The Azores is a picturesque archipelago in the North Atlantic Ocean consisting of nine green islands. The Azores belong to Portugal and lie in the latitude of the city of Lisbon between Europe and North America. They are 1460 km from Portugal and 3900 km from New York and have the status of the westernmost point of the European continent. The archipelago is the result of volcanic activity and is home to 1,766 volcanoes, 9 of which are active.
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The total area of the Azores is 2,333 km². The largest island of the archipelago is São Miguel with an area of 747 km², and the smallest is Corvó (17 km²). The highest point is a volcano on Piku Island, which rises to a height of more than 2350 meters above sea level.
About 240 thousand people live on the Azores. São Miguel Island has the largest population, and Ponta Delgada, the administrative capital of the island archipelago, has the most inhabitants. As an autonomous region of the country, the Azores are governed by their own government and legislative assembly.
The archipelago has a surprisingly beautiful nature. Many endemics have survived here: the bell-shaped evergreen shrub Azorina, the clover-like Marsilia Azorina, the daytime butterfly Hipparchia azorina, the bat – Azor vesper and the Azor Goldfinch. The locals strive to preserve the pristine natural landscape, so eco-tourism is very popular here.
There is no consensus about the origin of the Azores’ name. According to one version, the island archipelago got its name from the Spanish word “azul” or Italian “azzurre”, which means “blue” or “blue.
Another suggestion is that the first mariners saw the islands following goshawks as they returned to their nests. These birds are called “açor” in Portuguese. The inhabitants of the archipelago like this version best, despite the doubts of ornithologists, who claim that the hawks have never been in the area.
There is some speculation that the islands were named by the sailor Gonçalo Velho Cabral after a Christian saint. She was revered in the sailor’s native village of Açor in central Portugal as the patroness of the locals.
History of the Azores
It is not known when the Azores were discovered exactly. They were first noted on the maps of the Genoese in the 14th century. It is thought that the discoverers may have been both Portuguese sailors and Genoese sailors in the service of Portugal in the early 14th century.
In 1432 a ship of the navigator Gonçalo Velho Cabral sailed to the archipelago. The Portuguese left small cattle on one of the islands. When they visited the island several years later, they were convinced that the animals had survived. Portugal recognized the area as suitable for human habitation, and in 1439 it began to be inhabited. At first everyone was sure that the archipelago consisted of seven islands, but in 1452 two more islands were discovered, Corvoo and Florish, far to the west of the main islands.
Over the next centuries, the Azores began to play an important role in the shipping routes from Europe to the Americas. Many slaves were brought in, there were wars over the archipelago, and the islands were frequently attacked by pirates. Palaces, mansions, castles and temples that still remind us of those times.
Wheat was grown on the Azores, and flour was sold on the ships that sailed the Atlantic. Viticulture, sugar cane, pineapple and tobacco were developed here. And the heather growing on the slopes of the mountains was in great demand by Flemish dyers.
Farming, stock breeding and fishing brought income to the islanders in the 19th and 20th centuries. Nowadays, tourism plays a big role in the economy of the archipelago. In addition, locals are engaged in growing tea, tobacco, coffee, cereals and green pineapples. The Azores islands make fine wine and cheeses.
Nature and Climate
Before Europeans settled the Azores, they were covered by evergreen forests. Most of the relic forests were then destroyed, but their place was taken by modern plantations. Areas of ancient forests have survived only on the slopes of volcanoes. There grow mahogany, cedars, laurels, English holly, Japanese pine and cherry trees. A total of 560 species of flora, 200 of which are trees. Among the flowering plants, hydrangea is the symbol of the Azores.
The rich vegetation of the archipelago arose thanks to the subtropical marine climate. The average winter temperature is +14. +15 °С in winter and +25 °С in summer. Sea water temperature during the cold season does not fall below +17 °С, and in the middle of summer it is very comfortable for swimming +23. +24 °С. Despite the warm climate, tourists are recommended at any time of year to take warm clothes, because at night from the fresh ocean breeze on the coast can be cool.
