In this post we have put together a short guide to São Miguel Island. Yet, we’re a bit cheating in the title. São Miguel Island along with the other 8 islands of the Azores archipelago are the Atlantic’s greenest paradise.
Here is the plain truth: I (Diana) didn’t even know that the Azores Islands exist before I came to Portugal. Yes, shame on me! The Portuguese people have “warned” me:
It’s heaven on earth!
There’s one island in the Azores with more cows than people!
It’s where the best cheese comes from!
The only place in Europe with tea plantations!
It looks like New Zealand! It looks like Hawai! It looks like Ireland! It feels like Iceland!
The Azores have always sounded like “it’s Portugal, but nautical miles away”. So it somehow always felt comforting knowing the paradise is just around the corner, still we both agreed that we couldn’t postpone this trip any longer. Here is what we have to say about our visit to São Miguel Island.
- A serene place where the green land with lush forests and countless millennial trees and the blue sea and sky meet in harmony…
- In one hour you can see the ocean, lagoons, forrests, waterfalls, rivers…
- Just the thought of being in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is crazy!
- Let’s buy a house and retire here!
- and the romantic descriptions could continue…
But how to explain such beauties came to light in the middle of the ocean? Specialists claim that “the Azores were formed in an explosion of seawater, pillow lava, fire and brimstone”. Long time ago, Platon had a different explanation: the Azores archipelago is the lost continent of Atlantis. The underwater pyramids that were discovered not long ago come to question this theory as well…
The Azores is part of the UNESCO geoparks network, with 121 sites of geological heritage and marine areas spread on all nine volcanic islands. It is also the first geopark hosting marine geosites. The concept of a geopark is “sustainably promote the economic well-being of the people who live there”. And this particular angle has raised quite a debate lately. The number of tourists has increased in the past few years due to the low cost airlines flying here.
Honestly, after you visit the Azores, you will also end up wondering: how can tourism massification be avoided? What unveils in front of you is superb and we should all be responsible of protecting it wisely.
We’re sooo eager to see the rest of the islands! In the meantime, here is what to do 3 days in São Miguel Island.
Viewpoint-hopping from East to West
The miradouros (viewpoints) will unveil stunning “seascapes” and “lagoonscapes”. We’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
- Lagoa do Congro
- Lagoa do Fogo
- Lagoa das Furnas
- Lagoa das Sete Cidades
- Lagoa do Canário
- Lagoa de Santiago
- Miradouro do Pico do Ferro with view over Lagoa das Furnas
- Miradouro de Santa Iria
- Miradouro da Vista dos Barcos
- Miradouro da Ponta da Madrugada
- Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego with stunning gardens and view over the ocean
- Farol do Arnel with a one of a kind descending experience; Note: Don’t go down by car!
- Miradouro da Ponta do Escalvado
- Miradouro da Grota do Inferno with some of the most scenic views you’ll ever indulge in
- Miradouro da Vista do Rei with view over Lagoa das Sete Cidades
I will try to focus only on the best part of this experience: we were extremely lucky to see 10 whales (mostly sperm and humpback whales) and a bunch of joyful dolphins that made the whole four hours experience (out of which two hours were spent being sea-sick…beware!) truly worth-while.
Seeing a whale for the first time is like nothing you’ve experienced before…The excitement, the anxiety, hearing the captain shouting “let’s go, let’s go, it’s there” felt so pre-historic as if we were going hunting, as if we were about to see Moby Dick.
Watch a tribute video to these amazing creatures: http://mymodernmet.com/jem-cresswell-humpback-whale-portraits/
Recommended tour company: Moby-Dick Tours
Stroll around Ponta Delgada, São Miguel’s capital
It won’t take you more than half day to walk the incredible Portuguese pavement (calçada Portuguesa) of Ponta Delgada’s centre with its iconic gates and clock tower.
Visit the Gorreana factory and tea plantations
In Azores, the tea is considered a drink for family and work breaks. In Gorreana, there are 38 hectares of plantations producing 40 tons of tea yearly, being the oldest tea plantations in Europe.
