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Azores travel guide

Are you visiting the Azores and looking for an Azores travel guide? You came to the right place. Here we share everything you need to know about these amazing islands.

The Azores are 9 small pristine islands hidden in the middle of the large Atlantic Ocean.  Seldom will you find such remote places where time truly seems to go slower and where nature did not have to make way for civilization.

Each island has its own way to charm its visitors. Where most travelers stop short of island-hopping we would say that this is exactly what makes a trip to the Azores unique.

São Miguel is the largest island and incredibly beautiful but you haven’t really seen the Azores until you have explored some of the smaller neighboring islands.

Even more unexplored, this is where the charm of the Azores really pops out.

In this travel guide, we have brought together all the information you need to explore this paradise in the Atlantic.

What you need to know

The Azores are officially part of Portugal. Because of their distance to the mainland they have developed their own culture and identity. They are an autonomous region of Portugal with Ponta Delgada as its capital.

Money

The Euro is the local currency. Payment cards are not as widely accepted as on the mainland. Some shops and gas stations will only accept Portuguese cards. Shop and bar owners are also reluctant to accept card payments for small amounts.

There are also situations where the payment with a Visa or Mastercard fails even though the merchant accepts them.

It’s best to carry some cash in addition to such a no foreign transaction fee credit card. This will give you some peace of mind and the islands are very safe that you shouldn’t have to worry about getting robbed.

There is an ATM in Ponta Delgada airport so there’s no need to exchange cash in your home country. By getting cash from an ATM you know you’re using the official exchange rate and you avoid a markup and additional fees charged by exchange offices. If you use travel credit cards such as Revolut and N26 you won’t pay any credit card fees either.

ATM’s can be found on all the islands.

Free Travel Debit Card with no Foreign Transaction Fees

Whenever we travel to a country where they use a different currency we use our N26 debit card. This card is completely free and charges no foreign transaction fees. Cash withdrawals are free in many locations. Another feature we love is the user-friendly app which allows you to track your payments, change your pin and block/unblock the card if it would be necessary. The application process is completely online and takes mere minutes.

Budget

You can travel to the Azores without breaking the bank.

Portugal is a cheap destination and even though prices in the Azores are above what you would pay for the same things on the mainland, they are still inexpensive.

Opposed to what you would expect, prices for fuel where even cheaper on the Azores than on the mainland.

Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect to pay.

Sata Air Azores airplane
The Azores have their own airline

Flight tickets to the Azores

Azores Airlines has a near-monopoly on flights between the islands. It will come as no surprise that these flights are relatively expensive.

A short half-an-hour hop from São Jorge to Terceira will cost around 65€.

Longer flights can cost around 100€.

There are several ways to save on these flights, you might even score a FREE flight. We explain them in detail in our how to get to the Azores guide.

Ferry

The Azores can roughly be divided into 3 groups.

To the East, we have São Miguel and Santa Maria. Centrally are the islands of Graciosa, Terceira, São Jorge, and Pico. To the West are Corvo and Flores.

Ferries are an economical means of traveling between the islands. When visiting islands that are close to each other like São Jorge, Pico and Faial it will also be the most efficiënt option.

Short ferry trips are usually cheap around €7 -€10.

Not all ferries are going year-round. Make sure to check the timetable when you’re planning your trip. Read our guide about island-hopping on the Azores for all the details.

Rental Cars

Unless you’re an avid biker, you will probably want to rent a car, even if the islands are small. Public transport is close to non-existent and taxis are expensive.

Renting a car is expensive as well. Still, this will be the most economical option in the end if you want to see the island’s many sights. Most of them aren’t close to the bus network and a short taxi ride costs almost as much as a rental car for 1 day.

Read our article about hiring a car on the Azores if you will be visiting several islands. We share some tips that make the process a little easier.

Rental prices on São Miguel

São Miguel is the largest and most-visited island. Prices for rental cars are cheaper than on the other islands. We paid 17€/day for a VW Lupo.

Rental prices on the other islands

There seems to be less competition on these islands. As a result, prices are higher. Expect to pay about €35/day for a small car such as a Renault Clio.

For beautiful accommodations such as this lovely hotel you don’t have to break the bank

Accommodation

Accommodation is available in several price classes. You won’t find any high-end luxury resorts on the Azores but you can book anything from rustic homes and shared rooms in hostels to comfortable hotels, even including a spa if you stay in Furnas.

A comfortable room, often including breakfast, will cost around 75€/night. (for 2 persons) You won’t have any problem finding cheaper options but you can spend more as well. Luxurious hotels such as the Terra Nostra hotel in Furnas, which has its own hot springs, usually go around 160€/night.

