São Jorge is an island that concentrates an imposing natural beauty in its narrow, elongated and mountainous silhouette, which looks like a dragon. It hides some of the most beautiful trails in the archipelago, incredible natural pools and is highly addictive for cheese lovers. And yet, the best of São Jorge is impossible to convey in pictures or words.
It is that initially curious (we would even say distrustful) look by the locals that as soon as they perceive a smile opens into another one five times bigger. It is leaving the door of the house (and the car) unlocked for hours without any problem. It is going into a neighbor’s house to ask for some salt or pepper and leaving 2 hours later with three different types of homemade liquors in your stomach and with a master’s degree in embroidery and patchwork quilts. São Jorge gives you the best of a trip if you give it the time it deserves. If you come with fewer days, you will take with you one of the best views of green and black cliffs that go down to impressive natural pools and an immense desire to return.
Don’t be fooled by its size, São Jorge made one week feel not enough for us. In this guide, we try to reflect all that São Jorge has to offer with practical suggestions, itineraries from 2 to 7 days, where to sleep, and even where to eat so that your trip to the dragon island is as incredible as ours was.
IMPORTANT! During the last few months (since March 2022), seismic activity has been detected with values above normal, initially activating alerts for the risk of a possible earthquake and/or volcanic eruption. Currently the seismic activity has decreased in intensity, the local population has already returned to the island and it is possible to travel to São Jorge normally.
- Basic facts for traveling to São Jorge
- When to visit São Jorge
- How to get to São Jorge
- How many days to dedicate to São Jorge
- Things to see and do in São Jorge
- Map of São Jorge
- Fajã do Ouvidor and Poça Simão Dias
- Fajã da Ribeira Da Areia and its volcanic arch
- Fajã dos Cubres
- Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo: the pearl of the island
- Fajã dos Vimes and the coffee plantations
- Fajã de São João
- Topo and Punta do Topo
- Calheta (Fajã Grande)
- Fajã das Almas
- Pico da Esperança
- Fajã do Além
- Fajã de João Dias
- Pico da Velha Viewpoint
- Parque Florestal Sete Fontes
- Ponta dos Rosais
- Curiosities of São Jorge
- The best hiking trails in São Jorge
- Where to dive in São Jorge
- Where to stay in São Jorge: best areas
- Where to eat (and drink) in São Jorge
- Travel Itineraries to São Jorge
- Transportation: rent a car in São Jorge
- How much does it cost to travel to São Jorge?
- Useful apps for traveling to São Jorge
- Recommendations to enjoy São Jorge and to make your trip a pleasant one and not a detraction from the island
- Checklist: what to take in your backpack/suitcase for São Jorge
Basic facts for traveling to São Jorge
São Jorge is the most central island of the central group of the Azorean archipelago, the fourth largest, and is known as the island of the sleeping dragon because of its elongated, narrow shape and whose mountain ranges remind us of the silhouette of this mythological being. It is also the island of the fajãs since it has more than seventy, classified as a Unesco Biosphere Reserve. And what is a fajã? They are flat lands located on the seashore formed either by materials detached from a cliff (most of them) or by lava flows that entered the sea (known as fajã lávica, of which there are only a couple). Not all fajãs are accessible by car and in fact, there are some that can only be reached on foot (through incredible trails). These terrains that burst into the sea, where life grows, are what make São Jorge so special (because of its orography and geology) although the “fajãs” are not unique to this island. If you have accompanied our trip throughout the Azorean archipelago for 2 months you will know that there are fajãs all over the Azores (in all of Macaronesia in fact).
Population: 8000 (in 2021)
Daily budget: From 70€/day per person (approx.) for a one-week trip. More budget information here
Weather: The best time is spring/summer avoiding July and August due to tourist influx, learn more about when to go here.
Duration: Minimum 3 days. Ideal 1 week. More info on how many days to dedicate to São Jorge here
Flights: You will have to fly first to an island in the Azores with a connection to the outside of the archipelago (São Miguel, Terceira, Faial, or Pico) and from there fly or go by boat to São Jorge. We recommend you use flight comparators such as Skyscanner and Kiwi and be flexible with dates. More information on how to get to São Jorge here .
Transportation: The best option is to rent a car. We did it with Autatlantis and we loved it: new cars, the best excess policy, and no fine print to stick to. Find the best price for your rental car at DiscoverCars. More info here
Time zone: UTC +0. The time in the Azores archipelago (Portugal) is one hour behind the Portuguese mainland and the Canary Islands and two hours behind the Spanish mainland.
When to visit São Jorge
The best months to travel to São Jorge are, in our opinion, May, June, and September, since the ideal is to visit the island during the spring/summer months trying to avoid July and August which are the months with more tourism. June and September tend to be the best months, with good weather, still inviting waters, and less overcrowded tourism.
As in all the Azorean islands, summer tends to be the season with the best weather: higher temperatures, less chance of rain, and greater possibilities to enjoy the spectacular natural pools that São Jorge has to offer.
In any case, the weather in São Jorge (and in the Azores in general) is very changeable so there are no guarantees at any time of the year (it is often said that you can have all 4 seasons in one day). Some plans (like climbing the Pico da Esperança) are not enjoyable without clear days.
Climate chart of São Jorge, with temperatures and rainy days per month:
|Month||Average temperature||Average temperature (water)||Rainy days|
|Month||Average temperature||Average temperature (water)||Rainy days|
In addition, if you want to coincide your trip with a popular festival, here are the most important ones:
- Feast in honor of the saint after whom the island is named (São Jorge): April 23, in Velas.
- Semana Cultural das Velas: in July, also at Velas, with lectures, concerts, a book fair, gastronomic events, etc.
- Festa de Julho (July Festival): in July, in Calheta, with exhibitions, popular music, etc.
- Festas do Espírito Santo: between May and September, they are the most important festivities of all the Azorean islands.
How to get to São Jorge
There are no direct flights to São Jorge from outside the archipelago so it can only be reached by flying from other islands of the Azores. There are flights from Spain and Portugal:
- From Lisbon to Ponta Delgada (São Miguel), to Lajes (Terceira), to Pico or to Horta (Faial)
- From Oporto to Ponta Delgada (São Miguel) and Lajes (Terceira)
- From Madrid to Ponta Delgada (São Miguel) but, for the moment, only in summer.
- From Barcelona to Ponta Delgada (São Miguel) but, for the moment, only in summer.
The cheapest flights are usually Ryanair flights from Lisbon/Porto to Ponta Delgada (São Miguel) or Lajes (Terceira) but to get the best price you should be flexible with dates and use price comparators such as Skyscanner and Kiwi.com.
Once in the archipelago, you can reach São Jorge in two ways
- By plane with Sata. You can check timetables and prices on the official website of Sata, the regional airline of the Azores.
- By boat from one of the neighboring islands of the central group:
- From Pico: every day of the year, €10,50, 1h trip
- From Faial: every day of the year, 15,50€, 1h30 to 2h trip (boat stops in Pico)
- From Terceira or Graciosa: only in summer, a couple of days per week. From € 32, from 3h trip
Here is a map with the 4 lines (blue, green, purple, and white) that connect the 5 islands of the central group of the Azores:)
How many days to dedicate to São Jorge
We recommend a minimum of 3 or 4 days, although the ideal to visit São Jorge is a week to have margin for bad weather (the weather in the Azores is a lottery regardless of the time of year), make trails calmly to discover fajãs only accessible on foot, enjoy the natural pools in summer, etc. For this reason, we propose different types of itineraries, of more or fewer days, which you can see here.
Things to see and do in São Jorge
Here we leave you a summary of the places of interest to visit in São Jorge, and below you have the map and specific information of each place.
Things to see and do in São Jorge
- Discover as many of the more than 70 Fajãs as possible.
- Taste the different types of Queijo da Ilha (cheese), of greater or lesser curing.
- Enjoy some of the most impressive natural pools in the archipelago.
- Do lots of walking on all kinds of trails, in the company of cows.
Map of São Jorge
Here we leave you all the places of interest in São Jorge that we talk about in this guide on a Google Maps map that you can carry on your smartphone to consult at any time.
Here is also a tourist map with the roads of São Jorge (click on the image to download it in larger size and resolution).
Fajã do Ouvidor and Poça Simão Dias
The Fajã do Ouvidor is one of the most famous fajãs in São Jorge, not only because of its beauty but also because it is a well-known summer resort among the local population.
