A practical guide to the Azores hiking trails - Wapiti Travel

The Azores are nine pristine islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. With so much nature, it won’t come as a surprise that walking in the Azores is a fantastic experience.

Some hikes are relatively flat but you should be prepared for some strenuous trails as well.  The Azores are volcanic islands which means they are very hilly.

You will encounter some steep uphill and downhill parts during most hikes, but fantastic views are your reward.

We have walked quite a few kilometers during our vacation on the Azores.

In this Azores walking guide, we’d like to present you with a practical Azores hiking trails guide. We will also explain how you can best organize your hikes and how you can explore the islands on foot.

So be sure to pack your hiking boots!

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Fajã do Mero São Jorge Azores Portugal

View on Fajã Do Mero

Overview of the Azores hiking trails

Every Azores island has its own walking trails.

An overview of all Azores walking trails can be found on Visit Azores, the Azores Tourism Association website.

On this website, you can search for walking trails by island, difficulty, or distance (the website calls this “Extension”).

It also distinguishes between looped trails and linear trails, where you have to walk back the way you came or have to arrange a taxi to take you back to the start.

Difficulty grades

Each Azores hiking trail has a difficulty grade, there are three options: Easy, medium, and hard.

How they determined these grades remained a mystery to us. I wouldn’t take too much notice of them to be honest.

We did hikes of all difficulty grades and found there was not a lot of difference between them.

Easy hikes tended to go up and down just as much as other hikes and weren’t always on nicely paved roads either. 

This didn’t bother us but I just thought I would mention it to make it clear that the term “easy” shouldn’t be confused with what one calls easy in other countries where such walks are often wheelchair-accessible.

Altitude

The little topographic chart in the trail description shows how much you will climb and descend. 

It gives you a good impression of what your legs are going to endure during your hike.

What the graph doesn’t show is the quality of the road. Sometimes we went down nearly vertically on slippery paths, and sometimes we walked on wide dirt roads that were also accessible to cars.

In many cases, it was very steep. So steep that going down wasn’t much faster and easier than going up.

In our experience, the altitude said more about the difficulty of the trail than the difficulty grade itself.

Looped or not

For obvious reasons we, as well as most tourists we met, preferred the looped trails.  But many trails are linear and require you to return the same way or arrange other plans, such as a taxi, to make your way back to the start.

The number of the trail immediately shows you whether it is looped or not. All of them start with PR or PRC. Those starting with PRC are looped (circular).

This means that PRC1TER is a loop, PR7PIC is not (the last three letters are for the island, TER is Terceira, PIC is Pico).

If you want to use a taxi we advise you to visit the tourist information office in advance. They can give you the necessary telephone numbers and can advise you on who to call.

On São Jorge, taxis do not yet work with a central dispatch, and each taxi driver has its own phone number.  At the tourist office, they will be able to advise you on the best taxi driver for the specific hike you’re planning.

We did not use taxis on the other islands, so we can’t tell you if the taxis on the other islands operate the same way or use a dispatch.

Duration of the hike

The description of every Azores hiking trail also includes an estimation of how long it takes.

It always took us longer than the time which was indicated. The indicated time assumes that you will always walk at a steady pace, breaks are not factored in.

Be sure to allow some additional time for the hikes.

Even if you’re in excellent physical condition and you don’t need to stop to catch your breath you may still want to stop to enjoy the view and take some pictures.

How do you recognize the Azores trails?

There is a brochure for each of the Azores walking trails.  The description in the brochure shortly describes the starting point on the basis of some reference points. You can find the exact coordinates on the map inside this brochure.

Read also: Amazing Portugal facts you absolutely should know.

You can get this brochure at the tourist information office, or you can download them from the website.

The starting point is specified in degrees north latitude and west longitude. You can use the coordinates for your GPS.

Sign Start Hike Azores Portugal

This sign indicates the start of a trail

The start of the trail always has a sign like the one above. When you see it, you know you’re in the right spot.

From this point onwards, you need to follow the signposts.
Most trails are marked with yellow-red signposts.

• Two horizontal lines mean you’re on the right track.
• The red line tells you where you need to take a turn.
• If you see a cross, it means you’re no longer on the right track.

The walking trails were reasonably well signposted, but you need to keep your eyes open during your hike to ensure you don’t miss any signs.

Sometimes, the signs are marked on a rock on the ground, sometimes on a little pole, on fences or on walls.

One time it was hidden on a rock around the corner and that time we had walked quite a distance before we realized that we were no longer on the right track.

