"I think the Azores must be very little known in America. Out of our whole ship's company there was not a solitary individual who knew anything whatever about them." Mark Twain, 1877
The "Hawaii of the Atlantic"?
If you love volcanic islands but think that Hawaii is a little too far or expensive, you may want to check out the Azores islands.
The Azores archipelago is located midway across the Atlantic (about 900 miles off the coast of Portugal) so as a lesser known group of volcanic islands, it makes sense that they were dubbed the “Hawaii of the Atlantic!” The comparison really stops there though.
Photo by Abspires40
First, the Azores are part of Portugal, so you’ll definitely find a different culture there! But also, the islands are much less developed, and much more rugged and wild. It’s almost like stepping into a bygone era, and a truly magical experience.
What’s more, not only are the Azores an exceptionally beautiful cluster of islands, they’re a great eco-friendly destination.
Here’s a map of the archipelago. It’s composed of nine islands, each having their own characteristics and charms.
The Azores Map
- Corvo is the smallest island.
- Flores is a rugged island carved by many valleys and mountains.
- Faial is known for its shield volcano and caldera.
- Pico has the highest peak in the Azores and continental Portugal at 2,351 meters high (7,713 ft).
- Graciosa is known for its active furnace of sulfur and mixture of volcanic cones and plains.
- São Jorge is a long slender island.
- Terceira has one of the largest craters in the region.
- São Miguel is the largest island and has many large craters.
- Santa Maria is the oldest island and is heavily eroded.
So, why should you explore the Azores Islands?
You know that Roamwide is all about promoting eco-friendly travel, so our first criterion in reviewing travel destinations will always be sustainability. So how do the Azores fare?
1) The Azores are a truly sustainable destination
The Azores have been pioneers in promoting sustainable tourism and that makes us very happy.
Economically, the Azores depend mainly on tourism, fishing and agriculture. So, it’s important for the archipelago to strike the right balance between getting more tourists and preserving the natural beauty of the islands. The government is very keen to preserve nature on the islands and there are many sites of natural heritage and protected marine life. Three of the islands are designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserves sites.
Unsurprisingly, the region received many nominations for and won awards for being one of the world's top destinations for sustainable tourism. In fact, the Azores are the first archipelago in the world to be certified as a sustainable destination by EarthCheck and under the strict criteria of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.
That is great news for the responsible traveler that you are!
Of course nothing is 100% perfect, and there are still some issues remaining (especially with urban waste and those nasty plastic bags!). And of course, by promoting beautiful undeveloped places like this, there is always the risk of overcrowding the most photogenic places, and of trail erosion. Using Instagram more mindfully might help travelers enjoy their experience more while keeping demand under control.
Anyway, let’s not beat ourselves too much with the selfie stick! Let’s just try to be more mindful when we travel.
If you’re looking for tips to travel more responsibly, I’d recommend you check out the travel agency, Responsible Travel. They provide handy information on how to minimize the impact on the environment and be a responsible tourist.
2) The weather is great, really!
The Azores weather tends to be quite moderate. Daytime temperatures rarely go below 14°C in winter or above 25°C in July. This makes the Azores an excellent choice for outdoorsy breaks in any season.
Overall though, summer is probably the best time to visit the island if you're into walking, hiking, and mountain biking. Summer conditions are best to do boat tours too (great for spotting dolphins and whales) as the ocean is much calmer than in the winter season.
However, be mindful of sunburn when you're on the coast or out on the water, even if it is cloudy. Be prepared with plenty of sunscreens, one that is natural and reef safe, such as the Raw Elements.
PS: We are affiliate partners of Raw Elements, i.e. if you purchase their products via the links above, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
3) Nature lovers, you’ll fall in love
There is plenty to do in the Azores for nature lovers, be it hiking or snorkeling.
The coastlines offer fantastic visibility for snorkeling and a plethora of underwater life.
If you're a lover of nature, walking through the islands will undoubtedly fill you with marvel. You will experience an ever-changing landscape of emerald green meadows, jewel-colored lakes, wildflower blooms, and volcanic peaks.
Photo by Ravi Sarma
4) Exceptional volcanic landscapes
Of course, like Hawaii, the Azores are a fantastic place to observe the aftermath of volcanic activity. If you're fascinated by volcanic craters, lava tubes, steaming fumaroles, and relaxing thermal pools, you won't be disappointed.
