
- Easy to follow on social media and/or easy to contact from abroad (via a working email)
Private apartment in the small town of Lagoa ( a 15-minute drive from the main city, Ponta Delgada). Two bedrooms, one bathroom, private garden with terrace area and hot tub. Rated as Excellent on TripAdvisor.
Prices for 2 nights (minimum):
Low season (October to March): Prices start at 30€/US $32, per person per night
High season (April to September): Prices start at 35€/US $38, per person per night
Old 19th Century water mill, fully refurbished, in the famous town of Furnas ( a 40-minute drive from the main city, Ponta Delgada). Three-bedroom house for 6 people (maximum). Three one-bedroom bungalows available in the property too, for up to 3 people. Rated as Excellent on TripAdvisor.
Prices for the main house:
Low season (October to May): 310€/US $338 per night (rentals for 4 nights minimum)
High season (June to September): 350€/US $381 per night (rentals for 4 nights minimum)
Prices for the bungalows:
Low season (October to May): 135€/US $147 per night (rentals for 4 nights minimum)
High season (June to September): 150€/US $163 per night (rentals for 4 nights minimum)
A 19th Century windmill, classified as Regional Heritage and transformed in 1999 into a country cottage. Located in the town of Candelária (a 20-minute drive from the main city, Ponta Delgada). Rating of 9.3 on Booking.com
Low season (January and February, November and December): 90€/US $98 per night, for two people (minimum 3 nights)
High season (March to October): 100€/US $91 per night, for two people (minimum 3 nights)
Four typical local houses refurbished to keep the classical elements. Located in the Nordeste area, on the East side of the island (about a 50-minute drive from the main city, Ponta Delgada). Awarded every year (since 2012) with the eco-label “green key” award for best practices. Rated as Excellent on TripAdvisor.
Casa da Fonte – one bedroom house
Prices from 70€/US $76 per night (minimum stay 3 nights)
Casa do Tanque – two bedroom house
Prices from 90€/US $98 per night (minimum stay 3 nights)
Casa A Arribana – one bedroom house
Prices from 65€/US $70 per night (minimum stay 3 nights)
Casa da Talha – one bedroom house
Prices from 65€/US $70 per night (minimum stay 3 nights)
A 300-year-old typical manor house that was bought and recovered by the descendants of the original owners. Located in Livramento, five minutes away from the main city, Ponta Delgada. Rated as Excellent on TripAdvisor
Prices January to March (low season):
Double room – 75€/US $81, per day
Suite – 95€/US $103, per day
Apartment – 95€/US $103, per day
Prices April to May and October to December (shoulder season):
Double room – 85€/US $92, per day
Suite – 105€/US $114, per day
Apartment – 105€/US $114, per day
Prices June to September (high season):
Double room – 95€/US $103, per day
Suite – 125€/US $136, per day
Apartment – 125€/US $136, per day
A rural house dating back to the 18th Century, fully refurbished and with restored gardens, in the town of Feteiras (18-minute drive from the main city, Ponta Delgada).
Prices (minimum stay of 3 nights):
Shoulder season (April to June and 16th to 30th September to October) – 70€/US $76, per night
High season (July and 1st to 15th September) – 80€/US $87, per night
Highest season (month of August) – 90€/US $98, per night
Between the beach and the countryside, the traditional with the current resources, socializing with neighbors or deserved isolation, the chances are many. Two bedrooms, all with a view to the sea. Maximum 5 people. Located in Porto Formoso (15-minute drive from Ribeira Grande; 20-minute drive from the main city, Ponta Delgada).
Prices start at 88€/US $96, per night.
Basic information about São Miguel island
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.
Where is São Miguel island?
Sao Miguel is one of the two islands in the Eastern Group (Grupo Oriental) of the Azores Archipelago, an autonomous region of Portugal.
What’s the time zone in the Azores?
GMT -1 hour
What’s the currency in the Azores?
Are there banks and ATM machines in São Miguel island?
Is there a post office in São Miguel island?
What Visa do I need to visit São Miguel island?
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.
Do I need any special vaccination?
Special vaccination is not mandatory to enter the Azores region. If you have special health conditions, please seek medical advice.
How do I get medical care in São Miguel island if I need it?
There are pharmacies and public health clinics (known as centros de saúde with emergency services on the island.
What is the voltage?
220 volts (round two-pin plugs).
Is there public transportation in São Miguel island?
Yes, there are buses and taxis. You can also rent a car (check the local car rental companies for information).
How big is São Miguel island?
The area of São Miguel island is 744.70 square kilometers (approximately 287.53 square miles).
How far is São Miguel island from Lisbon?
1,448 km (approximately 900 miles)
How many people live in São Miguel island?
137,699 people, according to the last census of 2011.
How many main towns does São Miguel Island have?
São Miguel has five main towns (concelhos in Portuguese), Nordeste, Ponta Delgada (where the airport is), Povoação, Ribeira Grande, and Vila Franca do Campo.
How do I travel to São Miguel island?
By boat – between islands (seasonal, from May to September): Atlanticoline SA.
How is the weather in São Miguel island?
The climate is mild temperate. Temperature: average high 22°C/72°F. Average low 13°C/55°F. Average relative humidity: 80.5%.
When is the best time to visit São Miguel island?
May, for the local festivities of Santo Cristo; June to September, for the whale watching season.
Are there earthquakes in São Miguel island?*:
Frequently, but they are not considered dangerous. (Source)
*Note: seismic activity is constantly monitored in the Azores.
Is there WiFi and cell phone coverage in São Miguel island?
Yes, 3G and 4G.
When will you start planning your trip to the Azores?
Tips on planning your trip to the other Azores islands: