The archipelago of the Azores Islands is a unique example of the great power of Mother Nature. It is an archipelago of nine volcanic islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean filled with unbelievable nature which is so unexpected for those who, like most of us, is used to Mediterranean scrub and gentle coastal landscapes.
The Azores are rugged, lush, full of surprises; just think that each of the nine islands that comprise the archipelago is particular in some way and there are some plant and flower species that are unique worldwide, while to the contrary, some animal species have never managed to take root on the island (mosquitoes for example!); something the islands have in common are the colourful hydrangea bushes that spring up spontaneously at the side of the road and that decorate them with such precious gems.
As they are volcanic islands, natural lakes that have formed in the volcano craters are extremely common. They can be admired on trekking trips, available for all levels of experience. Let’s discover them together
The main islands are São Miguel and Terceira, which are the closest to the Portuguese coast. These two islands don’t just have beaches and beautiful nature to visit, such as Caldeira das Sete Cidades on São Miguel and the Furnas on Terceira, but also places of great historical and cultural interest. Vila Franca do Campo on São Miguel is a beautiful traditional village and there are also tea plantations on the island, the Plantações de Chá Gorreana, that can be visited and are such an unexpected gem to see.
Angra do Heroismo on Terceira, on the other hand, has particular architecture: low, pastel-coloured buildings edged in white stand along the roads and narrow lanes that descend to the sea shore from the hillside: it is no surprise that it is a UNESCO world heritage site. Santa Maria is a much smaller island that can be found close to the two larger islands, filled with pretty, pale beaches, while further away from the Portuguese coast we find the islands of São Jorge and Pico.
Next to Pico there are Graciosa and Faial: Graciosa is famous for its thermal spa baths at Carapacho and for its exotic food. Faio on the other hand, as well as its gorgeous beaches, has an interesting museum with a collection of whalebone exhibits.
Flores and Corvo are the most remote islands of the archipelago and Flores in particular is marked on the maps as the westernmost point of Europe. Corvo, instead, is the ideal place for birdwatchers, as the unspoilt nature of this island is home to incredible, unique species of birds that cannot be seen in our country.
Going from one island to another is possible via sea, of course, but each island also has its own airport: taking a plane from one island to another is a convenient alternative if we consider that the ferries are cancelled at times and the trips take a long time, and are expensive.
After introducing you to what you will see when you visit the Azores, let’s look further at one of the more surprising elements of these wonderful islands, the beautiful beaches all around. These are the beaches we will look at, the discovery of the ocean, its wonders and the magnificent volcanic coasts that are typical of these islands:
Santa Barbara Beach
Let’s start our journey discovering one of the most beautiful beaches of the Azores, Santa Bárbara Beach on São Miguel, a paradise for all water sports lovers. It is one of the largest beaches on all the islands and has golden sand and a position that means the wind blows in a favourable direction. This is the reason why it is the perfect beach for all surfers who come to the Azores.
Its size does not just mean that there is enough space for a run up to ride the perfect wave, but also that, even though a famous and frequented place, there is never too much crowding to affect relaxation and the beauty of lying in the sun in peace and quiet.
Santa Bárbara is not truly equipped as such, but there are showers, bathrooms, bars and restaurants in the part immediately prior to the beach; it is possible to eat lunch or dinner while enjoying an ocean view in the restaurants and in the evening it is often possible to find dj sets, parties and live music.
Água de Alto Beach
Let’s stay in São Miguel, but move to a much less touristic area: let's visit Água d'Alto, a small village where the locals spend their days tending the land, gathering wool and fishing. This small village has a tiny white-sand beach, a heavenly and relatively unknown cove, that is also the protagonist of an interesting local legend dating back to the 16th century.
The story goes that one night, pirates landed on this beach: they sacked the village and besieged the population and a drummer from their group went through the streets spreading terror; having finished with their plundering, the pirates returned to their ships, but the drummer, deafened by the sound that he was making, did not realise they were retreating and carried on walking around, beating his drum. He fell in a cave and since then, the drummer's ghost continues to beat his drum in what is now called Grota do Tamborileiro.
Caloura is a picturesque fishing village on the island of São Miguel, and the beach is a perfect example of magnificent natural pools that are characteristic of São Miguel and the other islands in the archipelago.
Caloura Beach is isolated, surrounded by lush, green vegetation and framed by small white houses; the water is deep turquoise in colour and just further on from the shore, there is a natural pool, a kind of transparent blue eye that stands out in the blue ocean.
