Exploring the Azores: São Miguel, Faial, Pico (part 2)
April 30, 2020
I, guest author Lillian, visited the Azores and in three articles I’ll tell you about practical information, where to eat, sleep and what you must have to do when you’re visiting the Azores. In this article I’ll give advice about traveling around and between islands, where to sleep, where to eat and how long you will spend on the different islands based on my own experiences.
How to travel between the different islands?
We had the plan to go from São Miguel to Faial, Faial to Pico, Pico to São Miguel. The flights between São Miguel to Faial and Pico to São Miguel I booked at SATA airlines before we departed from home. The tickets costs about €80,00 single trip and the flight duration is approximately one hour. Delays are common with these small aircrafts, so keep that in mind as well when you’re planning a roundtrip.
Between Faial (Horta) and Pico (port of Madalena) there is a ferry with Atlanticoline which takes about 30 minutes. You can buy tickets at the office of the port, but please note that ticket sales can close 30 minutes before departure. A single trip ticket costs €3,60. There is also an option to go by ferry from Pico port São Roque to São Jorge port Velas for a daytrip. This will take you about an hour and costs €10,50. Keep a close eye on the schedule, the number of sailings is limited on some routes.
Do you need a car?
YES! You don’t need a planned tour operator! I would recommend a car for all the three islands. With a rental car you can explore the islands by yourself, you can just drive around and stop everywhere you want. Choose a small car because the streets are small, and the chance of damage is low. It’s a good thing to make a reservation for the car you want, because it can happen that the smaller and cheaper cars are gone when you want to rent a car at the office. We booked a Citroën C1 for the first part of our trip in São Miguel, Opel Corsa for Faial. And because we didn’t reserved a car on Pico and the second part on São Miguel we had a bigger Citroën C4.
What clothes do you need to pack?
The weather is changing very quickly on all of the islands. Up in the Mountains it can be foggy and about 14 degrees, where down on the beaches it can be 26 degrees at the same time. So bring summer clothes and a bikini for sure, but don’t forget long pants and a cardigan or sweater.
Where to sleep?
If you prefer to sleep in a hotel be aware that there are less options outside the capitals. I booked the overnights by Airbnb, in total 4 different sleeping places. When I book an overnight by Airbnb I look at the reviews and if it’s a superhost.
I highly recommend to split your stay on the island and stay in the capital Ponta Delgada and stay somewhere in the east part of the island. I stayed in Anchadinha which is about 40 minutes driving from Ponta Delgada. We slept at house on the hill “Casa do Monte” which is hosted by Paul and Natérsia. The house is clean and has a great view on the sea. By arrival our fridge was filled with food and we also got a typical pineapple of the Azores. It is possible to sleep there with a group, it was a house which had place for 8 persons. Paul and Natérsia are very warm and welcoming people and do have another apartment in Ponta Delgada.
We also stayed in Ponta Delgada in “Yellow Flat One” which is hosted by João. This is a very clean, big, modern apartment. It has room for 2 persons and you have your own washing machine. But unfortunately there was no laundry detergent or coffee, you should buy or bring it by yourself. I can recommend this place to sleep. João is a nice host, spontaneous and helpful. The apartment is close to the city, 5 minute walk. There is a public parking plot close to the apartment.
I can recommend sleeping at “Apartamento Bela Vista” hosted by Isabel. Although her English is not very good she is a kind and helpful woman. The apartment is clean but small, there is a small kitchen but it’s in the same room as your living room and bedroom. We only stayed two nights, so for short stay it is big enough. The apartment is not really close to the city Centre, almost 30 minute walk. Good to know, the apartment has its own parking plot.
If you’re looking for something more close to the harbor and city maybe “Casa do Porto” hosted by Jose and Gi can be something for you. The apartment has a view on the harbor, has a small kitchen, and has good reviews.
At Pico we stayed at “Casa do Cacto” hosted by Paula. The nicely decorated room is in the cellar of the building. This place doesn’t have a kitchen but basics as a microwave, toaster, kettle and coffee maker. The place is next to the sea and the front of the building has direct view on mount Pico and is close to the center of Madalena. For me the experience was not so nice, because in this room we had cockroaches, which is logic in a cellar. My boyfriend didn’t mind and put them outside for me. I will recommend this place because I am sure you won’t have this problem in other rooms in Casa do Cacto, because those are not in the cellar.
Otherwise “Casa Incenso” is something for you, which has room for 4 guests. This place is not situated in Madalena, it’s an 20 minute drive. This typical piled stone cottage which perfectly fit in the UNESCO heritage landscape. The place is nicely decorated and has a Jacuzzi and cozy fireplace.
Where to eat?
The food on islands often is mainly fresh fish. My boyfriend loves fish, and I don’t so I mainly ate meat. I’m not used to eat salt, so I thought that the meat was very salty. If you don’t like the salty meat you can ask the waitress meat without salt. Be aware that the range of vegetarian food in restaurants is minimal.
