As in all the islands of the Azores, in Ponta Delgada, the capital of the island of São Miguel we consider it essential to rent a car, so in this guide, we tell you everything you need to know to rent a car in the largest island of the Azores: which car rental companies exist, what to check at the time of rental (insurance and deductible), how to get the best price and how was our experience.
- Is it necessary to rent a car in Ponta Delgada (São Miguel, Azores)?
- How to rent a car in Ponta Delgada (São Miguel, Azores)
- What to consider when renting a car in Ponta Delgada, São Miguel, Azores
- How to get from Ponta Delgada airport to downtown (and the other way around)
- Parking in the center of Ponta Delgada
- Where to stay in Ponta Delgada, São Miguel: hotels and apartments with parking
- Maps and useful Apps for driving around Ponta Delgada and São Miguel
- Our experience renting a car in Ponta Delgada, São Miguel, Azores
Is it necessary to rent a car in Ponta Delgada (São Miguel, Azores)?
São Miguel is an island with many places to explore (in fact, we recommend at least a week to get to know it calmly) and to reach many of them, to enjoy the island to the fullest, to make the most of the time, to visit all the places recommended in our guide at your own pace, to stop whenever you feel like it, it is essential that you rent a car for your stay.
While in the island’s capital, Ponta Delgada (where we recommend that you base your exploration and stay in a place with parking), you will be able to move on foot to most places of interest, in the rest of São Miguel your best option is to have your own vehicle.
If you have considered using public transport, the 3 bus companies that connect some of the points of the island have quite limited connections and frequencies: you can see the schedules here. If, on the other hand, you have considered renting a motorcycle instead of a car for this trip, remember that the island of São Miguel is the largest of the Azores islands, so long distances by motorcycle can be uncomfortable and, more importantly, the unstable and changeable weather in the Azores will make you have the four seasons in the same day… on the motorcycle.
To give you an idea of how many places you can explore in São Miguel and why having your own vehicle seems important to us, take a look at our complete guide to São Miguel with specific itineraries for the number of days you visit the island.
Is it safe / easy to drive in São Miguel?
In general, the roads in São Miguel are in good condition and are easy and safe to drive on. Some have more curves and can be a bit narrow, but with calm driving you will not have any problems.
Some tips if you don’t have a lot of driving experience and/or are especially concerned about not using more complicated roads:
- Do not drive down to Farol do Arnel, in Nordeste: although there is a small road to get to the lighthouse and the port, which appears on Google Maps, it is very steep and very narrow, so it can be difficult if you are inexperienced and/or you meet another vehicle in the opposite direction. You can park at the top of the main road and walk down if you feel like it.
- To get to Lagoa do Congro, you have to go through some dirt roads. The first part is quite good and it is safe to go by car, but the second part is bumpier and narrower. We recommend you do only the first part by car, park and then walk the other part. The detour to enter this dirt road is here, and the parking area to avoid the second part is here.
- The access to Salto do Cabrito also has two parts, the last one quite steep. Although it can be done perfectly by car, if it has rained and/or there is a lot of humidity it can be slippery and somewhat more complicated by car. You can park at the top and walk down.
- Drive slowly and with caution! In the Azores in general it can be common to suddenly encounter groups of cows on secondary roads, so be patient and enjoy the ride.
How to rent a car in Ponta Delgada (São Miguel, Azores)
Car rental companies in Ponta Delgada (São Miguel)
There are several car rental companies in Ponta Delgada, São Miguel. To find the best price, we recommend you use comparison sites like DiscoverCars and check very well the conditions of each company and not only the price:
- Ilha Verde: the biggest rent-a-car company in the Azores but also the one that asks the most significant deposit (1200€) and of which we read some negative options regarding the wait at the airport to pick up the car and complaints about having to pay regarding minor damages when returning the car. The truth is that Inês used Ilha Verde on her first trip to São Miguel in 2013 and everything went great.
- AutAtlantis: the cars we used all over the archipelago (including São Miguel) on our last trip to the 9 islands of the Azores were from AutAtlantis and everything went great! Besides, it is one of the rent-a-cars that asks for a lower deposit and deductible (700€, compared to 1300-1500€ of other companies).
- Magic Islands Rent-a-car: it has the particularity that, in case you are planning to spend a long period of time in the Azores, it offers competitive prices for monthly rentals.
- Wayzor: deductible of €845, lower than most.
