Is renting a car in the Azores absolutely necessary?
When you’re planning a trip, there’s always 1 thing involved and that’s transportation. First of all, you have to get to your destination and then you have to figure out how you’ll get around.
If you’re traveling with your own car, that’s pretty straightforward. When you’re flying, however, you have to look for other options.
Our trip to the Azores wasn’t any different.
We checked whether it was possible to get around with public transportation, but after looking into the various possibilities, renting a car in the Azores seemed the best option.
In this Azores blog post, we’ll tell you about everything you should know about Azores car rental and driving in the Azores.
So, make sure to continue reading.
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Renting a car in the Azores
Why rent a car in the Azores?
We usually opt for a rental car because we love the freedom that a car rental offers us.
You’re not bound to bus or train schedules, you don’t have to set your alarm to get to the station in time. You just leave whenever you’ve finished your breakfast.
Additionally, you also don’t have to lug your bags around the train station or bus terminal. All you need to do is swing your bags in the trunk and you’re good to go.
Once on the road, you can stop as often as you like to take a photo, to rest or just to enjoy the amazing view.
Renting a car might be more expensive than getting around by bus but you can (partially) save what you spend extra on a car by staying in cheaper hotels. If you don’t have a car you will want to stay in more centrally located hotels that go by premium prices. With the freedom of your rental car, you can avoid these hotels and simply pick any hotel that you like. If you’d like to hit the bars in the evening or grab a bite to eat, you just hop into your car.
Besides these factors, a few other reasons were at play in the Azores when we decided to rent a car for our Azores trip.
The Azores Islands may be small, but they’re not small enough to allow you to get everywhere by bike or on foot.
Moreover, the public transportation options are quite limited on most islands. Upon inquiring about the hours of the bus in the tourist office of São Jorge, we were told that there was only 1 bus per day. So, you won’t get very far that way.
The best alternative is a taxi, but those are relatively expensive.
The cost of a taxi ride can quickly exceed what it would cost to rent a car for 1 day in the Azores. That’s an easy choice to make, I think.
Can you rent a car at your destination?
We wouldn’t recommend waiting until you’re there to get an Azores rental car.
Not only are many vehicles already booked during the high season, which means you have fewer choices, or even that there are no cars left; it’s often also much easier to find a cheap car rental in the Azores in advance.
When we were waiting in line to collect our car we heard how another couple got quoted a price for a similar rental that was triple ours.
Reserving your car online allows you to compare the prices of the different car rental companies and book a car that suits both your budget and your needs.
Read also: 13 wonderful things to do in the Azores
In case you’re not able to go on your trip for whatever reason, most car rental companies allow you to cancel your rental car for free.
Which car to rent in the Azores
We drove around in a Renault Clio, a Nissan Micra and a VW Polo.
All of them are small cars, but they did the job. You will never be driving hours at a time on these islands so these cars are comfortable enough for the small trips that you do.
The majority of the cars that we saw on the Azores islands were about this size.
It’s possible to rent bigger cars but we wouldn’t advise doing so unless it’s really necessary. You sometimes encounter sharp turns in narrow roads and the bigger your rental car the more challenging it will become to pass oncoming cars in those narrow roads.
So, don’t make things unnecessarily difficult for yourself. Our small vehicle ended up being perfectly practical to maneuver through the small streets.
If for one reason or the other, you do choose to rent a bigger car, I would recommend avoiding the historic center of larger towns like Vila Franca do Campo. There are parking lots outside of the town center and you can walk from there.
Where to rent a car in the Azores
There’s no lack of car rental companies in the Azores. Most of them are local offices that I hadn’t heard of before. International car rental agencies are also present on the Azores islands but, in our experience, they were always more expensive.
The easiest way to compare the rates across the board is to use a well-known company like Rentalcars.com that compares the prices from all these agencies.
This gives you an immediate overview of all car rental companies and you can choose from a wide variety of different cars.
Below, we briefly describe our own experience with Rentalcars.
Rentalcars.com is a website where you can quickly and easily compare the prices of different rental companies. The site is one of the biggest of its kind, works with all large household names as well as most small niche rental car companies and, therefore, has a global offering.
In the Azores, too, you can rely on Rentalcars to compare the prices of no fewer than 17 different companies at once.
Booking via Rentalcars is very easy. It’s a very intuitive website and you can see all important things at a glance, such as the car details, the number of miles included (usually unlimited), the included insurance and the cancellation conditions.
Most cars can be canceled up to 2 days before the start of the rental.
Rentalcars does not automatically offer a full insurance policy, but you can get this as an additional option. In our experience, such full cover is not really necessary when renting a car on the Azores.
People drive safely and politely, as long as you be careful when navigating the sometimes narrow streets chances are slim you will damage the car.