You have to keep your eyes peeled the whole time, it sometimes felt as though we were doing a quest instead of a hike.

The Visitazores app is a real help.

We discovered it a bit late, but once we had installed the app, we never lost the trail. The app shows you the maps for all the walking routes, and once you activate the GPS function on your phone it will show you whether you’re still on the right track.

As you do not have network coverage all over the island, we recommend you to download the walking trail to your phone before you leave.

You can download the app here for Google and for Apple.

If you are an experienced hiker, you might have a hiking GPS. The VisitAzores website has GPX files for every walking trail available for download.

The best walks on each island

The Azores count more than 60 walking trails. As much as we love hiking, our 17 days didn’t give us enough time to do all of them and obviously, we did not come here just to hike.

Here you will find our complete Azores itinerary. 

 

It’s hard to say something about the hikes that we couldn’t do.  That’s why we will stick to those hikes that we’ve actually done and on which we can share our personal impressions.

Read also: The perfect 3 days Lisbon itinerary.

Below we will give you a brief description of those hikes, grouped by island, and what we thought of the trails.

We regularly go walking, but we don’t view ourselves as trained hikers. Depending on your level, you might experience these hikes differently.

Walking trails on Pico

On Pico, we did the following walks.

Pico Azores PortugalCalheta do Nesquim trail (PRC11PIC)

This was the first walking trail we did on the Azores. We found this walk to be quite strenuous.  Perhaps it was because we weren’t yet warmed up, or because we followed the trail clockwise instead of counter-clockwise. 

The trail is only medium-grade so it’s not supposed to be difficult but we thought it was one of the most difficult ones we did on the Azores.

This route starts at the church of Calheta do Nesquim and brings you past the sea and a number of natural swimming pools. After that, it wanders up into the mountains to bring you to a number of viewpoints.

Conclusion

This was not a great trail in our opinion.  We did not find the viewpoints to be spectacular and could only really appreciate small parts of the hike.  Large parts were along paved roads and that takes away a lot of the charm of hiking in our opinion.

The majority of the trail went either upwards or downwards, only a small part was level.  We wouldn’t have cared as much if the viewpoints were worth all the climbing but as we said the views were rather disappointing.

There are many better and more beautiful walks on the Azores.

If you plan on doing this hike we would recommend following it counter-clockwise as indicated in the trail brochure.

UNESCO Vineyard Pico Azores, Portugal

UNESCO Vineyard Pico

Vinhas da Criação Velha trail (PR5PIC)

This fairly easy level trail brings you past the coast and the UNESCO vineyards.

The trail runs through the typical Azorian vineyard landscape and you pass by two natural swimming pools on the way.

The best pictures can be taken from the hill during the first part of the hike.  From this hill, you have a great view of the vineyards.  Another picture opportunity occurs towards the end of the hike as you pass an iconic red mill, a typical sight for the Azores.

Conclusion

The path follows the main road along the coast and winds through the vineyards in 2 places. 

We did not do all of this walking trail as we were short on time. We parked our car at one of the natural swimming pools and followed the trail to the mill and came back another way.

The vineyards are definitely worth a visit, and if you have time it may be worthwhile to do the complete hike. However, it is certainly not a must because the vineyards look the same everywhere.

Caldeira Faial Azores, Portugal

Caldeira Faial

Walking trails on Faial

Caldeira (PRC4FAI)

This loop takes you around the impressive Caldeira crater. The crater is huge, it has a diameter of about 2 kilometers. 

The trail loops around this impressive crater, you’re walking on the edge of the crater the whole time and is 7 kilometers long. 

You should allow 3 to 4 hours for the complete loop depending on how often you want to stop to take in the views.

We thought the hike was really worthwhile.

You get to see the crater from all directions and that in itself was worth to do the walk.
If you don’t have a lot of time, you can also view the crater from the viewpoint near the parking lot.

The trail is graded as Easy and is indeed not difficult.
The whole trail is mostly level with a few somewhat steeper stretches.

Be sure to check the weather forecast before driving to the top of the crater. If the top is shrouded in clouds, you better postpone your plans. It will be cold and windy at the top, you will likely have no views and it will be dangerous as the path is narrow and gets muddy very quickly in damp weather.

Do this walk when the weather is good.

Conclusion

A beautiful walk that you must do on Faial. Check the weather before you start.

Morro de Castelo Branco Faial Azores Portugal

Morro de Castelo Branco

Rumo ao Morro de Castelo Branco (PRC5FAI)

This loop runs from the main road in Lombega village to the nearby peninsula.
This is a great location for spotting seabirds or to just enjoy the relaxing view.

