This São Miguel itinerary will show you the best of this unspoiled island in the middle of the Atlantic.
Whether you have 3 days in São Miguel or a full week, you will see many of the highlights and the hidden gems that the island has to offer.
São Miguel is the largest island of the Azores archipelago. While it is still relatively small it does require more than 1 hour to drive from the eastern to the western tip. Therefore we also share advice on where to stay during your vacation.
Are you ready to discover some of the earth’s most spectacular wonders?
Best tips for your São Miguel trip
Here is an overview of the most important things to know before traveling to São Miguel.
Where to stay:
Ponta Delgada: Casa do Contado
Furnas: Furnas Boutique hotel
Here you can find all our Azores travel posts.
The perfect São Miguel itinerary
We start our trip in Ponta Delgada. This is the largest city of the Azores and the city serves as its capital.
In total, the Azores has 9 islands.
The Azores are part of Portugal, although they’re located about 1,500 miles from Lisbon.
They are a Portuguese autonomous region, meaning they have their own government and laws.
The Azores were discovered in the 14th century and became a colony of Portugal in the 16th century. Here you can find more information about the Azores islands.
3 days in São Miguel
Here we share a São Miguel itinerary for 3 days.
Day 1 Ponta Delgada, Lagoa das Sete Cidades and the beach of Mosteiros
We start our exploration close to home with a visit to Ponta Delgada.
Ponta Delgada is located on the west coast of São Miguel Island.
The capital is a very interesting destination to visit with its mix of ancient and modern styles.
Visitors can explore different monuments and historical buildings, go for a walk on gorgeous beaches or simply enjoy delicious local dishes.
The historical city center is quite compact and by just getting lost in the city’s charming cobblestone streets you will automatically see many of the major sights.
These include the historic Portas de Cidade at the main square and the 16th century forte de S. Bras which used to defend the city from pirates.
Other historical structures that are worth seeing are the Santuário do Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres and the presidential palace that can be found opposite the small but beautiful botanical garden.
Make sure to also take a peek into the Mercado da Graça, the local farmer’s market.
Saturday is market day and then all stalls are open, but there are also more than enough stallholders on other days to make a visit worthwhile. You will see all kinds of fruits, veggies, and cheeses, many produced regionally on the islands.
Make sure to try some of these fresh delicacies, don’t forget that the Azores are famous for their cheese.
Next, we jump into our rental car to explore some of the sights close to the city.
Lagoa das Sete Cidades
Not to miss are the two-tone lakes at Sete Cidades. It is the iconic sight of the Azores which you will find on many postcards. It is located in the northeastern end of the island.
The lakes are often referred to as just Sete Cidades.
This is actually a small village on the western shore of the lakes. The village has a white-washed church and some houses surrounded by lush green fields dotted with cows and sheep.
To see the magical beauty of the lakes you do not have to drive to the village. There are several viewpoints from where the lakes can be seen. These are the two best.
Vista Do Rei
The Miradouro da Vista Do Rei is the easiest of the two to visit. You can almost see the view from your car.
Because the viewpoint is so popular, there are now 2 parking lots. One short-term parking right at the vista. It is limited to 20 minutes which should be enough to take in the spectacular view and take some pictures. Thanks to the time limit you now usually find a parking space in this lot.
If you need more time, or if this parking is full, you can park at the long-term parking which is 900 meters further down the road. It is well signposted.
Boca do Inferno
The view from the Miradoura da Boca do Inferno is perhaps even more spectacular than that from Vista Do Rei. However, even if the view is not better, the experience from this viewpoint will still be more enjoyable as it is less touristy and not next to a road.
Getting to the viewpoint here requires a short hike including a flight of stairs.
The vista has become more popular since it was featured in National Geographic but once you arrive at the point you will see that there are plenty of small spur trails that allow you to spread out and avoid crowds.
