Lovely waterfalls, amazing lakes in craters, magical vegetation, beaches and lush nature. The ideal holiday is located off the coast of Portugal: welcome to the Azores, an archipelago of nine volcanic islands. If you love sports, adventures and lush nature it's hard to imagine a better place than these islands in the middle of the ocean. The nine islands that make up the Azores are distributed in a stretch of sea that is 1500 kilometres from the Portuguese motherland.
This archipelago is a triumph of gnarled rocks, dark sand, lava tunnels, volcanic lakes and craters. The ocean can be perfect for boat trips where more than 20 species of cetaceans, including sperm whales, can be seen. If you prefer to stay on land, use the vigias, the old watchtowers once used by whale hunters. You can go to Pico to climb Portugal's highest mountain (2351 metres) or go diving. Inland enjoy lakes, hiking, birdwatching and the Flores flowers. Or cycle through Terceira, the lilac island. In any case, find out with us what are the must-see stops, also thanks to the Costa excursions.
- Sao Miguel
- Sao Jorge
- Santa Maria
Sao Miguel is the largest island by area (759 square km) and home to the capital Ponta Delgada, which is also the most populous town. It is known as "Green Island" thanks to the incredible fertility of its soil, where continuous tobacco, tea and pineapple crops and woodland and grasslands can be found. The crater of Sete Cidades is a must-visit on a trip to the Azores. Inside this caldera, on the north-western side, a green and blude volcanic lake (Lagoa do Canorio) flows.
According to a popular legend, the different colouring of the waters originated from the desperate crying of a shepherd and a princess, unable to live their own love story out in the open. The lake can be crossed by kayak, an activity that is becoming increasingly popular.
Perhaps the most popular location is Vale das Furnas, a stunning volcanic valley cultivated in the east-central part of the island, where fumaroles and water sources flow and where a spectacular lake of crystal clear water (Lagoa das Furnas) was formed. Not far from Riberia Grande, on the north coast of Sao Miguel, there is another spa resort that is absolutely worth a visit: Caldeira Velha. It is a natural spa park where you can bathe in two hot water pools. The first pool is a kind of mini-jacuzzi, while in the second you can take a real bath. the vegetation is lush.
Interspersed with patches of hydrangeas and azaleas, the landscape is an explosion of colours and fragrances that tease the senses. Wonderful, in the surrounding area, is the Santiago Lagoon, while the Miradour da Vista do Rei offers a spectacular overview of the area. Different species of ferns that give the idea of an exotic, almost primordial environment. The strength of the subsurface is felt in the geysers, in the thermal waters, in the lakes of volcanic origin, and also in the succulent "Cozido das Furnas", a meat stew that is slowly cooked underground.
Nature is the real protagonist of the island with the breathtaking views, mountains, parks and nature reserves. In the municipality of Nordeste there is the Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeirs, a protected reserve also suitable for families thanks to the cobbled paths. Along the way you'll come across waterways, waterfalls, old refurbished watermills and lush vegetation. The sea is also an essential element. Praia de Santa Barbara is the largest beach on the island. Notoriously a destination of surfers, it is a breathtaking place to breathe in the power of nature. The volcanic sand is beaten by rather high waves. The sunset at this beach is a real spectacle to behold.
The town of Ponta Delgada is the economic, political and cultural heart of the Azores. An active and cosmopolitan city, here you can find the only university in the Azores and one of the three international airports. The colonial atmosphere vibrates unchallenged in the typical architecture of the churches and buildings of the small old town. There are many curiosities and sights: Waterfront (Avenida do Infante Dom Henrique), Museu Carlos Machado, the college of Sao Sebastiao And the Convento da Esperanca. The jewel of Portuguese baroque, the church of the Holy Christ, is worth a visit. The symbol of Ponte Delgada is the Portas Da Cidade that is all lit up at night with a remarkable scenic effect.
As the name suggests, it is the third island in the archipelago to be discovered, although it was originally baptised with the island name of Jesus Christ. Settlements began in the 15th century, and continued consistently due to the favourable geographical location.
What makes the island of Terceira special, as well as a relaxed and partying atmosphere, is the extraordinary contrast between the natural beauty of the volcanic island and the patient work of man in the old town of Angra do Heroismo, the capital, founded in 1534, the first resort in the Azores to be declared a city and ranked a World Heritage Site by Unesco. Moreover, the city's motto, "Muito Nobre, Leal e Sempre Constante" ("Noble, Loyal and Always Constant") highlights the important role it has played in Portugal's history.
