A land that is far remote in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, São Miguel holds a canny resemblance to Plato’s myth of Atlantis. Rising out of the ocean, it’s the biggest island in the Azores. It’s no wonder that São Miguel is also the most adventure-filled - with underground caves, volcanic craters, thermal hot springs and winding hiking trails all itching to be explored.
It sounds unbelievable that an island in the Azores that only takes about four hours to drive across from one end to the other can hold so much. Yet, the beauty of São Miguel is accessible for any type of traveller - whether you’re solo, a couple, or a family looking to soak up the unique and dramatic nature of the Azores. Curious? Follow me on Instagram and YouTube for more adventures!
Know Before You Go
Ponta Delgada Airport (PDL) is the biggest airport in the Azores, located on São Miguel - which is also the biggest island in the Azores, so there will be more flights available to it.
From continental Europe, regular direct flights are available from Portugal in Lisbon and Porto, as well as London, UK. It takes about 2.5 hours to fly from Lisbon.
If you’re planning to pair your Azore Island trip with a Lisbon trip, check out our other itinerary for Lisbon and the surrounding areas here.
Due to the diversity of the Azore Islands environment, you’ll often hear from the locals that you can experience all four seasons in one day. Keeping that in mind, São Miguel’s temperature is generally mild, with high humidity.
In the winter months, the São Miguel’s average temperature rarely goes below 10°C, as well as gets high up to 16°C. If you’re not one for rain, as most activities in the islet are outdoors, it’s best to avoid winter here and in the rest of the Azores.
In the spring from April onwards, while the island of São Miguel still tends to be wet, there are still low crowds with the notorious mild temperature being the norm.
The summer months from July to September, are the warmest and driest season. This makes it the perfect time to visit São Miguel and the Azores, especially if you enjoy swimming. While August is the hottest month of the year with the most daily amount of sunshine (9 hours!), the temperature averages 22°C.
Autumn on São Miguel and the Azore islands can be a mixed bag - swinging from winter winds in the morning to sweltering humidity by the afternoon.
It’s best to have your own means of transportation - as that will give you plenty of freedom to zip between the sparse destinations around São Miguel in the Azores. Generally, the limited public transit on the various islands isn’t really reliable.
You can rent a car from each individual island and explore the sublime surroundings. We prefer to rent a car with Rent a Car - as they have multiple locations and various types of vehicles to choose from. However, it’s best to book a car well in advance for São Miguel, as there’s a limited amount, especially depending on which season you travel.
What is the best Azores Island to Visit?
The Azores are a collective islet of 9 islands under Portugal.
They can be categorized into three groups:
- The Eastern Group = São Miguel and Santa Maria island
- The Central Group = Graciosa, Sao Jorge, Faial, Pico, and Terceira
- The Western Group = Corvo and Flores island
In this itinerary, we’ll be focusing on exploring the main big island, São Miguel for a week. If you have more time or want to combine the other islands, then check out our itinerary for the second week to be spent island-hopping around the Azores.
Feel free to adjust the itinerary to your interests and the time that you have for your holiday, or to follow it as you like!
Day 1: São Miguel’s Capital city of Ponta Delgada
No matter which side of the plane you’re sitting on, if you can peek out of the window, your excitement will be heightened just by seeing the lush island landscapes rising out of the ocean where your flight is about to descend. Welcome to São Miguel, the biggest island in the Azores. Though here in the Azores, biggest doesn’t mean most bustling - as all over São Miguel, you’ll still get the laid-back and easy-going vibes that the archipelago is known for.
Ponta Delgada, the capital of the Azores on São Miguel, is where we’ll start exploring. The city is like a time-warp, especially with the Historical Quarter that cemented Ponta Delgada as an important trading port back in its 18th to early 19th-century heydays. No matter what the season, walking down Avenida Infante Dom Henrique along the waterfront is a must, as the promenade will give you stunning views of the sea and the city. You’ll pass by the Forte de São Brás, built in the 16th-century and still intact and in operation today by the Portuguese army. The fort is also home to the Azores Military Museum.