It is the only fajã that has restaurants (plural) to choose from, a cafe, a lighthouse, and even a disco! apart from quite a few recent constructions that already outnumber the old and traditional stone houses. Apparently, it had to do with a municipal approval that gave the green light to new construction in Fajã do Ouvidor and that divides and worries the local population.
Apart from the views that you wake up to if you stay here and the dips that you can take in the fajã itself, there is another reason that makes this one of the most sought-after for summer…. its proximity to Poça Simão Dias!
This fajã is located at a short walking distance (5 minutes) from one of the most spectacular natural pools of the island (and the Azores in general), the Poça Simão Dias. If you go there in summer you will probably find it quite crowded but once you see it you will understand why. The postcard is the immensity of the turquoise blue between the imposing basaltic columns and the green mountains in the background. A true spectacle.
A true natural paradise of deep waters (and sometimes with strong currents) of vertical basalt columns resulting from the cooling and solidification of lava.
The water was cool but it was so hot and humid (we visited the island in June) that the dips felt great. Of course, the space to lay your towel is limited (on the rocks, where you can). Access is on foot, you can park near this point which is where the small trail starts.
Apart from Poça Simão Dias, if you want to cool off, there is another natural pool nearby, Poça do Carneiro. An excellent option if you want to enjoy a dip farther away from one of the most touristic spots. Of course, the access is more complicated but it is worth it.
On the way to the Fajã do Ouvidor, don’t forget to stop at its lookout point to get a bird’s eye view of the fajã.
Our accommodation in Fajã do Ouvidor was Pérola de Lava and we loved it. In case there is no availability and you also want to stay in Fajã do Ouvidor, we recommend Casas da Eira Velha ( from 80€/night), also with sea views. For more options in the area, here
Fajã da Ribeira Da Areia and its volcanic arch
Fajã da Ribeira da Areia is one of the few fajãs lávicas on the island, that is, it was formed due to a lava flow entering the sea and not from a detachment of a cliff. It is not as well known or visited as its neighboring Fajã do Ouvidor, but it is no less spectacular for that reason.
If you approach the left side of the fajã (you can park here), you can contemplate a beautiful volcanic scenery contrasting with the sea, with solidified lava, caves, and a spectacular volcanic arch surrounded by turquoise blue waters.
Fajã dos Cubres
Unlike its imposing neighbor, which is only accessible on foot (the Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo, which we will talk about in the next point), the beautiful Fajã dos Cubres can be reached by car.
It is one of the most well-preserved fajãs of the island and owes its name to the cubres, yellow flowers (also responsible for the name of the island of Flores) that abounded here. As soon as you arrive at Fajã dos Cubres, you will notice the Nossa Senhora de Lourdes Chapel, built in 1908, next to a spring of water considered miraculous by the local population, and the curious constructions in volcanic basalt are striking.
Here you will find a lagoon that precedes the sea and which is the habitat of different species of birds. For this reason, this lagoon system was distinguished as a Site of International Importance. On the margins of the lagoon, there are pastures where cows roam freely.
On the road that gives access to the fajã, do not forget to stop at the Miradouro da Fajã dos Cubres, from where you can see the fajã with its lagoon and the sea, from above.
If you are a little hungry, this is one of the few places on the island to try the famous (and unique) clams from Caldeira de Santo Cristo, at Spot.
Fajã dos Cubres is also the end (or the beginning) of the most beautiful trail on the island, which connects Serra do Topo with this fajã, passing through the Caldera de Santo Cristo.
To learn more, read on.
Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo: the pearl of the island
To each his own but if there is a must-see place you have to visit on your trip to São Jorge is the impressive Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo. We do not think so only at Randomtrip, the prestigious National Geographic Traveller considered it nothing more and nothing less than the most beautiful place in the world to go on vacation.
To get there you have to go on foot (or also by quad or boat) as it is one of the most inaccessible for cars, something that makes it even more special. The other factor that makes it special is that until recently there was no electricity (so no wifi) and mobile coverage is still weak or nonexistent, which contributes to making it a sought-after destination to disconnect, surf and be at peace in the middle of nature.
Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo was already one of the most populated on the island, with almost 200 inhabitants, but the great earthquake of 1980 (7.2 on the Richter scale) caused such a landslide that it completely isolated the fajã, forcing most residents to seek housing in other parts of the island. Currently, a little more than 10 people live here permanently. The fact that it is isolated justifies the little human intervention, the few existing houses, and its almost untouched natural beauty.
The trail that passes through Caldeira de Santo Cristo starts (or ends) in Serra do Topo (at 700 meters altitude) next to the Wind Farm and ends (or starts) in Fajã dos Cubres, which we just told you about in the previous point. As it is a linear trail, you can start either in Serra do Topo or in Fajã dos Cubres but we recommend, for ease, that you start in Serra do Topo (since from there it is practically all downhill).
We left the car at the end of the trail (Fajã dos Cubres, next to the church) and took a cab to the beginning of the trail (Serra do Topo). This is something common in São Jorge that can happen in several linear trails so we leave you the contact of a reliable cab driver in case you need to hire the service in these cases.
The cab contact is John Moniz Taxi (mobile phone number: +351919577223), John is very nice, friendly, professional and even gave us several recommendations of restaurants and where to dive. The cab fare from Fajã dos Cubres (where we left the car) to Serra do Topo (where we started the trail) is 23,50€.
It is almost 10 km of incredible landscapes, pastures and endemic flora, caves, waterfalls of fresh and transparent water, and even a sanctuary and an interpretation center. It is a trail that is worth doing calmly, with appropriate footwear, plenty of water, and a bathing suit in the backpack to enjoy not only the waterfall on the way but also the beach and the lagoon of the caldera (if the weather is good, of course). For birdwatchers, this trail is also ideal for watching shearwaters (Cagarro in Portuguese), geese, and ducks.
During the trail, you have to open and close the fences that exist for the cows and you may even find some on the way. When you have been walking for an hour, before reaching the pearl of the trail, Caldeira de Santo Cristo, you can take a dip in a waterfall (cascata pequena). It is more or less at km 3.5 of the route…
When you reach the Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo after 2 hours of walking, stop, take off your backpack, take a deep breath, and admire the beauty of what will probably be one of the most incredible places you will see on your trip to the Azores.
Such is the tranquility, charisma, and even, they say, the healing powers of this fajã that many people prefer to enjoy it for several days and make a kind of retreat (around here electricity, wifi, and mobile coverage is something that is scarce).
If you have the opportunity to do so, do not hesitate. The Caldeira GuestHouse and SurfCamp (from 45€, suites with sea view, double rooms and shared rooms), the Casa da Lagoa (from 80€, 2 rooms, for up to 6 people), the Casa da Fajã (from 84€, a house with two rooms with sea view) or the Casa da Caldeira (from 180€, different apartments for 2, 4 and up to 7 people), are great places to rest for a few days, or even one night (and thus do the trail in two days).
One of the peculiarities of this fajã is the quality of its waves for surfing and bodyboarding, which makes it very well-known and even a kind of sanctuary in the surfing world. Apparently, depending on the season, very good waves are formed, which attract surfers from all over the world. If you also practice surfing or you dare to try it, you are in the ideal place. The Caldeira GuestHouse & SurfCamp has rental surfboards, paddle surf, canoes, snorkel kit, and even bicycles, motorcycles, and quads that take you to the waves.
Book your accommodation in Caldeira de Santo Cristo here
The other curiosity of the Caldeira de Santo Cristo is… its clams! There is a type of clam (huge in size) that only exists here, in the lagoon of the caldera. It is not very clear how they got here (the most plausible theory is that they were brought here by the English working on the installation of a submarine cable) but it is known that they have been here for more than 100 years and that in this lagoon they found their perfect habitat. The lagoon of Caldeira de Santo Cristo is the only place in the Azores where clams exist and their harvest is highly protected. In fact, very few permits are granted to people to collect clams in the caldera (we were told that only three boats on the island have them) and there is a long period where it is forbidden (the defesso period) which goes from May 15 to August 15, so you will only be able to taste them if you visit the island between August 16 and May 14.
