What to do in the Azores? The Azores are located in the Atlantic Ocean, roughly halfway between Europe and America. The islands are part of Portugal, but it is an autonomous region. The archipelago consists of nine inhabited islands, each with their own special things to see and do. This makes the Azores the perfect place for island hopping.
The Azores islands are an absolute paradise for nature lovers. You can enjoy wonderful walks, go caving, immerse yourself in the hot springs, go whale watching, swim with dolphins, and much more.
In short, I dare to say that this is the ideal place for nature and outdoor enthusiasts.
In this article, we share the best things to do in the Azores.
We recommend you don’t miss any of these during your trip.
Discover Algar do Carvão
The cave of Algar do Carvão is utterly unique. We were truly impressed, and apparently, you can only find similar caves in Iceland.
As we haven’t been there yet, Iceland remains one of the many destinations on our ever-growing bucket list, we cannot compare this cave with anything else we have seen before.
On top of the cave is a small visitor center. A commanding tunnel leads from the visitor center towards the volcanic cave. As soon as you exit the tunnel you get a first dramatic view of the cave.
The grotto is 90 meters deep. At the bottom is a lake formed by rainwater. Depending on the time of year it may be empty or it could be filled up to 14 meters high. The water is crystal clear and the view is breathtaking.
The cave is very damp all year round and water continuously drips down from the ceiling. A raincoat could be useful. Also, make sure to bring something a little warmer as it is only about 14 degrees down below.
You shouldn’t be afraid to encounter bats in this cave as there’re none.
The lava is so porous that the bat’s echolocation does not work.
This unique feature of the lava rock ensures very good acoustics and the cave is regularly used for concerts.
Where: This impressive cave is on Terceira.
Open: The cave opens in the afternoon at 2 PM or 2:30 PM. Here are the exact opening hours.
Admission: you pay €8. A combination ticket with Gruta do Natal costs €12. The Gruta do Natal is not a real cave, but a lava tunnel. It is less spectacular than the Algar do Carvão, but is still impressive to see how the flows of lava have created immense tunnels.
Look for fairies in Furnas do Enxofre
Furnas do Enxofre is an area with strong volcanic activity known as a fumarolic field.
I had never heard of this term either so let me explain what you can expect.
This is an area where several cracks in the earth’s crust, so-called fumaroles, emit steam and gasses from an underlying heat source. The soil is typically very warm. At Furnas do Enxofre it reaches about 95° Celsius.
The plumes of smoke and the associated smells already make it something to behold, but what made the whole thing very photogenic were the colorful mosses that can thrive in this special, somewhat chemical, ecosystem.
A small loop leads you around and over the cracks.
Although the area isn’t very large, I thought it was wonderful, and imagined myself in a fairy landscape.
Only the fairies were missing.
Where: This fairytale landscape is on Terceira.
Admire the view of Lagoa do Fogo
Lagoa do Fogo is a beautiful crater lake. Literally translated it means “Lagoon/Lake of Fire”. It’s the highest lake on the island and it’s located in a stratovolcanic complex in the center of the island.
Because of the altitude, it is best to plan your visit on a clear day. The viewpoint on the lake is located on the edge of the crater and is often covered by clouds.
On a cloudy day, you will find yourself with your head in the clouds and you won’t see a thing.
We visited the lake at sunset, and we captured some really exquisite photographs.
You can also hike to the shore of the lake.
The trail is 11km, back an forth, and except the first km’s which were strenuous and boring we really enjoyed it.
Here is a tip if you want to check beforehand whether it is worthwhile driving to the top. The website http://www.spotazores.com has several webcams, including one at the viewpoint at Lagoa do Fogo.
Where: This breathtaking crater lake is on São Miguel.
Enjoy the view of Sete Cidades
If you already have been dreaming away while viewing photos of the Azores there’s a big chance that one of the pictures featured the iconic blue and green crater lake of Sete Cidades.
The lake is shaped like an eight, and thus it seems like there are two lakes. One half of the lake is green, and the other is blue.
Read also: 3 days in Lisbon, a complete itinerary.
These twin lakes are probably the most photographed of the island group.
The clearly visible difference in color is caused by the strong growth of algae in one part of the lake, which makes it appear green.
There are two spectacular viewpoints, Vista do Rei and Boca do Inferno.
Plan your visit on a sunny day as then the color difference is most evident. On lesser days the viewpoints are often covered by a thick layer of clouds.
We advise heading to these viewpoints at the first opportunity. We only had one excellent day at the start of our week, the remainder of the week was so-so. We were glad we directly headed to Sete Cidades.