Something to keep in mind: The fickle weather in the Azores
The islands have a climate that is very much influenced by the surrounding sea, which means that it can be dramatically different from day to day. Speaking of 4 seasons in one day would be an exaggeration, but keep in mind that the weather can completely reverse in the course of a day.
We planned our visit to Sete Cidades on day 1 because this is one of the highlights. This way you can still adjust your schedule if the weather is bad on your first day.
Once you’ve had enough of the view, hop back in your car and follow the road down to the quaint village of Sete Cidades.
The road will lead over the bridge separating Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Verde. You can park there to take a closer look at this phenomenon.
Then, if you still have the energy and the time you can continue to the spectacular beach of Mosteiros. It impresses with a series of lava rock formations that fringe the shore. Weather permitting you can enjoy a spectacular sunset at this black sandy beach.
Mosteiros is only a 15-minute drive from Sete Cidades.
- A trail leads from the Vista Do Rei viewpoint to the town of Sete Cidades. It is not the best hike of the island but it offers several nice views at the beginning and the end. The hike is a little over 7 kilometers long and largely follows a dirt road. It is a linear trail, between the start and endpoint is a height difference of 278 meters.
Day 2 Whale watching
The Azores are one of the best places on earth to go whale watching. This means that a whale safari should not be missing on any Azores itinerary.
Whale watching in the Azores
Here are some quick facts about Whale watching in the Azores.
- Whales can be spotted all year round although April to October are considered to be the best months. The types of whales that can be seen vary over the months, you can read more about it here.
- Whaling tours are usually done on zodiac boats. These boats are small, fast, and manoeuvrable. They can get you close to the whales (or at least as close as you’re allowed to). Because of their speed and size the ride can be bumpy at times. If you prefer going with a bigger boat, click here.
- Most tours last 3 hours
- Tours are leaving from either Ponta Delgada or Vila Franca do Campo.
- Companies usually offer a tour that leaves in the morning and one in the afternoon. The chances of spotting the animals are equal in the morning and afternoon.
- Did you know that you can also go swimming with wild dolphins in the Azores?
Check prices and availability:
Whale watching tours
Or read our full posts about whale watching in the Azores here.
We encourage you to plan your whale watching excursion early during your trip.
Tours may get canceled if the ocean is too rough. Planning your trip during one of the first days allows you to reschedule it and get a second chance.
We recommend booking the tour that leaves from Vila Franca do Campo.
These tours include a trip around the impressive islet, Ilhéu de Vila Franca, in front of the coast.
The islet is the remains of an old volcano and houses one of the most stunning beaches of São Miguel.
The beach is shaped like a crescent moon and is located within the crater.
The inside of the crater is only connected to the ocean by a small canal so the water is always calm. This makes it probably the most family-friendly beach of São Miguel.
The beach is small and so the number of visitors is limited.
If you want to visit this beach during peak season you may want to do it first thing in the morning as it may have reached its max capacity after you come back from the whale excursion.
Day 3 Lagoa do Fogo, Cascata do Salto do Cabrito, hike to de lakeshore and Ribeira Grande
Today we are heading to another impressive crater lake: Lagoa do Fogo.
Lagoa do Fogo
Lagoa Das Sete Cidades is the most known of the two but we think that Lagoa do Fogo is not inferior. The opposite may be true.
The crater lake is at 575 meters above sea level the highest of the island. There are several viewpoints at the crater rim that you can drive to. These viewpoints are significantly higher, the highest being at 949 meters, and thus often shrouded in clouds.
A webcam at the top of the crater will tell you whether it is a good time to drive to the top or not.
The drive-up is really only worth it if there are no clouds.
These are the most popular viewpoints:
- Miradouro do Pico da Barrosa: the highest viewpoint. It is located along EN5-2A. You can drive to this viewpoint and there is a small parking lot
- Miradouro da Lagoa do Fogo: Also located along EN5-2A, a little lower than the previous viewpoint. There’s a trail that leads from this viewpoint to the lakeshore. This is different from the “official” trail to the lake that we discuss below. Be careful if you go down because the path can become very slippery.