One of the places where you can try the famous clams, if you want to and if you go during the period when it is possible to do so, is in the very Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo, in the restaurant O Borges. Unfortunately, our experience was disastrous in this place (they did not serve us even though they had tables available and the way they spoke to us was the antithesis of what we are used to in our interactions with the local people) and, to be honest, we had already read very bad reviews before going but do not worry as this is not the only place to try the famous clams – we tell you more about it in the section Where to Eat. But if you want to try to eat in the fajã itself, you should know that “O Borges” is the only restaurant that exists in this fajã so the ideal is to book in advance and, if you don’t make it, take some sandwiches in your backpack just in case.
That’s what we did. We bought a cold beer at the restaurant and had it with our sandwiches, in front of the caldera lagoon where we bathed afterward. By the way, this lagoon created a unique ecosystem of high biodiversity classified as a Natural Reserve and Site of International Importance, which is also a very popular place for birdwatchers. Do not leave any garbage and if you find any, take it with you.
After a refreshing dip in the lagoon of the caldera surrounded by greenery, we continue on our way.
Just at the exit of the Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo, there is a small grotto called Furna do Poio known for the sandy beach inside so if you still want to discover something else before continuing with the trail, it can be a good option.
If you want to try the famous clams as a reward for finishing the trail (in case it is not closed), you can do it at the end, when you get to Fajã das Cubres, at Spot, a kind of food truck where they serve the famous clams (35 € per kilo of clams with sauce “à bulhão pato” or sweet paprika). The other option is outside the trail, in Fajã do Ouvidor, in the restaurant O Amílcar, which also offers them.
Difficulty Scale: Medium. The trail to Caldeira de Santo Cristo is mostly easy but there are some sections on the way down that complicate it a bit more. From Caldeira de Santo Cristo to Fajã dos Cubres is easy, with some steeper climbs. It is a linear trail of approximately 9.5 km which normally takes about 2 hours, we completed it in almost 4 hours stopping at the caldera for a dip and lunch.
By the way, all paradises have a “but” and, in our opinion, the “but” of the Fajã de Santo Cristo are the quads. In one of the most magical places on the island, with a special energy where people go to disconnect, the fact that you can only get there walking or by quad makes you think that the noises are few. But unfortunately, while we did the trail, already arriving at the Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo, and in the same fajã, several noisy quads were constantly passing by carrying tourists, suitcases, or goods, which inevitably detracts from the tranquility and magic of the trail and the place. We understand that quads have to exist but we also believe that the ideal would be to limit the quads to what is strictly necessary for the needs of the local population and businesses, of course, and in the case of tourist use, for all people with functional diversity. The fauna and flora of the fajã will be grateful. And those who make the trail in search of tranquility, too.
Book here your retreat nights in the pearl of the island, at the Caldeira GuestHouse and SurfCamp (from 45€/night) for one or two people or, if you are more, at Casa da Lagoa (from 80€/night), Casa da Fajã (from 84€/night) or Casa da Caldeira (from 180€/night).
Fajã dos Vimes and the coffee plantations
Did you know that São Jorge grows one of the only coffees in Europe? Well, yes!
Thanks to the microclimate of the Fajã dos Vimes, on the south coast of the island there is one of the only coffee plantations in Europe. The areas of cultivation of this coffee are very limited because they only occur in this area of the island (with a constant average temperature between 12º and 25º and humidity of 80%), so it is a coffee made on a small scale (between 100 to 150 kgs per year), for personal consumption and a gourmet product if you want to try it right there or even take it home.
To taste this delicatessen of Arabica coffee with less caffeine and delicious flavor (we found it sweeter than usual) you have to go to the beautiful Fajã dos Vimes, more specifically to Café Nunes and, by the way, accompany the coffee with a tasty homemade queijada (typical sweet) of, of course, coffee or inhame (yam).
The entire process of São Jorge coffee is completely manual, from the harvest (between May and August) to the drying in the sun (something complicated due to the instability of the Azorean climate), the selection of the beans, and even the husk of each gram of coffee is removed by hand with a stone, there is no machinery involved.
If you want to try it right there, the coffee costs 1€ and the homemade queijadas (coffee and yam) cost 0.80€ each. If you want to take this gourmet coffee home, the most you can buy at the coffee shop, apart from tasting it, are 80g bags of coffee (beans or ground, as you prefer) at 8€ per bag. The sachet is enough for approximately 8 coffees.
It all started with the tapestries, which you can also see (and buy) on the upper floor of the cafeteria, in the Casa de Artesanato Nunes, where the looms are located. Those who came to admire and buy the quilts asked for a coffee, and another, and another… and so the Nunes family decided to increase production and open the coffee shop downstairs. A medium size quilt costs more than 500 euros but keep in mind that for the production of each of these quilts, it takes two women at the loom working 12 hours for 7 days. If you don’t want or can’t afford to buy a quilt, but in addition to the vacuum-packed plastic bag of coffee you want to decorate your best souvenir of the island (apart from the cheese) you can buy a coffee bag woven right there on the looms upstairs.
As a curiosity, this fajã is one of the most populated on the island, being the only one in São Jorge with an elementary school, installed since the end of the 19th century.
Besides tasting one of the most exclusive coffees, the visit to Fajã dos Vimes will also give you breathtaking views along the winding road, both on the way down to the fajã and at some of the viewpoints like this one, this one, or this one.
If you want to stay overnight in Fajã dos Vimes and wake up with a delicious coffee, you can do so in one of the four Casas dos Vimes cottages (from 110€), each cottage named after its former owner: Casa da Tia Arminda, Casa da Tia Lopes, Casa das Tias Bentas and Palheiro das Tias Bentas. There are cottages for 2 and up to 8 people. Choose your house here.
Fajã de São João
It was actually in this fajã that coffee cultivation began with an Azorean who emigrated to Brazil in the 18th century and brought back a plant. They did not suspect then that the plant would thrive in such a way in the microclimate of the neighboring Fajã dos Vimes and… to this day.
But this fajã is not only important for historical reasons, the views from the Fajã de São João are breathtaking. And so are the sunsets. Here we had the maximum expression of what we have been feeling in São Jorge in general. That village atmosphere, as if we were in a village in the interior of the continent, in Beira or Alentejo, but in the middle of the Atlantic, surrounded by the sea.
A restaurant called our attention, Taberna Agueda, closed for renovations when we went and the truth is that we do not know when it will reopen, but when they do, its terrace will probably be one of the best places to watch the sunset on the island, directly overlooking the Pico.
Topo and Punta do Topo
In Topo there is a lighthouse overlooking a very biodiverse islet – Ilhéu do Topo – where several colonies of seabirds nest, views of Terceira Island, and a beautiful natural pool, the Pontinha do Topo. All these reasons together make it worthwhile to reach the eastern end of the island, but they are not the only ones.
The town of Topo is known for its harbor that recalls the sad and harsh past of whaling in the Azores that, in this town, began in 1933. When arriving at the port there is a tribute plaque with a list that recalls all the names of the whalers that passed through here. This practice had more expression on the island of Pico although it was transversal to the 9 islands, in our guide to the island of Pico we tell you more about it.
Topo also stands out for its historic buildings such as the Solar dos Tiagos, now in ruins, in whose chapel is buried the Flemish Willem van der Haegen, who is credited with the beginning of the population of São Jorge.
Both the viewpoint and the scenic road (EN2) on the way to Topo have incredible views, so go slowly and enjoy the ride.
A curiosity related to this islet (Ilhéu do Topo) is that in summer you can see cows swimming around here. Apparently, given the proximity of the islet (100 meters from the coast), the cows swim in tow of a boat until they reach the islet to graze there. It is for this reason that the town of Topo is also known for the quality of its cheese (Queijo do Topo).
If you want to stay at the eastern end of the island, the Recanto das Vigias (from 50€/night) is an authentic refuge (a one-bedroom house) with an amazing terrace overlooking the ocean and the islet of Topo.
Calheta (Fajã Grande)
In addition to some natural pools where you can take a dip, those of Fajã Grande and Poças Vicente Dias, Calheta caught our attention for another reason: the Calhetense, which became our favorite place on the island to end the day with a beer and a view of the island of Pico.
On the way to Calheta you can stop at the Miradouro da Rua do Baixo, to get a nice view of Calheta, the sea, and the neighboring island of Pico (on a clear day).
In Calheta you will find Francisco Lacerda Museum, a teacher and composer from the town of Fragueiras, São Jorge. One of the greatest composers of the 19th century and closely linked to the Generation of the 70’s (the same of the writer Eça de Queiroz).
