The Azores Islands are a part of Portugal, made of nine volcanic islands or 3 archipelagos: the Eastern Group (Santa Maria and São Miguel), the Central Group (Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge, Pico, and Faial), and the Western Group (Flores and Corvo). Best reached by a direct flight from Lisbon, the islands are known for their lush vegetation, beautiful landscapes, and unique fauna. 3 days in Azores Islands means you will need to pick one island; we chose to visit São Miguel, which was about 2.5 hours by flight from Lisbon.
Home to hot springs, beautiful beaches, and volcanic landscapes, the Azores Islands are known to have unpredictable, subtropical weather and the best time to visit them is in the summer months, June to September. While the rest of Portugal gets very hot during these months, the islands have the perfect climate for various outdoor activities such as hiking, birdwatching, scuba diving, and whale watching.
One of the best things about The Azores is that while they are a popular tourist destination but have not yet been as overdeveloped as some other destinations. They offer a unique blend of natural beauty, rich culture, and outdoor activities which makes it an ideal vacation spot. So, if you’re visiting Portugal and looking for a unique, off-beat destination to explore, 3 days in any one of the Azores Islands is a great idea.
São Miguel is the largest and most populous island in the Azores archipelago. The island is quintessential Azores, with volcanic craters, hot springs, and lush green pastures. The island is also home to several lakes, some of which are considered the most beautiful natural wonders of the Azores. To be honest, 3 days were just about enough to explore São Miguel, but I highly recommend the following
- Rent a car, it’s the best way to explore the islands. com is my favourite website to compare car rental prices. I always ensure to buy insurance from Rentalcover.com
- Be prepared to be greeted by unpredictable weather. This means, it could be foggy, rainy and cold on one day and sunny, warm and clear blue skies on another. While weather apps might predict a certain type of weather in one spot, it’s highly unlikely that it’ll change within a span of a few hours and that it might be opposite on another part of the island
- Ponte Delgada is the perfect location to stay if you want to be centrally located and have access to explore all key parts of the island in a span as short as 3 days. We chose to stay in a reasonably priced guest house called Vintage Place – Azorean Guest House
Day 1: West part of the island
Once you have a car, the island is not hard to explore. The distance from one end to the other is not a lot, and the roads are well developed and easy to drive on. Your day will consist majorly of visiting some of the best viewpoints around Sete Cidades, the twin crater lakes of São Miguel. The most fascinating part about these lakes is the difference in the colour of the two lakes; while one takes on a deep blue color, the other seems emerald-green. On this day, hiking will be a moderate amount so make sure to wear comfortable shoes and carry water as well as snacks with you. You’ll be treated to the most gorgeous views Azores Islands have to offer.
Start your day by visiting Miradouro da Boca do Inferno, translating into “The Hell’s Mouth Viewpoint”. Offering excellent vistas of not only the crater lake of ‘Lagoa de Santiago’ but also the Sete Cidades lakes in the backdrop, Lagoa Azul & Lagoa Verde, one has to be lucky to catch the best views from this location. Many times, even though you might have clear, blue skies, one of the lakes could be hidden under a blanket of lwo-lying clouds.
If you’re willing to take a brief hike, plan to visit the Miradouro Da Boca Do Ferno early in the morning, ideally before 9 am. You can park your vehicle in the lot on the main road and then walk down a relatively flat and simple trail for around 20 minutes, followed by a short sandy uphill path for about 10 minutes more. By arriving early, you will have the benefit of fewer people around and will be able to fully enjoy the beautiful views without the crowds.
When you leave from here, there are some additional viewpoints and hikes that are located on your way towards Sete Cidades. One of them is Caldera Grande, a volcanic crater lake which can be visited by taking a hike on one of the trails that lead to the crater. The hike is a moderate level of difficulty and takes about 3-4 hours to complete. It is recommended to wear comfortable shoes and to bring enough water and snacks.
If you’re not in the mood for a tough hike, skip it and head to two viewpoints – Miraduoro do Cerrado das Freiras, and Miraduoro da Lagoa de Santiago, both located right next to Caldera Grande. There isn’t much to do here except stop for a few shots, on the side of the road, before you head to the main viewpoint for the day – Miradouro da Vista do Rei, located about 20 min away.
This viewpoint offers panoramic views of the twin lakes, with the Lagoa Azul (Blue Lake) to the left and the Lagoa Verde (Green Lake) to the right. Located right next to the abandoned Monte Palace Hotel, which was a luxury hotel back in the day, one can only imagine the stunning views offered by the suites in the hotel when it was still operational. For the adventurous, a quick tour inside the abandoned (probably even haunted ) hotel is a great idea. We did it, and it was a unique experience!
The viewpoint is easily accessible by car, and there is a parking lot nearby. There is no hiking required to access the viewpoint. Take in the beautiful natural scenery and spend some time having a bite or a hot drink while you’re here at one the best spots for enjoying the peacefulness of the Azores Islands.
The last spot for the day is Ponta da Ferraria, about 25 min drive from Miradouro da Vista do Rei, this is a unique natural hot spring pool that is located in the ocean itself. A small portion of the sea is cordoned off by rocks, thereby creating a little pool. However, when the tide is high, the cold ocean water mixes with the hot spring, thereby making the pool inaccessible for people. This is why it is key to check the tide schedule before visiting. In addition to the hot spring pools, Ponta da Ferraria is also known for its beautiful coastal views and it’s a great spot for hiking. It is also a popular spot for scuba diving and snorkeling, as the waters of the Atlantic Ocean are rich in marine life.
In the evening, you can return to Ponta Delgada and enjoy a nice, calm dinner by the ocean in the city centre.