Angra Bay has gained importance not only as a commercial emporium for products from the other islands, but also as an intercontinental port for ships travelling between Europe, the Americas and India. Seen from Alto da Memoria or from the viewing point on Mount Brasil, the old town of Angra do Heroismo recalls the presence of the sovereigns and nobles who have lived there in the past, leaving an impactful architecture, evident in the churches, palaces, stately homes, monuments, squares and gardens, in the midst of streets and alleys, which have been preserved to this day.
In the centre of the island,Algar do Carveo, the lava tunnel inside the Caldeira de Guillerme Muniz, is not to be missed. The sui generis form of this bizarre natural sculpture, together with the lush vegetation all around make this geosite one of the main destinations for trekking enthusiasts in Terceira who come from all over the world. The greenery that dominates the island inland is lightened on its periphery, as human occupation has taken place along the coasts. And here, amongst the colourful houses, the lilac colour used on many facades stands out.
If you want beach life, then head to Praia dos Biscoitos that counts on some nice natural pools between the rocks, while if you love nature you'll find magical places like Caldeira de Guilherme Moniz, with its large wild heather spot, or the fumaroles of the Furnas do Enxofre. In the part of the island of Terceira that overlooks the bay of Praia da Vitoria, guests can play sports such as surfing and water skiing or plan to go out to sea by dinghy or sailboat. Not to mention that this is one of the best areas in the Azores to observe whales and dolphins.
Sao Jorge is one of the wildest and peaceful jewels of the islands Azores. It is the longest and narrowest island. There are those who see us the image of a dragon lying down, maybe inspired by the dragon that stands in Velas Square, the main centre of the island, next to the statue of the patron saint (the other small town is Calheta).
Little visited by tourists, it has been able to maintain an authentic atmosphere that is perfect for those who want to indulge in a couple of days of total relaxation amidst the green. Crossed by a cordillera, it offers stunning ocean views from the over 1,000 metres of the Pico de Esperancha; villages of Calheta and Topo are rich in postcard-perfect views. At the foot of the cliffs, due to the effect of volcanic eruptions, flat areas (fajas) are also formed where lava has met the sea and solidified; millions of years and work of the sea and weather have made these stretches of land spectacular And in some cases they are also inhabited and cultivated, although many were abandoned after the 1980 earthquake.
In some cases, the fajas can only be reached on foot, and, in fact, trails are one of the best ways to get to know them. There are routes of various difficulties and you can request specialised guides.
There is no shortage of buildings or architectural beauties on the island: one example is the Santa Barbara Baroque Church in Manadas with its decorated carved wooden walls and panels in azulejo. If, on the other hand, you are a hiker and prefer to move, the trek on the Faja da Caldeira do Santo Cristo is one of the most beautiful routes in the world.
Wonderful also is the beach located in this area: it is a nature reserve and therefore particularly rich in flora and fauna typical of the place. Here you will also find the cheese from Sao Jorge Island, probably the most famous product of the Azores. In Fajo dos Vimes, on the other hand, there is one of the very few coffee crops in Europe. Often, the details and the rustic and genuine atmosphere that you breathe are what amaze people. In many areas you can see the territory divided into small plots for subsistence farming, and you can admire the stone houses with three guillotine windows, waterfalls and curious steel cables for the transport of wood to the plains on the coast
It is the third smallest island in the Azores and is known as Yellow Island or "Sun Island". It is the southernmost and most eastern of the Azores, a small paradise characterised by beaches and spectacular bays. The green colour of the fields, the whitewashed houses, the black basalt and the gold of the sandy beaches make the island a living colour palette and a wonder that must be discovered. There are many things to see in Santa Maria, not only the beaches but also authentic tourist, cultural, and landscape attractions, scattered around the whole island.
This makes Santa Maria an ideal destination for both those who want to experience the holiday through the discovery of the place’s culture, and for those who instead try "only" to enjoy breathtaking landscapes. Discovering the island you can't help but visit the Barreiros of Santa Maria, known and photographed all over the world. Entire expanses of bright red terrain, beautiful to watch especially at sunset. One of the largest has been given the nickname "red desert", just because it almost seems like you can't see the end of it.
For those who want to visit the monuments, no problem: one of the most famous attractions is the Nossa Senhora Church da Purificacao, a cathedral located at Santo Espirito where you can admire the typical frescoes of the area and the beauty of the furnishings. An authentic backbone of the place, which will help you to better understand the mentality of this island of the Azores. In the area there is also the Pico Alto, the highest point on the island at 590 metres high.
