São Miguel is the largest and most populated island of the Azores, also the most touristic. It is a very heterogeneous island where there are plenty of plans to spend a week if you want to explore it calmly. Here the days are lived among some of the most beautiful lagoons of the archipelago, trails in biodiverse forests dotted with waterfalls, steaming hot springs to rest, breathtaking viewpoints to explore and a cup of tea to taste in the only plantations in Europe. It is the island with the greatest variety of gastronomy and accommodation, so there are options for all budgets and tastes.

It is an excellent starting point to the Azorean archipelago. Although it is the most touristc island and where overcrowding is noticeable, especially in those places labelled as “must visit”, it still offers Azorean authenticity if you go a little off the beaten track.

In this guide we try to reflect all that São Miguel has to offer with practical tips, itineraries from 2 to 7 days, where to sleep and even where to eat so that you can make the most of your trip to the island.

Contents

Basic facts for traveling to São Miguel

Currency: Euro

Language: Portuguese

Population: 133,000 (in 2021)

Daily budget: From 70€/day per person (approx.) for a one week trip with rented car and the cheapest options of private accommodation for 2. More budget information here

Weather: Undoubtedly the best time to visit São Miguel is in summer due to better air and water temperatures and less chance of rain, although winter is not very cold (but it tends to rain more). Find out more about when to go here.

Accommodation: The ideal areas to stay are Ponta Delgada or Ribeira Grande, because of their central location, connections with other points of the island and gastronomic and accommodation offer. More info on where to stay here.

Duration: Minimum 3 days, recommended 5 days and ideally one week. More info here.

Flights: The cheapest is usually to fly from Porto/Lisbon, where there are many flights with Ryanair, Tap or Sata. We recommend you to use flight comparators like Skyscanner and Kiwi and be flexible with dates. More info on how to get to São Miguel here.

Transportation: The best option is to rent a car. We did it with Autatlantis and we loved it: new cars and the best franchise policy. More info here

Time zone: UTC +0. The time in the Azores archipelago (Portugal) is one hour behind the Portuguese mainland

Covid-19 measures: Since the measures in the Azores are constantly changing, before traveling, check here the official information from the regional government to enter the archipelago and here the specific restrictions per island.

Lagoa do Fogo: our favorite lagoon

When to visit São Miguel

The best months to visit São Miguel are May, June and September. Considering that it is the most touristic island of the Azores, it’s better to avoid July and August, which are the most touristic months. June and September are usually the best months, with good weather, warmer ocean waters and less overcrowded tourism.

In terms of climate, summer is undoubtedly the best time, with higher temperatures, less chance of rain and the possibility to enjoy more its beaches and natural pools. In any case, the weather in São Miguel (and in the Azores in general) is very unstable so there are no guarantees at any time of the year (it is often said that you can have the 4 seasons in the same day).

The cool waters of the Salto do Prego waterfall

Climate chart of São Miguel, with temperatures and rainy days per month:

MonthAverage temperatureAverage temperature (water)Rainy days
January17º17º13
February16º17º9
March16º17º12
April16º16º13
May18º19º11
June20º20º7
July22º23º8
August23º25º9
September23º24º14
October21º23º18
November19º19º14
December18º19º17
MonthAverage temperatureAverage temperature (water)Rainy days

If you like music festivals and other types of art events, you can try to schedule your visit to the island according to their dates: Tremor, Azores Burning Summer, Meo Monte Verde, Festival das Marés or Walk and Talk

Lagoa do Congro, a marvel for all the senses

How to get to São Miguel

The cheapest and more convenient way to get to São Miguel is usually to fly from Lisbon/Oporto with Ryanair although sometimes you can also find good prices with Tap (the Portuguese airline) or with Sata (the Azorean airline responsible for all inter-island flights). We recommend you to be flexible with dates anduse price comparators such as Skyscanner and Kiwi.com.

Do you have time to visit other islands besides São Miguel? Here’s a little tip. If you arrive to the archipelago from anywhere in Portugal you can fly with Sata to any other Azorean island (get inspired about which islands to visit in our guide to the Azores), and if you do it within 24 hours of landing in the Azores (or within 24 hours before leaving the archipelago) you even get a free connecting flight: more info here.

Flying over Pico Island on the our to São Miguel

How many days to spend in São Miguel

We recommend a minimum of 3 days, although the ideal amount of days to visit São Miguel would be about 5 days, and if you stay a week, taking into account the unpredictable weather in the islands and travel in a more relaxed way, you will not regret it. For this reason we propose different types of itineraries, from 2 to 7 days.

Did you know that São Miguel is home to the only tea plantations in Europe?

Things to see and do in São Miguel

This is a summary of the places of interest to visit in São Miguel, and below you have the map and specific information of each place.

Things to see and do in São Miguel

  • The most beautiful lagoons of the archipelago
  • Smoky volcanic vents where sulfur-smelling stews are made.
  • Natural hot springs in the middle of nature for relaxation
  • Breathtaking viewpoints
  • Meandering, green and (in summer) flowery roads

Map of São Miguel

Here we leave you all the places of interest in São Miguel that we talk about in this guide on aGoogle Maps map that you can carry on your smartphone to consult at any time.

And here is also a tourist map with the roads of São Miguel( click on the image to download it in larger size and resolution).

West of the island: Sete Cidades and surroundings

Miradouro Vista do Rei and Lagoa das Sete Cidades

There are several viewpoints from which to contemplate the beautiful Sete Cidades lagoon but the Miradouro Vista do Rei is the most famous spot. Although Sete Cidades looks like two lagoons – one green and one blue – it is actually one lagoon whose green and blue waters do not mix. There is a legend about it, full of romantic love, that says that the two-colored lagoon was formed by the tears of the impossible love between a blue-eyed princess and a green-eyed shepherd who cried so much at their last meeting, before the princess married another fiancé, that this two-colored lagoon was born.

The impressive Sete Cidades lagoon from the Vista do Rei viewpoint

Legends aside, it seems that the reason for the different colors of the lagoon are the depth and the concentration of algae on each side. The separation between the two sides that you can see from the viewpoint is a bridge that you can cross on your way down.

Do not be surprised when you arrive at the Miradouro da Vista do Rei if find yourself surrounded with tourists buses and share it with many more people, it is the price to pay for being in front of one of the most beautiful lagoons of the archipelago and one of the best places to contemplate it. At the viewpoint there are toilets and a parking area but it tends to fill up quickly, especially in July and August, so people parks along the road. Precisely there, on the road, when we went in July hydrangeas, a symbol of the Azores, were blooming (although they are not endemic flora) and the environment of the lagoon with hydrangeas was quite photogenic.

Hydrangeas, one of the symbols of the Azores (although they are not really endemic but a plague) bordering the beautiful Lagoa das Sete Cidades.

We parked right in the back area of the Monte Palace Hotel, about which we will tell your more next

Monte Palace Hotel Ruins

There is something about abandoned buildings that attracts us, that sharpens our curiosity and makes us instant inventors of stories. The Monte Palace Hotel, the building across the road from the Miradouro da Vista do Rei, was a luxury hotel that opened in 1989 (apparently 6 years later than planned) and closed less than 2 years after that due to financial problems. Over time it became a tourist attraction mainly because of the incredible views it offers of the Sete Cidades lagoon from its terrace on the top floor.

View of Lagoa Sete Cidades from the rooftop of the Monte Palace Hotel.

To enter (and exit) the hotel you have to climb (and descend) a 2 meters wall, although recently a follower told us that on the far left side of the hotel (closer to the lagoon than the parking lot) there is an area where the entrance is easier (apparently there is a land wall not as high).

Also, be careful, inside the hotel there is a lot of debris that can make a silly accident spoil an incredible trip. Recently a real estate group acquired the hotel to, hopefully, convert it into something nice so, currently, although it has no security or signs when you go, you should know that it is private property and entering it is forbidden.

Lagoa do Canário and Miradouro da Grota do Inferno (or Boca do Inferno)

The breathtaking views do not end at Sete Cidades, in fact, they have only just begun. We recommend you to park your car here to visit another beautiful lagoon, Lagoa do Canário. When you arrive and park your car, you will see that there are two trails, one that leads to the Miradouro Boca do Inferno (across the road) and another (right where the parking lot is), longer, 1.5 hours through the Serra da Devassa, about which we will tell you more later.