- Miradouro do Pico da Vela: Another view on the lake from the nearby Pico da Vela which is 862 meters high. The trail to this viewpoint is a 9km out and back trail with an elevation gain of 344 meters. It starts near Porto Formosa.
Cascata do Salto do Cabrito
When driving up or down to the first 2 viewpoints, you can stop at the Cascata do Salto do Cabrito. A pretty 20-meter high waterfall. Next to the waterfall are stairs leading to a platform at the top from where you have the most impressive sight.
Hike to the lakeshore
It is also possible to hike to the lakeshore and we really advise doing so if you can.
We found the first part of the hike to be rather boring but that all changes once you arrive at the irrigation channel.
The hike follows this channel for quite some time and you will eventually arrive at a valley called Ribeira da Praia.
The small houses you see in the valley abstract water and pump it into the irrigation channel.
From there it is only a short walk to the shore of the lake.
You can end the day in Ribeira Grande.
It’s a charming little town. At the heart are a nice park and the iconic bridge of the 8 eyes.
In the old town, you can choose from several restaurants and bars for a good meal.
- If you won’t be hiking you can spend the afternoon at the Praia de Santa Barbara near Ribeira Grande. A huge elongated black sandy beach. You can opt to relax at the beach but if you’re more of an active person the watersports rental shops are for you. It’s also possible to take surfing lessons.
- While driving from Lagoa do Fogo to Ribeira Grande you also pass the thermal baths of Caldeira Velha. Here you have 3 thermal pools, each has another temperature. The unique location of the baths in the middle of nature makes them particularly picturesque. There’s even a waterfall flowing in one of them.
Read more about Caldeira Velha here.
São Miguel itinerary 4 days
Here is what to do if you have 4 days in São Miguel.
Day 4 hiking, canyoning, surfing, paddle boarding or kayaking
We have kept this day free so that you have time to do some of the activities on the island.
Here are some suggestions:
There are numerous fabulous walks on the island of São Miguel. The island has 29 officially marked trails.
The shortest is just over 2 km and the longest is 15 km. Here we describe some of the trails that are worth exploring.
Canyoning is a fun activity for people who are looking for adventure.
When canyoning you will not only see the island’s dramatic landscape but really experience it. It involves rappelling up mountains and waterfalls and abseiling, jumping, and sliding back down.
Some tours also involve a zipline.
There are some tours going to the Ribeira dos Caldeirões natural park while others head to Salto do Cabrito.
Check prices and availability:
Canyoning tours overview
Ribeira Grande is the place you want to be for surfing.
Both Santa Barbara beach and Monte Verde beach usually have good waves for surfing.
These are however not the only beaches where you can hit the waves.
São Roque, Pópulo, and Ribeira Quenta, all located on the southern side of the island, are also known to provide good surfing conditions.
The Santa Barbara Surf school can take care of all your surfing needs and, as its name says, is also providing lessons.
You can also rent a SUP board at Lagoa das Sete Cidades.
SUP’ing is not only a great workout that is good for the whole body, but it is also an excellent way to connect with nature.
The SUP rental office is located in Sete Cidades, next to the blue lake.
Check prices and availability:
Paddle Board rental
If SUP’ing sounds a little bit too challenging then kayaking might be something for you.
Kayaks are rented from the same location in Sete Cidades and are an equally good way to explore the beautiful lake at your leisure.
Check prices and availability:
Kayaking Sete Cidades
You can also join a guided tour from the marina at Vila Franca do Campo to explore the gorgeous islet situated in front of the coast.
Check prices and availability:
Guided kayak tour
São Miguel itinerary 5 days
Day 5 Furnas
Today we head to Furnas. Furnas is located in the eastern part of the island of São Miguel.
It is one of the oldest municipalities in São Miguel.