Most hotels will be around €75-€100/night.

Accommodation options are limited on the smallest islands. Make sure to book well in advance if you will be visiting those.

Food & drinks

Food is inexpensive on the islands.

A good meal can be found for €15 or even less.

A beer or a soft drink will set you back around €1. A bottle of wine in a restaurant will be around €15.

Language

The official language is Portuguese but English is also widely spoken. It is not that everybody speaks English fluently but sufficiently to give directions, help you in the stores and order food in restaurants.

You will also be able to book English spoken tours at the tourist attractions. Other languages such as French and German are also often available.

Travel Adapter

Portugal uses plug types C and F which are common in Europe. If you’re traveling from outside Europe you will likely need a travel adapter.

The voltage is 230V.

Tipping

Tipping is uncommon in the Azores, as in most other European countries.

Most restaurants in Europe include a service charge, this varies by property in Portugal.

Most tourist restaurants will add this service charge automatically, some other restaurants won’t.

You don’t need to tip if the service charge is added already. If it’s not you might consider rounding up the bill. This is what most Portuguese do if they leave a tip. As we mentioned, it’s not that common, which means many Portuguese will just pay the exact amount.

Tipping is more common in fancy restaurants where a 5-10% tip for good service is often given. (only if the service and food were up to standards) You won’t find these kinds of restaurants in the Azores, except for Ponta Delgada.

Travel Insurance

The Azores will certainly awaken the intrepid traveler in ourselves. You will find unspoilt beaches, caves that are waiting to get explored and beautiful hiking trails. At the end of the day you can jump in the natural swimming pools or relax in the geothermal hot springs to take in the stunning sunsets. A holiday in the Azores is enjoying nature at its best.

Overall, chances are slim that you will encounter any problems while enjoying the beauty of these islands but we do recommend to underwrite travel insurance to have peace of mind.

The standards of patient care and medical services in the Azores are more or less in line with those in the rest of Europe but are not evenly distributed across all the islands. There are hospitals on São Miguel, Faial, and Terceira. In case of more severe accidents, you may need to be evacuated to another island or for more complex cases to the mainland. This can result in unexpectedly high costs.

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.

Both SafetyWing and World Nomads offer good travel insurance. The latter is usually slightly more expensive but covers more adventurous sports. SafetyWing includes COVID-19 coverage.

COVID-19

At this time the Azores do not require COVID-19 insurance. You must only be able to provide a negative RT-PCR Molecular test taken in the last 72hrs before you board your flight.

COVID-19 insurances can give some peace of mind regarding last-minute cancellations or unexpected quarantine costs and aren’t necessarily more expensive than other travel insurances.

These travel insurances cover COVID-19:

  • SafetyWing: The coverage is valid for all new policies after August 1st 2020.  It works like any other illness which means that it won’t apply if you contracted the disease before your coverage started.  Tests are not covered unless requested by a physician.
  • N26 Premium: The travel insurances included with the N26 Premium cards, You and Metal, now include pandemic coverage.  You’re covered in case of trip cancellations, trip interruptions and emergency medical costs in case you need to quarantine or are diagnosed with COVID-19.

Insurances always come with some fine print.  We always recommend reading the T&C before underwriting travel insurance.

Fajã do Mero São Jorge Azores Portugal
We experienced good hiking weather in June

Best travel time

The seasons on the Azores are in line with those in Europe. The islands are a summer destination and are almost dead in the winter.

Here’s what you can expect in the different seasons.

Spring

Spring marks the end of the wet season. March knows heavy rainfall but the weather improves as the season moves on.

Temperatures are usually around 20 degrees Celsius with lows around 10 degrees Celsius at night.

By the time June starts the climate is very pleasant with only a few rainy days. June, July and August are the months that know the least precipitation.

The ocean water will be warmed up to 20 degrees Celsius. This might sound cold for you but it is warm enough for the locals to start dipping in the natural swimming pools on sunny days.

Many festivals take place in June. Make sure to stop by the tourist office in the airport upon arrival. They will be able to give you all the details.

We visited several islands in June and had only one completely sodden day over the course of almost 4 full weeks.  We had several days with overcast skies but we mostly enjoyed dry weather.

Summer

Summer is high season in the Azores. The islands aren’t yet that popular that they get overrun by tourist crowds but it’s the busiest period nevertheless.

July and August offer dry and sunny weather. September announces the start of autumn and knows twice as much rainy days as July and August.

These are the warmest months. Temperatures usually range around the mid-twenties during the day and mid-teens at night. The ocean temperature is around 22-24 degrees Celsius making this the best season to join the locals in the natural swimming pools.