From up here the panoramic view is unforgettable. Vila do Porto is the largest inhabited centre of the island. The Church of Nossa Senhora da Assuncao is one of the oldest in the Azores, although it has been modified several times in its history. The Sao Bras Fortress, with its cannons, is reminiscent of when the islands were looted by pirates. Finally, don't miss the visit to Pedreira do Campo, where marine fossils are found in a basalt casting, proof that the island arose thousands and thousands of years ago.
Every island in the Azores has its own charm. There are attractions to see and places to explore. Pico is the second largest island in the archipelago it is nicknamed "grey island" because it is the most volcanic in the entire archipelago. Landscapes of all kinds of lava formation dominate the environment, in contrast to the blue of the ocean and the white of the foam of the waves.
It is the southernmost island of the Central Group of the archipelago, and one of the summits of the so-called "triangle"; it is just 6 km from its nearest Faial. Its highest point, 2350 metres above sea level, is also the highest point of all Portugal: it's the Montanha do Pico. The inhabited centres of Madalena, Lajes and Sao Roque are worth a visit. In Madalena, for example, there are important diving sites and, above all, there is the Grotta das Torres, the longest lava tunnel in the archipelago.
In Lajes, the main attraction is Whale Museum (Museu dos Baleiroos) which houses numerous testimonies related to whaling, which was the most important source of livelihood for the inhabitants of the archipelago for a long time. Also here, at the end of August, there is a very heartfelt anniversary: the Semana dos Baleiroos, with concerts and events that recall the historical experience of the territory. The Whaling Industry Museum (Museu da Industria Baleeira), on the other hand, is located in Sao Roque, a village of about 3000 inhabitants that historically owes its economic development to the port hamlet of Cais do Pico.
The volcanic terrain of Pico is rich in nutrients; This fact, combined with the warm, dry microclimate and the hills sheltered from the winds thanks to the construction of small dry stone walls, have made it possible to grow the vines of the Verdelho vineyards , where they have found excellent conditions for maturing and producing the typical wines of the island. The landscape of Pico is a succession of vineyards, which give life to a fresh and light wine, which goes perfectly with the island's gastronomic specialities, as well as fish and seafood dishes. The famous Azores wine, similar to strawberry wine, is also produced in Pico. It is a wine used by the inhabitants of the island especially during the holidays.
In 2004, Unesco included the Landscape of the Vineyard Cultivation of the island of Pico on the list of its World Heritage Sites, motivating the entry as a result of ancient cultivation practices mixed with the uniqueness of the natural landscape. Pico is also the ideal island for trekking, hiking, jogging, walking, birdwatching and watching whales and dolphins.
Faial is the third most populous island in the Azores, and is part of the central group of the archipelago, at the westernmost corner of the so-called "triangle ", which also includes Sao Jorge and Pico, the latter only 6 km from Faial. The island was discovered in 1427 and colonised in 1432 by some Flemish settlers; it takes its name from the presence of many beech trees, known locally as faias.
Faial is also characterised for a huge number of hydrangeas, of an intense blue colour, which are often used for beautifying houses, streets and public buildings. The island is nicknamed "Blue Island" for this very reason. During the 17th century the island became a very important trading port, thanks to its location that made it a safe haven between Europe and America.
The delightful port of Horta is its largest centre. Here you can find the Scrimshaw Museum with its collection of objects in whale bone. These artefacts were carved and made from the skilled hands of the island's fishermen. Another emblematic point of the capital of Faial is the Peter Café Sport, a real institution. To take in breathtaking views of the city, you need to climb Mount Guia, an ancient volcano that originated in the sea and later joined the island of Faial, or go to Ponta da Espalamaca, a headland above the city of Horta that allows you to observe the intense movement of ships in the port from high up.
Nearby there are beaches like Porto Pim and Conceicao in addition to that of Almoxarife, with dark sand and privileged views over the mountain of Pico. Nature also plays an important role in Faial and you can take part in excursions inland or at sea looking for whales and dolphins. The island is famous for its murals. It all started a few years ago on the initiative of a crew member of a sailboat, anchored in Horta, who created a painting, in memory of his stay in Faial, along the dock of the port. This first painting was followed by many others. It's a mosaic of colours, where the names of the boats, which have docked in Horta over time, are remembered.
A legend has spread here over the years: boats that do not leave a memory of their passage on the island, will have bad luck. The entire island of Faial is part of a Nature Park, and one of its strengths is definitely the Botanical Garden. Here you will be able to get in touch with native and endemic plants of the archipelago. Inside the park, one of the main attractions is the Caldeira, the crater of an ancient volcano; today there are many ways to reach it on excursion.