From October to April, the Azores are in the rainy season, with up to 110mm of rainfall per month. During the rainy season, there are frequent fogs. Remarkably, more rain falls in the western part of the islands. The island of Santa Maria is notable for its special weather. While one half of the island is always sunny, it rains almost all the time in the other half.
Dry, sunny weather comes in May and lasts until September. This is the time of high tourist season. Many sea-bathing fans come to the Azores, who spend most of their time on the black, volcanic sand-covered beaches.
Tourism in the Azores
The beautiful warm climate of the Azores is very good for health. There are no big enterprises on the archipelago, so the rest in Azores is preferred by nature lovers and beach lovers. Tourist infrastructure of the archipelago is under development. However, even today on the islands it is not difficult to find a high level of service. In recent years here have been built a lot of good hotels and restaurants.
Many travelers come to the Azores to admire the picturesque nature and see the local natural monuments. The islands also offer diving, sailing, surfing, snorkeling, and sea fishing.
San Miguel Island
San Miguel is the largest island of the archipelago. It lies in the east of the Azores. It is home to approximately 140 thousand people. São Miguel stretches for 60 kilometers and reaches a width of 14 km. For the luxuriant vegetation, it is awarded the title of “green island”.
Several natural lakes are considered local attractions, the most beautiful of which, the “lake of fire” or Lagoa do Fogo, is located in a large volcanic sump. Picturesque landscapes covering an area of 12 hectares make up the protected area of Terra Nostra Nature Park. Many travelers come to San Miguel to visit the valley of Vale das Furnas, where there is a blue lake and thermal springs.
In addition to the natural wonders, the island of San Miguel has many historical monuments – palaces and temples of the XVII-XIX centuries. In Ponta Delgada you can visit the Museum of Carlos Mochado, located in the monastery of St. Andrew. There are rich biological and ethnographic collections on display. In the ancient monastery Esparanç one comes to see the beautiful seventeenth century tiles and a sculpture of Christ the Miracle Worker, which came to the Azores thanks to the members of the Catholic order of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Santa Maria Island
Santa Maria or “yellow island” is the southernmost of the Azores. It is 82 kilometers from San Miguel and is connected to it by a ferry service. It is believed that Santa Maria was the first island to be discovered and therefore has the oldest settlement, Vila do Porto.
The island is famous for being visited by Christopher Columbus. However, when the famous navigator docked at the shore, he was mistaken for a pirate and taken into custody. However, Columbus was able to prove that he was not a sea corsair.
There have survived several houses of the XV century, picturesque mills, an old chapel Ermida de Nossa Senhora dos Anjos and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Every year many tourists come to Santa Maria during the popular car races.
One of the islands in the central part of the archipelago is often referred to as the “blue island,” and the name “Faial” itself translates to “beech forest.” On the southeast coast of the island stands the town of Orta, as well as a major seaport.
About 15,000 people live on Faial. They grow crops, bananas and citrus fruits, are engaged in animal husbandry and fishing. Of all the Azores, tourists choose Faial to see sperm whales, whales and dolphins coming ashore. Diving and underwater photography are popular in the coastal area. In addition, many golfers and equestrian enthusiasts vacation on Faial.
A sea strait with a width of 7 km separates Faial from another island. Piku stretches for 42 km and reaches a width of 15 km. Towering over the island is the peak of an active volcano, the highest point of the Azores. This giant is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records, as it rises only 2351 meters above the ground, but has the largest underwater part on the planet – 6098 m. The volcano last erupted in 1963. Its high activity over the last 500 years is evidenced by the traces of lava flows on the slopes.
The inhabitants of Piku Island have long been whaling, but today they grow grapes and cater to tourists. The unique volcanic landscape and beautiful vineyards are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Island of Graciosa
At the center of the Azores, the small island of Graciosa, also referred to as the “white island.” Here, more than anywhere else, you can feel all the charms of a secluded vacation. White dominates the island landscapes, old houses are painted in white, and in addition, the word “white” is found in many local toponyms.