Autumn

Weather is unpredictable in autumn and most rain falls in the fall and the winter. There are extended periods of rain and the islands are sometimes hit by storms.

The bad weather makes it more difficult to travel between the islands. The start of autumn marks the end of the ferry’s seasonal routes and the inclement weather often causes delays or cancellations of flights.

Temperatures are in the high teens during the day and drop to the low teens at night. It may feel colder because of wind and rain.

Winter

The islands are pretty much dead in the winter. Even locals escape the Azores to spend these months in better places.

Those that stay told us that the winter in the Azores is a long period of binge-watching Netflix.

This is the most unpleasant time to visit the archipelago. It is not only the coldest but also the wettest season.

Temperatures range around 15 degrees Celsius during the day and drop to 10 degrees Celsius at night.

How to get to the Azores

Because the islands are officially Portuguese they have good flight connections with Lisbon and Porto. Your itinerary will often involve a stop in either one of these cities.

But there’s an increasing number of direct flights from various countries such as the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and other countries.

We list the various options in this article and we explain how you can get a free flight when you make a stop in Lisbon or Porto.

How to travel around the Azores

With public transport limited you’re best off hiring a car if you intend to visit the islands’ many sights.

Car rental companies have offices in each airport as well as in all the ports. Read our car rental guide to learn more.

Traveling between the islands can be done with either boat or plane. The ferries are the cheapest option. Some routes operate year-round but longer routes are only serviced in high-season.

Flights are operating year-round, they’re more expensive but also much more efficient to travel between the more distant islands. There are several ways to save on your flights and it’s even possible to get a free intra-island flight. Here’s how to get a free intra-island flight. In addition we have several money-saving tips in our island hopping guide.

Azores itinerary

There’re numerous beautiful spots and interesting sights spread across the 9 Azores islands. Many travelers limit themselves to São Miguel and thus miss some of the best the archipelago has to offer.

You may have a hard time deciding which islands to visit or which sights to see.

To help you with your first trip we worked out this example itinerary that takes you along stunning places on 5 islands.

Organized tours

If you don’t want to travel independently you can join an organized tour. Tours range from 6 to 15 days. Some stay on São Miguel but you can find island-hopping itineraries as well.

We recommend taking a look at the various tours on TourRadar. This website makes it easy to compare tours from all tour operators. You can read reviews from past visitors and book with peace of mind.

Tourradar’s prices are the same, and sometimes even cheaper, than those you would get if you book direct.

Sete cidades Sao miguel Azores Portugal
The iconic view of Sete Cidades on São Miguel island

Highlights of the Azores

The Azores are a paradise for nature lovers. Each island is worth visiting but you won’t be able to do this unless you’re able to reserve several weeks.

If all you have is 1 or 2 weeks you will have to make choices. There are some things you shouldn’t miss.

Here’s our absolute TOP 5 of things to see and do on the Azores:

1. Sete Cidades (São Miguel)

This two-colored lake is the most picturesque of the archipelago. You will likely already have seen pictures of it on social media. Head up to one of the two viewpoints on a sunny-day to enjoy the stunning view and make your own instagram-worthy shots.

2. Whale Watching

If there is one animal that never fails to impress both young and old it is a whale. Whales roam around the islands all-year-round. Even the blue whale, the world’s largest species, can often be spotted in this area.

A trip to the Azores is a unique opportunity to spot the impressive creatures. Whale watching tours can be done from São Miguel, Pico and Terceira.

3. Furnas Hot springs (São Miguel)

The steaming geysers in Furnas are not to be missed. After a long day of hiking, you can relax in the naturally heated pools and afterward, you can eat the local specialty dish, Cozida das Furnas. This stew is prepared in the geysers.

4. Climb the Pico volcano (Pico)

The trip to the top is challenging and not for everybody but those tempted should do the hike. This is the highest mountain of Portugal and the views from the top are breathtaking.

If you won’t be hiking to the top it’s still worthwhile to make the trip to the island to see the mountain up close.

Algar Do Carvao Terceira Azores, Portugal
Algar do Carvão

5. Algar Do Carvão (Terceira)

The Azores house impressive lava tunnels and caves. This is something you can only witness in one other place on earth, Iceland.

This cave is 90 meters deep and a lake has formed at the bottom. The water is crystal clear and the view is truly breathtaking.

And more….

This top 5 was just a small selection of everything the islands have to offer. Here are some more articles you can read about the Azores.

Where to stay on the Azores

Plenty of small quaint hotels and unique Airbnbs are dotted across the 9 islands. Staying in these captivating accommodations will add to the charm of your trip.

We’ve created overviews of charming and qualitative Airbnb’s that get raving reviews of previous guests.

Have a look at the following articles to select your favorite Airbnb.