And being tuna fishing in São Jorge a centenary practice, another visit that may interest you in Calheta is the Tuna Factory of Santa Catarina (3,90€ the visit, needs pre-booking at +351 295416220, only in the mornings). The tuna fishing technique is not only centuries old but also artisanal: when the tuna are spotted, the fishermen turn off the boat, throw the bait on the hook (smaller fish) and pick them up inside the boat. It is at this factory where famous (in Portugal) tuna cans “Santa Catarina” are made. It is true that it is sold in all the Azorean islands and even on the mainland but here, besides going where they are created, they are cheaper. In addition to plain tuna, in oil or in water, at the kiosk at the entrance of the factory, you can buy cans of tuna in different sauces: in funcho (fennel) sauce, pimenta dos Açores sauce (the typical Azorean red bell pepper sauce), alecrim (rosemary) sauce, manjericão (basil) sauce, tomato sauce and even curry sauce.
Near Calheta, in Ribeira Seca, you will find Dulçores where some ladies make the famous spicy sweets typical of São Jorge – the espécies – all day long. Come here for a small box of these typical São Jorge sweets, whose name comes from the fact that they contain many spices (such as cinnamon, nutmeg or fennel); a box of 6 espécies costs 3.20€.
If you want to stay very close to our favorite place to say goodbye to the sunset, you should know that in Calheta there are several options at a good price. The Pousada da Juventude offers from beds in shared rooms (from 19€/night) to double rooms (from 38€/night) and in both Adega Jaquet and A Casa da Lara you can stay for less than 50€/night.
Fajã das Almas
Also known as Fajã do Calhau, in Fajã das Almas we found one of the natural pools that we liked the most on the island. Snorkel kit is a must here because there is a lot of marine life to admire while we cool off in its transparent and refreshing waters.
Fajã das Almas has good access, parking, and freshwater showers.
Near Fajã das Almas, less than 10 minutes by car, is the Igreja de Santa Bárbara. If you have time and are interested in baroque architecture and liturgy in the Catholic tradition, come on over. Spoiler: the modest facade framed by basalt stone does not reveal the opulence that hides inside…
Pico da Esperança
To go to the highest point of São Jorge, Pico da Esperança (1053m), and enjoy the panoramic views you have to go on a clear day. In our case, it took us three attempts but we made it.
From the top of the island, it is possible to greet not only the mountain of Pico (the highest point of Portugal, with 2351 meters) but also the neighboring Faial and, with a lot of luck (we didn’t make it) they say that even the other islands of the central group (Terceira and Graciosa)…
To get there by car, you will have to take this detour from the EN-3 indicated on the map, along a dirt road (you can drive slowly in a normal car).
Despite the “hopeful” name of Pico da Esperança, this mountain was the scene of a tragic accident where a Sata (the Azorean airline) plane went down on December 11, 1999. It was Sata’s only tragic accident, where the plane on a flight from Ponta Delgada (São Miguel) to the island of Flores with a stopover in Faial hit this mountain. All 35 people on board died and here is a Memorial where tribute is paid to the victims. In the Memorial, there is a plaque with the names of all the deceased. A tragedy that we are told was due to weather conditions (a lot of low fog and high wind) associated with a probable overconfidence of the experienced pilot. Talking to local people who remember the day of the accident in the winter of 1999, they told us that the front part of the plane remained embedded in the mountain for a couple of weeks. The fog was so thick that tragic day in December that nobody knew what was happening because nothing could be seen. People who were nearby started to see papers flying (from inside the plane) and said that the sound of the plane seemed deafening, too close, and too low. A story that makes the hairs on the back of our neck stand on end.
Still with a strange body after paying homage at the memorial, we continue climbing, always with the magnetism of Pico accompanying us. We parked the car here and the rest of the climb is done on foot. When we reached the top of the highest point of São Jorge at 1053 meters we could enjoy the incredible views even though it was very windy.
If you prefer to get here, not by car but on foot, there is a 17 km trail (the PR4SJO) that connects Pico do Pedro, runs along the entire mountain range to the sea arriving at Fajã do Ouvidor and passes through Pico da Esperança. It is one of the wildest trails on the island where endemic vegetation abounds and where you can even come across the rarest orchid in Europe.
Besides being one of the areas of the island where you will find the best accommodations and with the best views (sunsets with the Pico mountain in the background), Urzelina is also known for its traditional white and red mills and its natural pools.
The Urzelina mills are very curious and are a bit different from the idea we have of a mill in our imagination: they are much narrower, lighter and more maneuverable. Invented by a Jorgense known as Zé do Moio in the mid-20th century, they have been restored and you can even visit one of them, by appointment (call +351 295414504). The natural pools of Urzelina with the mill in the background are particularly photogenic.
If you want to buy a souvenir, the ideal place is the Cooperativa de Artesanato Senhora de Encarnação, where we watched several women at work on the looms and we got a few gifts woven on the spot, a gift wallet and some whales for our nieces.
As a curiosity, you can also find in Urzelina the Kaasfabriek (find the location of the “Atelier de Conservação e Restauro De Obras De Arte de São Jorge” here), an art gallery, museum, recording studio, and painting studio of the famous painter-philosopher-composer Pieter Adriaans. The art gallery can be visited (although it was closed when we went) and is housed in a former Cheese and Milk Factory. Apparently, for the last decade, Pieter Adriaans has alternately painted here and in Holland, and his works are exhibited in several private collections, at the Junta de Freguesia de Ribeira Seca (near Calheta) and at the Flor do Jardim cafe in Velas.
Urzelina is one of the recommended places to stay and make a base for exploration on the island. Among the three most interesting places to stay is the Intact Farm Resort (from 45 €/night), with bungalows designed from the sustainability with incredible views of the Atlantic and the island of Pico(Book your bungalow here). Another more sybaritic option is the Cabanas da Viscondessa (from 120€/night), six wooden cabins (studios or one-bedroom) with balcony and views of the incredible nature of São Jorge. And finally the Villas Castelettes (from 120€/night), six minimalist houses ideal for enjoying the sunset, with the right to use the kitchen and the wood-burning oven if you want, and to enjoy homemade breakfasts as they make everything from bread to yogurt right there. In our section Where to Sleep in Urzelina we recommend a few more.
Although the capitals of the Azorean islands, in general, are not the most interesting on the island (except for the beautiful Angra do Heroísmo in Terceira), Velas, or as it is known, the capital of cheese, is quite beautiful.
In the capital of São Jorge, the Jardim da República, a beautiful municipal garden with a photogenic red kiosk in the center, stands out. Also the church tower, the only thing that the 1808 eruption that destroyed much of Velas did not bring down. And, of course, the port of Velas, our gateway to the island.
We were struck by the colorful building of the Municipal Auditorium, very photogenic, through which we passed to try to discover the Natural Arch of Velas, a volcanic arch, a work of art of nature, between waves of the Atlantic.
We did not find the volcanic arch… What we did find was an império, the Império Bairro da Conceição. One of the colorful (and small) popular temples to venerate the Holy Spirit. They are very characteristic of the neighboring island Terceira where there are more than 70 impérios so if you are curious about these houses of worship with brightly colored facades (and all different!) in the guide of Terceira we dedicate a section to them.
Nearby are some of the most sought-after natural pools in the capital: Poças dos Frades, so called because they are located in front of an old Franciscan convent. And in front of the Pico mountain as well, a few miles away in the Atlantic.
Although we liked the other natural pools near the capital even more, the Piscinas Naturais da Preguiça (preguiça is Portuguese for laziness). Here we spent a good few hours relaxing in these waters and discovering lots of marine life in its transparent waters (we never get tired of saying that it is essential to bring a snorkeling kit for the trip to São Jorge).
Both pools, Poças dos Frades and Piscinas da Preguiça, have free freshwater showers and sunshades.
The capital of the island is a strategic point to make base and explore the island, in addition to having a good range of accommodations. There are from cheaper options such as Hospedaria Australia ( from €45/night) to Bruma Home (from €83/night) where you can greet the Pico mountain and the Atlantic as soon as you open your eyes. In our section Where to stay in Velas we recommend some more.
