What’s there to do in Sao Miguel, Azores?
Maybe you’ve heard about the Azores recently as these islands, especially Sao Miguel, have become one of the must-visit destinations in recent years. No doubt you have tons of questions about it that you need to be answered so that you can get the most out of your visit. Well, if that’s the case then you’re in the right place! Check out our Azores: Your Ultimate Travel Guide for answers to the most common questions about visiting the Azores Islands.
Since we were flying out of Lisbon we took the opportunity to come a day in advance in order to stay the night in Lisbon and enjoy the city a little. This was a great idea because it gave us the chance to not rush to the airport since we had an early flight. From Lisbon, we flew direct with Ryanair to Sao Miguel which took about two and a half hours. The flight was easy and we couldn’t believe how smooth it was. After landing on the island we picked up our rental car from Sixt right at the airport. The whole process was smooth and hassle-free.
We spent five days here and there was more than enough to do on the island. It seems that depending on what you have planned five to seven days should be a good amount of time for Sao Miguel. If you plan on visiting multiple islands then you should definitely stay longer so that you’re not rushing around since it will take time to travel between islands.If you are someone that enjoys nature and a quiet and relaxing environment then the Azores are for you.
Our favorite thing was just to go exploring the island in our rental car and stopping at different points of interest. The entire island is breathtaking and we found ourselves stopping constantly to just get out and take pictures. It truly is an unspoiled gem.
So what did we do?
On the island of Sao Miguel, there are many must-see sights. Among them are:
- Sete Cidades
- Miradouro Do Rei
- Lago do Canario Miradouro
- Lagoa do Fogo
- Ponta Delgada
- Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeiroes
- Ponta da Ferraria
- Lagoa do Congra
- Ribeira Grande
- Gorreana Tea Plantation
- Miradouro Santa Iria
- Terra Nostra Park
This is an incredible lake that is actually composed of two lakes that are both green and blue. If you drive up to the top of the hill you can get a great view of the Sete Cidades lakes before descending down to explore them more closely. The tourist point that most stop at to get a great view of the lakes is Miradouro Do Rei. From here one will be able to see clearly the distinct color of the lakes.
Lagoa do Canario Miradouro
Lagoa do Canario Miradouro is a view that you shouldn’t miss. Many say that this is the best lookout viewpoint on the island. From here you will be able to see the twin lakes, the caldera, and the sea in the backdrop. We parked our car in a dirt parking lot just across from the entrance and walked through the path for about 20 minutes in order to access the viewpoint. During the high season, I think it’s possible to park closer but the gate for cars was closed when we went. Once you have climbed to the top you will be about 800 meters above sea level which makes it easy to see some amazing views. However, during our time the weather didn’t cooperate and there was a lot of fog and wind. We didn’t get to see the amazing view from this point but I think we got some cool photos nonetheless.
Lagoa do Fogo
This lake is also an incredible place to visit for its stunning beauty. The view of this lake is really breathtaking. There is a bit of hike to get to the water but the view is certainly worth it!
We also enjoyed spending some time in the capital of Ponta Delgada. Although this capital is not as big or bustling as other European capitals it does have something worth noting. First of all, it is located right near the water so you are never far from the ocean. As you walk around the streets of Ponta Delgada you will notice the colonial style of the buildings which is quite different from mainland Portugal.
There are interesting restaurants and cafes to explore that pride themselves on using ingredients and products from the Azores themselves. One of the restaurants that we kept coming back to was A Tasca. We really enjoyed our time at this place because of its originality and character. The restaurant serves traditional Azorian dishes with a slight twist at an affordable price. The inside is cozy and the staff provides good attentive service. There is also a large selection of artisanal beer from the Azores and abroad as well as many many different wines to choose from. If you will be in the capital you should definitely visit A Tasca. They do fill up quickly so it’s best to get there a little early especially for dinner.
Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeiroes
You should also take the time to visit some of the amazing forests that the Azores has. We visited Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeiroes to visit the waterfalls and to just unwind. It was well worth it as we got to get up close to a few waterfalls as well as wander around the forest a bit. There are picnic tables within the park as well as in different scenic areas. This would be a great place for a nice lunch and to just enjoy the views. This park is free to access.
Ponta da Ferraria
Another place to visit is Ponta da Ferraria. It’s a geothermal area of natural hot pools on the side of some impressive cliffs. We drove down the steep road alongside the cliff in order to reach the bottom. Once we parked we started to explore the area. This place will remind you of what it might look like on the moon. There are black, jagged lava rocks everywhere.
