I know I’m suspicious, but I don’t care so I’ll say it anyway: the nine islands of the Azores are the most beautiful islands in the world. I am privileged to have grown up in two of them, to know other three of them and I am always craving to explore the ones I haven’t been to yet.
Once you have overcome the thrill of knowing that you are about to visit these beautiful volcanic islands, it’s time to assess some of the more practical aspects of your journey. Lucky for you I’m a local with plenty of insider tips to cover the basics.
1. Booking Your Flight
Starting in the Summer of 2015 you can fly low cost on EasyJet and Ryanair to the island of S. Miguel (St. Michael). A new cycle begins for tourism in the Azores, breaking the monopoly of SATA and TAP as the only two airline companies, both Portuguese, that flew regularly to the islands. If however, you are planning to visit more than one island, book all your flights directly through SATA — this way you guarantee all your connecting flights and the certainty that everything is taken care of in case of flight delays or cancellations (that due to weather conditions can be common events).
Remember that this is a group of islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. For the locals, the weather forecasts are more of a formality than actually something they live by. And no, for the record, it’s not always raining in the Azores, but yes weather shifts a lot throughout the day. Make sure you pack for the rain and for high humidity levels. Apart from that, the temperatures are relatively mild and tempered.
3. Hiking Trails
By far one of the most appealing activities you can do in the islands. You can walk the majority of the trails by yourself without the need for a guide, however, it is advised to always check with the local tourism board. Hiking Trails in the Azores is a website entirely dedicated to the walking trails and you can browse them by islands, difficulty, extension or shape.
4. Swimming In The Ocean
Mind the currents and the jellyfish, also pay attention to the locals advice and your swims in the ocean will be safe. Unlike other beaches in the mainlands or other islands, in the Azores, you can easily lose your step after a few strokes and find yourself with more open space underneath you than you were prepared for. Unless you are a top swimmer that can easily work out of a situation like this, always swim as close to the shore as you can. The islanders know all the great spots and all the secrets, so don’t be shy and ask around.
5. Whale Watching
With a long History of whale hunting, these days the only reason the boats go in the water is for fishing, cruising or looking for a chance to spot some whales. There are many responsible tours available and a trip to the high sea is always thrilling. Just be aware that, because animals in the wild aren’t at your disposal, there is a chance you may not spot any whale in the journey. Nevertheless, it’s still an interesting ride.
There is a reason why these islands still seem so untouched: it’s because they haven’t yet been hit by mass tourism (and hopefully never will). Three of the islands are in fact UNESCO Biosphere Reserve (Corvo, Flores, and Graciosa). While you are visiting, please respect your surroundings and nature’s balance.
It is fine if you prefer hotels or resorts with all the amenities included, however, I believe the best way to experience the islands is to live as close to its culture and people as possible. Once you decided which island(s) you are visiting, make sure you book your room in a smaller boutique hotel or even a whole house in a rural tourism village. The Azores is famous for sustainable tourism, after all, so you will want to take full advantage of that.
8. Driving Around
It’s not unusual to face a herd of cows when you’re driving in the countryside areas. Stop the car, pull over to the side, lay back and wait until they’re gone. Nothing will happen to you (or the car), they just need room. Lots of room. Most roads of the Azores are very curvy, so mind your foot on the gas pedal and try not to drive yourself off a cliff.
9. Enjoy Authentic Life
Last but not least, have a blast! Find your inner peace, stay in tune with yourself, mingle with the locals — everyone is quite hospitable. Oh and enjoy the local products as much as you can. If you have a love for cheese, passion fruits, pineapples and tea, you have found Heaven! Not to mention local beer, fresh fish, high-quality beef and wines made from the grapes grown on the volcanic ground. If you fancy sweet soft drinks, please have an ice cold Kima on my behalf!
Have you been to the Azores yet or are you planning to? If you have anything to add to this list please do so in the comments below. Anything else you’d like to know? Ask away! Do share this information with your friends and family on Facebook and Twitter.