Lagoa do Canário has the particularity that its silhouette drawn by the trees, from a bird’s eye view, looks like a ghost or, for the most technological people, the logo of the Snapchat app.

Lagoa do Canário: from below, a flowery paradise, from above, a very green ghost.

The lagoon is located right at the beginning of the trail that you will take to reach the well-known Grota do Inferno viewpoint (there is a 15 minutes walk from Lagoa do Canário to the famous viewpoint), in the Parque Florestal da Mata do Canário. Before arriving at the viewpoint you will understand that this is a special view because of the crowds of people that will probably be there. This is what happened to us when we went there, in the middle of July, where we even witnessed some elbowing to get a photo in front of one of the most beautiful viewpoints of the island and from which you can see the largest number of lagoons.

The impressive viewpoint Grota do Inferno or Boca do Inferno

At an altitude of 1000 meters, from this imposing viewpoint you can see Lagoa de Santiago (in the foreground), Lagoa de Sete Cidades, Lagoa Rasa, Grota do Inferno and Serra da Devassa

Serra Devassa and Lagoa das Empadadas Trail

The trail through Serra da Devassa (PRC05 SMI) (information brochure in Portuguese and English) is a circular trail that starts at the parking lot of Lagoa do Canário, and passes through several lagoons and viewpoints, taking you about 1h30. There are also a couple of detours during the trail, one to reach the beautiful Lagoa das Empadadas and the other to the get to the Pico do Paúl viewpoint. We took both detours which took us 30 minutes, so we did the trail in about 2 hours.

Randomtripper scale of difficulty: Easy. It is a trail with little elevation (a couple of gentle climbs), well marked and not too slippery terrain (at least when we went, in July). Trekking boots/sneakers are essential to do the trail.

In case it is still not clear: the best way to get to know São Miguel is to do as many trails as possible!

Apart from the beauty of the trail through Serra da Devassa, another aspect that we loved is that although the trail is next to two very visited points of the island – Grota do Inferno and Lagoa do Canário – we hardly met any people here, which made us feel in a bubble of peace in São Miguel in the middle of July.

We decided to eat the sandwiches we brought with us at the highest point of the trail, Pico das Éguas, at 873 meters. By the way, the highest point of São Miguel Island is at 1103 meters, at Pico da Vara where there is also a viewpoint.

When we reached the first detour to Lagoa das Empadadas, we were grateful for the shade provided by the incredible forest that we crossed to get to the lagoon. Then, the splendor of two volcanic lagoons separated by a piece of land made us stay contemplating them in solitude for a few good minutes. Clearly, these two lagoons are kept off the touristic route in the area.

One of the breathtaking Lagoa das Empadadas

We took the small detour, walked a few more minutes and found another detour to the miradouro do Pico do Paúl. This detour greeted us with a path worthy of any royal wedding: white flowers leading us as if we were in a celebration of nature. Well, we could really say that traveling to the Azores is celebrating Nature.

It looks like a street decorated for a wedding or not, isn’t it?

After walking about 500 meters we reach the Miradouro do Pico do Paúl from where you can see a large part of the island, the north and south coasts.

The views from the Pico do Paúl viewpoint are worth the extra kilometer.

Aqueduct and “Muro das 9 Janelas” (Wall of the 9 windows)

At the end of the trail through Serra da Devassa, we went to visit the Aqueduct and the “Muro das 9 Janelas“: the largest and most emblematic piece of the island’s aqueducts.

Probably the greenest aqueduct we’ve ever seen

From the first moments when the island was populated, different systems were built to transport and store drinking water. This aqueduct was intended to transport water from Lagoa do Canário and Lagoa das Empadadas to the city of Ponta Delgada, with an extension of more than 10 kilometers. It is worthwhile to approach this small but beautiful witness made of nine windows (in Portuguese “nove janelas”) to learn about the history and effort to have access to drinking water around the island

Road to Sete Cidades, Miradouro Cerrado das Freiras and Miradouro Lagoa de Santiago

When you look at Lagoa das Sete Cidades from the top of the previous viewpoints you can clearly see how a line crosses the lagoon, marking the difference between the blue side and the green side. That “line” is actually a bridge, so we wanted to cross it and see the lagoon up close, of course! On the road to that bridge we passed two viewpoints that are worth a stop to appreciate the views. The first is Cerrado das Freiras Viewpoint which allow us appreciate the magnitude of Lagoa das Sete Cidades from another point of view (for some people, even more beautiful than Vista do Rei).

Sete Cidades from Miradouro Cerrado das Freiras

The second is Miradouro Lagoa de Santiago and its explosion of greens. Seeing this lagoon from the miradouro da Grota do Inferno promised something special so we decided to stop for a closer look: a success.

Lagoa de Santiago or a explosion of greens

Finally we reach the road that crosses the Lagoa de Sete Cidades, we slow down the car a bit and we are left with the green side on our left and the blue side on our right. Feel like exploring one of the most beautiful lagoons of the archipelago? Read on.

Sete Cidades

You can go around the Lagoa das Sete Cidades by car, slowly, although the terrain is a bit muddy. If you prefer to do it by bike, talk to Azores for all: here you can rent bikes by the hour to explore the surroundings of the lagoon. If you want to explore the lagoon itself, rent a paddleboard from the same company or from Garoupa, who specializes in kayaking and paddleboarding and have better prices, our local friend Iolanda told us.

The lagoon inside the crater inside the island hides a legend…

Also visible from the viewpoints is the village of Sete Cidades. Apparently, the village owes its name to the legend of “Sete Cidades do Atlântico” (Seven Cities of the Atlantic Ocean), a legend that inspired maritime exploration for centuries.

Legend of “Sete Cidades do Atlântico

This legend tells that there was an island lost in the sea, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean called “Ilha Encantada das Sete Cidades” (Enchanted Island of the Seven Cities), searched by several navigators throughout time.

One day, a caravel from the medieval kingdom of Portugal set sail with three friars and several sailors, crossing waves and storms, with the aim of finding the enchanted island. After one of those storms, as always, the weather was calm, the mists opened up and the sailors sighted an island on the horizon. They approached the island, anchored the caravel, and spent three days exploring the green and blue paradise, its forests and rivers, learning the local customs and language (very similar to that spoken in Portugal at the time), visiting palaces and trying to establish relations with the island’s monarch.

At the end of the three days on land, they returned to the caravel and set sail to the mainland to tell the king about their new discovery. However, as soon as they started to move away from the coast, the island was suddenly surrounded by fog and, like magic, disappeared into the sea. After telling the Portuguese king what had happened, he quickly sent an embassy in search for the island to establish relations, but they did not find it. According to the legend of the enchanted island of the Sete Cidades, several searches were made for centuries until, finally, the Portuguese caravels found the island again, but this time, the island was uninhabited. Occupied later by the Portuguese, they gave the name “Sete Cidades” to the giant central caldera of the volcano, in honor of this legend.

Source: Lenda da Ilha das Sete Cidades

The reality is that it is very likely that when you approach the valley of the Sete Cidades you will find it wrapped in a blanket of clouds, providing it with mystery and suspense…

If you go to the village of Sete Cidades you should know that it is not very mysterious, but it has a photogenic church and a restaurant that local people recommended us, in case you get hungry, São Nicolau, with a buffet of regional dishes. If you want something a bit more lighters, they also recommended O Poejo for a snack.

The church of Sete Cidades

Here we say goodbye to one of the most beautiful lagoons of São Miguel to continue to the west of the island.

Ponta da Ferraria (natural pool with warm sea water)

This busy natural pool has two springs of volcanic thermal waters (unique in the world for the high level of sulfur they contain), known for their healing powers and allowing you to be in the sea with hot water! It used to be enjoyed only by local people living nearby but since the private thermal complex “Termas da Ferraria” was built, it has become more famous. The complex has indoor and outdoor pools (6€), massages, restaurant and a bar. Apparently in summer, on Fridays, the pool does not close until 23:00h and you can watch the sunset and the arrival of the moon from the warm water.

Ferraria or how to enjoy a free thermal experience in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean

The area has lots os parking space, so although the access road is a bit narrow in some sections, there is no problem in arriving by car.