There are 4,600 people living on Graciosa. The main natural monuments of the island are the volcano crater with the bizarre “Sulfur Cave”, as well as the hot and sulfurous springs. It even has its own thermal sanatorium. In 2007, UNESCO gave the island the status of a biosphere reserve. In the local capital you can see old mansions, mills and churches, as well as a visit to the local history museum.
San Giorgi Island
At the center of the archipelago is San Jorge Island. It, Pico and Faial are often referred to as the “Triangle”. São Jorgey has an oblong, ship-like shape, reaching a length of 53 km and a width of 8 km. It is home to just over 9,000 people who grow tropical fruits, vegetables, coffee and sweet potatoes. Foodies greatly appreciate the local tangy cheese Queijo da Ilha.
São Jorge is called “the island of coastal cities. In the town of Calheta, the ancient church of St. Catarina is preserved. Velas, the island’s main town, welcomes visitors with old churches, narrow streets and a picturesque town hall.
The island village of Topo is where the history of St. George began. It was on this shore that the first Europeans to arrive on the island set foot. In Topo you can see the picturesque fishing port, as well as churches and houses from the 17th and 18th centuries.
The coastal village Urzelina was rebuilt in 1808 after a major volcanic eruption. In it it is interesting to see the bell tower growing out of the lava, which marks the place of the church buried in the eruption. The settlements of Manadas and Ribeira Seca also boast beautiful temples and old houses.
The island’s name translates to “third” because Terseira was the third of the discovered Azores islands. It is 140km away from São Miguel and is referred to by the inhabitants of the archipelago as the “Purple (or Lilac) Island”. Terceira was formed by the eruption of four volcanoes, the youngest of which, Santa Barbara, remains active today.
On the island of Terceira it is interesting to see the historical capital of the archipelago, the city of Angra do Heroísmo. Its old buildings are included by UNESCO in the World Heritage List. Terseira is also famous for its wonderful beaches, which are suitable for relaxing, surfing and yachting. The island is also famous for its festivals. Many travelers come here for the festival of the Holy Spirit and the “Festival of the City.
Located on the west, Florish was discovered later than the other Azores. When the first Europeans landed on the green shore, they initially called it St. Thomas Island. From 1962 to 1994, there was a French military base on Flores, and then the island was opened to tourists.
The island capital has preserved many churches and mansions built in the Baroque style. There is also a large ethnographic museum. Among the island’s natural monuments are popular thermal springs, the Enshareush Grotto, the picturesque mountain waterfall Ribeira Grande and several small lakes that fill the craters of dormant volcanoes.
Florish’s neighbor’s name, Corvoo, means “crow.” It is the northernmost and smaller island in the archipelago, with only 430 inhabitants. Corvoo’s natural symbol are the two blue lakes that lie in an old volcano crater.
In the tiny town of Vila Nova, you can see a church built in the 16th century. And on the outskirts of the town, the hill Morro do Pão Açucar, which offers a beautiful view of the old buildings and streets. Along the coast there are old mills that are made of black volcanic tuff and their triangular blades of cloth. The arrangement of the windmills of Corvoo Island is remarkable: no matter where the wind blows, they always turn after it.
Transport of the Azores
To travel between the islands of the archipelago you can use local flights. However, transporting passengers on small planes is not cheap. Another, more popular option in the Azores is ferries. Ferry tickets are cheaper than plane tickets, but due to high demand, it is worth buying them in advance.
Travel around the islands by bus, the schedule of which can be found in the hotels and tourist centers. In addition, in the Azores it is possible to rent a car. Roads are quite decent, and parking and gasoline are inexpensive. The disadvantages include limited parking in urban settlements and many one-way streets.
How to get there
The most convenient way to get to the Azores is by air. There are regular flights to the archipelago from the Portuguese cities of Lisbon and Porto, as well as from London. Airports for international flights are located on three islands – São Miguel, Santa Maria and Terceira.