The cheese of São Jorge: tasting and buying the famous queijo da ilha
Near the capital (5 minutes drive), in the town of Beira, go to the União de Cooperativas Agricolas de Lacticínios de São Jorge (Uniqueijo) to taste (and buy) the famous queijo da ilha DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) of São Jorge, i.e. it can only be produced in São Jorge. The cheeses range from 3 months to 24 months of maturing (the longer the maturing, the stronger and spicier the cheese), and, apart from buying the best souvenir of the island, they do free tastings right there. During the pandemic, visits to factories, such as the Confraria do Queijo (in Velas), located in the oldest cheese factory on the island, have been suspended. There are currently six cooperatives on the island from which 30,000 PDO cheeses are produced annually.
The cheese production process has remained unchanged for 500 years, obtained from raw cow’s milk and classified as hard or semi-hard cured cheese, evolving according to the months of curing. It is sold with a minimum curing period of 3 months because, apparently, before two months it does not get that slightly spicy taste that differentiates it. By the way, from the moment that cheese cannot be made with raw milk and pasteurization of the milk is mandatory, queijo da ilha is finished.
The history of São Jorge cheese runs parallel to the history of the island, dating back to the 15th century, when the Portuguese, known as the first settlers of the island, joined other nationalities such as people from Flanders and encouraged the production of cheese due to the island’s climate being very similar to that of their homeland.
Fajã do Além
One of those fajãs only accessible on foot, ideal for those seeking silence and peace. There are two ways to get to Fajã do Além, the shortcut on the north side or the shortcut of Santo António, but do not be confused by the word “shortcut” because the minimum time it takes to reach the Fajã do Além is about 3 hours. Of course, you will find a much less crowded trail than Caldeira de Santo Cristo, for example, and a beautiful fajã of only 20 houses.
Here you have the official info of the trail (the PRC5SJO), circular to access by one area and exit by the other.
Fajã de João Dias
Fajã de João Dias is an inaccessible fajã, which has about 50 houses (20 in ruins, old, and 30 more modern). One of the characteristics of this fajã is that until recently it had a shortage of drinking water (since it has no streams and the only source that existed dried up), which led all the houses to build cisterns to collect rainwater.
Currently no one lives there permanently since the man who used to live in this fajã has passed away. This fajã receives more visitors during summer vacations (where the owners of the other houses spend part of their vacations).
The access, through a narrow and steep road, could only be done on foot, although recently a road has been enabled to access by car as well. Here you can see an impressive drone video of the new track.
If you have time, it is advisable to access the fajã on foot (about 60 min downhill and 45 min uphill): to know closely how life was in one of the most inaccessible fajã, to enjoy the varied Macaronesian flora and fauna that you will find on the trail, and to take a well-deserved bath in the bathing area that you will find in the João Dias fajã.
Pico da Velha Viewpoint
On your visit to the west side of the island, on your way to the Parque Florestal Sete Fontes and Ponta dos Rosais (which we will talk about below), if you are lucky and the skies are clear, don’t miss the Miradouro do Pico da Velha.
From this viewpoint, you will have incredible panoramic views of the entire western part of the dragon island, as well as the neighboring islands of Pico and Faial.
It is also an excellent place to watch the sunset. Although, as we say, you have to be lucky with the weather (it was not our case).
Parque Florestal Sete Fontes
The Parque Florestal Sete Fontes is one of the largest and most important parks on the island, with approximately 12 hectares, where you can observe various endemic species of the Azores. Besides the fact that the road to get to the park is already worth it, several kilometers in which the trees form real tunnels, all lined up on both sides of the road, when you reach the park you will find several leisure areas, such as a playground and an area where you can have picnics, very nice with the soundtrack of the stream that crosses the park and some ducks that live there.
Once here, head to Miradouro Ferrã Afonso (you can park at this point) to view the steep cliffs of the northern part of São Jorge. When we went it was cloudy and we still found it breathtaking, we imagine it will be even better on a clear day.
Ponta dos Rosais
The westernmost point of the island, Ponta dos Rosais, is located 5 km from the Sete Fontes Florestal Park. Like the easternmost point (Topo) it also hides a lighthouse and from the lighthouse a breathtaking view (which we also contemplated from the boat to Graciosa). In fact, they are some of the most impressive views of the island where the immensity of the Atlantic swallows us and reminds us of human smallness. If you are lucky, you will be able to see the neighbors island of the triangle (Pico and Faial). It is also one of the places par excellence where you can watch the sunset in São Jorge.
In addition to the lighthouse and its views, near Ponta dos Rosais you will also find an old whale-watching post, recently recovered and transformed into a lookout where you can greet the neighboring islands of the Azores triangle, Faial and Pico.
Curiosities of São Jorge
- The average of two cows per inhabitant in the Azorean archipelago rises to three cows per inhabitant in São Jorge. Therefore, it is very likely that while driving around the island you will experience some rush hour in São Jorge. Not of cars but… of cows!
- The vacation home is 5 minutes away by car. Nowadays, with easier infrastructures and vehicles to move around, we find it curious that many people on the island live on the top of the cliffs but have their vacation home down in the fajã. For example, our hosts have a house on the Fajã do Ouvidor for weekends and vacations but their usual home is 3km further up. What is currently done in 10 minutes by car, a few decades ago took much longer as the fajãs were more isolated due to lack of infrastructure . They say that they still prefer to have their main home closer to the main road (and less minutes from work in the capital, Velas) than down in the fajã.
- Currently the island has schools including high school, up to university entrance, but until relatively recently São Jorge didn’t have high school. This meant that if you wanted to continue studying high school, you had to go to another island to complete your schooling and leave home, returning only during the Christmas, Easter and summer vacations.
- At present, pregnant women have to leave their island, São Jorge, one month before their due date to one of the main islands with a hospital (Faial, Terceira or São Miguel) of their choice. Logically, the expenses are covered by the Azorean autonomous government.
- In contrast to the neighboring islands of the triangle, Pico and Faial, where there is an increasing gastronomic offer, in São Jorge we noticed that there was much less offer. According to what the locals told us, this may have to do not only with the purchasing power but also with the fact that on this island there is not so much of a habit of dining out.
The best hiking trails in São Jorge
We recommend checking the official Azores trails website, where you can find all the official trails and practical information (usually updated) about them. Here you can see all the official trails of São Jorge.
Here we highlight some of the ones we think are the most beautiful:
- Trail to Caldeira de Santo Cristo (PR01SJO): linear, 9.5 km, 3 hours. It is necessary to hire a cab to go or return (25€). If you do it on the way back sometimes there is the possibility of sharing with more people, although it is ideal to book the cab before to avoid problems (we recommend John Moniz: +351919577223). More info / official brochure
- Gran Recorrido de São Jorge 1 (GR01SJO): huge linear trail of 26km that starts in Topo, passes through Fajã dos Vimes, then Caldera de Santo Cristo and up to Fajã dos Cubres. It is a good way to get to know some of the most important points of the island on foot. More info / official brochure
- Pico da Esperança Trail ( PR4SJO): linear trail of about 17km (4h) that runs along several of the peaks of the central mountain range and ends at the Fajã do Ouvidor. You will need a cab (we recommend John Moniz: +351919577223). More info / official brochure
- Trail to Fajã de Além (PRC5SJO): circular route of 4,7km (3h), to get to know a fajã not accessible by vehicles. More info / official brochure
- Trail to Fajã de João Dias (not official trail): roundtrip route by the same access (1h30-2h), to know another quite inaccessible fajã. Route in wikiloc
If you feel like doing a trail in company, you can make a route through several fajanas in group with picnic included and a dip at the end. Click here for more information.
Where to dive in São Jorge
Although in the end I did not have time to dive in the waters of São Jorge, I asked for recommendations of centers to do so. John Moniz, who we met when we did the Fajã de Santo Cristo trail, dives on the island and recommended the São Jorge Dive Center.
As for dive sites, the best known are:
- Baixa dos Rosais: the main attraction is the observation of pelagics. Although it is not a deep dive (15 meters approx), it is only recommended for divers with some experience as it is a place prone to strong currents and far from the port (only 3 miles from the coast but about 10 miles from Porto das Velas).
- Islote de Topo: together with baixa dos Rosais, it is another of the best sites for pelagic sightings. It is also only recommended for divers with some experience as it is a place prone to strong currents.