- AutoCunha: asks for a deposit of 1000€ on the credit card (it will be returned/unlocked when you deliver the car if all goes well).
In addition to these companies, in São Miguel you can also find international companies such as Sixt, Europcar, GoldCar, Hertz, Alamo, Thrifty, and Enterprise, which are usually much more expensive than local companies. Even so, depending on the time of the year and the season, it is possible that only these companies have availability or even in some cases have better prices, so it’s better to use comparators like DiscoverCars with your dates to find availability and better prices.
We try to keep this post as up to date as possible but always check the information when booking as some of these conditions may have changed and Discovercars presents all the information in a clear and transparent way.
Car rental prices in Ponta Delgada (São Miguel)
Prices for renting a car in Ponta Delgada (São Miguel) vary depending on the number of days rented, the season, the type of car, and how far in advance you book. They rarely go below 25€ per day (although, especially in winter, you can get lower prices) and, to give you an idea, during the summers of 2021 and 2022 the prices were above 100€ per day and we know several people who did not manage to rent a car because they waited until last minute.
Ideally, you should check and compare all the companies with availability for your dates on DiscoverCars. Remember to check the rental conditions of each company (excess, insurance coverage, fuel policy, the price for the second driver, reviews…) and not only the price.
On the plus side, there are no tolls in São Miguel so you will only have to count on the price of the car rental and the fuel to make a rough budget of how much you will spend.
What to consider when renting a car in Ponta Delgada, São Miguel, Azores
Book in advance
Since the pandemic, some of the rental companies had to sell part of their fleet to hold on, and now have difficulties acquiring more vehicles, so with less supply and much more demand (by the exponential growth that has been felt in the Azores lately), prices have risen and it is possible that in high tourist seasons you don’t find available cars or you find them with very high prices. Therefore, it is very important to try to book as far in advance as possible.
Deposit and Deductible
The vast majority of rental car companies require a deposit when picking up the rental car, which translates into the blocking of a certain amount of money on your credit card, which is frozen until the end of the rental period. If there is any problem (scratches on the car, accidents, etc.), the blocked money will be used to pay these expenses (up to the value of the deductible); if there is no problem, the money is unblocked from the credit card and is available again some days after returning the car.
When we visited the Azores, the company Ilha Verde was the one that asked for the highest deposit (1200€), and AutAlantis and Wayzor were the ones that had the lowest deposit (between 700€ and 850€) but it is important that you check at the time of booking as it may change or vary depending on the type of vehicle. In the DiscoverCars comparator, you will be able to see it clearly so that there are no mistakes.
If you are going to travel to several islands in the Azores and rent a car on all of them, keep in mind that if you do it with the same company they usually keep the deposit from one rental to another (that is, they do not block the amount of the deposit in each reservation, but the first block is carried over to the following ones). It is important to keep this in mind because if you rent with several companies, it is possible that you will be left with a lot of money withheld, since the release of the money is not immediate once the reservation is finalized.
On the other side, the deductible is the maximum amount that you will have to pay in the event that the vehicle has suffered any damage, i.e., you will only have to pay it in the event that the car has suffered damage but, in most cases, you can eliminate it by paying X extra euros per day or by hiring a specific insurance policy.
To understand it with an example, if the deductible is 700€, you will pay a maximum of 700€ in case something happens to the vehicle:
- If any part of the car is scratched and the stipulated price for it is 200€, you will pay those 200€.
- If something more serious happens and the stipulated price for it is 2400€, you will pay 700€.
- That is, up to 700€ you will have to pay it yourself, and what exceeds that will be paid by the insurance company.
Ideally, you should choose a “full to full” fuel policy, i.e. you receive the car with a full tank of fuel, and you deliver it equally full. There is also nothing wrong if you get the car with a half tank and you deliver it with a half tank, but, besides the fact that it is always more complicated to fill the tank to exactly where you want it at the gas station before you deliver it (and you may lose money), there may be misunderstandings with the company.
In either case, take a photograph of the mileage and fuel level when the car is delivered to you so you have photographic proof.
Most rental companies include unlimited mileage, so you don’t have to worry and can drive around São Miguel freely. In any case, be sure to confirm this in the terms and conditions (and/or use DiscoverCars filters) before booking.
Type of car
In general, the roads in São Miguel are in good condition so in our opinion, the most basic and smallest car (the cheapest) is usually more than enough. In any case, depending on your preferences (if you are 5 people or even more, or if you prefer an automatic and/or a more powerful car) most companies have cars for all tastes. Use DiscoverCars filters if you have preferences to be able to compare the prices of various companies for the type of vehicle you prefer.