A typical starter is a cheese of São Jorge island combined with the ‘Massa de piri-piri’ a spicy chili from the Azores. You can have it almost everywhere. Sometimes it is served with a sweet bread Bolo Lêvedo.
What I discovered on the Azores is the alcoholic drink white sangria. This drink is very refreshing, but as far as I know you only can buy it at Pico island at limited places. But you always can ask for it!
For fresh fish you need to eat at “Bar Caloura”. Don’t expect haute cuisine it’s just good food for a good price and with a nice view over the ocean.
When you’re at São Miguel island you definitely need to eat Cozido. The most popular place to eat this dish which is cooked in the volcano craters is “Tony’s” in Furnas.
For a nice evening in a bar I’ll recommend “Cantinho Dos Anjos”. This is where the locals drink beer on a Friday or Saturday evening. It is small but nice to have a drink.
When you’re in Horta you need to go to Peter’s café sport. This place has a rich history by sailors and that is reflected in the decorations. Sailors all over the world leave something behind, flags, stickers, quotes, etc. Fresh fish is delivered daily this menu is depending on what fisherman will catch. If you don’t like fish I can recommend the curry as well!
When on Pico you definitely you need to drink wine which is coming from the vineyards of Pico. My favorite Azorean wine brand is “Terras de lava”.
A little bit hidden is the “Mercado Bio” a biological supermarket with in the back of the store a very small restaurant. The food is really delicious. There is not so much room for guests so I can’t recommend it for groups. It might be that you’re eating with another couple, but that is part of the whole experience.
You absolutely must eat between the locals at “Tasca ‘O Petisca”. You can eat a la carte or eat with the buffet for a fixed price.
What to see?
To plan your trip you need to know how long you want to stay. I’ll give you an advise about how long you should be on one island and what you can do.
São Miguel is the biggest island of the archipelago. In the first article I advised to split your stay, this because it is an 2 hour drive from one side of the island to the other. You’ll have enough time to see all of the island when you will plan a trip of 8 days.
Although the Azores aren’t the best place to go for a beach holiday, there are beautiful black beaches. About ten minutes driving from Ponta Delgada you’ll find Praia das Milicias, a beautiful black beach with lifeguards and toilet facilities. The sea can be rough so watch the flags!
São Miguel is mostly famous about Lagoa das Sete Cidades, the view on this two lakes Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Verde is extraordinary. You’ll have the best view over the lakes from Miradouro Vista do Rei.
Cruising around to see fantastic views is the best way to discover the island. Go to “Miradouro da Nossa Senhora da Paz” in Vila Franca do Campo for the most fantastic view. You can also go to one of the lighthouses, if you’re lucky you can get up for free. Parque Natural da Ribeira do Caldeirões is a really must see! Take your time for this amazing nature which could be the set of “Jurassic park”. For the nicest sunset on the island you need to go to Mosteiros.
If you’re saying São Miguel you say crater lakes. Around Furnas you’ll find Lagoa das Furnas, the entrance costs €2,00 p.p. The steam is smelling really bad, if you’ve been in Iceland; it is a different smell. In the middle of the village Furnas you’ll find another one which is in my opinion even more fascinating, and it’s for free.
On São Miguel there is also a tea plantation, pineapple plantation and plenty of hot springs, I’ll tell more about those places in another article.
Is a small island within 1.5 hours (without stopping) you can drive around the island. You don’t need to stay here for days. You can see all of the island is 1 or 2 days. The must see is absolutely the Caldeira a volcano crater which has a diameter of 2 km. Because of the size the crater has its own climate. When it is a little cloudy inside it’s a very mysterious and quite place.
Secondly you need to see Vulcão dos Capelinhos. The peninsula Península do Capelo is created by lava from the volcano in 1958. The peninsula has its own vegetation and gradually nature is growing back on the ashes.
The harbor of the capital Horta is definitely worth a visit. Horta is an important stop for sailors who want to pass the Atlantic ocean. Sailors all over leave an art impression behind. From here you’ll also have a great view on mount Pico, which is on the other island.
Pico means mountain. The island is named after the mountain of Portugal. The solidified lava beaches and the UNESCO landscape vineyards make the landscape of this island is totally different and unique compared to the other islands.
If you like to hike you can also climb up on mount Pico, they say when the weather is good and the view is clear you can see all of the islands of the archipelago. On sunny days it’s possible to see Faial and São Jorge for sure and you don’t have to climb a mountain for it.
Pico’s history mostly is about the whale industry. The “Museu dos Baleeiros” is a Whaler’s museum in Lajes do Pico and show a lot of the industry during the 20th century. On Sundays the museum has free entrance.
The coolest souvenirs of the Azores can you buy at “Adega das Artes” in Madalena. They have really nice shirts and magnets, or buy a postcard and send it to someone special.
From São Roque do Pico you can go by ferry to Velas for a daytrip at São Jorge island. The ferry is not going often and will take about an hour, so check the schedule! Velas is a small city, the church “Matriz de São Jorge” is worth a visit, even as the museum next to the church.
Because of the volcanoes the island has several caves, I’ll tell more about this in another article.