The unique feature of this area is that there is a natural hot pool that is connected to the ocean. It’s not for the wary of heart as the ocean is pounding and there is just a handrail and rope separating you from the powerful waves! It’s an interesting phenomenon since the water in the natural pool is warm and the water in the ocean is generally cold. This is a pretty cool area to explore since the contrast between the black rocks and the ocean blue is pretty dramatic. There is also a spa with thermal pools nearby that you can try if you like. They will charge you a small fee to use the facilities.
Lagoa do Congra
Another interesting and often unknown location to visit is Lagoa do Congra. This is about twelve minutes from Vila do Franco Campo (also worth a visit). This is a local’s secret and is not on the tourist maps. There are signs along the road as you approach the lake. After hiking down the path for about eight minutes you will have in front of you a spectacular lake. The hike is relatively easy and the surroundings of the hike and the area are very tropical and lush. Definitely, see this one if you love nature and lesser known places.
If you like pretty, quaint towns you may want to make some time to explore Ribeira Grande. We stayed near this town and made some time to visit it one evening. It’s a very cute town with a characteristically Azorian feel. The best way to experience the town is to just walk around and pop into different cafes and experience life like a local.
We stopped at one of the food stands and got one of the local versions of a burger. We thought it was going to be a normal hamburger but when it came out it was about the size of a football! It had different toppings on it and it was practically impossible to fit it into our mouths. I finished the whole thing surprisingly but Kanicia couldn’t. As we sat there enjoying our local meal on one of the benches in the town square with life going on around us we thought to ourselves that we were very happy to have come. Oh, and by the way, the gigantic burger was only a few euros, so very affordable. Not the healthiest option but if you want to try a local treat go for this or go for the local bifana, which is a pork sandwich. If you try it I would split it between two people.
Gorreana Tea Plantation
Another popular stop while visiting the island of Sao Miguel is the Gorreana Tea Plantation. What’s interesting about it is that it’s Europe’s only tea plantation! The Gorreana tea plantation has been operational since 1883 and it’s in a unique location with beautiful views of the ocean.
During the tea picking season, you can tour the factory and see the tea process in person. There’s also a short 10-minute video in one of the waiting rooms which will teach you about the process of making tea as well as the history of the plantation. After that, you can take a self-guided tour through the plantation in order to see all the machines used during production. It would be best to visit the plantation during the harvest season so that you could see everything in action.
After you finish the tour you will be able to try free samples of the green and black tea while enjoying beautiful views of the tea plants nearby. You can also buy small treats and other drinks in the cafe if you want. Once you finish you can then go outside and just take in the views while walking among the plantation. This was one of our favorite parts of visiting the site. The contrast between the majestic ocean and the tea plantation are simply incredible. Don’t miss this one!
Miradouro Santa Iria
Another very popular stop is Miradouro Santa Iria. This viewpoint is at quite a high vantage point so it will offer you gorgeous views of cliffs jutting into the ocean from wherever you look. This is one of those places that you can get a real feel for the island. There is a bonus on the left side of the lookout point are Azorian horses. It’s so special to see these animals just grazing with a crazy beautiful backdrop of the islands and ocean.
Terra Nostra Park
Something else that visitors to the island of Sao Miguel really enjoy is the Terra Nostra Park. This park is known for its massive natural 40-degree thermal pool right in the center of a beautiful botanical garden filled with rare plant and flower species. There is a small fee of around 6euros to enter unless you are a guest at the Terra Nostra hotel (we’ll talk more about that later since we stayed here).
Once you get past the entrance and head to the pool you’ll encounter a huge pool that is full of natural thermal waters which are warm at all times from volcanic thermals. The pool is rich in magnesium and other minerals so it has some good healing properties. You’ll want to have a bathing suit with you and a towel (or you can rent the towel at the entrance). There are some changing rooms off to the side and a cold shower if you need it.
We really enjoyed this part of the park since we’ve never experienced anything like it. You will feel so relaxed and refreshed after spending some time in the large pool. We went in at night so it was extra special because even though it was cold outside, the pool was hot so it was a nice contrast. If you continue along the path of the pool you’ll see two additional smaller natural jacuzzis that are also heated by volcanic thermals. These are more private and you’ll feel like you’re in some exotic jungle!
The nice thing about staying at the Terra Nostra hotel is that you have access to these pools 24hours a day whereas they close in the evening for visitors.