Extras (GPS, additional driver, baby seats, etc.)
Most of the extras have to be paid separately, making prices go up (usually X euros per day for each extra), so if you are going to need them, use DiscoverCars filters to see the prices of the different companies with those extras included and do not get surprises later at the time of booking.
One of those extras is GPS: in our opinion, it is not worth paying for it nowadays as it is much easier and faster to use apps like Google Maps on your smartphone. So, you can take our map of the island in your Google Maps app, select the place to visit and follow the GPS indications of the app itself. We recommend you bring a good cell phone holder (and remember to remove it when you deliver the car hahaha, in our case we have already forgotten a few) and a good power bank (some cars bring a USB charger, but not always, and sometimes charge very slowly). To have internet in your phone, you can buy a local SIM card or, if your phone supports it, you can buy an eSIM to have unlimited data for your trip to the Azores
Forms of Payment
Most car rental companies ask for a credit card in the driver’s name to block the amount of the deposit. In any case, it is best to check the particular conditions of each company in the Discovercars search results (you will find all the information there).
If you don’t have a credit card, you will have to limit yourself to companies that only ask for debit cards, which are generally few and more expensive. If you search in DiscoverCars, in the filters you have a specific one (“Payment card at pick-up”) to see only the companies that accept one type of card or another.
Extra insurance: yes or no?
If you prefer to pay a little more to avoid headaches or hassles at the time of delivery of the rental car, you can consider hiring the Discovercars Full Coverage Insurance. The current cost is 6,36 € per day, valid for car rental in the Azores. More info about the insurance here
Be careful! Most car rental companies do not cover damages caused by driving on unpaved roads and, perhaps in São Miguel, you may get a bit adventurous at times. In these cases, it is better to be safe than sorry…
As a recommendation, when the vehicle is delivered to you, make a video/photo of the car’s condition, to avoid situations in which the company tells you that some of the damage was not there and they want to charge you for it.
Where do I pick up the rental car? Ponta Delgada Airport or Ponta Delgada Downtown?
Taking into account that you will arrive at Ponta Delgada (São Miguel) flying, it is more convenient to pick up your car as soon as you arrive, at a counter at the João Paulo II Airport (PDL), in Ponta Delgada, without the need to transfer. So ideally, choose a car rental company with representation and/or balcony at the airport terminal to save time, both in the pick-up and drop-off of your rental car, such as Autatlantis, Ilha Verde, or Wayzor.
If there are no vehicles available at the airport, no problem, in the city center of Ponta Delgada there are counters where you can pick up and drop off the car. It is not the most convenient option but may be the only option for those who have taken a risk with a last-minute reservation. If this is your case, read on…
How to get from Ponta Delgada airport to downtown (and the other way around)
In case you need to pick up your car in the center of Ponta Delgada, we explain to you how to get there. Ponta Delgada airport (or Aeroporto São João Paulo II (PDL)) is very close to the city center, so if you don’t rent a car or if you rent a car in Ponta Delgada downtown, it is very easy to move between the airport and the city center. Here are the different options:
- Book a transfer: you can book a transfer in advance with a private vehicle waiting for you upon your arrival (or your return to the airport), the price per vehicle is 25€ (up to 4 persons).
- Cab: you will find cabs at the exit of the airport, and the fare between the airport and the center of Ponta Delgada is 10€.
- Aerobus: The ANC Aerobus is a shuttle service between the airport and various points in Ponta Delgada that operates from 7:00 am to 00:00 am. The fare is €4.50 per person (or €6.50 round trip). You can see more information about the route here
Parking in the center of Ponta Delgada
Although in general in São Miguel you won’t have to worry too much about parking your car, the capital Ponta Delgada is the exception as if you are staying in the city center there may not be free parking space available. There is a parking lot located near the center where you can park your rental car for free: it’s called Estacionamiento dos Pinheiros and is located here.
In any case, be well informed when you book your accommodation, to find out if it has private parking included and / or if it has free public parking areas nearby. In this link, you will find several options for where to stay in Ponta Delgada, all with parking included and in all price ranges. In the following section, we suggest a few specific options.