We must move on to Terceira to dive into the coastal area of Silveira, a kind of beach that is much loved by the locals.
It is just outside the town of Angra do Heroismo and even if it is a man-made beach, it is in harmony with the rest of the landscape: a block of white concrete makes the descent to the sea gentle and easy, in contrast with the rocky difficulties all around.
Towards the shore, the sea takes on the hues dark aquamarine and turquoise, while further out, where the ocean is deep, it becomes an inky blue.
The beaches on the island of Santa Maria are very different from the characteristic black volcanic ones found in the entire Azores archipelago; on Santa Maria, there are some beaches that have fine white sand and the winds that caress them are more gentle than elsewhere.
Of all of them, the best of this kind is Praia Formosa, with calm, crystal-clear blue waters, and a strip of white sand, wide enough to welcome tourists who come to the island on purpose to admire this spectacle of nature and, of course, to have a swim in these amazing waters.
Praia Formosa can also be admired from on high, from Miradouro da Macela. A unique experience and view! Lastly, Praia Formosa is the splendid location of an important festival that has now reached its thirty-fifth edition, the Festival Maré de Agosto, that last four days of the central week of August and that joins the discovery of the natural beauty of this area - by organising trekking and other activities - with music and parties on the beach.
Fajã Grande Beach
We are going to go to the westernmost part now, not just of the Azores, but of the whole of Europe. The island of Flores is a truly fascinating place, so remote that it is home to animals that can only be seen here, for those lucky enough to decide to come to these shores.
Of all of them, Praia da Fajã Grande is a real pearl set amidst the volcanic rocks of the island of Flores, and with the green hills behind it and the turquoise water lapping its shoes, it could easily be a beach from Island of the Amazons (if you have seen the recent film “Wonder Woman”).
This beach is mainly frequented by locals and water sports lovers: surfing, snorkelling and diving are the best activities to try here amidst the spectacular nature of Fajã Grande. Its waters are clean and crystal clear. They were awarded the title of Praia Qualidade de Ouro by Quercus, Portugal's largest environmental association.
Vila Franca Beach
Let's go back to São Miguel, to dive into the waters of what is one of the most spectacular places on the whole island. This is an island that is one kilometre from the coast of São Miguel, next to the town of Vila Franca do Campo and it has many particular features: first of all it is, to all effects, a semi-submerged crater from an extinct volcano; secondly, it is a nature reserve and this is why it is possible to see all types of sea species in it, including many types of tropical fish.
The best experience is taking a boat and going snorkelling around the small island of Vila Franca. The water is amazing, but something that truly takes your breath away is seeing the slopes of this old volcano that fall away into the abyss of the ocean.
The sea creatures that inhabit the isle of Vila Franca range from colonies of colourful crabs to giant red starfish, colourful clown fish to rock fish with their complicated morphology and unusual hues; it is also possible to see rays and scary barracudas (better not to get too close to them!).
All this goes on around the island, but it is also possible to swim inside the crater itself that forms a natural pool with a sandy beach in the middle of the ocean. Swimming in these amazing waters full of fish will make you think you are part of the marine ecosystem, with real Tritons and mermaids!
Caldeira do Santo Cristo Beach
Let's go to São Jorge now, on one of the most beautiful trekking routes of all, the one that takes you - with a great deal of effort - to Fajã da Caldeira do Santo Cristo beach.
But what is a Fajã? Fajas are small coastal plains that have been created over millennia after lava has slid and formed the unique morphology of small volcanic lakes surrounded by swamps and vegetation (typical of the volcano's slopes) that are basically in water on the seashore, and that seen from above, seem to be real continuations of the volcano slopes.
So, São Jorge is full of fajas. There are more than 40. In this particular case, Fajã da Caldeira do Santo Cristo is one of the prettiest and most charming. It can be viewed from above, but it is possible to reach it by crossing the Nature Reserve that surrounds it, trekking across areas full of hydrangeas and other fragrant, beautiful flowers, streams, waterfalls, swamp areas and viewpoints.
Once you have reached the coast, there are several surf houses for those wanting to try this sport, a long pebble and dark rock beach and the blue ocean that refreshes the adventure seekers who have walked this far with its cool temperature.
Biscoitos Beach on Terceira is one of the most beautiful natural pool areas on the island. It is not, in fact a beach area with a couple of natural pools, but an entire rocky section with several points where you can swim in the ocean while being protected from its fierceness. The black rocks are covered by wooden platforms so you can lie down and sunbathe, docks and metal steps to aid your climb down into the sea.