On your stroll, the three grand arches of Portas da Cidade stands guarding the Gonçalo Velho Cabral Square. The arches are actually made out of volcanic stone from the island - giving it a personal touch that ties to the Azores' environment. In the same square, the tall clocktower from the Church of Saint Sebastian is another compelling piece of architecture that pulls from Latin influence (being built in the shape of a Latin cross) and the signature 16th century colonial Portuguese.
Convent of Our Lady of Hope, locally known as the Convento de Nossa Senhora da Esperança, has stood the test of time since 1535. While the outside is a humbling colonial building with some dark green shutters, be sure to check out the interior of the church. The church’s altar glimmers in gold with Baroque-style carvings etched all above you in the curved ceiling. While it’s a place of worship, the Portuguese artist António de Oliveira Bernardes has also made it a place of art with his glazed tile panels.
Now no city break would be complete without visiting the local market. Mercado da Graça is a vibrant meeting place for farmers, delicious and affordable food stalls selling locally produced cheeses and some souvenir shops.
The Coal Grotto, or the Gruta do Carvão, is a place the locals of Ponta Delgada would definitely say not to miss out on. This is an ancient lava tube that gives you a thrillingly cool experience to walk through a volcanic cave. Imagine Batman’s underground lair, but way cooler since you’ll be able to see how the chilled magma had ascended to the cavern’s surface. It’s only possible to explore this historical labyrinth with a guided tour. Tours run every day in small groups, but you’ll want to book in advance as possible.
Since the Azores are home to some of the region’s most spectacular nature, the Jose do Canto Botanical Gardens host spectacular flowers and fauna. This botanical garden with century-old trees and a lake for romantics is on the grounds of a bright burnt orange colour presidential palace of Palacio de Sant'ana. Talk about breathtaking!
Where to Stay in Ponta Delgada:
Budget - Casa da Matriz
Mid-range - MS Vila Nova
Luxury - Casa da Ilha
Day 2: Western Coast of São Miguel
Driving west from the capital of Ponta Delgada, within 25 minutes you’ll reach Canary Lagoon, aka Lagoa do Canário. This particular area called the Sete Cidades, is what lures travellers far and wide to São Miguel. Starting here, you’ll get a juicy bite into the impressive viewpoints along the way as well as one astounding volcanic lake after the other.
Though you’ll want to plan it out that for this particular day to have some-what visible skies, as part of it you’ll be spending high up for the views.
Prepare for a 3 and a half hour hike, though the terrain and path are easy and won’t feel drained by the end of it. First, from the Canary Lagoon parking lot, find the staircase that goes up to Boca do Inferno. Walking from there, you’ll reach the first 360 view point at Miradouro da Boca do Inferno. As you look out from this viewpoint, you’ll see the emerald green waters of Santiago Lake (Lagoa de Santiago) in front of you with the Azul Lake (Lagoa Azul) in the background. Both look like two precious stones, just sitting side by side each other carved out from the landscape of craters. Yes, this is the legendary view of the Azores!
As you continue the hike, you’ll reach the highest point of the trail. At 2,790 feet - you made it to Pico da Cruz. For a little celebration, there’s a stone marker to designate the highest point.
While this whole area of the lakes is referred to as the Sete Cidades, there’s a smaller community that resides in its settlement between the valley. Also named Sete Cidades, the village is where you can take a breather and get up close to the Azul Lake. On the edge of the village, there’s Church São Nicolau, which has the perfect location at the end of an ongoing row of huge swooping trees. It’s quiet here, yet leaves an impression. To go even further off the beaten path, head to the Garden of the Blue Lagoon, Seven Cities which is at the far end of the lake. This is where you can sit amongst nature and take some time to unwind, with nothing but the craters hill and water around you. It’s a tranquil spot and offers a moment to be right in nature compared to the many views of nature in a distance.
The west coast of São Miguel just wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Mosteiros. The main village here is located below at the foot of a major coastal cliff that is 20 metres high! It’s a peculiar sight, and you may wonder how did people settle there - on such a small piece of land at the very edge of the island. It’s worth a drive down to experience the coastal community, which has its own black sand beach. Known as Praia dos Mosteiros, it’s an affectionate beach on São Miguel for surfing and watching the sun dip down in the horizon.