Where to stay in Ponta Delgada, São Miguel: hotels and apartments with parking
Here you find a variety of hotels with parking in Ponta Delgada to suit all tastes and wallets:
- Lena’s Home (from €35/night): simple but comfortable rooms with private or shared bathrooms
- Hostal AzorAzul (from 39€/night): rooms with private or shared bathrooms and bunk beds
- Azores Bagus Surf House (from 46€/night): double rooms or single beds in a shared room. Some rooms have a terrace, others a view of the city.
- Hotel São Miguel (from €47/night): double and triple rooms in a small hotel in the historic center of Ponta Delgada
- CC GuestHouse Ao Mercado (from 51€/night): rooms for 1, 2, 3, or 4 people in a small bed&breakfast that, in addition to free parking, offers bicycle rental service.
- Azorean Urban Lodge (from 60€/night): rooms for 1, 2, 3, or 4 people with a terrace and outdoor swimming pool. You can use the super functional kitchen.
- Octant Ponta Delgada (from 124€/night): rooms and suites with sea views, an outdoor swimming pool and, like all those mentioned in this list, private parking.
- Vilas de Olival by BnbHost (from 241€/night): one or two-bedroom villas (up to 5 persons) with terrace, outdoor pool, and jacuzzi
Maps and useful Apps for driving around Ponta Delgada and São Miguel
In this Google Maps map that you can carry on your smartphone to check at any time, we leave you all the places of interest in São Miguel that we talked about in our guide.
You can also see here a tourist map with the roads of São Miguel (click on the image to download it in larger size and resolution).
We recommend you bring a good cell phone holder, use Google Maps as GPS in the car (and remember to remove it when you deliver the car hahaha, in our case we have already forgotten a few) and a good power bank (some cars have USB charger, but not always and sometimes charge very slowly).
In addition, we recommend these apps that will be very useful when driving to explore Ponta Delgada and São Miguel:
- Google Maps (Android / iOS): this app is our best friend on the road. Besides working as a GPS, it is the app we use to save / classify all the places we want to go / have gone. You can see other people’s opinions of the places, photos, restaurant menus, phone number of the places to contact them, etc.
- Maps.me (Android / iOS): this app is similar to Google Maps but works better offline than the previous one and that’s great in some parts of the island where you lose connection. Also, if you go hiking in São Miguel (for sure) in many cases Maps.me has information that Google Maps doesn’t have, especially about trails. It is also very useful whenever you are going to do a trail, to orient yourself, download the route from the official website of the Azores trails (click on Downloads->GPS), etc.
- SpotAzores: (Android / iOS / Web): here you can see all the existing webcams in different points of the islands to see how the weather is. Because the weather is very changeable and it can be raining in one area of the island and bright sunshine in another, this app is the fastest way to make sure and avoid unnecessary trips.Note: The Lagoa do Fogo camera is located at a fairly high point so even if the camera shows cloudy, it is possible that the viewpoint can have a view of the lagoon.
- Windy (Android / iOS / Web): essential app in our trips, even more so in the Azores. It allows you to see forecasts for rain, clouds, wind, etc. to help you plan your days based on the weather (as there are places that lose a lot depending on the weather). Obviously, the forecasts are not 100% reliable. It also shows the available webcams
Also, always travel with travel insurance: medical expenses, theft or problems with your plane on a trip can mean a lot of money, so the ideal is to take out travel insurance. At Randomtrip we always use IATI and we recommend it. If you contract your insurance through this link you have a 5% discount.
Our experience renting a car in Ponta Delgada, São Miguel, Azores
In our case, we rented the car with the company Autatlantis and everything was perfect: the attention upon arrival was fast and effective, the car (a Citroen C3) was like new and we had no problems. Practically all the companies include a deductible in the insurance, and Autatlantis is one of the ones with the lowest deductible (700€, compared to 1300-1500€ of other companies). As we have said, the prices of rental cars in São Miguel rarely go below 25€ per day and, especially in summer, we recommend booking well in advance to avoid running out of vehicles or that the few that are available have very high prices.
Driving on the roads of São Miguel is an adventure in itself and we felt like stopping every so often to appreciate the breathtaking scenery. The island’s roads are dotted with several viewpoints precisely for that reason. Do it, whenever possible and safely. Besides, you will probably also come across the occasional cow on the road so drive slowly and leisurely, admiring your surroundings.
São Miguel invites you to slow down, so be careful and enjoy.
What are you waiting for to embark on this adventure? Find your Azorean car for the dates of your vacation, put on your seat belt, and… Boa Viagem!
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