The Azores: An unspoiled wilderness in the middle of the Atlantic.
The Azores are a volcanic archipelago, a natural wonder in the middle of the vast Atlantic. Over one and a half thousand volcanoes, numerous thermal springs with mineral water, breathtaking mountain landscapes with emerald forests, rich fauna, botanical gardens with rare plants, coral reef, sandy beaches – all this attracts tourists wishing to touch the pristine nature, a break from the bustle.
Where is it
The Azores, belonging to Portugal, are the westernmost point of Europe. They are located in the Atlantic Ocean at a distance of 1600 kilometers from Europe, 2500 kilometers from Canada, 4000 kilometers from the United States.
How to get to the Azores
One cannot fly to the archipelago from Russia directly, one has to change the plane via Lisbon or other European cities. The road from Moscow to Azor will take about 8 hours.
Airports of the archipelago are located on the islands of San Miguel, Santa Maria, Terceira, Fayal and Pico.
Flights from Lisbon to the Azores are operated by Ryanair, Azores airlines and TAP Portugal:
Cheapest flights from Lisbon to São Miguel Island
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Cheapest flights from Lisbon to Santa Maria Island
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Cheapest flights from Lisbon to Terceira Island
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Cheapest flights from Lisbon to Picos Island
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Cheapest flights from Lisbon to Faial Island
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How to move between the islands
Açores is an archipelago of 9 islands. All are unique and unrepeatable:
San Miguel in the east of Azores.
The largest is São Miguel in the east of Azores. It is unofficially called the “green island” because of the lush flora. It is home to temples and palaces from the 17th-19th centuries, as well as the maximum number of natural attractions of the archipelago.
Santa Maria is the “yellow island” in the south, with buildings dating back to the 15th century. It was visited by Columbus during his sea voyages. Car races are held here every year.
“Blue Island” Fayal is ideal for diving, equestrianism, golf. Many tourists choose it to see large sea creatures swimming ashore.
On the island of Piku is the highest point of the archipelago – an active volcano 2351 meters high.
The “white island” of Graciosa is perhaps the most peaceful place of the archipelago. People come here for a secluded vacation. There are several hot springs, thermal sanatorium, which has been given the status of a biosphere reserve.
Fayal Island, Horta
Tourists come to the island of “coastal cities” San Jorge to see the ancient temples, City Hall, walk through the narrow streets, admiring the architecture.
“Purple Island” Terceira was formed after the eruption of four volcanoes, Santa Barbara is still active today. The admirable architecture of Angra do Heroismo has been recognized by UNESCO, and the beaches of this island are some of the best.
Florish Island has many Baroque buildings, the archipelago’s history is represented by an ethnographic museum, and the main natural attraction is the mountain waterfall Ribeira Grande.
North Corvoo is the smallest among the islands of the archipelago. There are two lakes in the crater of a volcano, a 16th-century church, and a picturesque panorama from the top of Morro do Pao Acucar.
Air service between the islands is provided by Azores Airlines. Flight time ranges from 15 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the route.
The cost of the ticket is quite high, especially in the summer and just before departure. It is better to book the route in advance. The best deals among all companies and airlines can be found through the Aviasales search.
During the tourist season between the islands actively operates water transport – a more economical option for travel. Tickets should be purchased in advance through the Atlanticonline website, as this mode of transport is in high demand.
Weather in the Azores
The archipelago is characterized by a humid subtropical climate. The tourist season lasts from late spring to early fall, when the air temperature holds at +21 – +25 °C, the water gets as warm as +24 °C.
Winter and autumn are characterized by heavy rains and fog, although winter here is a relative concept, as the temperature never falls below +15 ° C.
The weather in the archipelago is variable: it can change many times in a day, especially near the coast.
What to see
A tour of the Azores is the best way to get a general impression of the main sights: a comfortable car with an experienced guide is not only an opportunity to see the main sites, but also to learn a lot of interesting things.