As an alternative to the thermal complex, you can go directly to the sea to enjoy these thermal sea waters. If you go, you should know that the ideal time to go is at mid-tide, when it is halfway between high and low tide: at low tide the water is too hot (it can reach temperatures above 30º) and at high tide, too cold (you can check the tides here).

We did not go to the private thermal complex and went directly to the natural pool in the sea but there were so many people that we turned around and left without enjoying its waters. The natural pool has several ropes to hold on to (to avoid hitting the rocks due to the sea waves) and not much space around it to stretch out your towel and dry off (further up the stairs there are free changing rooms).

The thermal pool in the middle of the sea was very crowded when we went.

On the access road to Ponta da Ferraria, don’t forget to stop (on the way there or on the way back) at the Miradouro da Ilha Sabrina, to enjoy beautiful views of the area (which is a “fajã lávica”, a protected area and has the official name of “Monumento Natural do Pico das Camarinhas – Ponta da Ferraria“) from the top. As a curiosity, the name is due to the fact that there was indeed a small islet visible from here, with the name of “Sabrina”, which arose in the 19th century with a volcanic eruption but disappeared months later.

Ponta do Escalvado Viewpoint

The Miradouro da Ponta do Escalvado, built on a cliff, offers incredible views of the west coast of the island, both of Ponta da Ferraria (which we just told you about) and of the Mosteiros area.

It is also an incredible spot to watch the sunset, and was an important whale watching spot.

Mosteiros

One of the best places to take a dip on the island is on the beach or in the natural pools of Mosteiros. Yes, in this fishing village there are both a sandy beach and natural pools so you just have to choose.

Praia dos Mosteiros

This beautiful black sand beach is, along with Santa Barbara, one of the best surfing beaches of São Miguel. Its name comes from the two huge volcanic basalt rocks that stand in the sea which have been called Mosteiros (Monasteries, in Portuguese).

Praia de Mosteiros beach, at sunset

On the same beach there is a beach bar (Snack Bar “O Tubarão”, with cheap local beer, by the way) where you can watch, at the end of the day, the sun entering the sea between the “monasteries”. This is one of the most photogenic pictures of the island at sunset.

On at least one of the days of your trip to São Miguel you must visit Mosteiros to watch the sunset.

If, like us, you prefer to get closer to the rocks during the “golden hour”, at the beach bar they let us take the crystal glasses with us with the promise that we would bring them back. We did.

Mosteiros natural pools

If, on the other hand, you prefer a sand-free dip in the sea, there are natural pools nearby. At low tide, you can clearly see the labyrinths of lava that solidified in the sea where small pools are formed to soak in. When the tide rises, it is ideal for a few strokes in the sea.

Enjoying the fresh, clean water of São Miguel

To enjoy the natural pools, park your car in front of (or near) the kiosk (Sunset Steve’s Bar) where you can also have a drink after your dip.

Mosteiros natural pools

The water in the pools was so clear that when we went snorkeling, we could see several fishes. Be careful when entering and exiting as the mossy rocks may be slippery. There are easier areas to enter the sea but the ideal is to wear water shoes (you will see that they will be useful throughout your trip to the Azores). In the natural pools there is a fresh water shower to wash off the salt on your way out, before the beer at the beach bar.

“Mosteiros” from the natural swimming pool

If you are hungry, we can recommend two restaurants here: at Pizzeria Fantasia we tried some of the best pizzas on the island (and their tiramisu) but if you prefer local cuisine stop by at the Américo do Barbosa “tasca” for rich and inexpensive petiscos (tapas) (try their “polvo assado”). In both cases, especially in summer, it is essential to book in advance because they fill up early.

If you want to give yourself a treat in this area of the island, the Sensi Nature and Spa is a rural tourism with 20 rooms, outdoor infinity pool, indoor pool and an incredible terrace from where to say goodbye to the sun in the sea.

Sensi‘s infinite pool where you can enjoy one of the best sunsets on the island. Photo from Booking.

More special accommodations in Mosteiros in our Where to Stay section.

Furnas: among volcanic waters

Lagoa das Furnas and Chapel of Nossa Senhora das Vitorias

Furnas is one of the oldest areas of São Miguel, formed approximately 750,000 years ago, and the most visited of the island. Once you get there you will understand why. The “Vale das Furnas” (Furnas Valley) is located in the crater of the Furnas volcano, one of the three still active volcanoes and the largest of the green island, where volcanic activity is present in everything you are about to experience both with the sight and smell and even with the palate.

Boiling water due to volcanic activity in the village of Furnas (an inhabited town!): delicious “volcanic” corn cobs are cooked in this “caldeira”.

And if the volcanic lagoons are one of the greatest attractions of São Miguel, the Lagoa das Furnas is a clear example of its magnetism.

The impressive Lagoa das Furnas

This imposing lagoon also has a legend:

Once upon a time there was a boy who lived in a village where calm, peace and tranquility were the norm. Like every morning, the boy went to the fountain to collect water, but that morning something had changed: the water in the fountain was salty and undrinkable. He ran back to the village to tell everyone but no one believed him. No one except his grandfather.

Grandfather and grandson returned to the spring and found that the situation had worsened: the fish that used to swim in the small spring were floating, lifeless. They ran to tell the people about it, saying how imperative it was to go up the mountain in search of new land, but nobody believed them. Both climbed to the top of the mountain and saw a new island that had been born from the sea, it was the enchanted island of the Sete Cidades (yes, the same island of the legend that we told you before in this guide), and that was a sign that augured terrible changes. They went back to tell the people about it, but nobody believed them. A few days later, grandfather and grandson, together with all their livestock, moved to a neighboring village.

Weeks passed and, one day, the two returned to the village but… the village no longer existed. In the place of the village there was water, only water, a giant and enormous lagoon, the Lagoa das Furnas. It is said since then that the people still live under and around the lagoon, invisible, and that is why we see the bubbles of volcanic gas and, sometimes, flashes: it is them cooking…

As we approached the lagoon to see if we could see anything of what remains of the legend we came across an impressive church: the Capela de Nossa Senhora das Vitórias.

Next to Lagoa das Furnas, this neo-gothic cathedral was built as a proof of faith by José do Canto, a native of São Miguel, in 1886 when his wife fell ill with a serious illness. This pledge of love is all built in volcanic basalt and can be visited every day from 10:00h to 17:00h (in summer until 18:00h), the entrance fee is 3€/person.

Next door you also have the Centro de Monitorização e Investigação das Furnas where you can learn more about the history of the volcano and the protection and recovery of the ecosystems in the area.

Furnas and its gastronomic and relaxing experiences with sulfur scent

It is impressive to arrive at Furnas village, located in the caldera of a volcano, and see how its inhabitants live there so peacefully, among the calderas and fumaroles of a dormant but active volcano. We could say that the village of Furnas is one of the clear examples of the resilience of the Azorean people, in this case in São Miguel (each island has its particularities).

You can see the boiling water heated by volcanic activity on a simple walk through the center of the town and the steaming hot spots of the Furnas calderas are visible from any of the viewpoints we will tell you about next.

Boilers in the town of Furnas

Around here, there are three experiences related to volcanic activity that you should not miss:

  1. Gastronomy: try the famous Furnas “cocido” (stew) (there is a place with vegan stew), a geothermal brunch or simply taste the corn, straight from the caldera to your mouth.
  2. The hot springs: There are two amazing paid options (Parque Terra Nostra, Poça Dona Beija) and one free option (Poça da Silvina) where you can get a taste of the effects of the thermal water.
  3. The views: there are several impressive viewpoints to visualize the area

All these experiences are detailed below so that you don’t miss out anything.

Next to Lagoa das Furnas there are some holes in the ground that are authentic natural kitchens where the famous dish is prepared: the “Cocido das Furnas“! (Furnas stew) After introducing all the ingredients of a “cozido à portuguesa” (meat, sausages, vegetables), the pot is wrapped in a linen cloth and a man lowers the pot into a hole in the caldera where the volcanic heat will take care of cooking it. It takes several hours until it is ready, normally the one served in Furnas restaurants at lunch time (from 12h in the morning), has been in the caldera since 4h in the morning. It is possible to see this process of taking the stews out of the boilers: you just need to be in the area of the Alameda dos Cocidos (and pay an entrance fee) around 11:30 a.m. Be careful! To access the area of fumaroles and the “caldeiras”/boilers where the stews are made, you have to pay 3€/person if you are not a resident of the Azores.