So as you can see there’s plenty to do and see in the Azores on the island of Sao Miguel! There are many things that we didn’t get to see or do as well. No doubt you will find enough to keep you busy.
Where to stay on Sao Miguel, Azores
As we entered our villa we were amazed at the great design incorporating elements of the island and also modern styling into every element. We could have spent days here! We immediately felt relaxed with the colors of the villa and the sound of the ocean. The villa was equipped with all the modern amenities we could ask for and it was very spacious. From our front door, it was only a few minutes walk to the beach where you could soak up the island life. I would describe the resort as eco-luxury with tons of style. Even though it was modern it felt very comfortable. For anyone looking for a special treat, we would recommend Santa Barbara Eco-beach Resort wholeheartedly.
We were able to enjoy breakfast and lunch at the resort. The breakfast is very delicious and features many local products from the Azores. One of the best things about the breakfast is just enjoying the amazing views of the ocean just outside. It is very easy to relax here. For our lunch, we had some great sushi which is said to be some of the best on the island. It was very tasty and fresh. The restaurant at this resort specializes in Japanese inspired cuisine using the abundance of fresh fish available on the island. We would recommend that you try the food here during your stay, you won’t be disappointed!
Estrada Regional nº1, 1º Morro de Baixo – Ribeira Seca
9600-219 Ribeira Grande
Next, we stayed at the wellness retreat at Terra Nostra Garden Hotel. This hotel is connected to the Terra Nostra Park and thermal pools. This is an oasis for those who want to relax and rejuvenate. It’s one of the most popular hotels in Furnas Valley. The hotel has a spa with different treatment options if you want to really indulge, in addition to the natural thermal springs.
On the way to the hotel, you will be in awe of the beauty of the green hills as you crisscross your way down into the valley. The Terra Nostra Garden Hotel blends into the natural setting of the Terra Nostra Park, keeping with the soothing greens and browns surrounding it. It is decorated in an art deco style and really gives you the feeling that you are in a botanical retreat, with the lush surroundings. After checking in we headed to our room and were happy to see that it was quite large. We had a garden-view room with a balcony, which added to the relaxed vibe that you instantly enter once arriving.
One of the benefits of staying here is that as a guest you have access the warm thermal pools at no extra cost and at any time during your stay. This is why you come here to relax! We were able to visit the pools during the evening and we recommend it since it is such a unique experience. The Furnas Valley is on the other side of the island and so staying here you get to visit a completely different area. The area is typical of the island- lush, with white buildings and small idyllic streets. The difference is that this town is full of thermal hot springs, so in addition to the most famous, Terra Nostra Park, you can visit others surrounding the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel.
Another unique feature of staying here is that the restaurant makes a traditional Azorian dish, Cozido das Furnas Stew in Caldeiras (cooked in the ground with natural volcano heat). We didn’t make it in time to try this dish as it is made every day and cooked for hours in the ground. So if you stay here make sure to make a reservation to enjoy this local specialty.
Rua Padre José Jacinto Botelho, 5, 9675-061
Furnas, S. Miguel – Açores, Portugal
The third location that we stayed at was Hotel Marina Atlantico in the capital of Ponta Delgada. This hotel caters more to business travelers and it is nicely located in the on the waterfront of Ponta Delgada within walking distance to many restaurants and local attractions. This is a more modern hotel, it’s designed after the ships that are docked at the harbor, resembling a ship and mast. It boasts stunning views of the port and ocean.
The staff at this hotel are very friendly and helpful when it comes to pointing out interesting things in the area. After checking in we took the elevator to the top floor where our room was located. When we opened the door we were greeted with a lovely surprise! The room was decorated with little hearts spread throughout the room and the swan-shaped towels shaped like hearts. There was also a special delivery of sparkling wine and chocolates. Needless, to say we were impressed!
Our room was located on the sixth floor and had a balcony that looked out onto the sea and harbor since the location was on the waterfront. We were able to sample the breakfast which was very good with many local breads and jams. There are even a Turkish sauna and large swimming pool in the hotel. This is really a great hotel if you want to stay in the city within walking distance to many restaurants or to stay close to the airport. One of the best things though was the closeness of the hotel to the city center. We walked to the center where we would visit local restaurants and take in the sights. We would recommend this hotel if you want to stay in the capital and be close to everything.
Av. João Bosco Mota Amaral n.º1, 767, 9500-767
Ponta Delgada, Portugal