Perhaps you will have more luck with the weather than we had but I would advise taking your chance while you can.
Here is a tip if you want to check beforehand whether it is worthwhile driving to the viewpoints. The website http://www.spotazores.com has several webcams, including one at the viewpoint at Sete Cidades.
Where: The twin lakes can be found on São Miguel.
Visit the Miradoura da Boca do Inferno
The Vista Do Rei viewpoint is the most easily accessible but the one at Boca do Inferno is the most beautiful. Articles about the Azores will almost always be accompanied by a picture of the iconic view of Sete Cidades taken from the viewpoint at Boca do Inferno.
The Azores became popular thanks to a picture which was taken at this viewpoint and appeared in National Geographic.
Now that we have been here ourselves, we can fully understand this as the view of Sete Cidades from here is truly breathtaking.
Where? You find this amazing viewpoint on São Miguel. You park your car at the car park of Lagoa do Canário from where a small flight of stairs leads up to the viewpoint.
Stroll through the tea fields of Gorreana
These tea fields are smaller than those in Malaysia or India but they are well worth a visit. It is precisely because of this small scale that you get a good picture of the manual process to harvest the tea leaves and process them.
You can see how they pick tea and you can freely roam around in the factory where the tea is made.
Chá Gorreana is the oldest and one of the few tea plantations in Europe. They’re worth a visit, if only for that reason.
Where: Chá Gorreana is located on São Miguel.
Open: Open daily, in the week from 8 AM till 7 PM, weekend from 9 AM till 7 PM
Go bird watching on Fajã Dos Cubres
Fajã Dos Cubres is a beautifully located lagoon where many seabirds can be spotted. It lies on the rugged northern coast of the island of São Jorge.
We especially liked the combination of the serene lagoon beside the jagged steep mountainside.
Where: This idyllic laguna is on São Jorge.
Climb the Pico volcano
At 2,351 meters, the Pico volcano is the highest mountain in Portugal.
Read also: 74 Portugal facts that will amaze you.
When the mountain is not hidden in the clouds, you can see it anywhere on Pico. It is even visible from the neighboring islands of Terceira and São Jorge.
The brave ones among us can conquest the mountain. This can be done independently or with a guide. It’s not an easy way to the top. At times it is quite steep and you have to scramble over large boulders. If you keep up the pace, it’ll take about three hours for the climb, and four hours for the descent.
Where: Pico mountain is located on the eponymous island Pico.
Open: 24/7 – You can climb the mountain at night to get in time to the top for sunrise and you can also camp at the top of the mountain.
Admission: Everyone is obliged to register at the mountain house. You will receive a GPS which can be used to trace you in case of an emergency. The registration fee is determined by how far you want to climb. It will cost €20 to go all the way to the top. Taking a guide costs about €50 to €60 per person.
If you prefer to take it easier and at the same time want to increase your chances of fantastic photographs in good weather you can choose to do a guided tour with an overnight stay on the mountain.
Wander around the lunar landscape of the Capelinhos volcano
The Capelinhos volcano erupted about 50 years ago and created a desolate lunar landscape. This area looks really extraterrestrial and contrasts sharply with the predominantly lush green island.
Where: This extraterrestrial experience can be found on Faial.
Open: The region can be visited 24/7 – The visitor center is open:
1 November to 31 March
Monday : closed / Tuesday – Friday : 10 AM – 5 PM / Weekend : 2 PM – 5h30 PM
1 April to 31 October
Everyday: 10 AM – 6 PM
Admission: The region can be visited for free.
Admission for the visitor center: € 10 adults / Children age 7 to 14 and seniors +65 enjoy a preferential rate of € 5. Children under the age of 6 can enter for free.
The visitor center houses a small museum and shows a movie about the eruption. Inside the visitor center is also the entrance to the lighthouse.
There are other tickets available if you only want to see the film, or just climb the lighthouse.
Walk around the crater of the Caldeira volcano
This is an enormous crater of two kilometers in diameter on the island of Faial.
The summit is often in the clouds, but on clear days the view of the crater and the surrounding area is nothing but astounding. During very clear conditions you can even see the Pico volcano.
There is a viewpoint on the top of the Caldeira volcano. This is also the place where the trail starts that leads you around the crater.
There is also the option of descending into the crater with a guide.
Where: The Caldeira crater is on Faial.
Go dolphin and whale watching
Did you know that in the Azores, you have a 95% chance of seeing dolphins, and a 75% chance of seeing whales?
From February to April you can even spot the blue whale, the largest whale on earth.