Don’t forget to bring your binoculars.

 

The loop is described counter-clockwise.  You first walk towards the coast on a dirt road between the fields. Once you reach the cliff, you follow it to the rock. During this part of the walk, you will already be rewarded with a beautiful view of the rocky peninsula.

Once you arrive at the parking lot of the peninsula you can continue closer to the rock to see the birds that live there and the particular local vegetation.

Read also: Discover why you definitely must visit the Algarve this winter.

The way back runs along the paved road that leads to the parking lot, but we chose to return the same way through the fields because it seemed more pleasant to us.

If you don’t have time to do this particular Azores walking trail, but you do want to see this peninsula, you can also drive here in your car.

This is an easy walk, you just need to pay close attention to the signage. There is one location where the signage is well-hidden.

Pay close attention, or use the VisitAzores app.

The VisitAzores app will allow you to download this trail onto your phone, and you can always check whether you’re still on the right track. We went off the map for a little bit.

Conclusion

This is a nice walk, but not a must-do. The Castelo Branco is the highlight of this walk, but the trail leading there isn’t very special.

We did like the rock and stayed for about an hour to enjoy the view and watch the birds. 

If you have the time you can hike your way here from the main road but otherwise, we would advise to simply drive down here.

Faja Dos Cubres Sao Jorge Azores, Portugal

Fajã Dos Cubres

Walking trails on São Jorge

We were a bit unlucky with the weather on São Jorge.
The first day it was really raining cats and dogs and although the tourist information informed us that it was ok to go for a hike, the idea of getting soaking wet didn’t really appeal to us.

The next day we were quite happy we had not gone out as the trail we did then was still very muddy in certain locations. It was very slippery and certainly, the steep parts leading down were tricky and adventurous.  We slipped several times.

If you want to do a linear walk on São Jorge, visit the tourist information first. They have contact details for taxis and can tell you which taxi is best to ring from which location. Taxis here do not use a central dispatch. You call each taxi on its own direct number.

Trail Norte Pequeno São Jorge Azores Portugal

Norte Pequeno trail

Norte Pequeno (PRC6SJO)

This trail starts in the small village of Norte Pequeno.
The first part of the trail is an easy descend down between the pastures. This is followed by the most beautiful part of the walk, a narrow path that leads steeply down through a thick forest.

As you walk down you enjoy wonderful views of the small village Fajã do Mero. Once you are at the bottom, you follow the road along the coast until you start your return to Norte Pequeno.

The trajectory upwards follows the unpaved road which connects the small villages along the coast with the village of Norte Pequeno.  The route winds to the top, you can catch a breath at some of the hairpin bends along the way from which you have some more excellent views on the rocky coastline.

Ten hairpin bends later you’re back at the top and then it’s only a short distance back to the start.

Conclusion

The last part of the trail where you make your way back to the top is pretty tough and not really charming but it is all forgiven because the remainder of the trail is wonderful.

This trail is highly recommended.

You walk through pristine nature for the most part, and it was a very quiet walk (we did not meet anyone else).

You will enjoy wonderful views during the hike. On a clear day, you can even see the island Graciosa.

Trail Mistérios Negros Terceira Azores Portugal

Trail Mistérios Negros

Walking trails on Terceira

Mistérios Negros (PRC1TER)

This walk starts at the Gruta do Natal.

A large part of the trail runs through a forest. On the way, you pass a few nice lakes, and of course, you come past the black lava mountains (mistérios negros) that give their name to this trail.

Near the end of the walk, you reach Pico Gaspar, the highest mountain in this region. You have a wonderful view of the surroundings from the top of this hill. It is certainly worth it to go off track and climb to the top of this hill.

This walking trail is graded difficult, but we didn’t find it particularly hard.
The trail is mostly level.  The hardest part is a short stretch about halfway where you have to clamber across trees and tree roots.

Conclusion

It is always difficult to choose, but this is perhaps the best walking trail we did. The landscape is beautiful and varied.

If you start your walk in the morning, you can visit the Gruta do Natal in the afternoon.

Recommended on Terceira!

 

Hiking trails on São Miguel

São Miguel is the largest island and logically you will also find the most hikes here. Below is some more explanation about those we did.

Trail Lagoa Do Fogo São Miguel Azores Portugal

Lagoa Do Fogo

Praia – Lagoa do Fogo (PRC2SMI)

This hiking trail on São Miguel brings you to the shores of the impressive Lagoa do Fogo.

At the start we really got our doubts, the first part of this walk is a real let-down. You start with a fairly steep climb with not a lot to see.

