The Azores: the best kept secret in Europe (Eastern group)

Natacha Costa | Live the World

September 19, 2022

The scenic archipelago of Azores is divided into three groups of islands - Western (Corvo & Flores Islands), Eastern (São Miguel and Santa Maria), and Central (Pico, Faial, Graciosa, Terceira and S. Jorge). The Eastern one was the first one to be discovered, in 1432, by Portuguese, Gonçalo Velho Cabral, and in fact, it is a good starting point when visiting. Travellers usually first end up on São Miguel Island, which is the most popular one. And no wonder it is; this lush island offers thermal natural swimming pools, lakes nested in volcanic craters, warm waterfalls, beautiful cliffs, tea fields, and great food.

São Miguel: no filter needed

I spent my first day on São Miguel (unsuccessfully) counting all shades of green and blue around me. This was my first time visiting the Azores and I was truly shocked by all the exotic beauty. Before ending up here, I thought that to see something as magical I needed to go at least to New Zealand. But no, this was in the same country I live in, in Portugal.

To truly enjoy São Miguel you need at least 5-6 days, a pair of good hiking shoes, and possibly a car. The Island is not super touristic, but at the same time not underdeveloped. You can find pretty much everything here, even a Decathlon store in case your need camping equipment. However, once you leave for the Azorean standards bustling capital of Ponta Delgada, it's just birds, flowers and lakes around you. Oh, and cows of course! (There are more cows than people living in the Azores.)

The first stop and a complete "must" are the Sete Cidades Lakes. Once you take a photo to publish it on your Instagram account, you will realize that the original looks better than any filter. The twin lakes are situated in the crater of a dormant volcano. They are ecologically different lakes divided by a narrow strait; one is blue and another one is green! The view is the best from a nearby *miradouro *Vista do Rei, or from the top of a ruined hotel - Monte Palace. If you have the time, there is a beautiful hiking route, too (PR3SMI trail). As usual, apart from a scientific explanation of different lake colours (one is deeper than another and reflects the sky colour, while the shallow one reflects the colour of the algae), there is also a legend about it. Since you are around, and if you, like me, have a thing for shabby buildings, do not miss the ruins of once luxurious hotel overlooking the lakes.

Just 10km away, on the western tip of São Miguel, you will find Ferraria, a small and natural swimming pool fed by a hot spring! The ocean temperature here reaches 28ºC at low tide, so it's a great spot to relax after a demanding hike.

You can visit São Miguel in as little as 2 days, if just go around by car. If you have a more detailed approach and want to hike around the lakes (there are over 10 volcanoes and over 20 lakes in São Miguel Island), you will need more time. Keep this in mind when designing your itinerary. Whatever option you choose, don't miss visiting Ilhéu de Vila Franca do Campo, Furnas village & lake, Caldeira Velha waterfall, Lagoa do Fogo (if you see it because of fog!), and the small and well hidden Lagoa do Congro.

Santa Maria: the best beaches in the Archipelago

Just a short fifteen-minute flight over from São Miguel there is the oldest, the warmest and the most southerly island of the Azores. Santa Maria offers some of the best beaches in the Archipelago (like Praia do Formosa) and therefore it's nice to visit it after some active days spent on São Miguel. However, travellers in search for more than just beaches should not stay more than a day or two. The Island is very small, it takes only a little more than four hours to cross it all the way west to east. Four hours - on foot!

If you are curious about the Azores archipelago and would like to know how to get & what to do there, take a look at The Azores: The Best Kept Secret Of Europe.

Book a nearby experience

Let our AI assistant help plan your trip

Create a personalized plan and share it with your friends

Never run out of things to do! Sign up to our newsletter today, what are you waiting for?

live the world logoMaking travel planning easy.
Supported bykbc logo
instagram logotiktok logo facebook logo pintrest logo