Biscoitos Beach is the perfect place for taking dips and swimming undisturbed amidst what seem to be real architectural wonders: there are rock arches similar to bridges, cliffs above and below the water, small grottoes and coves of all shapes and sizes.
It is interesting to note how these natural pools are the ideal place for swimming and having a dip in the water even when the ocean is rough: the water in the pools is protected by the barrier of volcanic rocks and this makes it safe and calm even when the sea is rough and is sheltered from the strong ocean currents. There is an area with stalls and cafes selling local produce, not directly on the beach.
Ribeira Quente Beach
If there is one thing that characterises the ocean's water - and therefore the sea around the Azores Islands - it is its temperature. We will not lie to you, the water in the Azores is generally very, very cold.
The exception here is Praia da Ribeira Quente, located on the island of São Miguel; it is a beach bathed by the waters that are warmed by the bay's thermal water springs. Thanks to the thermal springs, the water in the bay is tepid almost everywhere, and in contrast to the freezing ocean that laps all the other beaches, the water here is sometimes even boiling! This is the reason why this beach is also known as Praia do Fogo, meaning “beach of fire”.
In addition to being warm, the sea at Ribeira Quente is also beautiful. It is has aquamarine hues that reflect the colours of the surrounding mountains that are covered in vegetation.
There are some free, convenient facilities in Praia da Ribeira Quente, such as showers and bathrooms, that provide comforts for those spending the day on the beach, but they do not interfere with those who want to spend their time relaxing on the seashore amidst nature.
São Lourenço Bay Beach
São Lourenço Bay is on the island of Santa Maria and is a large bay where the blue colour of the sea turns to truly unexpected hues of emerald green and turquoise. This bay is in an excellent position: it is also semi-circular in shape, which protects it from winds and rain.
This is why, behind São Lourenço Bay, some characteristic terraces have been created where vines grow, to produce the best local wines in the whole Azores archipelago, that are fragrant, full-bodied, and almost like liqueurs, in some cases.
Earth and Water are two elements that often merge in the Azores, in perfect harmony. This is the case with the small island of Romeiro that stands opposite the bay and that provides an amazing view from up high, but also is home to a grotto that is the natural habitat of the Azores Noctule, the archipelago's only native mammal.
São Lourenço Bay is the ideal place to relax and bask in the sun: there is no wind to annoy you on the shores, and there is always a nice glass of wine to hand!
Porto Pim Beach
Let's take a quick trip to the island of Faial to relax on one of the few white-sand beaches, not just on this island, but in the entire archipelago of the Azores. We are talking of Porto Pim that is a splendid beach with its old fishing village.
If the name sounds familiar, you have probably got excellent literary taste: after a trip to the Azores, Antonio Tabucchi wrote “The Woman of Porto Pim", a book of stories that starts with the places and people that he met during his stay on the islands.
In Porto Pim, the white, talc-like sand lies next to the beautiful pale blue sea, inhabited by a multitude of fish that follow bathers around during their swims.
In contrast with the white sand of Porto Pim, nearby we find the black beach at Almoxarife. On the black beach of Almoxarife, it is possible to relax, sunbathe and swim in a unique volcanic setting, but also enjoy a magnificent view of Pico Mountain, that stands on the island of the same name just a few hours’ by ship from Faial.
Close to Almoxarife Beach, there is an interesting museum where you can see a rich, particular collection of old whalebone items, from the animals that are always present in the waters in this area (and can be seen on whale-watching boat trips).
Imagine the beauty of walking on the shore where your feet, still white from the city winter, stand out against the deep black sand; to your left, you find the deep blue, intense ocean and also two large rocks that emerge from the depths like mysterious volcanic monoliths.
This is the view that awaits you at Mosteiros on the island of São Miguel, one of the best black-sand beaches in Europe. The more sporty among you can go for a swim to the two rocks off the beach, the ideal place for an unusual snorkelling session.
Canto da Areia Beach
Let's end our journey by landing on Corvo Island. Canto da Areia Beach (also known as Portinho da Areia) is the only sand beach on the whole island, which is instead characterised by rugged volcanic rocks and high cliffs.
The particular nature of this beach is that its sand is more like dust created over thousands of years from grains of volcanic ash and crushed shells.
Scopri le isole azzorre con Costa Crociere
Set sail with Costa Cruises to discover the Azores, their unspoilt, wild nature, their volcanic, lunar landscapes, their rich, unique fauna, but above all their magnificent beaches where the blue ocean takes on hues of incredible depth, contrasting with the black and white colours of the coastline.