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Day 2: East part of the island
Today, you can head to Vila Franca do Campo marina (25 min drive from Ponte Delgada), from where you can take a whale watching tour. There are usually 3 departures in the day, one in the early morning, one early afternoon and one late afternoon. The activity usually takes about 2-3 hours, so we chose to start early morning. The boat tour goes along the coast further into the ocean, where, if you’re lucky, you will be able to see some of São Miguel’s best sealife, such as whales and dolphins, including the Sperm Whale, the Common Dolphin, the Bottlenose Dolphin, and the Risso’s Dolphin.
The peak season for whale watching in São Miguel is generally from June to October. During this time, the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean attract a variety of whale and dolphin species, making it the best time to see them. While the sightings of any wild animals cannot be guaranteed, there’s a high success rate of sightings because of the experienced guides who know the best spots to look for the animals. The boat also cruises along Vila Franca do Campo islet but doesn’t stop here.
If you choose to skip the whale watching tour altogether, you could just take a 20-minute boat ride from the pier to the Vila Franca do Campo islet, which is a destination for swimming, sunbathing, snorkeling, and diving. One of the main attractions on the island is the Pico do Ferro viewpoint, which offers panoramic views of the island and the surrounding ocean. Visitors can also take a hike to the top of the island’s volcano, where they can see the crater and the surrounding landscape.
The island is also known for its natural swimming pools, which are formed by volcanic rocks and filled with seawater. Visitors can take a dip in the pools and enjoy the warm water and the beautiful coastal views. The island also has a lighthouse, which is open to the public, and it offers beautiful views of the island and the sea.
In the second half of the day, head to Furnas Lake, 30 minutes by road from Vila Franca do Campo marina. Another volcanic crater lake, Furnas has a walking path around it which is a great place to enjoy some peaceful time amidst nature. A place for nature lovers, the lake is also often known for being surrounded by thick fog so check the weather before you head there. After the lake, head down to either (or both, if you wish) of the hot springs in Furnas Valley – Poça da Dona Beija (15 min drive) or Parque Terra Nostra (another 5 min ahead).
Poça da Dona Beija is where you will find 5 different thermal pools full of heated water from an iron rich water spring, known to have therapeutic properties. At a reasonable price of €8, you will be provided towels and a basket to store your belongings. You can even rent a locker if you wish. There is no restaurant or bar on the property, so be prepared to have your drinks/ food before entering. No alcohol is allowed on the property.
Parque Terra Nostra is more than just thermal pools, it has a beautiful garden that you can walk through and a restaurant to enjoy a quiet meal. The thermal pool itself feels like a large community pool, as compared to the smaller, more private pools at Poca da Dona Beija. But the botanical gardens located around the pool are the key attraction of this place. There, you can find local Azorean flora as well as plants from countries all over the world that have completely different climates.
Located hardly 5 minutes from Parque Terra Nostra is Caldeira das Furnas. After parking your vehicle, look for the signs leading to the calderas and continue to follow them until you reach the location. The calderas are small pools emitting strong smelling smoke and hot water. The site can be quickly explored by taking a short walk.
From here, a short 10-minute drive will lead you to Pico do Ferro viewpoint, located at an altitude of 570 meters, offering unobstructed views over the vast volcanic crater of Furnas Lake. There is also a hiking trail from here to the lake itself, but since you would have already visited the lake earlier in the day, this stop is only to enjoy the stunning vistas from a vantage point.
If you still have time left in the day, head to Gorreana Tea Factory, located only 12 minutes away from Pico do Ferro. If there’s no time, you may leave this for the next day.
Visiting Portugal from Spain? Find my Spain itineraries here.
Day 3: Central part of the island
In your 3 days in Azores Islands, you will see some of the most stunning lakes and experience numerous thermal pools and hot springs. On this day, you’ll begin by visiting yet another hot spring called Caldeira Velha. Unfortunately, when we visited, the place was closed for maintenance so we couldn’t experience this so called ‘hidden gem’, containing 3 man-made thermal pools with natural earth warmed water from a volcano, in the middle of a lush island paradise, with waterfalls, and tons of surrounding greenery. The entry fee is as little as €3 for adults – this allows you access to the site for 2 hours. The thermal pools are located about 25-minutes from Ponta Delgada.
Only about 10 minutes’ drive from here, you will reach yet another spectacular viewpoint in Azores Islands, Miradouro da Lagoa do Fogo. Not only is this a great viewpoint for Lagoa do Fogo (Lake of Fire) but also the starting point of one of the best hikes on the island. Once again, its highly likely that the lake is covered with a thick layer of clouds that have descended upon it so if you’re lucky, on a clear day, this hike is worth doing. The trail starts at the viewpoint, which offers a panoramic view of the crater lake, surrounded by lush vegetation. The trail then descends into the crater, passing through a diverse range of landscapes including forests, meadows, and volcanic rock formations. The hike takes approximately 2-3 hours each way and is quite challenging, with some steep sections and rocky terrain. You can choose to continue until the end of the trail towards the beautiful white sandy beach or return to the base, should you feel tired and unable to continue along the treacherous route. The views along the hike are extremely rewarding so I suggest to at least attempt a part of the hike.
The last stop for the day, assuming you’ve been unable to visit it the day before, is Gorreana Tea Factory, located about 25 min drive from the viewpoint. Known to be one of the oldest tea factories in Europe, the estate is considered an important part of the island’s cultural heritage. You could choose to take a free guided tour of the factory to learn about the various stages of tea production, taste and purchase tea produced from the factory, or simply enjoy a walk in the beautiful tea estates that offer phenomenal views of the tea plantations set against the backdrop of the Azorean coast.
Gorreana Tea Factory is only a 30-minute drive back to Ponte Delgada. While 3 days in Azores Islands can be very packed, you may choose to spend some more time which will not only allow you to cover everything at a more relaxed pace, but also cater to the unpredictability of the Azorean weather.