The area has been inhabited since Celtic times and its first settlers were probably people from southern Europe who wanted to escape barbarian invasions. Today the city has 4000 inhabitants.
On top of its rich history, it also has a wonderful landscape, with beautiful mountains and beautiful views.
You can start by visiting the Lagoa das Furnas, a large scenic crater lake located a little outside of the city. This is also where you can see the Caldeiras da Lagoa das Furnas.
This is where they prepare the famous Cozida das Furnas.
There is a small entrance fee to access this area.
Caldeiras das Furnas
In downtown Furnas you will come across another group of Caldeiras, the Caldeiras das Furnas.
Here you can hike for free in between the boiling mud pools.
Depending on what time you’re there you might see persons selling cooked corn cobs. These were cooked in bags in the mud pools.
The mud pools might be good for preparing food but they’re probably a little too hot for a mud bath.
To enjoy the warm pools yourself you can go to either Parque Terra Nostra or the Poça da Dona Beija.
Poça da Dona Beija
Poça da Dona Beija has 5 thermal pools of different temperatures.
There’s a small entrance fee. You can visit it on your own or with a guided tour that includes a traditional Cozida das Furnas meal.
The advantage of a tour is also that it includes transportation.
We found it rather hard to find a parking spot for our car near the baths.
Check prices and availability:
Poça da Dona Beija tours
Terra Nostra baths
The Terra Nostra baths are located in the beautiful Terra Nostra garden.
Here you find 3 iron-enriched thermal pools.
One large pool is suitable for swimming and 2 smaller ones act more like hot tubs.
The smaller pools are hotter while the temperature of the water in the main pool gets warmer the closer you get to the source.
There’s also a small entrance fee that also covers the garden.
It’s really worth exploring this magnificent garden before or after you’ve relaxed in the pool.
Guests of the Terra Nostra Garden hotel have free access to the pool and can also access the pool outside the regular opening hours.
Check prices and availability:
Furnas Boutique hotel
In addition to the Terra Nostra Garden hotel, there is one other hotel in Furnas that has its own thermal pools.
The Furnas Boutique Hotel. This is also where we stayed during our last visit and we can certainly recommend the place.
The hotel is not cheap but being able to relax in the thermal pools after an active day is a real treat.
For one of the best views on the Lagoa Das Furnas make sure to also head to the viewpoint at Pico do Ferro.
- If you have the time we highly recommend hiking the loop around Furnas lake. The trail is just over 9 kilometers and completely flat. It’s an easy trail that will be enjoyed by both young and old. You can also make a small detour to include the Salto do Rosal.
- The Pico do Ferro viewpoint can be reached by car but if you want you can also hike there. The hike starts near the hot springs at the lake and follows a steep trail up the mountain. In a little over a kilometer you climb from a height of 300 meters to the peak of Pico do Ferro at 540 meters.
- The Cascata da Ribeira Quente is a beautiful waterfall a 10-minute drive from Furnas on the road to Fogo beach. The waterfall is a bit hard to spot from the road. If you don’t know where it is you will certainly miss it. Read more about it here.
Day 6 Nordeste
Today we will spend the day in the rugged Nordeste region of the island.
The ring road at this part of the island is much more winding and you will pass several impressive viewpoints. Not only the views are impressive by the way. The viewpoints themselves are also beautifully landscaped.
You have Ponta Da Sossega, Ponta da Madrugada, Miradoura do Cintrão, the Farol do Arnel, porto de Santa Iria, and many more… It’s worth stopping at all of them as it’s hard to pick a winner.
Ribeira dos Caldeirõs
Here is also where you find the beautiful natural park of Ribeira dos Caldeirõs.
The name Ribeira dos Caldeirões translates into “Stream of Boiling Cauldrons,” which is indicative of its geography.
The entrance of the park is at the mouth of a valley carved by volcanic activity.
Lava flows caused by volcanic eruptions have created deep gullies and ravines which are full of water during the rainy season, while streams running through them provide fresh water for drinking and fishing.