You can try stew and corn with the smell (and taste) of sulfur

The best known restaurants to try the stew are Tonys (usually quite full); Vale das Furnas (next to the Furnas campsite, recommended by our friend Iolanda who tells us that it is good value for money and that a portion is enough for two people); and finally Caldeiras e Vulcões where they offer also a vegan stew. The price of the stew is around 14€.

We have also been told about the possibility of making a “DIY stew” in Furnas and taking it home, that is, you prepare it in your pot and simply ask the gentleman there to take it down and cover it for you, but we do not know how it works exactly or how much it costs to do it this way.

If you have a vegan or vegetarian diet, apart from the vegan stew, there are other options. We tried the corn cooked in the calderas ( 1€ per cob), in the center of the village of Furnas. Delicious!

If you are a corn fan like me, don’t miss the corn cobs straight from the caldera, delicious!

And if you want something between than corn on the cob and the stew (and with several non-meat and vegetarian options) you have the Geothermal Brunch overlooking the fumaroles, at Chalet da Tia Mercês. This very special Brunch is composed only of local ingredients and including products from the 9 islands, as if it were a gastronomic journey through the archipelago. In addition, here you can taste the only coffee produced in São Miguel Did you think that the only coffee produced in the Azores was the one from São Jorge? Here we discovered that it is not: in Quinta Aguiar (Ginetes) they produce about 10kg to 15 kg of coffee per year, so you can get an idea of what a privilege it is to taste it.

We highly recommend the Geothermal Brunch at Chalet Tia Mercês: delicious, original, only with local products (from the 9 islands) and with unbeatable service.

To taste and buy the typical cheese made with brine from the bitter water of Furnas (one of the 70 mineral waters of the area), sparkling and rich in iron, you have to go to the Queijaria Furnense, very close to the entrance 0f Terra Nostra park. About 340 cheeses are produced here every day, of 5 different varieties, with the “amantequillado” cheese being the bestseller.

And to accompany that cheese, nothing better than the “bolo lêvedo”, the (addictive) sweet bread of the island: people says the best is the one from Gloria Moniz. If you don’t gain a couple of kg because of this bread (you’ll want to eat it at every breakfast and snack), you haven’t really been to the Azores.

At the end of the day, we recommend you to have a drink at A Quinta (another local recommendation from our friend Iolanda): apart from the beautiful space among trees and with good music, the cocktails are excelent. No, they are not made with volcanic water, it is the only thing that does not involve volcanic activity here. Try the pineapple or passion fruit caipirinhas and you won’t regret it.

Caipirinhas are not made with volcanic water, thank goodness…

Another Furnas curiosity is that there was a very windy day and a house was turned upside down….. No, it didn’t! Just kidding. The Inverted House is a curious building (very close to A Quinta) that belongs to the local electricity company. Get close but don’t clown around too much, it’s right next to the Municipal Police.

The only inverted house in Furnas, we believe…

If you are going to São Miguel with your whole family or a large group of friends, it is possible to wake up practically on top of Lagoa das Furnas by staying at Casa da Lagoa or Casa dos Barcos. Both rent the entire house and include bicycles and kayaks to explore the lagoon on your own.

If you are less, you have the wonderful Quinta da Mó, a farm 1 km from Lagoa das Furnas, with cottages of 1 to 3 rooms among fruit trees, bamboos and exotic plants.

Terra Nostra Park

One of the most beautiful gardens on the island where a relaxing morning or afternoon is guaranteed. Terra Nostra Park has a huge botanical garden with biodiverse flora (in fact it has the largest collection of camellias in the world, with over 600 species) through which you can walk along four different routes, but its main attraction is… its hot springs!

No, the water is not dirty, it is loaded with iron…

As soon as you enter the park through an avenue surrounded by beautiful ginkgo bilobas you will see a big “pool” with thermal waters. At first you may think that the water is dirty, but no! It is the amount of iron that gives it its “muddy” color. The water temperature is between 35º and 40º degrees, so it is suitable for all seasons (we tried it in winter and summer and the truth is that in winter it is even more enjoyable).

The sensation of entering the pond with 40º waters is amazing…

Be careful! You should ideally wear the oldest and darkest swimsuits you have, as this water can irreparably damage them.

In addition to the large main pool, for which there is never a queue no matter how big it is (you may, however, have some difficulty finding a bench to leave your things, we left ours next to a tree), the Terra Nostra park also has jacuzzis!

For these jacuzzis there is usually a queue but, at least when we went in July, we didn’t have to wait long. The jacuzzis are very nice and it is the way to enjoy these healing hot springs with a little more privacy.

When you leave the main pool and the jacuzzis, you should know that the park has showers and restrooms, located very close to the jacuzzis.

Terra Nostra park has a huge botanical garden with biodiverse flora.

The entrance to Terra Nostra costs 8€/person and it’s open from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm every day (check-out until 5:00 pm). There is no time limit once inside (until 5pm).

With the ticket you get a discount on cocktails at the bar of the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel (with edible flowers from the park) so we went there to try two.

Cocktails with edible flowers from the park after a relaxing afternoon? Yes, thank you.

If you want to stay overnight in the Terra Nostra park and have access to the thermal pool at any time of the day and night (remember that it closes at 4:30 pm to the public) you can do so by staying at the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel.

Terra Nostra Garden Hotel room. Photo from Booking.

Poça Dona Beija

Another option to enjoy the thermal waters of Furnas is at Poça Dona Beija. Much smaller than the Terra Nostra park but nothing to envy in terms of beauty. Poça Dona Beija has three pools of hot water at 39º and a river that crosses them at 28º.

It is open from 10:00h to 23:00h and yes, you have read our mind, enjoying it at night will be very special. The price of Poça Dona Beija is 6€/person, there is a limit of 1h30 inside and the number of people at the same time is also limited so there is usually a line to enter.

Unfortunately we didn’t enjoy it at night as we would like to because we tried to go twice and the line was so long that we had to turn around and leave, so we took the opportunity to go during a World Cup match (neither of us are football fans around here) and managed to get in at the end of the afternoon without queuing.

If you prefer to do all this on an organized tour, there is a night tour (they’ll pick you up around 18h30) in which you can enjoy the best viewpoints (including the famous Pico do Ferro which we will talk about below), tasting the stew for dinner straight from the calderas of Furnas and finally relax in the Poça Dona Beija at night (be careful, you will have to wait in the line anyway). Book here.

Here, as we recommend in Terra Nostra, you must wear an old swimsuit or one that you don’t care ruining.

Poça da Silvina

There is also a free option to feel the benefits of the thermal waters… in your legs. Poça da Silvina is a small pool with natural hot water next to the river (which has cold water) where you can submerge your legs and feel the contrast between the very hot thermal water and the very cold water of the river, right next to it.

The Poça da Silvina is located next to the river so you can test the hot-cold contrast for free.

Miradouro Pico do Ferro

The Miradouro do Pico do Ferro is probably the best known viewpoint of this area and the one from which you will have the most beautiful view of the magnificent Lagoa das Furnas. It is located about 5 km away from the village of Furnas, at an altitude of about 570 meters and from there you can contemplate the immensity of the lagoon, the green hills that surround it and the smoking calderas. It has free parking space so you can easily reach it by car.

The breathtaking view of Lagoa das Furnas from the Pico do Ferro viewpoint

Lombo dos Milhos Viewpoint

The miradouro Lombo dos Milhos is located at an altitude of 330 meters, in the southwest of the Furnas valley, offering a totally different panoramic view from the previous one, with privileged views of the village of Furnas. It can be reached by car, although the access is by a narrow and steep road.

The view from Miradouro Lombo dos Milhos

Miradouro do Castelo Branco

Arriving at the small castle that gives its name to the viewpoint, we get the feeling that it seems to be angry (note the two small windows as eyes and the big one as a mouth) although we really do not understand why: the 360º views we have from the roof of the Miradouro do Catstelo Branco are beautiful. On one side, the Furnas valley and the lagoon and on the other, Vila Franca do Campo and its photogenic islet.

We had so much fun playing with the silhouettes of the windows inside and the views outside the castle that when we left we hoped the castle would have changed its face to a happier one, but we had no luck.