We have never paid extra for this but if you want peace of mind it’s good to know that you can.
Make sure to check your insurances that come with your credit card before you pay the supplement. Some credit cards cover the excess of car rentals.
When renting our car we noticed how Rentalcars regularly has exceptionally low prices for car rentals on the Azores. For example, with them, a car rental cost € 51 for a week at São Miguel, a third of the price that we were offered on other sites and even cheaper than what I could find if I searched for prices directly with local companies.
I checked again when I was writing this article and now I saw even lower prices starting at € 30 for a whole week.
The quality and the mileage of the cars that we received varied but it was not that we were receiving end-of-life cars because we booked through Rentalcars. We also received some relatively new cars. In fact, the cheapest car we had, was a shiny brand new Volkswagen Polo with hardly any kilometers on the odometer.
By now, Rentalcars has lots of reviews at Trustpilot. Most of those are good, but there are also a few customers who are dissatisfied with the way Rentalcars handles things when something goes wrong.
We never had any problems with our rentals through Rentalcars so we can only say that we like them because of their intuitive website and their unbeatable prices. Below are the pros and cons gathered from our own experience and what we can find in the reviews from others.
- Unbeatable prices
- No hidden or extra costs. You can see everything while booking, including the details of the insurance policy
- Free changing and cancellation of your booking (usually up to 2 days beforehand).
- You can’t choose your exact car. The categories show an example model, but your actual car could be a similar car.
- No response to negative reviews on Trustpilot
With Rentalcars.com, you can quickly and easily find a rental everywhere in the world for a very affordable price. We’ve never had any issues with this service, but reviews do indicate that things may be difficult in case something goes awry.
Rentalcars doesn’t offer all-in insurance policy by default.
If you’d like extra peace of mind, you can get that during the rental process.
It’s hard to give an indicative price as this will depend on a whole range of factors. The type of vehicle you choose, and the period being the two most important. Our experience tells us that for a small car (type Renault Clio), in the shoulder season, you have to provide € 4 to € 5 per day.
How does the Azores car rental process go?
Our experience of renting a car in the Azores was very positive, everything went very smoothly.
All islands have rental offices at both the airports and seaports. This makes picking up and dropping off the car a breeze. If you’ve rented a car before you know that car-rental companies usually charge an infamous one-way drop-off fee if you leave your car in another location than where you rented it. It seems this fee is not charged in the Azores when you pick-up the car in the seaport and leave it at the airport of the same island, at least not in our situation.
Rentalcars provides you with a voucher that you have to show at the desk. Additionally, they also need your driver’s license, ID card (or passport) and a credit card. Lastly, you have to tell them your phone number, your place of residence and possibly an email address.
As we’ve mentioned before, Rentalcars gives you the choice to get an all-in insurance policy. We didn’t take this and politely said: “thanks but no thanks” when the car rental agencies offered us a similar full-cover insurance while picking up the car.
Once the administration process is finished, you receive the keys to your car, as well as a document that shows the current damage to the vehicle.
We drove around in brand new cars on some Azores island but on others, the car we received had a considerable mileage and quite a bit of damage both inside and out.
Even though we’ve never experienced people really checking for scratches when we returned the car, we do recommend thoroughly checking the car yourself before you leave the parking lot. We almost always found scratches and dents that were not marked on the paper.
If you want to be 100% sure you can take photos of the car’s condition when you get it, just in case any disputes arise afterward.
At Rentalcars, they almost always have a full-full arrangement, which means that you leave with a full tank and are expected to return the car with a full tank.
Make sure to quickly check the fuel level of your car before you leave the rental office. One time, ours wasn’t completely full. You can also take a photo of this if it isn’t full. That could be useful when you return the car.
Returning the car always went very smoothly. They briefly inspected the car and fuel level and a few minutes later everything was all set.
If you do an Azores island-hopping trip you can benefit from “Multi-Island-Hiring” if you use the same car rental agency on multiple islands. Here’s some more info on this:
At first, I wasn’t too thrilled to switch cars every 3 days.
I looked into alternatives but there aren’t many.
Some car rental companies will allow you to take your car on the ferry but even then you will have to return it to the same island at the end of your rental.
Car ferries are limited and except for the 3 central islands of Pico, Faial and São Jorge, the trip would take a long time. This makes this benefit partly worthless
Luckily the rigmarole I was expecting turned out to be not too bad after all, partially because of one aspect which the car rental companies refer to as multi-island-hiring.
If you use the same car rental agency on multiple islands the administrative paperwork is smaller for the second and subsequent rentals. Instead of having a deposit taken every time you get another rental car, it’s transferred and released after you return your last rental car in the Azores.
Make sure to mention this during your first rental. With your subsequent rentals you will need to show proof of the deposit that you paid for your first rental. What you need to show is the receipt of the credit card that you used to pay the security deposit. Make sure to keep it someplace safe and at your fingertips.