The island of Graciosa is characterised by its mountains that seem to fall into the blue sea, by the walls built in black basalt interspersed with green screws, white mills with their red domes, all immersed in an island that screams tranquillity and calm. It also offers the opportunity to enter a volcano, admire a testimony of Renaissance art or dive into the colourful underwater flora and fauna.
Graciosa is the second smallest island in the archipelago and enjoys the best climate as there are practically no elevations: the highest peak of the island reaches only just under 400 metres above sea level. -The last of the central Azores has thermal water sources at 40 degrees Celsius like the ones in Carapacho, ideal for a relaxing bath. A visit to the charming Furna do Enxofre, a tunnel leading to a large cavern with an underground lake of sulphur water, is also worthwhile.
The landscape is full of impressive stone mills; while in Santa Cruz, a quaint village to visit to fully enjoy the daily life of this Azores island, the white buildings, churches and narrow cobbled streets will make visitors fall in love. They will also appreciate the local restaurants where you can find fish dishes, but also many exotic fruits. From the top of the Mount Nossa Senhora da Ajuda you can admire a beautiful view of Santa Cruz.
Here you can also visit three hermitages dedicated to St. John, San Salvatore and Nossa Senhora da Ajuda. The latter is one of the best examples of fortified religious architecture in the Azores. Next door is the pilgrims' house, designed to welcome travellers who came here on pilgrimage.
A miniature version of Ireland or Switzerland. This is one of the most frequent combinations that you can find when Flores is described, inhabited by just under 4000 people. In fact, the features, landscapes and scenery offered by this wonderful island are very reminiscent of the Irish and Swiss ones. Verdant hills, pristine lagoons and the many streams of transparent water that flow into the lakes or the Atlantic Ocean. Lakes, waterfalls, cliffs, cows, birds and flowers. Flowers everywhere. It is no coincidence that the name is Ilha das Flores and Unesco has included the westernmost of the Azores in the special list of Biosphere Reserves.
The inhabitants are distributed in two main municipalities, Santa Cruz and Lajes, plus a myriad of small towns scattered here and there in the territory.
Trekking and birdwatching are the most practised activities on this island that has a rainfall index more than double that of Graciosa and the other islands of the central archipelago. The result is lush vegetation, an ideal habitat for the many migratory birds en route across the Atlantic.
Don't miss the Sete Lagoas, seven picturesque mountain lakes that all deserve a visit. So do the ascent on the High Morro, the highest peak of the island, and the Ribeira do Ferreiro waterfalls. It's easy to go around the island of Flores, given its small size. A boat ride gives you a chance to see the rock formations of the coast up close, including The Arch of Santa Cruz das Flores and the islet of Maria Vaz. Don't miss the sea caves visible only from the water: they are the Gruta dos Enxaréus and Gruta do Galo.
With just 17 square kilometres, Corvo is the smallest of the Azores. Given the size and number of inhabitants, some 400, there are not many attractions, and it is also the reason why tourists almost always devote a couple of hours to this island coming from nearby Flores.
Only since 2007, when Unesco declared Corvo a Biosphere Reserve, in addition to the daily attendances, the number of trekking enthusiasts visiting the island have increased. Hikers and nature lovers all head to the Caldeirão, the extinct volcano in the centre of the island. Along the way, you'll meet different vantage points (miradouros) where it is worth stopping. The topmost is the Morra da Homens with a magnificent view of the volcanic lake that occupies the crater. The other thing to see, is Vila do Corvo. It is the only town on the island and is located close to the port that guarantees connections with Flores.
The clear lagoons and the immensely colourful hydrangeas of San Miguel in Ponta Delgata, the high, rocky coasts of Teceira, the volcanoes of Pico and Faial, the plains and waterfalls Flores, the windmills Graziosa, the mountains, sandy beaches and pretty villages of Santa Maria, the wild nature of Corvo and Sao Jorge.
The Azores offer so many possibilities. And there is not only nature to be savoured in all its beauty and in various landscapes, but also picturesque centres rich in colour and history. That's why the 9 islands are a great opportunity to discover a European world, but not only that. A scenario full of charm, scents and a climate that knows how to be pleasant and surprising. All that remains is to get ready and set sail for Portugal.
Depart for the Azores with Costa
The Azores offer so many opportunities that you can try on your Costa excursions. It isn’t just nature in its entirety that you can experience with the various landscapes, but also the picturesque towns full of colour and history. A setting full of charm, fragrances and a climate that can be pleasant and surprising. All you need to do is get ready and set sail for Portugal and discover the Azores.