To get there, park your car here and walk to the castle.

Miradouro do Salto do Cavalo

Our favorite viewpoint in this area of the island, the incredible Miradouro do Salto do Cavalo, was the only one we enjoyed in solitude of all those mentioned, even in the middle of July, which makes us suspect that it is the least known viewpoint in this area.

We enjoyed the solitude of our favorite viewpoint in the area, Salto do Cavalo.

We lost count of how many different shades of green we identified in the panoramic view offered by this viewpoint. It is located at an altitude of over 700 m above sea level, on the northern edge of the Furnas caldera, offering a view over the Povoação valley and the seven “lombas”, the Furnas valley with the caldera and its lagoon, extending the view towards the sea.

Apparently, this viewpoint is much sought after by paragliding enthusiasts but when we went there we didn’t see anyone. Also, from here there is a very nice hiking route that we want to do on our next visit: a 18 km linear route that starts at this viewpoint, passing by Pico da Vara (the highest point of São Miguel) and ends in the sea. More info about the route here.

Ribeira Quente and Praia do Fogo

Near the Furnas valley, it is worth visiting Ribeira Quente, a fishing village between the hills and the sea. But the most interesting place there is its beach…

The beautiful bay of Praia do Fogo

Praia do Fogo is a beautiful black sand beach in the shape of a bay bathed by a calm sea and a nice bar where you can have a drink. The particularity of this beach is that it has underwater fumaroles (hydrothermal springs) that make the sea water warmer, something that is, in theory, especially noticeable at low tide. The truth is that we did not notice anything and the water was quite cold… If you have more luck than us and find that it is true, let us know in comments!

We don’t feel the water warmer, but rather cooler…

On the beautiful and winding road on the way to this particular beach (the road leaves from Furnas, so it’s a good idea to visit this place on the same day you visit Furnas) there is a waterfall. It is located between the two tunnels that you pass and to get to it you have to park where you can outside of the tunnels and walk along the road (be careful, it can be dangerous).

North and center of the island

Lagoa do Fogo

Lagoa do Fogo is one of the largest lagoons of São Miguel and, in our opinion, the most beautiful of the entire archipelago. Well, not only in our opinion as it has been chosen one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal.

One of those views that leaves you breathless, even if you take a deep breath of fresh air afterwards.

Classified since 1974 as a Natural Reserve, it has an altitude of 575 meters and a maximum depth of 30 meters. It is surrounded by dense endemic vegetation and it is located in the huge caldera of the Fogo volcano – also known as Vulcão Água de Pau – which erupted 15,000 years ago.

You can admire the magnificence of the lagoon from two viewpoints, the Miradouro Pico da Barrosa and the Miradouro da Lagoa do Fogo (850 meters above sea level). Both have free parking (although they can get crowded, especially the first one, which is small).

Lagoa de Fogo is our favorite lagoon of the archipelago.

If you are up for it, there is a trail that goes down to the lagoon with a reward: a dip in the lagoon beach! The trail (PRC02 SMI) is circular, 11 km long and takes about 4 hours (2 hours there and 2 hours back) and it is ideal to appreciate the endemic flora while recovering energy to continue walking until you reach the beautiful Praia da Lagoa. Here you can see the official trail brochure in Portuguese and English.

Caldeira Velha

Stroll through a garden rich in endemic plants, take a deep breath and end up under a waterfall of hot water, pools and fumaroles: welcome to Caldeira Velha.

Well, maybe it is not as paradisiacal as it sounds because we are forgetting how well-known Caldeira Velha has become, so the probability of enjoying it with very few people is scarce (or non-existent) and that there are usually queues to enter even before it opens. It is so well known and sought after that we risk to say that it probably is one of the most photographed spots of the island. The temperature in the main pool is around 25º and, in the other three thermal pools, the water reaches 37º and 39º. The environment is incredibly beautiful.

Fortunately, they have recently enabled the possibility of booking online to avoid queues (from August 2021). You can book your ticket at Caldeira Velha here (if you can, do it a few days in advance). The entrance fee is 8€/person and it is open from 9:30h to 20:30h. There is a limit of 2 hours inside and a limit of 250 people at the same time. As in many other attractions on the island, if you are a resident you can enter for free.

There is a large, free parking lot next door, signposted on the road.

As we recommended in every thermal baths of Furnas, the ideal thing to do here is to wear a swimsuit that you do not mind damaging because this type of water usually causes irreparable damage to the garments.

Salto do Cabrito (Cabrito waterfall)

The waterfall of Salto do Cabrito is a must. To get there, you have to go down a short but steep road and then, of course, climb it back. You can go all the way down by car, although the road is so steep that we did not risk it with the rental car (it is feasible to go down by car, as we saw several doing it and there is a free parking area down the road). Also, if the day is rainy (or threatening to rain) it can be more complicated. Alternatively, you can park at the top and walk down that short but steep stretch, which is what we did.

The Salto do Cabrito waterfall deserves the steep walk…

Upon arrival, there is a beautiful waterfall where, if you dare, you can take a cool bath. It is right next to a hydroelectric plant that takes away a bit of the magic.

Lagoa do Congro

Lagoa do Congro (Congro Lagoon) is, in our opinion, one of the most special lagoons of the island for a very simple reason: it is only accessible through a path of about 10-15 min downhill (and then uphill) and the fact of not being able to see it as soon as you park your car makes it much less crowded than the others.

One of the most special lagoons on the island and one of the only ones we enjoyed in solitude.

It was one of the few lagoons, along with those of the Serra Devassa trail, that we enjoyed alone on the island, in the middle of July.

Difficulty: Easy. It’s a trail with some elevation gain (a couple of gentle climbs), well marked and not slippery terrain (at least when we went, in July). When we went down there was a family with kids going up, so it is suitable for people of all ages. Ideally, you should use sneakers/boot before to descend, as in all the trails

Upon arrival, the reward is not only visual but also audible. The 3900 year old crater surrounded by such a dense green forest accompanied by the soundtrack of frogs and birds makes all the problems you may had before coming down go away, so you can just concentrate on enjoying the peace of this place.

The trail is easy and beautiful.

To get there, you have to drive to this point on the map where you have to turn onto an unpaved road. We parked here (where there was more space to maneuver the car) and walked a short distance to reach the beginning of the trail to the lagoon.

It is worth parking the car a little further away from the beginning of the trail to Lagoa do Congro and enjoy a little more of the incredible nature of São Miguel.

Next to Lagoa do Congro there is another lagoon that is apparently covered with water lilies (Lagoa dos Nenúfares). We didn’t get to go there because we left Congro at sunset but if you have time and feel like investigating it, you should know that it is next to it (in theory there is a trail that connects both but according to what we read the other lagoon is a bit neglected and it is possible that the trails are not in good condition).

Water lily

Santa Barbara Beach

Welcome to the surfing capital of São Miguel par excellenc (in case the statue of a surfer in Ribeira Grande didn’t make it clear).

The surfing capital of the island

Very close to the town of Ribeira Grande, the beach of Santa Barbara is beautiful, with a huge sandy area, about 1 km long, being one of the longest in the region. Apart from being a very popular beach for surfing and bodyboarding because of its waves, it is ideal to enjoy an Azorean gin and tonic at sunset – Rocha Negra or Baleia Gin – in the bar overlooking the sea: Tuká Tulá.

If you want to treat yourself and stay in the capital of surfing, with the advantage of not having to drive after experiencing one of the best sunsets on the island, then look no further, book at the Santa Barbara Eco-Beach Resort. If you are hesitating, the 30 villas, the saltwater pool overlooking the beach of Santa Barbara (and direct access to the beach itself, of course), massages, surf lessons (of course!) and yoga classes or cocktails and dishes from the chef, will end up convincing you.

The swimming pool at the Santa Barbara Eco-Beach Resort. Photo from Booking

Ribeira Grande and Arquipélago

Although Ponta Delgada is the most obvious choice for staying in the island, because of the huge gastronomic and accommodation offer and its location – for those who want to escape from the obvious and, therefore, from the tourist overcrowding that it implies, we think that staying in Ribeira Grande is an excellent choice. Still far from the hordes of people attracted by the fame of the capital, in Ribeira Grande it is easy to breathe Azorean authenticity among beautiful narrow streets and few but good options where to eat by the sea. Nearby is the mythical Associação Agrícola where you can try the famous “Bife à Regional” and you also have to try the incredible tuna at Botequim Azoriano or Quinta dos Sabores, both in the nearby town of Rabo de Peixe (by the way, one of the poorest towns in Portugal).