- Urzelina islet: easy dive, ideal for try dives, night dives and snorkeling. Although the marine life around the islet is not very abundant, in one of its walls (to the south) there is a not very wide cave where we can find groupers, moray eels and queen fish. A few dozen meters west of the islet are two small stone arches about 10 meters wide where more marine life also swirls.
- Baixa de Entre-Morros: also an easy dive, on the imposing islet located next to the Morro wall, descends to 10 meters deep, being an excellent place for try dives, night dives and snorkeling.
- Baixio da Ponta da Queimada: is a versatile dive site that can be adapted to divers with little or more experience. The depths vary between 10 and 70 meters making it also an ideal site for deep technical dive explorations, as the shallows drop sharply to 60 – 70 meters. In the upper part there is a brutal scenery formed by corridors of lava flows and small caves and full of life, with several species of moray eels, and small bottom fish. At the extremity, there is the possibility of observing several schools of fish passing by.
Ideally, you should approach the center, share your diving experience with them and they will tell you which dive sites are most suitable for you and what dive trips are scheduled for the days you are going to be there.
If you don’t dive but love the sea, don’t forget to bring your mask and snorkel as the natural pools of São Jorge are very biodiverse and it is easy to see a lot of life. Our favorite spot was at Fajã das Almas but it sure is worth every dip. It is not easy to rent or buy on the island and there is a lot of life in the natural pools to explore. Here is a kit for less than 20€.
If you don’t have a mask and snorkel and knowing that it is complicated to rent you can consider doing this snorkeling tour in São Jorge. You can choose a full day tour (which includes snorkeling at Poça Simão Dias, the Urzelina wreck and the Fajã de Santo Amaro) or a half day tour snorkeling in one of the most spectacular marine paradises of the island for 4 hours. The tours include snorkeling equipment, transportation and guide.
Boat trips around the island
There is also the possibility of taking boat trips around the island of São Jorge. We didn’t want to due to lack of time but it must be incredible to contemplate the unique orography of São Jorge from the sea. If you are up for it, contact the São Jorge Dive Center (departing from Velas) or MarAzores (departing from Calheta).
In addition to tours around the island, they offer all kinds of trips:
- From Ponta do Topo to Ilhéu do Topo
- From Ponta da Ilha to Rosais
- From Calheta to São Tomé Waterfall
- From Calheta or from Velas to the beautiful Caldeira de Santo Cristo or Fajã dos Vimes.
- From Velas to Fajã João Dias, Fajã do Ouvidor o Ponta Furada
- From Fajã do Ouvidor to Caldeira de Santo Cristo
Where to stay in São Jorge: best areas
We had the feeling when we were there in June that the south of the island always had better weather than the north, so if you want to get accommodation where there is a higher probability of sunny days, good location to explore the island and also with views of the Pico mountain and the sunset, we would tell you to choose Urzelina(known for its windmills and natural pools), Velas (the capital of the island) or even Calheta (where you can find cheaper options).
If, in addition, you want to live the experience of sleeping in a Fajã, just a few days or the entire stay, it is clear that the one that takes the palm for a few days of retreat and disconnection is the Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo but if you want a more accessible fajã to go in and out with the car every day to move around the island, then it would be the Fajã do Ouvidor. You also have the option of staying at the Fajã dos Vimes, the only one where you are sure to have one of the best coffees in Europe for breakfast.
For all the sites we have just mentioned, here are our favorite accommodations.
Where to sleep in Urzelina and wake up with a view for Pico
One of the best areas to stay, not only for the accommodation offer but also for the views of the Atlantic, the island of Pico and the best sunsets..:
- Intact Farm Resort (from 45€/night): 10 bungalows with terrace made with natural and local materials, scattered in a way that guarantees privacy to its guests and incredible views of the Atlantic and the island of Pico.
- Casa d’Avó (from 78€/night): double rooms with private bathroom in an idyllic setting. In addition to the friendliness of the hosts, the breakfasts are also highly praised.
- Make it happen Farm (from 80€/night): for those who want to disconnect and be in the middle of “nowhere” which “is a lot”. Bungalows, collective kitchen-living room with terrace, farm and gardens, a space designed to be integrated into the nature of the island, both externally and in its philosophy.
- Quinta da Magnólia (from €80/night): rooms with sea view in a renovated fica with swimming pool
- Retiro Atlántico (from 90€/night): if you want to live the experience of sleeping in a yurt in São Jorge
- Lucy’s Rosegarden (119€/night): a two-bedroom house with incredible views of the sea and the Pico Mountains. Ideal.
- Cabanas da Viscondessa (from 120€/night), six wooden cabins (studios or one-bedroom) with balcony and views of the incredible nature of São Jorge.
- Castelettes Villas (from 120€/night) six houses (three studios, two 1-bedroom houses and one 2-bedroom house) minimalist with ideal views to watch the sunset and several different trails to do. In addition, guests are welcome to use the wood-burning oven if they wish. In addition, the homemade breakfasts are highly recommended, from bread to yogurt…
More options in Urzelina here
Where to sleep in Velas, the capital of the island
- Hospedaria Australia (from 45€/night): one of the best value for money options on the island; simple and comfortable rooms with private bathroom in a small hotel in the center of Velas.
- Cantinho do Piano (from €55/night): rooms with private bathroom in the center of Velas
- Cantinho da Avenida (from 55€): a 1-bedroom apartment with swimming pool, two minutes from the natural pools of Velas.
- Bruma Home (from 83€/night): greet the Pico mountain and the Atlantic as soon as you open your eyes. This apartment is located within walking distance of the natural pools of Velas and has 3 bedrooms.
- Blue Planet (from 96€/night): very close to the center of Velas and the natural swimming pools, all 1-bedroom accommodations have a large terrace and sea view.
Somewhat further from the center of the capital but very close to Velas (about 8 minutes by car) is the Cantinho das Buganvilias ( from 65€/night), recommended not only for its accommodation (several types of 1 or 2 bedroom apartments and swimming pool) but also for its restaurant.
More options in Velas here.
Where to sleep in Calheta
- Azores Youth Hostel / Pousada da Juventude (from 19€/night for a bed in a shared room to 38€/night for a double room): a hostel with bunk beds in dormitories to double rooms, with nice views and shared living room and kitchen.
- Adega Jaquet (from 49€/night): a one-bedroom cottage near the natural pools of Calheta
- A Casa da Lara (50€/night): double rooms in a house with living room, kitchen and garden.
More options in Calheta here
Where to sleep in a Fajã
Fajã do Ouvidor, the most accessible
- The Pérola de Lava apartment was where we stayed and we loved it. It has a bedroom, living room-kitchen, bathroom and terrace overlooking the Fajã. Also, Sónia (the hostess) and Isabel (her mother) are the best. The house has all the basics you need, literally, even oil and salt for cooking and laundry detergent for the washing machine and tweezers. The views are incredible to one of the most beautiful Fajãs of the island, 3 minutes from the entrance of Poça Simão Dias and very close to the Amilcar, where you can taste the famous clams of São Jorge.
- Casas da Eira Velha (from 80€/night): Another wonderful option if you want to stay in Fajã do Ouvidor, also with sea views.
Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo, the most beautiful one
If you want to stay in the pearl of the island where you can disconnect or spend a few days in contact with nature, these are the options where you can stay:
- Caldeira GuestHouse & SurfCamp (from 45 €): has from suites with sea views to beds in shared rooms. You can also rent surfboards, paddle surf, canoes, snorkel kit, bicycles, motorcycles and quads.
- Casa da Lagoa (from 80€): two rooms in a stone house where guests can rent surfboards and rubber boats to explore the Caldera lagoon.
- Casa da Fajã (from 84€): A beautiful two-bedroom house just a few meters from the lagoon and with paradisiacal views. They also have canoes available for those staying here.
- Casa da Caldeira (from 180€): cottages for 2, 4 and up to 7 people, some with views of the caldera lagoon and the sea.
Fajã dos Vimes, ideal for coffee lovers
- Casas dos Vimes (from 110€), stone cottages with terrace that can accommodate from 2 to 8 people. Each cottage was named after its former owner: Casa da Tia Arminda, Casa da Tia Lopes, Casa das Tias Bentas and Palheiro das Tias Bentas. There are cottages for 2 and up to 8 people. Choose your house here. Advantage of having breakfast with the best coffee and a dip in the beach of the fajã dos Vimes.