Photo by Exotours
You can also visit the Centro de Interpretação do Vulcão dos Capelinhos, a volcano museum built from the ruins of a lighthouse destroyed by a 1950s volcanic eruption.
5) Unusual beaches
On the contrary to Hawaii, the Azores are not known for their white sandy beaches. The islands are great for travelers who love swimming, though. The coasts of São Miguel, Faial, and Pico have seawater pools made out of natural lava pools. How cool is that?!
Photo by José Luís Ávila Silveira/Pedro Noronha e Costa
There are still beaches around but you're more likely to find jagged volcanic coastline, dark, moody waters and wild weather, especially on Pico.
6) Island hopping
The best way to visit the archipelago is to stay longer and take time to explore each island.
Unlike Hawaii, it is pretty easy to island-hop in the Azores without necessarily having to fly. Each island is connected via a small airport or a ferry port. Depending on whether it's a neighboring island or not, island-hopping can take just 30 minutes by ferry or up to two and a half hours for longer hops.
7) Whale and dolphin watching
You can't really go to the Azores without going on a boat trip to see whales and dolphins. São Miguel, Terceira, Faial, and Pico are among the best places in the world for reliable sightings of several whale species, including the sperm whale. You may even be lucky enough to spot them from one of the lookout towers on the shore called “vigias.”
Photo by Luca Nebuloni
The Azores are also a great place to spot or swim with several species of dolphins, including the deep-diving Risso's dolphin.
Just make sure you research responsible tour operators when planning a boat excursion and to adhere to the strict guidelines.
8) Local food
Because tasting local foods will always be a reason to visit any place, of course we’d think food is a great reason for you to go to the Azores. Unfortunately, it may not be the best place for vegetarians as the traditional food on the island can be a bit heavy.
One of the most touristic dishes, the Cozido de Furnas, is cooked over a geothermal spring and is a stew made with pork, beef, cabbage, kale, potatoes, yam, carrots, chicken, chorizo and blood pudding (wrapped in a kale leaf), and seasoned with salt.
Photo by Hugo Cadavez
The archipelago is also known for its great cheeses and wines, especially dry whites and fortified wines. The famous Verdelho and Lajido wines are produced in the ancient vineyards found on the black volcanic terrain of the Pico island.
9) Tea plantations
There are only two tea plantations in Europe, and both are located on the island of São Miguel! You can tour the facilities at Gorreana (the oldest tea plantation) and Porto Formoso, where you'll be able to taste delicious varieties.
10) Pottery in São Miguel
You can’t go to the Azores without bringing back souvenirs, right? São Miguel has a strong tradition in pottery spinning and weaving. Head out to the Vieira Ceramics Factory in Lagoa for a tour.
11) Spot street art in Ponta Delgada
The Azores aren’t only for nature lovers! Urban and street art lovers can also get a bit of their fix here. You will be surprised to see so much of it on the island of São Miguel. Every year the city of Ponta Delgada organizes the Walk and Talk Urban Art Festival, where artists from around the world come to create street art throughout the city. The festival transforms buildings, houses, and even benches into works of art.
Photo by Adamina
12) Explore the Hotel Monte Palace ruins
The Hotel Monte Palace ruins on São Miguel island are a must-stop for anyone into adventurous urban exploration. Be quick, though, as it is set to reopen as a newly revamped hotel in 2021.
Photo by Stefan3345 / CC BY-SA
Built in the late 1980s as a luxurious 5-star hotel, the impressive Hotel Monte Palace, with its panoramic views and vast amenities, never succeeded in attracting enough travelers to survive and closed its door shortly after opening.
Photo by Travel4Brews
Now, urban explorers who are willing to trek to the resort can explore its dilapidated ballrooms and crumbling halls seemingly at their leisure (and at their own risks!).
13) Value for Money
The Azores are a piece of paradise that don’t require deep pockets. The cost of living is lower than in most European destinations. You will be able to enjoy what the islands have to offer for less than you'd expect.
So, what is stopping you?!
Are you convinced? Bear in mind that this is not an exhaustive list; you will surely be thrilled by this magical place.
Let us know what you think! We'd love to hear your experience, should you decide to take the leap, or if you've already been! Comment below and share your stories on Instagram with #goroamwide.
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One of our most memorable trips! So quiet and relaxed!