Find accommodations in Ribeira Grande here

The Arquipélago – Center for Contemporary Art – is our favorite museum on the island (in the three times we visited the island, all three times we got lost in it). It used to be an alcohol factory but since 2015 it is a factory of culture, making those of us who pass by reflect and bringing us closer to proposals from local artists. You can follow them on social media to find out what’s happening when you visit the island.

Find accommodations in Ribeira Grande here

Miradouro de Santa Iria

The Miradouro de Santa Iria, near Porto Formoso, offers incredible views of the north coast of São Miguel, where the green contrasts with the Atlantic blue of the sea. It has some free parking places so you can perfectly get there by car, on your way to the North-East area of the island.

The north coast of the island from Miradouro de Santa Iria

Chá Gorreana and Porto Formoso Tea Plantations

Did you know that the Azores are home to the only tea plantations in Europe?

Because of São Miguel’s location in the middle of the Atlantic, with its humid climate and clay soil, blessed are those people who tried to grow tea (or, rather, camellia sinensis, the plant) here for the first time, because what a success. By the way, tea in Portuguese is “chá”, read “sha” as in “Shakira”. Years ago the island had more than a dozen tea factories operating, but today only two remain: the most famous, Fábrica Gorreana, and the one in Porto Formoso, the last two tea factories in Europe.

Strolling among the only tea plantations in Europe

The Gorreana tea factory is the oldest in Europe (operating since 1883), the best known on the island, the one that attracts the most tourists and whose brand of tea is the most distinguished in the Azores.

Gorreana tea factory is the oldest in Europe

It is interesting to visit the factory, both for learning about the whole tea process (from picking, leaf withering, rolling, drying, sorting and packaging), and for observing the original machines used in the process in full operation. Some of them date back to 1883! There are four varieties of tea to try and, if you wish, to buy. The visit is free, every day from 08:00h to 20:00h (on weekends from 09:00h). If you visit the island between April and September you are lucky: it is the tea picking season and means more activity in the factory.

The tea plantations are highly photogenic.

What really impressed us is the beauty of the Gorreana tea plantations, where the waving patterns of green contrast with the blue of the sea. The plantations extend over 35 hectares (about 30 tons of tea per year) and walking through them is free.

We think it is a must to walk through these plantations. You can stop here directly with the car and walk freely.

The Porto Formoso factory is more recent and something curious about this factory (which is also free, both walking through the plantations overlooking the sea and visiting the factory itself) are the typical costumes of the tea pickers who are used in the annual recreation, in spring, of the old style harvest. If it is cold, the tea is taken inside, warm, and if it is hot, outside, an iced tea, overlooking the plantations and the beautiful village of Porto Formoso.

We liked Porto Formoso and its Praia dos Moinhos a lot. When we arrived we had that feeling of going out of the beaten track that we like so much. Maybe because we were the only non-locals walking through the streets or maybe because of the curious looks and smiles we received, but it is true that it has left us wanting to explore this are more.

São Miguel kitten resting in the tea plantation overlooking the Atlantic Ocean

Lagoa de São Bras

The Lagoa de São Bras is another beautiful lagoon, less known and that you will probably enjoy in solitude, that you can visit on your way through the North-East area of São Miguel. A curiosity about this lagoon is that it is one of the points through which the Sata Rallye Azores passes.

Nordeste and Povoação

A long time ago, as we have read, the Northeast of the island of São Miguel was called the tenth island of the Azores because of how difficult it was (and how long it took) to get there. Nowadays, the roads not only make the Nordeste easily reachable, but it is also increasingly on the touristic route of those who visit the island. In fact, if some years ago it used to take time because of the roads, today it is because of the number of stops you will make every few minutes on the beautiful and winding roads, dotted with viewpoints with breathtaking views.

Views from the Ponta do Sossego viewpoint, Nordeste

Although it is true that in some of the points of this area we already see many more cars with the rental sticker, it is still far away from the crowds of Furnas or Sete Cidades.

Poço Azul and Salto da Farinha

In the parish of “Achadinha” there is a blue pool in the middle of a lot of green. It is called Poço Azul and the short but (quite) steep and beautiful path to get there is worth it.

The short, steep and incredible path to Poço Azul

Unfortunately when we went, in July, the waterfall had no water but the color was still impressive.

Don’t be fooled by the photo, the water was freezing!

The trail connects with Salto da Farinha, a waterfall that when we went (July) also didn’t have water so if you have time you can visit both in the same walk on the longer trail: a linear trail of 5 km (2h approx.), the PR21SMI (here is the official information brochure in Portuguese and English).

Salto da Farinha

We didn’t have time to do it all (and come back after as it’s linear) so we only did the part that starts in Achadinha (exactly at this point) that connects to Poço Azul and back, and visited Salto da Farinha by car after that.

Ribeira dos Caldeirões

The Ribeira dos Caldeirões natural park has a great variety of Macaronesian flora (region comprising the Azores, Madeira and the Savage Islands, the Canary Islands and Cape Verde) and Laurisilva. Apart from the impressive waterfall, here you can find old mills, two of them still working.

Ribeira dos Caldeirões

If you like adrenaline and are looking for adventure, right here, in the Parque dos Caldeirões you can go!canyoning, jumping in waterfalls and making your way through the endemic Azorean flora. Find out more about this activity and book your place for the day you want here.

Miradouro Despe-te Que Suas

The viewpoint with the most curious name we passed by on the island, “Despe-te que suas” means literally, in Portuguese, “undress or you will sweat”. The name comes from the effort involved in the past to climb up here by the cliff where it is located, with a very steep slope.

View from the “Despe-te que Suas” viewpoint.

When we went we neither sweated nor undressed, it was so cold and windy that we felt like we were going to fly away. However, with other weather conditions it seems to be a good option to watch the sunset. The view from the viewpoint is dazzling, you can see the entire north coast and there are some tables for picnic.

Miradouro Ponta do Arnel, Farol and Porto de Arnel

The Ponta do Arnel lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in the Azores, installed in 1876. It is still working today (although electrified) and to visit it you have to go down a steep (35% inclination) and narrow road that we do not recommend to do by car (you can but less powerful cars may have problems going up and if you cross with another vehicle on the way it can be a drama, plus there is hardly any parking space below). We went down on foot, although it is a good exercise so unless you are very interested in going down to the lighthouse, we think it is not worth it.

Descending to the oldest lighthouse in Azores

From the top, at the Miradouro da Ponta do Arnel, you will have incredible views of the lighthouse and the surrounding area, and on the way down there is even a waterfall. If you decide to go down to the lighthouse, you can visit it, but only on Thursdays (from 14:00 to 17:00 in summer, from 13:30 to 16:30 in winter).

The waterfall we saw on the way down to the lighthouse

Miradouro da Vista dos barcos

Continuing along the east side of the island towards the south, the next stop is at the Miradouro da Vista dos Barcos, from which we will have another perspective of the Arnel Lighthouse and the port, also incredible from the top of the cliff.

Arnel lighthouse from Miradouro Vista dos Barcos

Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego

Sossego, in Portuguese, means tranquility and that is what you will find in this viewpoint. Literally. The Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego has a beautiful garden full of flowers, trees and birds, very colorful. You can see perfectly that it is on the tourist route as it has a kiosk at the entrance itself. From the viewpoint we have beautiful views of the cliffs, full of flowers, and it has also picnic areas. Like all places on this coast, it is an excellent spot to watch the sunrise.

Ponta do Sossego or one of the most beautiful sights of the island

Miradouro Ponta da Madrugada

Continuing along the same road towards the south, we stop at the next viewpoint: Miradouro da Ponta da Madrugada: also very well kept and prepared, with barbecue/picnic area, wide views of the sea and the cliffs. As its name suggests (Madrugada means sunrise), it is considered the best place to see the sunrise in São Miguel.

If you are able to set your alarm early enough, this is one of the best places to enjoy the sunrise.