Where to eat (and drink) in São Jorge
- Café Calhetense (Calheta): our place of choice to watch the sunset overlooking the Pico. You can’t exactly see the sun going into the sea but it has a good vibe, beer, tapas and atmosphere at night.
- Palpite Frequente (Velas): Chef Luísa Fernandes (or Chef Luisinha as she is known) put this restaurant on the Portuguese gastronomic map with her different and creative proposals. After almost a decade of cooking at “Robert” (a top restaurant in Manhattan, New York), she returned to Portugal and, since May 2020, she lives on the island of São Jorge changing the only restaurant on the island with risky proposals, all with local products. Unfortunately we did not arrive in time to meet him.
- O 30 (Velas): varied, typical and original tapas, but above all delicious. The hamburgers are made with Bolo lêvedo from the island of Fores (incredible) and there are vegan and vegetarian options.
- Flor do Jardim (Velas): apart from the food (especially the sweets), it is worth visiting this café because it has some works of the painter-philosopher-composer Pieter Adriaans on display.
- Restaurante São Jorge (Velas): typical gastronomy with impeccable service
- Restaurant Açor (Velas): very close to the previous one, we did not manage to go but they say wonderful things about the food and not so wonderful about the service (long waiting time).
- O Amilcar (Fajã do Ouvidor): one of the few places on the island outside the Caldeira de Santo Cristo that has clams from the Caldeira to taste. Unfortunately it was closed for renovation when we went, but we will have to go back as everyone raved about this place.
- O Borges (Caldeira de Santo Cristo): the only place to drink a beer and taste São Jorge clams in the very Caldeira de Santo Cristo. It is in a privileged enclave and they say that the clams are exquisitely cooked but we did not get to try them. Although we tried to book in advance before making the trail, there was no way to answer and, once there, arriving early and with empty tables, they told us in a very rude way that they could not serve us and we could not eat there, regardless of the time (we tried to book for later) and that they had a lot of work (two tables occupied). So, we drank two beers to rest and left with a bad taste in our mouths.
- O Spot (Fajã dos Cubres): open from 5pm, they also have the famous clams from Caldeira de Santo Cristo and limpets, it is located just behind the church.
- Café Nunes (Fajã dos Vimes), to taste the coffee of São Jorge (and buy at 8€ the small bag) and try the queijadas of inhame (cassava) and coffee queijadas, of course. Coffee at 1€, queijada at 0,80€.
- Snack Bar Creperie do Portinho (Piscinas Naturais da Fajã Grande, near Calheta): wonderful spot to enjoy the sunset. When we went there it was closed, but we still wanted to have a beer there.
- Sabores Sopranos (Biscoitos): We were recommended this restaurant but when we saw that the menu consisted mainly of meat dishes, we did not go.
- Fornos de Lava (Santo Amaro): here we enjoyed a wonderful cataplana of fish, seafood and limpets but for the more carnivorous people you will want to try their famous “bife com crosta de queijo da ilha” (a veal fillet with island cheese au gratin).
- Cooperativa Agrícola (Beira): it is THE place to buy and taste the famous“queijo da ilha” (cheese from the island of São Jorge). It is available in several types of curing: from 3 months to 24 months.
- Queijaria Canada (Santo Amaro): the only cheese factory that still produces cheese in an artisanal way and in small quantities. Until 2001 they sold the milk from their 40 cows to the cooperative but since that year they started with their own artisanal production.
- Mercado Municipal (Velas): to buy and taste the famous spicy sweets of São Jorge, the“doces de espécies“.
- Dulçores (Ribeira Seca): Another place to buy the famous espécies. Each box of 6 espécies costs 3,20€.
- Santa Catarina Tuna Factory: to buy canned tuna “Santa Catarina”. It is sold in all the Azorean islands and even on the mainland but here, besides going where they are created, they are cheaper. Besides plain tuna, in oil or water, it is available in different sauces: in funcho (fennel) sauce, pimenta da terra sauce (the typical Azorean red bell pepper sauce), alecrim (rosemary) sauce and even curry sauce.
- Cantinho das Buganvilias (Velas), we did not get to go but we were recommended the restaurant of this hotel with regional gastronomy and views to the Pico.
- Taberna Águeda (Fajã de São João): it was closed for renovations when we went and the truth is that we don’t know when it will open, but when it does, its terrace will probably be one of the best places to watch the sunset on the island.
- Maré Viva (Fajã das Almas): it was closed when we went but we don’t know if it was because of the pandemic or because of works. It caught our attention because it looked good to eat overlooking the sea before or after a dip in one of the natural pools that we liked the most on the island.
Travel Itineraries to São Jorge
As you will have seen if you have read our entire guide, São Jorge has many incredible places to visit, so to see everything you need at least 4-5 days.
As we do not always have so much time to enjoy the island, we leave you several suggestions of itineraries for 3, 5 and 7 days.
What to see in São Jorge in 2-3 days (a weekend)
A weekend is very little time for São Jorge, so if this is your case you will have to choose which plans you want to prioritize and which you want to leave out. Based on our visit and experience on the island, here is our suggested itinerary.
3-day itinerary in São Jorge
- Day 1: Arrival and check-in at the accommodation. We visit Fajã do Ouvidor (stopping at its viewpoint) and Poça Simão Dias (if it is lunch time, we can have lunch at Amílcar). We continue to Fajã dos Vimes to taste the local coffee, then to Fajã Grande where we take a dip and finish the day in Calheta.
- Day 2: Trail to Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo in the morning (lunch at Fajã dos Cubres). In the afternoon we approach the east side of the island (Topo).
- Day 3: Visit the west side of the island (Ponta dos Rosais, Parque Florestal Sete Fontes, etc.) and if time permits, Urzelina and Velas.
What to see in São Jorge in 4-5 days
With 4-5 days, we recommend
- Day 1: Arrival and check-in at the accommodation. We visit Fajã do Ouvidor (stopping at its viewpoint) and Poça Simão Dias (if it is lunch time, we can have lunch at Amílcar). We continue to Fajã da Ribeira da Areia with its volcanic arch, then to Fajã Grande where we take a dip and finish the day in Calheta.
- Day 2: Trail to Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo in the morning (lunch at Fajã dos Cubres). In the afternoon we approach the east side of the island (Topo).
- Day 3: Morning hike to Fajã de Alem. In the afternoon we visit the west side of the island (Ponta dos Rosais, Parque Florestal Sete Fontes, etc.) and take the opportunity to watch the sunset from there.
- Day 4: In the morning we go to Urzelina and Fajã das Almas (with a dip). In the afternoon, we climb Pico da Esperança and visit Fajã dos Vimes to taste its coffee.
- Day 5: We visit the União de Cooperativas Agricolas de Lacticínios de São Jorge (where we can buy cheese to take away) and Velas, where if there is time we can take a dip.
What to see in São Jorge in one week (7 days)
With a week you can take things a little more calmly (or do it at a good pace to visit many more places).
Example of a 7-day itinerary:
- Day 1: Arrival and check-in at the accommodation. We visit the west side of the island (Ponta dos Rosais, Parque Florestal Sete Fontes, etc.) and take the opportunity to watch the sunset from there.
- Day 2: Trail to Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo in the morning, where we stay to sleep and enjoy the place.
- Day 3: We finish the trail in Fajã dos Cubres (we can have lunch there). In the afternoon we approach the east side of the island (Topo).
- Day 4: In the morning route by Pico da Esperança (PR4SJO) (leave car in Fajã do Ouvidor and pay cab at the beginning of the route). At the end of the route we will arrive at Fajã do Ouvidor, so we take the opportunity to get to know and take a well-deserved dip in Poça Simão Dias. If we are in the mood, we approach Fajã da Ribeira da Areia and its volcanic arch.
- Day 5: Morning hike to Fajã de Alem. In the afternoon, Urzelina and Velas (with a dip in one of its pools).
- Day 6: In the morning, Fajã de São João and Fajã dos Vimes, where we taste coffee. In the afternoon we go to Fajã das Almas for a dip and finish the day in Calheta.
- Day 7: We take the opportunity to visit something we are missing or relax in one of the natural pools of the island, as well as buy cheese to take away near Velas.
Transportation: rent a car in São Jorge
As in all the islands of the Azores, in São Jorge we consider it essential to rent a car in order to enjoy the island to the fullest, take advantage of the weather, and be able to visit some emblematic places (which cannot be reached by public transport).