The tour can be purchased in advance online or at the offices of travel agencies upon arrival.
Another option to explore the islands is to rent a car and drive around all the most interesting.
You can repeat the route of the Azores from Eagle and Tails – it will be a very exciting journey.
Here is just a small part of the places worth seeing:
In the crater of a volcano northwest of San Miguel is Lake Seti Sidadis, which means “seven cities.” According to legend, seven settlements were once founded here by bishops who escaped from Arab invaders, after which the lake got its name.
This is a wonderful place, where all tourists want to get. The road from the capital of the archipelago runs through a mountain serpentine: the incredible beauty of the scenery brightens up the difficult journey.
The lake consists of two lagoons, one of which is green and the other blue. According to another legend, once upon a time a guy from a simple family fell in love with a rich girl. They could not be together and cried two lakes, the shade of water corresponding to the color of their eyes.
Surrounding them are fields and mountains covered with vegetation of incredible emerald color. The view from the Miradouro da Ponta do Escalvado on the hill takes your breath away.
Another body of water formed about a kilometer high in the crater of the Agua de Pao volcano is Lago do Fogo, or Lake of Fire, framed by sandy beaches.
Tea plantations in the Azores
The tea plantations of the Azores are comparable in scale to those of Lanka. Gorreana is the only tea plantation in Europe. Tourists are introduced to the process of tea production during a tour and are offered to taste the finished drink. The products can be bought at the factory at bargain prices. Admission and a tour of the plantations are free.
The capital of the archipelago, the city of Ponta Delgada, is characterized by beautiful black and white baroque architecture typical of typical Portuguese buildings. The main attractions of the city are the monastery of Esperanza with tiles from the 17th century and a sculpture of Christ the Wonderworker, the city gate, the Cathedral of San Sebastian. The Carlos Mochado Museum has a rich collection of ethnographic artifacts.
Ponta Delgada is famous for its pineapple farm, where rich harvests of juicy tropical fruits are grown. Most of them are intended for the production of a specialty drink – pineapple liqueur.
The botanical garden, where rare plants are represented, is one of the main attractions of the capital of the islands.
At a distance of 10 kilometers from the city is a dormant volcano Sete Cidades with a lake in the crater. It is best seen from the observation deck Boca do Inferno, which also offers a panorama of the bay.
Ribeira Grande Photo Hansueli Krapf
Ribeira Grande, a small town about 15 kilometers from the capital, is noted for its brightly colored, toy-like houses. On June 29th, the town celebrates its birthday with a colorful festival reminiscent of a medieval carnival. Locals dress up in traditional costumes and parade through the streets.
Sao Lorenco Cove
Most of the beaches of the archipelago are covered with hardened lava, but there are also very beautiful places with black volcanic sand and the usual light.
Sao Lorenco Cove is a natural reserve with beautiful sandy beaches, surrounded by picturesque nature.
For a leisurely holiday, the beaches of Santa Maria, San Miguel and Faial are ideal.
One of the best beaches of the archipelago is Santa Barbara of volcanic origin. The waves here are strong, making for excellent surfing opportunities. The incredible scenery of the place is also worth mentioning.
The unusual landscapes, rich flora and fauna create all opportunities for diving. Once down under the water, tourists observe the life of sea creatures.
Special mention should be made of the Punta Topo settlement on Piku Island – the beautiful coral reef has preserved its pristine look.
Azores is one of the most popular ecotourism destinations and is one of the top five places on our planet. The local population cares about the preservation of nature and the beauty of the landscape.
The flora of the islands includes 560 species of plants, 200 of them are trees. Originally, the archipelago was covered with relict forests, but by now they remained only on the volcanic slopes.
The natural richness of the Azores is a true magnet for tourists. Endemic plants and rare species have survived here, among them the evergreen shrubs azorina, clover-like flowers of Marsilie Azores, rare species of butterflies, bats Azores vesper. The flowering hydrangea is considered a symbol of the islands.