Priolo Interpretation Center

Did you know that the priolo is one of the rarest birds in the world? Yes, this small endemic Azorean bird that measures between 15 and 17 cm and weighs about 30g only lives in the area betwwen Furnas and the Northeast of the island, it can only get food from the Laurisilva forest and only 600 to 800 pairs of the species survive, which means it is currently considered a critically endangered species, the step before extinction.

Window of the Priolo Interpretation Center

The Priolo Interpretation Center is located in an old rangers house, in the middle of the forest and the visit is highly recommended. During our visit we were lucky to be guided by Luis Pacheco and we loved it. We learned about the Priolo, its morphological characteristics, life cycle, feeding, habitats, threats but above all we found the center very interesting because it tells a bit of the history of the Azores themselves, through the history of the priolo. From the 15th century when Gaspar Frutuoso arrived to the islands, passing through those times when the main activity of the island was exporting oranges to the United Kingdom and how the priolo was considered a plague because it ate the leaves of the orange trees (even taxes were allowed to be paid with corpses of the bird). Then we go through the reforestation plan of São Miguel in the 20th century (more wood was needed for houses, firewood, etc.) and the important doctoral thesis of Dr. Jaime Ramos about the Priolo (1990), from which the knowledge of the bird changed thanks to SPEA (Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds), the “Life Priolo” project (2003) and the creation of this center in 2007. Have we convinced you yet?

Centro de Interpretação do Priolo

Praia do Lombo Gordo

Praia do Lombo Gordo is one of the few beaches in this area of the island, the Nordeste. The tides changes the beach every year, increasing or decreasing the amount of sand and, therefore, the space to leave your towel. The environment is very beautiful, as the beach is formed by black sand that contrasts sharply with the blue of the Atlantic ocean and the green of the cliffs.

The road to access is fairly steep and according to what we read, it is best to leave the car at the top and walk all they way down.

Miradouro Agua Retorta

Continuing driving the road and already reaching the south, we find this viewpoint overlooking the village of Água Retorta and its surroundings, advertised as the “most picturesque village of the Azores”. As you can see, the village is located on a cliff, surrounded by greenery and overlooking the Atlantic, so who wouldn’t want to live there?

Salto do Prego

One of the most beautiful trails on the island is Salto do Prego e Sanguinho (PRC09 SMI, official information brochure in English and Portuguese). It is a circular trail of 4.5 km that starts in Faial da Terra, passes by the impressive waterfall Salto do Prego to cool off (the water is freezing) – you can make a detour to another waterfall called Salto do Cagarrão – and at the end of the trail passes through Sanguinho, a beautifully restored rural village where it is possible to stay overnight.

Salto do Prego waterfall, the star of a biodiverse trail

It took us about 2 hours to complete the trail, including a dip in the icy waterfall. It is a very biodiverse trail, we passed through different types of vegetation and we even met some chickens! (a bit territorial of course…).

The day we went there it was very hot and the trail through the forest was very humid, so bring plenty of water, a hat, sunscreen and appropriate footwear.

Miradouro Pico dos Bodes

If you want a 360º panoramic view of the entire west coast, from Faial da terra to Vila Franca do Campo, go up to the top floor of this wooden building and enjoy the incredible view of the Miradouro Pico dos Bodes.

Although years ago it was difficult to reach and you could get there with normal car, now the road is fixed and good, so you can get to the viewpoint with your rented car.

Nearby, following the same road, you can also stop to enjoy the views from another viewpoint, the Miradouro do Pôr-do-sol.

Povoação and Povoação beach

The village of Povoação owes its name to the fact that it was the first area of the island to be populated, where the first settlers disembarked in the 15th century. The Ermida de Sta. Bárbara, which is said to be the oldest in the island (and with a good view of the sea) and the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário stand out among its patrimony.

Povoação also has a beautiful black sand beach bordered by a green cliff. Right next to it you also have an artificial municipal swimming pool with sea water.

Pico da Vara and Planalto dos Graminhais

Pico da Vara is the highest point of the island of São Miguel, with 1103 meters of altitude. Accessible by foot, through a circular trail classified as difficult (the PR7SMI, here is the official brochure), of 7km (3h approximately). At the time of writing this guide, in order to do the trail it is mandatory to fill out this form and obtain authorization. If you are lucky, you will be able to see the endemic bird we talked about above, the Priolo.

In this area there is also the Planalto dos Graminhais (the trail currently does not pass through it, although it offers views of the planalto), which is one of the oldest landscapes of São Miguel. The Planalto dos Graminhais is characterized by its “turfeiras” (humid ecosystem, more info here) as well as by the Laurisilva forest. In theory it is possible to visit this area by car, through a dirt road (estrada da Tronqueira, more info here).

Ponta Delgada and South of the Island

What to see in Ponta Delgada

The capital of the island is an excellent base for getting around and getting to know its corners due to its strategic location in the middle of São Miguel and the gastronomic and cultural offer it has.

Although it is not our favorite Azorean city (we prefer Horta, in Faial, or Angra do Heroísmo, in Terceira, much more) because it seems to us a city not human-centered (cars are the protagonists of the city, where the sidewalks are not wide enough to walk and explore), its beautiful historic center, the fantastic restaurants and the views of the Atlantic make us wanting to explore it better, even after a day full of exploring/walking.

In Ponta Delgada we recommend to stay at the excellent rooms of the Hotel do Colegio (from 55€/night), at the Ladeira Loft apartment (from 80€/night) or at the beautiful Armazéns Cogumbreiro (90€/night), all in the city center. Find accommodations in Ponta Delgada here or see more options in the section Where to stay in Ponta Delgada.

Here is a list of things you can visit in Ponta Delgada in a day or two:

  • Walk along the sea between Forno de Cal and Forte de São Bras (this can be done by bike with the Atlantic Bikes app).
  • Visit the City Gates, one of the most important places in Ponta Delgada, this set of three arches was built in the 18th century and is one of the city’s promotional images. In the square where they are located, different events are held, such as the Espírito Santo festivities or Christmas decorations.
  • Torre Sineira: also built in the eighteenth century, it can be visited since a few years ago and you can go up to admire the panoramic views of the city, free of charge. Nearby you can also pass by the Municipal Chamber, the square in front of it is quite photogenic.
  • Learn about the history and nature of the Azores at the Carlos Machado Museum (open from 10 am to 5:30 pm, closed on Mondays).
  • Climb up to see the views of Ponta Delgada from the Hermitage of Mãe de Deus
  • Mercado da Graça and Rei Dos Queijos: something we always like to do if possible is to visit the local markets, and when we stay in an apartment we take the opportunity to buy local fruits and vegetables, so the Mercado da Graça in Ponta Delgada was our main shopping point. If you visit the island in summer, you can try to buy Meloa (cantaloupe melon) that comes from the neighboring island of Santa Maria, pineapples (which are grown in greenhouses near Ponta Delgada with a unique method in the world) or cheeses and butters from all the islands in the Rei Dos Queijos, inside the market itself (if you can, try the butter “Rainha do Pico”, from the island of Pico, or the one from the island of Flores, although the latter is not always available). They also have bread (you can’t leave the Azores without trying Bolo Lêvedo) and other local products. Another similar option is the Principe dos Queijos.
  • Portas do Mar: this area with restaurants, parking, stores, etc., was recently built as a stopping point for cruise ships. It is not our favorite area but if you are looking for an area with a lot of restaurants and a place to walk in front of the sea, this is your place.
  • José do Canto Botanical Garden: a botanical garden with different species from all over the world, endemic species, a church and a waterfall. The garden was started by its owner, José do Canto, in the 19th century and can be visited since 2014 (4€/person), from 9am to 7pm in summer (April to September) and from 9am to 5pm in winter (October to March).
  • Rosto de Cão: if you visit this area to have lunch/dinner in one of its restaurants (O Galego, Cais 20…) do not hesitate to visit the “Ilhéu do Rosto de Cão”, so called because the islet (which it is actually not an islet because it is connected to mainland) is said to resemble a dog.
Do you see a dog there? For us, more like a shark’s…
  • Whale Watching: One of the activities you can’t miss in São Miguel is the whale watching (dolphins and whales) in their habitat, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The most important thing is to make sure that you go with a company that respects the rules of sustainability and animal protection (safe distance from the boat to the cetaceans, etc.). I did this activity in São Miguel the first time I visited the island in 2013 where I was lucky to see that gentle giant, a Blue whale, with over 20 meters, peacefully passing by our boat. This year, on the island of Pico we were again lucky enough to see 3 “sardinheiras” whales, the third largest whale in the world, and several dolphins (we will tell you more about it in the Pico guide). The Azores are a paradise for whale watching so, book a morning in your trip for this activity.
Watching whales and dolphins in their habitat is one of the most incredible experiences we had in the Azores.