In our case we rented the car with Autatlantis, which allows you to pick up and drop off the vehicle in several locations (in our case, as we arrived by boat from Pico, and then we left by boat also to Graciosa, we picked it up and dropped it off at the port of Velas).
If there is no availability with Autatlantis, you can check and compare other companies with availability for your dates in comparators such as DiscoverCars. Remember to check the rental conditions of each company (excess, insurance coverage, fuel policy, reviews…) and not only the price.
Everything was perfect, our car was a Citroen C3 in very good condition. One important thing to keep in mind is that, as you may have seen in this guide, in São Jorge you will have to go up and down several fajãs; the access to them are usually winding roads with some inclination, so it is important to have a car with some power (it may be a good idea not to rent the cheapest car). We met a group of 4 people who had to get 2 of them out of the car on the steepest climbs. In our case we did not have any problems.
The prices of rental cars in São Jorge rarely go below 25€/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 prohibitive prices. In some summers they reached 100€ per day and we know several people who did not manage to rent a car because they left it to the last minute: in fact, when we arrived at the island by boat, a couple who arrived without a reservation could not find a car in any of the companies that were in the port.
On the other hand, some of the most beautiful trails in São Jorge are linear, which means that you will need help to go from the beginning to the end (or the other way around). Unless you are lucky enough to find another car to do the route at the same time, the easiest way is to hire a cab (in our case we always prefer to leave the car at the end of the route and hire the cab to take us to the start, so that when we finish we do not depend on anyone). We leave you the contact of the cab driver we hired on our trip to São Jorge: John Moniz Taxi – +351 919577223
Cab fares may seem expensive, but once you get to know the island’s orography you will understand why. Although cabs do not have a taximeter, they do have a price table on the windows or inside the cab if you ask for it.
If you can’t rent a car, don’t drive or are afraid to drive on the winding access roads to the fajãs de São Jorge, you have the option of using public transportation, although the routes and schedules are quite limited and we strongly recommend renting a car. Here you can check bus schedules and routes. Another option (more expensive) is to visit the island with tours. Here are some options:
- One-day tour of São Jorge
- Private tour of São Jorge – you can tailor the itinerary to your liking
- Snorkeling tour in São Jorge – to visit some of the amazing natural pools without car
- You can also contact a cab driver for a tailor-made itinerary (e.g. John Moniz – +351 919577223).
How much does it cost to travel to São Jorge?
As always, giving a generic budget is very difficult as it depends greatly on your style of travel. What we can do is to give you an orientation of prices and that you calculate your budget with them:
- Flights: You can find flights from 50€ round trip from Lisbon/Oporto to some of the Azorean islands with connection to São Jorge, but it depends on how far in advance you book. To this you will have to add the flight or boat to São Jorge (from 21€ per person round trip boat, from 100€ per person round trip flight). If you are traveling from Spain or from outside Portugal, flights to the archipelago are more limited and expensive.
- Car rental: from 25€ per day for the cheapest car (depending on the company, advance booking and number of days), all inclusive.
- Accommodation: from 45€/night for a room with private bathroom or apartment with kitchen, centrally located.
- Restaurant meals: between €15 and €25 per person
In total, as a guideline, a one-week trip to São Jorge with a rented car can cost between 500 and 750€ per person (with the cheapest options of car, lodging and restaurants).
Useful apps for traveling to São Jorge
We recommend some applications to install on your cell phone that will be useful for your trip to São Jorge:
- 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 sunny in another, this app is the fastest way to make sure and avoid unnecessary trips.
- 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
- GoogleMaps(Android / iOS): is the one we use to save / classify all the places we want to go / have gone and as GPS in rental cars. 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): application similar to Google Maps but works offline (although Google Maps can also work offline) and in many cases has information that Google Maps does not have, especially trails. 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.
Recommendations to enjoy São Jorge and to make your trip a pleasant one and not a detraction from the island
- The natural pools almost all have freshwater showers (which is great) but don’t use shampoos and soaps with chemicals in those showers. A quick shower to get the salt off and you’re done.
- Do not allow the disturbance, pollution and destruction of seabird nesting habitats. The “cagarros” (shearwaters, in Spanish) are a migratory bird that nests in the Azores and that on your trip will sound to you by their particular song of “awa awa” as if they were singing the chorus of the song Video Killed by Radio Star. In order to avoid situations where young shearwaters are captured or run over on the road, the Government of the Azores promotes the annual SOS Cagarro Campaign, which we recommend you to know when you arrive in the archipelago.
- Never try to touch or feed an animal – don’t be an accomplice to animal abuse!
- Do not buy handicrafts made from sea animals or extracted from the sea (e.g. dolphin teeth, turtle shells, shark jaws, sperm whale ivory, …). The ivory trade, currently the only valuable product of the sperm whale, is still an argument for hunters. Buy local handicrafts made from alternative materials such as wood, stone or vegetable ivory.
- If you visit the island in summer and enjoy the sea, remember that sometimes you may encounter a jellyfish (aguaviva) or a Portuguese caravel whose sting is painful and dangerous. The good thing is that these last ones float and are easily detectable, but in case you see one, get out of the water immediately and warn other people of their presence. In case you have been stung by either of them, it is very important that you follow these official recommendations: do not scratch the area of the sting (to prevent the venom from spreading); do not clean with fresh water or alcohol, clean only with sea water and very carefully; and in case the sting is a Portuguese dogfish sting, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
- Respect other people and the island: don’t play your music loudly on the beach or natural pool (if you want to listen to music, wear headphones), don’t leave trash, don’t throw cigarette butts, etc. Leave the beach better than you found it (if you find plastic, pick it up).
- In some areas bathing can be dangerous due to strong currents. Don’t be brave.
- On the trails, you will sometimes pass through closed wooden gates, which you will have to open and, very importantly, close again, as they are usually the boundaries of land with cows grazing inside.
- Always travel with travel insurance: medical expenses, theft or problems with your plane on a trip can cost you a lot of money, so the ideal is to take out travel insurance. We always use IATI and recommend it. If you take out your insurance through this link you get a 5% discount.
Checklist: what to take in your backpack/suitcase for São Jorge
Here is a list of must-haves that you can’t forget to take with you on your trip to São Jorge Island:
- Reef friendly sunscreen, i.e. free of coral-damaging chemicals, oxybenzone-free, and not tested on animals, such as this one or this one.
- Snorkel kit/glasses because it is not easy to rent or buy on the island and there is a lot of life in the natural pools to explore. Here is a kit for less than 20€.
- Long sleeve lycra T-shirt with UV protection that we wear to protect us from cold water or the sun when snorkeling, such as one of these.
- Cap, the sun is very strong
- A water bottle like one of these to carry water with you at all times. This way you will avoid using single-use plastic.
- A neck brace like one of these to protect your throat from the wind.
- Waterproof bag, to keep your electronic devices safe. This one for example costs 12€.
- Microfiber towel, which occupies little and you will use for the beach. If you don’t have one, you can buy the typical ones from Decathlon or these ones on Amazon
- Camera to record the adventures. We carry a Sony A5100 and a GoPro for underwater images.
- Power bank: with so many photos you will spend a lot of battery, so it always comes in handy to carry a good power bank. We travel with these 2(Xiaomi and Anker), which allow us to charge our smartphones, camera and GoPro.
- First-aid kit: our first-aid kit should include a medicine against seasickness (such as biodramine for seasickness on boats), antibiotics, antidiarrheals (and a probiotic to recover more quickly), antihistamines, painkillers and antipyretics.
The first hours in São Jorge made the island steal our hearts immediately and things went in crescendo. We arrived at a house in the middle of Fajã do Ouvidor, with the smile of Sónia and her mother Isabel, we tasted the homemade spices they made to welcome us and greeted the island with a dip in Simão Dias, one of the most beautiful natural pools we have seen. When we returned, we got to know Isabel’s art, which is manifested in her quilts and cushions and her husband’s, in all the wooden cabinets of the house, we tasted their homemade brandies in their cellar, a delicious fish broth on their terrace and, after four hours (well watered with wine), we realized that we had not locked the door of the house. It’s all right, it’s São Jorge. And we are already counting the days to return.
Disclaimer: Autatlantis helped us explore São Jorge with one of their vehicles but all opinions and information expressed in this post are our own.
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