When you return your last car, don’t forget to have the deposit on your credit card released. They will need your credit card receipt one last time to do this.
You don’t need to rent directly with the car rental companies to use this benefit. You can do this even if you book with Rentalcars, as long as you use the same car rental agency for your different rentals.
Practical Azores travel tips
Below, we share a few other interesting and useful Azores travel tips.
Driving on the Azores
Driving abroad is obviously a bit different from driving in your home country, but driving on the Azores islands is a piece of cake.
Driving our Azores rental car was really easy and relaxed. The roads are relatively clear and the people drive courteously.
They have no toll roads in the Azores and traffic jams occur only if there are cows on the road 😀.
The quality of the roads is also relatively good in general.
At some attractions in the Azores, the last stretch is unpaved, but most of the time you can avoid that by parking your car a bit further away and walking that last section.
There’s more good news. You can park for free almost everywhere on the Azores. Only larger cities such as Ponta Delgada and Vila Franca do Campo have paid parking and parking meters.
How to find your way in the Azores?
When renting a car in the Azores, it’s not difficult at all to find your way. You’re on an island, so really getting lost is impossible.
All islands have 1 main road that encircles the island.
With the exception of São Miguel, you can drive around the islands in a maximum of 2 hours.
From that main road, secondary roads radiate out to all Azores tourist attractions.
You can get a map of the islands at the tourist office. In most cases, that map was sufficient to smoothly guide us to all the different destinations.
You can find tourist information centers at every airport and all the port buildings. Their office is usually located next to those of the rental car companies. They’re happy to tell you all about their island and, besides the map, can also offer you tips about local festivals and the many hikes in the Azores.
We encourage you to swing by the tourist information center on each island for more information. We really thought they provided useful information.
Sometimes, we also used the services of Waze.
Waze was practical mostly for finding some of the viewpoints (miradouros) which are usually not pointed out.
On some islands, our Azores rental car came with a GPS, but even then we barely used it.
So, a car with GPS is not absolutely necessary when traveling around the Azores. The road network is a little more complex on larger islands like São Miguel and Terceira, these are the only 2 islands where a GPS unit might be useful sometimes.
Fueling up your Azores rental car
In your home country, you may think it’s normal that you can fuel up your car day and night with your credit card, but you shouldn’t count on that in the Azores.
First of all, the gas stations aren’t open 24/7. They often open around 7 a.m. and close sometime between 9 and 10 p.m.
Secondly, they usually only accept debit and credit cards that are issued in Portugal.
Except on São Miguel where I was able to fuel up with my credit card 2 times, I always had to pay with cash. So make sure you always have cash on you.
Luckily, it’s not that difficult to withdraw cash in the Azores. There are several ATMs on all Azores Islands.
Please don’t waste your time comparing gas prices in the Azores. All gas stations in the Azores charge the exact same price.
Strangely enough, but we didn’t mind, this was lower than the price on the mainland of Portugal.
How to island-hop on the Azores?
You can go island hopping in the Azores by plane or by ferry. We used a combination of both.
First, we visited Faial, Pico, and São Jorge. From Pico to Faial it’s a boat ride of half an hour, from Pico to São Jorge the transfer takes an hour and a half.
After that, we continued to Terceira and São Miguel. You can also do this by ferry, but flying is much faster in this case.
It’s possible to take your car on the ferry.
There are multiple ferries per day and some of them have room for cars.
Before you do this, do make sure if it’s included in the rental conditions of your Azores car rental contract. Our own contract explicitly stated that it was allowed, but the car did have to be returned on the same island.
Sometimes booking your car for a longer period of time is cheaper, especially if you rent it for longer than a week. This means you can probably save some money if you can create an itinerary that works for you and where you can rent your car for longer than a week.
We ended up not doing this, since returning to the same island was quite a hassle and the time we would have lost didn’t make up for the money we would have saved.
In hindsight, switching cars takes only minutes, unless you save a lot of money it’s not worth jumping through hoops to take your car on the ferry.
If you do want to take your car on the ferry make sure to make advance reservations.
The number of ferries that can carry cars is limited, I would recommend reserving your spot well in advance if you don’t want to see your carefully crafted itinerary ruined by a fully-booked ferry.
You can find the ferry schedule on https://www.atlanticoline.pt/en/. This is also the place to buy your tickets in advance.
We wrote a complete article about everything you need to know about island hopping on the Azores.
Renting a car in the Azores is by far the best way to explore the islands.
This allows you to drive from one beautiful viewpoint to the next and discover these gorgeous islands at your own pace.
Have fun on this green archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Have you visited the Azores and do you have more tips about renting a car in the Azores, please let us know in the comments.