The Azores Islands are year-round destinations as temperatures remain mild even in winter. And with less chance of rainfall, summer is a great time for outdoor activities, such as hiking, whale watching and snorkeling.
São Miguel, the Azores’ largest island, is also the most accessible and popular of the archipelago’s nine islands, and more so ever since budget airlines such as Ryanair arrived at Ponta Delgada.
Despite being the largest Azorean island, three days are plenty of time to explore São Miguel’s attractions and to enjoy plenty of outdoor activities. Renting a car is the best way to get around the “green island”. But if a visitor does not want or simply cannot use a car, there are alternatives available, such as organised tours. Also, Ponta Delgada’s Taxi Association offers a range of tourist circuits at fixed prices.
Prior to the first full day, you will check into your hotel. Here is a list of accommodation options in Ponta Delgada covering a wide range of categories: The Best Hotels in Ponta Delgada.
On your first full day on São Miguel, visit Ponta Delgada’s historic centre and spend the afternoon whale watching.
A morning is enough time to explore the Azores’ largest city. Admire the City Gates (Portas da Cidade), dating from 1783. The three arches symbolise the city’s defense system. Visit some of the many churches – Santo Cristo Church, São Sebastião Church and São José Church are three of the best known. Walk along the marina towards the Fort of São Brás. Head to the Graça Market for some local specialties such as bolo lêvedo, a kind of sweet muffin, cheese, tea and pineapple.
In the afternoon, catch a boat tour to watch whales and dolphins. While cetaceans can be seen throughout the year, being resident species, spotted dolphins, sperm whales and sei whales are more frequent in summer.
Visit the Azores’ tourism website to learn more about tour operators. You can also find them leaving from the harbour or marina.
On the second day, visit the western part of São Miguel.
Drive to Lagoa das Sete Cidades, a spectacular caldera, and spend the morning exploring the beautiful lake scenery.
Given there aren’t many restaurants in the area, here are two suggestions:
- Casa de Chá O Poejo, Rua da Queiró 9, Sete Cidades: a tea house offering light meals, and a nice selection of sandwiches and cakes.
- Restaurante Lagoa Azul, Rua da Caridade 18, Sete Cidades: good buffet food (regional cuisine) with plenty of choice.
After lunch, drive around the whole northwestern coast, see the views and visit local towns. The first stop is Mosteiros known for its black sand beaches and natural swimming pools. Continue along the coastal road on EN1-1A, making stops in Santo António, Capelas, Calhetas on your way to Ribeira Grande. Enjoy the views, before going back to Ponta Delgada.
On the third day, visit the eastern part of São Miguel Island.
Drive east on EN1-1A and visit Lagoa do Fogo. Then, spend some time in Vila Franca do Campo. You can simply enjoy the views or take the ferry from the marina (a 10-minute trip on summer months only) to the islet one kilometre off the coast. Seeing it from the town, you’ll never guess that its interior is the crater of an old volcano. Being a natural reserve, there’s lots of fish to see if you’re able to get snorkeling gear.
Once you’re done, drive another 30 minutes towards Lagoa das Furnas. Visit the beautiful Terra Nostra Park and Furnas, famous for its hot springs. Discover the Azorean geothermal cuisine with the famous cozido das Furnas, a kind of stew with layers of meat, vegetables, chouriço and blood sausage, that simmers for about five hours in the Furnas caldera. Order this volcano-cooked dish at a local restaurant. You should make a reservation – Restaurante Tonys comes recommended ( www.restaurantetonys.pt | phone: +351 296 584 632 | email: [email protected]).
After this hearty meal, continue east along the road and visit the Nordeste area. Enjoy the ocean’s breathtaking views from Ponta do Sossego, Ponta da Madrugada and Farol do Arnel (a lighthouse), as well as the several waterfalls and cliffs.
Then, go west on the same road (EN1-1A) and visit Achada and Porto Formoso. The area is worth for its viewpoints and several hiking trails offering panoramic views of the coastline. After spending some time here, head to Ribeira Grande and back to Ponta Delgada.