Read also: whale watching in the Azores.How to

Fortunately, the décor changes when you get to the top.

Once at the top you start following the course of a small canal until you come to a valley with several small power stations. From here, there is a short incline and then you’re at the lakeshore.

The official walking trail ends at the lakeshore and returns the same way it came.

If you don’t want to return the same way you can follow the lakeshore towards the beach and from there make your way up to the Serra Da Barrosa viewpoint.

Conclusion

The first part of this trail is nothing special but once you reach the canal,  it becomes much more enjoyable.

We thought this was a great hike and Lagoa do Fogo is one of the most beautiful spots of São Miguel.

Cha Gorreana Azores, PortugalChá Gorreana (PRC28SMI)

This easy hike starts at the tea factory. You park your car at the parking lot of the factory and cross the road to the tea plantations on the opposite side.

The trail meanders through these beautiful fields of tea.  While you explore the plantation you can see how the staff tends to the plants and harvests the tea.  

You also get a wonderful view over the northern coast of São Miguel from the highest point of the trail.

After the hike you can visit the factory and warm up with some tea, or cool down with some ice cream.

Conclusion

Each time we see a tea plantation we take loads of pictures.  We continue to find them very photogenic.

Read also: A 7 day Kerala itinerary perfect for first-timers.

In any case, it is always worth it to stop at Chá Gorreana, and it doesn’t take much time to cross the street and take a quick glimpse of the plantation.

If you don’t have enough time to do the full trail, it is easy to shorten as you’re free to walk around on the grounds anywhere you wish.

Salto do Prego Sao Miguel Azores, Portugal

Salto de Prego

Faial da Terra – Salto do Prego (PRC9SMI)

This beautiful trail starts in Faial da Terra and the windy path brings you to the impressive Salto do Prego waterfall.

On the way, in the middle of the forest, you will come across wild chickens. It was a first for us.

You can go back the way you came, but we recommend you take a right at the split. This very small detour takes you by the deserted village of Sanguinho. Once you are past this village, the trail follows a steep old cobblestone road back down to Faial da Terra.

Conclusion

This is a fairly popular walk and definitely worth doing. It was considerably busier than other walking trails we did on São Miguel.

The waterfall is beautiful, and you can enjoy a number of great views of the valley.

This trail completes our top two, with the mistérios negros trail being our number 1.

 

Some hiking tips

To conclude we would like to share a few hiking tips for the Azores:

Don’t forget travel insurance for your trip to the Azores. Travel Insurance is something that can be overlooked when you prepare for your vacation.  Certainly when you’re traveling to a safe and civilized country such as the Azores. But when things go wrong in civilized countries, the medical costs can be high. 

Drawing up a travel insurance policy may seem expensive at first but it can potentially save you a significant sum, significantly more than the small insurance fee.  Good travel insurance, such as the one from World Nomads, covers things like medical expenses, trip cancellation, overseas medical costs, evacuation, baggage damage or loss, and theft.

We personally love World Nomads insurance for their excellent coverage. Here you can read our article about World Nomads and immediately get a free quote.

If you love hiking, you could also book an 8-day organized hiking vacation. This small-group tour brings you 4 of the Azores islands. 

Click here to find more information about this tour: Azores hiking vacation 

It is recommended to wear proper hiking boots when you go hiking on the Azores.  Some parts of the trails follow paved roads but most are on uneven terrain.

Check the weather beforehand. As mentioned before, we don’t recommend doing hikes with large elevation differences in bad weather as the trails are often rather steep and become slippery when it rains or when it’s misty.

The weather in the Azores is rather unpredictable. We, therefore, recommend you wear layers of clothing.

Take sunscreen as well as rain gear when you’re going hiking. You know what the weather is like when you set off, but it can completely change in a couple of hours.

Do not forget your camera.

 

Although we came across wells to fill a water bottle during some of our hikes, it was usually not the case. It’s better not to assume that water will be available and to bring enough water for the full hike.

Just like there is not always water, toilets are also not always available.

 

Conclusion

This is only a small selection of the many Azores walking trails that exist. The Azores is an excellent destination for the active traveler who finds rest in nature.

Make sure you have proper walking gear. The hikes are not extremely difficult, but good walking shoes are essential.

Additionally, never leave without both sunscreen and rain gear.

The weather often changed more than once a day, and what looks like a miserable day in the morning can quickly change into a sunny day with blue skies (and unfortunately, it also happens the other way around 😀).

Did you hike in the Azores, what are your favorite Azores hiking trails? 

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Categories: Portugal

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