One of the key areas of ecotourism – Terra Nostra Nature Park. It stretches over 12 hectares in the valley of Vale das Furnas. The park combines a botanical garden with rare plants and a lake with thermal springs, bathing here has a revitalizing and rejuvenating effect on the body. The temperature of the reservoir rises to +35 – +40 ° C and the water has a yellow-orange color due to iron and minerals.
From the observation deck of Pico do Ferro the Furnas Valley opens up in all its glory: an endless green landscape with mineral springs, geysers, calderas and fumaroles, the name given to the seething rifts in the volcano’s crater. Walking around the park, you can see the rare tree-sized ferns, waterfowl, everywhere are placed sculptures, bridges. The cost of admission is 8 euros for adults, 4 euros for children.
At a distance of half a kilometer from São Miguel, near the town of Vila Franca do Campa, is the reserve of Vila Franca, which is an uninhabited island with a crescent-shaped pool. In summer, you can take a boat there, swim, and admire the scenery.
The Salto do Prego waterfall is another attraction of San Miguel. You can reach it by a hilly road through forests and villages, observing the beautiful nature on the way.
Caldeira do Santo Cristo is an ecological area, the Fajala Nature Reserve. A large part of the park is occupied by a volcanic crater 2 kilometers in diameter and 400 meters deep. The slopes of the crater are covered with a dense cedar forest.
Animal lovers come to Piku Island to watch whales and dolphins in their natural habitat, as well as many species of birds, both native and migratory.
What to try
The main dish of the Azores is couscidou das fournas, which resembles a stew. Its specialty lies in its unusual preparation: vegetables with different types of meat are placed in a pot and stewed for 6 hours in the heated pits of the volcanoes of Furnas Valley at a depth of several meters. You can rent such a pit and cook the dish yourself, or you can eat it in a restaurant.
The pits of the Furnas valley volcanoes
If you are in the Furnas valley – do not forget to drink the mineral water of the natural springs of the region.
The classic snacks in the Azores are young cheese, crispy and flavorful corn bread.
Where to Live
Depending on your interests, accommodation can be chosen in hotels in the middle of natural parks, in the capital, near the coast.
Here are some accommodation options:
- Guesthouse Comercial Azores is an inexpensive accommodation option in the center of Ponta Delgada. Tourists here will be treated to locally produced tea and honey.
- Eco-tourists will love the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel in the Terra Nostra Park, which is in perfect harmony with the surrounding nature. The hotel offers its guests spa treatments, dishes cooked in a natural environment, free visits to the thermal springs of the park.
- If you prefer to live by the ocean, check out the Santa Barbara Eco-Beach Resort, which offers studios and eco-villas. The hotel has private access to the beach.
What to bring
As a gift, you can bring something of the local produce, typical of the Azores:
- A great souvenir and treat would be an unusual local drink – pineapple liqueur. You can buy it at the pineapple plantation or at the liquor factory.
- Tea from the local plantation – black and green varieties are produced here.
- San Jorge cheese produced in the Azores.
The average cost of a 10-day tour from Moscow to the Azores is 1700 euros for two people. The cost includes a flight, accommodation, transfers, visa, medical insurance.
If you prefer to travel independently, the cost of living in a hotel is 80-100 euros, in an apartment – 90-160 euros per night.
Food prices are about the same as in continental Portugal:
Photo from meurers.net
- Dinner for two (without alcohol) costs 18-25 euros
- Dinner for two including a bottle of wine – 40 euros
- 1.5 liters of water – from 0.5 euros
- Liter of milk – 0.5-0.6 euros
- A dozen eggs 2.5 euros
- Bread – 1.5 Euro
- 1 kg local cheese – 7 euros
- Seafood, fish – 3-10 euros per 1 kg
Each island of the archipelago is amazing in its own way but all have one thing in common: they all impress the most sophisticated tourists who have seen different corners of our planet.