Adults of this species can weigh up to 170 tonnes.
A dolphin and whale tour should be at the top of your list of things to do in the Azores.
The tour is canceled in case of bad weather, so don’t wait until the last day to book your excursion.
Where: Nearly every island has tour operators. You have the best chance of spotting these fantastic animals with tours leaving from the islands of Pico, Faial, or São Miguel.
Open: Depends on the operator, most of them do two trips each day. One in the morning, and one in the afternoon.
Admission: The price of an excursion is about €50 to €60 per person.
We did an excursion with Terra Azul on São Miguel. Unfortunately, we were not lucky enough to see whales but it was still a wonderful experience. A pod of dolphins swam along our Zodiac for a while. They were really curious and came really very close.
We booked our tour on GetYourGuide. We love GetYourGuide because they’re flexible. Sometimes your plans change unexpectedly in which case its good to know that most tours booked on GetYourGuide can be canceled for free up to 24 hours in advance.
Admire the steaming geysers and bathe in the hot springs in Furnas
After several days of hiking, you may be looking forward to a relaxing day. There are several natural swimming pools on the Azores islands but the ultimate relaxation can be found in the natural hot springs in Furnas.
Another not-to-be-missed sight in Furnas is the steaming geysers that are used to prepare the local specialty dish, the Cozida das Furnas, which is a kind of stew. During your visit to Furnas, you can visit these geysers and immerse yourself in a hot water spring afterward.
You must make a reservation in advance if you also want to taste the Cozida das Furnas because the stew is cooked for about 6 hours in the geysers.
Where: The village of Furnas is located on São Miguel.
Open: Parque Terra Nostra closes at 6 PM or 7 PM. The Poça da Dona Beija natural pools are open late. They only close at 11 pm allowing you to bathe under the starry sky.
Admission: Poça da Dona Beija : € 6 / Parque Terra Nostra : € 8 (this includes a visit to the large and beautiful botanical garden)
Discover the most beautiful waterfalls
Our island-hopping trip in the Azores also brought us to many beautiful waterfalls. Most are found on the island of São Miguel.
We think you should definitely visit the following waterfalls:
Cascata de Moinhos (Porto Formoso)
This waterfall was our absolute number 1.
We don’t think it has a name, or we don’t know it, that’s why we named it after the nearby village.
There is no signpost, which adds to the charm, as it is not yet discovered by tourists. We were absolutely alone. Kris even took a dive.
Where: On the island of São Miguel, behind the large car park of the Praia dos Moinhos.
There is a campsite behind the car park, if you cross the campsite you will find the steps that lead down to the waterfall.
Salto do Prego
Number 2 is the Salto do Prego. You reach this waterfall after a scenic walk of about 4.5 km back and forth. You can either return the same way or you can head right at the junction on the way back. If you do so you will pass the abandoned and charming village of Sanguinho.
We had read that there was a lot of wildlife to be seen during this hike, but besides a load of chickens and a number of goats, we didn’t see any other animals.
Even so, the walk was still enjoyable, even without the animals, and the waterfall is really beautiful.
Where: On the island of São Miguel. The walk starts in the village of Faial Da Terra.
The waterfalls in the Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeirões
There are several waterfalls in this national park.
Unfortunately, we did not have enough time for a walk through the park, but even a quick stop in the car park is enough to view the first waterfall which is right at the entrance of the park.
The waterfall can even be seen from the road.
The car park is also where the trails start that lead into the park. Those trails will take you along several other waterfalls.
If we ever go back, we’re certainly going to go for a hike in this park.
Where: On São Miguel Island in the Natural Park Ribeira dos Caldeirões
Salto do Cabrito
Another more popular waterfall is the Salto do Cabrito.
We had heard it could be quite busy, but we were fortunate to have the place to ourselves for the first minutes we were there.
Despite the many positive reviews of this waterfall, we only put it in fourth place.
It could have been quite charming had the nearby power plant not produced this high-pitched annoying noise all the time.
The waterfall in itself is nice but this is not a place where you can relax and unwind. If you want to quietly enjoy the area than the other waterfalls are a better choice.
Where: On the island of São Miguel, close to Ribeira Grande
We hope that this article about the Azores has inspired you to visit these as yet little-known treasures in the Atlantic Ocean. It’s an ideal destination if you’re looking for an active nature vacation.
Let’s hope these islands will never become as popular as some other nearby sunbathing destinations.
The unpredictable weather might certainly help. Still, we would encourage you to plan a visit now while it’s still relatively unspoiled.
We already noticed a big difference in between São Miguel and the other islands.
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