The park has amazing trails that are waiting to be explored.
Hikers will have numerous photo opportunities of the tropical lush green scenery with impressive waterfalls and restored water mills.
Depending on the kind of hike you did in Ribeira dos Caldeirõs you will still have time to stop by the tea factory Chá Gorreana.
This is a relatively small tea plantation where many things are still done by loving hands.
You can freely walk around the plantation and you’re even welcome inside the factory where you can observe the manual process.
There is also a 3.4 km trail that will give you magnificent views of the tea plantation.
São Miguel itinerary 7 days
Day 7 beaches and hiking
By now you have seen most of the island.
But don’t worry, there’s still plenty to do.
São Miguel counts plenty of idyllic beaches, you may have come across a few of them already but there are many more waiting to be explored.
We have a list of excellent beaches here.
You can pick the one that suits you most or you can opt to make this last day a beach-hopping day.
There are also many trails that are still waiting to be explored.
One that we haven’t mentioned yet but absolutely love is the one to Salto do Prego.
The waterfall is beautiful and also the trail that leads there is absolutely amazing.
The hike offers several excellent views of the valley and also leads past the lost village of Sanguinho.
You can read more about this hike here.
Another short but rewarding hike is the one to Lagoa do Congro.
Lagoa do Congro is a small picturesque late and if you come early in the morning or late in the afternoon when there are fewer crowds, you may hear and see wildlife.
São Miguel travel tips
Best time to visit São Miguel
Although you can visit São Miguel all year, the best time is during spring and summer.
Here you can find more info about the best time to visit São Miguel.
How many day in São Miguel?
I would aim for 7 days if you have the time. With 7 days you have the time to also do some of the hikes or other activities.
An absolute minimum to see all the sights is 5 days.
How to get to São Miguel
Most flights to the Azores leave from either Lisbon or Porto but because of the growing tourism, there are more and more direct flights from other places.
There are for example direct flights from the United States, Canada, the UK, and the Netherlands.
Renting a car in São Miguel
The best way to discover the Azores is with a rental car. Public transport is very limited and with public transport, it is very difficult to reach all the sights. There are also taxis but compared to the rental cars they are expensive.
Car rental companies have offices in all airports as well as in all harbors.
The process of switching cars when island-hopping went faster than expected.
Read all about renting a car in the Azores in our detailed guide.
Going independent or joining an organized tour
With a rental car, it is easy to explore São Miguel on your own.
Driving is really relaxed and the island is not that big and has few roads. It is almost impossible to get lost.
But if you don’t want to travel independently you can join also join one of the organized tours.
There is a whole range of tours that show you all the highlights of this island in 6 to 8 days. In addition, if you would decide to also visit some of the other Azorean islands, you can choose from island-hopping tours as well.
Here you can find an overview of the best São Miguel tours.
Where to stay in São Miguel?
São Miguel is the largest island in the Azores. Although still relatively small it makes sense to pick two bases to enjoy your time to the fullest. This way you limit the time in your rental car and you have more time to enjoy the outdoors.
Good bases are Ponta Delgada to explore the western part of the island and Furnas to explore the eastern part.
For this specific itinerary, we suggest staying in Ponta Delgada for days 1 to 4 and then moving to Furnas.
São Miguel, the largest and most populated island in the Azores archipelago, is a true traveler’s paradise. The island’s stunning landscapes – which range from rugged mountains to verdant farmland to sparkling coastlines – are crisscrossed by hiking trails and roadways.
The island is home to beautiful beaches like Praia da Vitória (the largest beach on the island) and one of Europe’s most spectacular lakes, Sete Cidades.
As you can see the mountainous island has a lot to offer to visitors: the lush green forests, the deep blue sea, and many historical sites such as castles and churches.
The Azores used to be an important stop for Portuguese explorers on their journeys around the world, and today it still retains its magical appeal for tourists from all over the world.