Where to Stay in and around São Miguel’s Western Coast:
Budget - Quinta do sossego
Mid-range - Villa Várzea
Luxury - Mosterios Place
Day 3: The heart of São Miguel, Fogo Lake
Continuing the adventure of exploring the biggest island in the Azores, the EN1-1A highway will be the loop road you drive around on São Miguel. From Mosteiros, it’s about an hour drive (at 38.5 kilometres) to Praia do Areal de Santa Bárbara. This is one of the most beautiful long stretches of beach in the Azores. With pristine black sand, there are also lifeguards on duty, as well as a surf school and a cafe. This side of the island is also known for its powerful waves, so if you’re into surfing - this is the place to grab your board and hit the water!
After the beach, head inland to Salto do Cabrito waterfall, aka Salto do Cabrito. There’s a hiking trail behind a hydropower plant. It’s a relaxing walk that will take you to a large gushing waterfall running off between rocks. If it’s a hot day and you have your swimsuit with you, definitely go for a swim at the bottom of the falls! It’ll make you really feel harmonized with the beautiful nature of the Azores.
As you get closer to the centre of the island, it isn’t a coincidence that things will warm up. The Caldeira Velha is part of the Fogo Volcanic complex, with hot springs that will make you feel like you’re truly on an island getaway. This is actually a park that resembles more of a jungle in Indonesia than an island in the Atlantic ocean - with large swaths of green foliage growing everywhere, and dense plants climbing up and down the stones that make up the walls of the park.
At the end of the park, there’s a grand pool from a waterfall (which looks like the pinnacle of paradise) but definitely don’t miss out on the smaller hot springs all along the way. The temperature ranges from 37-39°C, but don’t worry - once you’re in, the water feels soothing rather than boiling.
While today may have many highlights already, Fogo Lake, aka Lagoa do Fogo, may just be the most memorable part. It’s a massive crater lake in the middle of São Miguel, also the highest of the island’s lake since it’s on a mountain. If that’s not impressive enough, the number of blooming hydrangeas along the way with the Miradouro da Lagoa do Fogo will just encapsulate this Azores beauty in one sight. Standing on top of the viewpoint looking out, you’ll be reminded of that opening scene of Jurassic Park - with Pterodactyls flying over such mysterious lush lands. Minus the dangerous dinosaurs and this view over the crater lake are cinematically similar.
Where to Stay in and around the centre of São Miguel:
Budget - Casa Branca
Mid-range - Apartamentos Turisticos Nossa Senhora Da Estrela
Luxury - White Exclusive Suites & Villas
Day 4: Southern Coast of São Miguel, Furnas
The southern part of São Miguel includes Furnas, which is one of the largest settlements in the Azores (even though there are less than 1500 inhabitants) as well as the Furnas Valley. One of the coolest things about this area? The valley is actually inside a volcanic crater. Oh, and you may have heard that one of the natural highlights of the Azores is the volcanic activity - and the Furnas Valley is the centre of this boiling notoriety on São Miguel. But have no fret, as the volcanic crater is dormant, having last erupted way back in 1630.
Still, this area is a hotbed for its distinct geothermal activity - from the mineral springs, and thermal pools to the funky egg scent that one would smell when you’re near the geysers, there are plenty of exciting things to discover. Furnas Lake may just be the star of the area, having been born out of a crater with present-day water plunged below the peaks of its surrounding mountains. São Miguel is made for hiking, and Furnas Lake is no exception when it comes to trails and walks along its verdant rim. At the edge of the lake is the neo-Gothic Chapel of Nossa Senhora das Vitórias, which has stood there since 1882. It looks abandoned, having left to the stains of ageing - which isn’t so far fetch since it’s no longer used for any service.
While you’re in Furnas the parish itself, you won't be able to miss the Caldeiras das Furnas. This is where the hot springs, boiling water creeks, mud springs and mini geysers are scattered all around for you to explore on a warm stroll. It looks almost other-worldly, with bubbles and steam rising from a literal pit that comes from deep within the Earth’s core.