The tea leaf that gives birth to both the green and black tea is called Camellia Sinensis. You can also have a taste of pasteis made of green tea.
Visit Terra Nostra Park
Undoubtedly, it is one of the most beautiful gardens we’ve seen. I wish we could find the right words to explain how the beams of light passing through the branches of the exotic trees, and plants made us literally feel lost in time and trapped in paradise.
Visit Caldeira Velha Park
Imagine yourself in the middle of a forrest with waterfalls, natural swimming pools with thermal waterways coming from the mountains…all this is real while in Caldeira Velha Park :).
The Furnas, one of the internationally popular geosites, represent some of the most active thermal locations on Earth that resulted in the numerous volcanic springs and waterways. The iron-rich water is known for its great benefits to the body.
We visited Furnas to see how the meat & vegetable stew is slowly-cooked for 8 hours in 90 degrees volcano vapour by burying the pot underground. We’ve tried it ourselves and we loved it. Please don’t be scared off by the smell, the taste fades it away :). One note: whatever restaurant you pick to try this exquisite dish, book your seat early in the morning to ensure they have time to prepare it.
Wallow in 40 degrees thermal spring water at Terra Nostra Park
You have plenty of options to choose from if you want and are physically apt for diving in 40 degrees water temperature.
We chose Terra Nostra Garden’s hot pool this time, but there are also other thermal springs like Poça da Dona Beija and Caldeira Velha, which are equally relaxing and opened until late in the evening.
Terra Nostra Park Opening Hours: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Visit Ponta da Ferraria thermal pools
Best time of the year to visit São Miguel island (and presumably all the islands)
We’ve always heard May is the best month if you want to see whales, and we are the proof that it’s true. Moreover, the air temperature is mild – not too cold, not too warm. However, we didn’t dare to enter the ocean…We also caught the religious festivities which meant all day access to local markets filled with delicacies.
It’s a wonderful time if you want to see the island sprinkled with hortensia.
Big NOTE! No matter when you go and what island you choose, bring in some warm clothes as you can easily catch four seasons in one day.
How to travel around São Miguel Island
Best thing you can do is rent a car from the airport. By far.
What to eat & drink in the Azores
- The local Cheese (Queijo)
- Meat and vegetable stew made in the hot springs (Cozido das Furnas)
- The local sweet bread (Bolos lêvedos)
- The fresh fish
- The fresh seafood (limpets in particular)
- The famous Azorean roast beef
- The local wine
- The green & black tea
Where to eat in the São Miguel Island
- Associação Agrícola de São Miguel for the best beef stake.
- Tony’s Restaurant for the Cozido das Furnas (Remember to call the restaurant in the morning to have it prepared on time by lunchtime!)
- Confeitaria A Colmeia for rich breakfasts with a diverse range of pasteis: nata, pineapple, passion fruit…
Where to stay in São Miguel Island
We chose a room in an AirbBnb fantastic house, right in the centre of Ponta Delgada.
Yet, next time we really wish to immerse in an experience at the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel.
Airline companies that fly to Azores
SATA, TAP, Easyjet and Ryanair
Where to find Azorean products
While in the continental Portugal, look for these brands in the supermarkets:
- Terra Nostra
- Nova Açores
- Milhafre dos Açores
- Pimenta da Terra
- Queijo São Jorge
What else we could have done if we had more time
We spent three full days on the island with a curiosity rush to see as much as possible. Yet, we still missed several locations and activities that we plan to do upon a future return:
- Hiking in Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeirões and Caldeiras da Ribeira Grande
- Visit the Arruda Pineapple plantation
- Cheese tasting
- Visit Parque Beatriz do
- Visit Ermida da Nossa Senhora das Virtudes
- Bathing in Poça da Dona Beija and Caldeira Velha thermal pools
- Visit Graça, local market
- Visit Porto Formoso tea plantations and factory
- Visit the Liqueurs Fabric
This is probably our greenest post so far. To end it in glory, below some more pics from the road through the island. Let us know in a comment below if you have any questions before you depart to this darling destination of ours. 🙂