Also while you’re walking around the settlement, keep an eye out for little ornate fountains - you can turn on the tap and feel spring water sprouting out! Locals say that each fountain has its own healing abilities, with the water used for home remedies too.
Another spot to appreciate the Furnas Valley is the Terra Nostra Gardens. Going back over 200 years, the garden is in the centre of the valley with plant species from all over the world. Over the centuries they’ve been brought over by Portuguese explorers from countries like China, New Zealand, and South Africa to now cultivate an enriching garden.
While the Furnas Valley is fun to discover for any type of traveller, head to the Pico do Ferro Viewpoint (Miradouro do Pico do Ferro) to really take in the breadth of this volcanic crater. Staring out at the panoramic lookout, you’ll be able to see the Atlantic ocean in the distance while the geysers and emerald-green hue of the Furnas Lake below you.
Where to Stay in and around the centre of São Miguel:
Budget - Vale dos Encantos
Mid-range - Vista Do Vale
Luxury - Casa do Sossego
Day 5: East and Northern Coast of São Miguel
Waterfalls are a huge part of São Miguel’s beloved scenery and outdoor offerings, with the east side of the island filled with plenty of plunging water throughout the coast.
To avoid crowds, start your day earlier in the morning at Salto do Prego. The walking trail there can be quite popular since it’s a pleasant 7.6-kilometre circular hike that goes up to the gushing waterfall. Since it’s a narrow path, it’s also nice to have more space on the trail to yourself, than say slugging behind slower paced hikers. Passing along orchards and charming wooden bridges, you’ll arrive at the hidden Salto do Prego waterfall, tucked inside a forest. Yep, it’s as magical as it sounds, and you can even go for a swim at the pool below the stream!
On your way back you’ll pass by Sanguinho, a historical village that was abandoned but now is slowly being restored. Walking through it, you’ll get a glimpse into the quiet, subdued remote life the villagers once lead on this part of the island.
Now the east coast of São Miguel is known for plenty of astounding viewpoints, high above the sea, looking out into the horizons. One of the first you’ll encounter is Ponta do Sossego viewpoint, aka Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego. You’ll hear birds chirping, and can see the gardens here with a plethora of colourful pink and purple flowers making it a great pit-stop on your drive. If it’s a sunshine-filled day, this is the spot to make a picnic out of all the tables and grills provided.
Continuing your journey along the East coast, the petite Farol do Arnel is a beacon and marker of the Azores. As the oldest lighthouse in the whole islet, it’s built on the far edge of rocky cliffs where one would be able to catch the sunrise and sunset. The best view of the lighthouse and rugged rocks though? That’s from Miradouro da Vista dos Barcos, aka Boats Viewpoint. As the name suggests, you’ll also see little fishing boats swaying by the shore.
Now, ending the east coast day - we’ll drive about 25 minutes more on the EN1-1A to reach the northern shores at Ribeira dos Caldeirões Natural Park, otherwise also known as Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeirões. Set inside a valley of foliage, fauna and a series of beautiful waterfalls, the park is a picture-perfect snapshot of northern São Miguel. There are also antiquated watermills that have been beautifully restored, with creeks and artificial lava stone steps.
Since the island is small enough in distance (even though action-packed enough to feel way bigger) if you want to drive back to Ponte Delgada from the park, it’s only about a 45-minute drive. This drive down the EN1-1A counter-clockwise will drive will give you more glimpses of the northern shores.
Where to Stay in and around the centre of São Miguel:
Budget - Vale dos Encantos
Mid-range - Vista Do Vale
Luxury - Casa do Sossego
Explore more of the Azores
São Miguel is usually the first island in the Azores that travellers get a taste of. It’s well deservingly so, but there are still so many other islands in this archipelago to discover! In fact, there is 9 total in the Azores. While this itinerary covers São Miguel if you’re planning to spend more time in the Azores, or mix some of your days up with other islands - most definitely check out our other Azore islands itinerary.
Map of São Miguel in the Azores
The places covered in this itinerary of São Miguel are all plotted on this map that you can use as a reference for your trip.