Book here your whale watching tour

In Ponta Delgada there is a huge variety of accommodations but if you want something special, we highlight the Senhora da Rosa hotel: 33 rooms with terrace in an 18th century estate surrounded by greenery and, above all, pineapples! Here you can take a dip in the heated pool in the pineapple greenhouse – with all the stimulation for the senses this entails – and several trails where you can stroll after a relaxing swim in the open air.

Relva

On your way to the west of the island (Sete Cidades / Mosteiros), you will pass through Relva, where you can make a couple of stops at its viewpoints or, if you dare, take a beatiful path along the sea. The viewpoints are the Miradouro Fonte da Roca (where the trail below starts) and the Miradouro do Caminho Novo (former “lookout” area for whale watching). It can be a good spot to enjoy the sunset.

The trail is the PCR20SMI (official brochure), a linear trail (round trip) of 5.5km (3h00) in which you will visit a “fajã detritica” (the “fajãs” formed by the crumbling of part of the cliff), going down until reaching sea level and with the possibility of taking a dip if the weather and the currents allow you to. Another curiosity of this trail is that you can have lunch/dinner (essential to book before going) at the Lapsa Garden, a house/farm that has a beautiful terrace facing the sea, where the owners prepare private dinners to appreciate, for example, the sunset (more info here).

São Miguel and the Pineapples: Ananases A Arruda and Herdade do Ananás

The pineapple (ananas, in Portuguese) is one of the symbols of the island (in fact the method of cultivation in greenhouses in São Miguel is unique in the world, in glass greenhouses, trying to reproduce the climatic conditions of where the fruit originally came from, South America) and is present in many of the activities you can do on the island.

At Quinta Augusto Arruda, also known as Ananases A Arruda the glass greenhouses can reach 38ºC heated by the sun, ideal conditions for the cultivation of the delicious and sweet Azorean “ananases”. Admission is free and besides visiting the greenhouses, the best thing to do is to try the chutneys and pineapple mustard and the different liqueurs in the store (we guarantee you will probably come home with one).

Here, even the “bolo rei” is made with pineapple! It is known as “malamanhado” and is an adaptation of the typical Christmas sponge cake with a filling made with pineapple jam and egg cream. We also heard about a pineapple flan with cheese, a famous dessert at the restaurant Amphitheater.

In the Herdade do Ananás the proposal is different. Here you can enjoy an Ayurvedic massage among pineapple plantations (with the corresponding delicious smell, of course). Idea for a romantic surprise: the massage can be enjoyed by two people.

At the 18th century estate of the Senhora da Rosa Tradition & Nature hotel you can even swim among pineapple plantations as there is a heated indoor pool in one of the greenhouses.

And finally, at the Mulher do Capote in Ribeira Grande, you can taste a pineapple gin. The Goshawk Azores Gin is a gin distilled with pineapple liqueur that we, as gin appreciators, are eager to try.

The jacuzzi among pineapple plantations at the Senhora da Rosa hotel (photo from the official website of the accommodation). Book your stay here

The Gin Library

And if you are a gin fan like us, then this is of interest to you because here, in São Miguel, very close to Ponta Delgada, you will find the largest collection of gins in the world, or as Ali, its creator, says, the largest gin library.

After living several years in Hong Kong, the British couple formed by Ali and Caroline, who had fallen in love with the Azores years before, on their honeymoon, decided they would create a project here. And so it was: Solar Branco, the project where the“Gin Library” was born, is a local accommodation with six independent units, a bar and an orchard where many of the spices and botanicals used to create the spectacular gin and tonics that you taste on its terrace are born.

Ali told us that he has 480 bottles of gin. We didn’t count them but we believed him, especially after seeing the professionalism with which he prepared our Baleia gin, his most recent creation, made in collaboration with Rocha Negra, of which he spoke proudly.

Taste the Baleia (or any other gin in the library) on the terrace costs 15€, enjoying the Masterclass (history of gin, tricks for a perfect G&T and even the creation of your own G&T with the ingredients of your choice) with 3 gin and tonics included, costs 40€. But watch out! if you bring a (full) bottle that they don’t have in their special library, you get the masterclass for free. Are you up for it?

Praia das Milicias and Praia do Pópulo

Praia das Milicias and Praia do Pópulo are the two closes beaches to São Miguel and very visited by locals, due to their ease of access, water quality and services. We visited Milicias beach in the middle of July and were pleasantly surprised.

Praia das Milícias

Lagoa and natural pools

Another option to cool off in the Atlantic ocean near Ponta Delgada is in Lagoa and its natural pools. There are two main areas: the “Complexo Municipal de Piscinas” (which has natural pools, an artificial pool, pools for children and all kinds of services) and the “Zona Balnear do Cruzeiro (Poças de Atalhada)” (wilder, unattended, with natural pools of crystal clear water).

While you’re here, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Observatório Vulcanológico e Geotérmico dos Açores (be careful, it is only open in the afternoon from 14:30 to 17:30), where you can learn more about the seismic/vulcanological activity in this area of the Atlantic ocean.

Around here there is a real retreat where you can stay overnight: Sul Villas & Spa. The concept is unique but so is the price. If you want to surprise your partner in a romantic getaway or your family in one of the most beautiful pools of the island with a spectacular view over the Atlantic, take a look at the Sul Villas.

Caloura

For some people it is the most beautiful natural pool of the island and that already sharpened our curiosity although it was really eating that brought us here. Several people recommended us the Caloura Bar and its terrace over the sea to eat good, fresh fish, so we went there.

Another attraction here is its good climate. In fact its name “Caloura” comes from “Calor” (Hot) due to the microclimate in this area (which, coincidentally or not, has the most expensive square meter of the island).

The hand-painted fishermen’s boats – with religious names asking for luck in the sea – complete the picture in this beautiful bay.

If it’s hot, go to Caloura. Sunbathing, a dip in the sea and a fresh fish (bought every morning from the fishermen) at the Caloura Bar. Perfect vacation day in São Miguel.

In the area, you can’t miss Praia Baixa D’Areia (also known as Praia da Caloura), a small cove with transparent waters, and the Pisao and Monte Santo viewpoints.

Monte Santo viewpoint

Agua D’alto

Another beach worth visiting is Praia da Pedreira, with calm and transparent waters (we were left with the desire because it was cloudy and it started to rain when we were visiting this beach). To get there you have to walk down from this point, parking the car nearby, wherever you can.

Another plan we recommend in the area is to go to Cervejaria A Lagoinha, where you can try the local craft beer at the brewery. When we went, it was full of local people, who order the beer inside and took it outside, in the little square in front of the church.

Cheers!

Before or after (we think it’s better before) tasting the beer(s) you can do a short and easy trail called “Quatro Fábricas de Luz” (PR39 SMI, here is the official information brochure in Portuguese/English), right here in Água d’Alto. Recently opened to the public, it passes through the ruins of old factories that, during the late 19th century and early 20th century, began to produce electricity from renewable sources. It is a 2 km linear trail that starts in the Parque Escutista dos Lagos and has a reward at the end: the “Cascata do Segredo” and a swimming pool in Trinta Reis. More info about the trail here.

Vila Franca do Campo and Ilhéu de Vila Franca

In the middle of the southern coast of the island lies the oldest municipality of São Miguel and the capital of the island until 1522: Vila Franca do Campo. This pretty town of narrow streets leading to the sea was initially associated with the sugar culture, later with oranges and more recently with pineapples. Vila Franca do Campo is a land with its arms open to the sea and from almost any point of it we can see the islet that is about 500 meters from the coast, Ilhéu de Vila Franca or, as it is also known, the “ring of the princess”, because of its shape.

Vila Franca do Campo and Vila Franca islet

The islet – Ilhéu de Vila Franca – is an ancient submerged volcano where its flooded crater forms an almost perfect circle, with a small opening to the sea.

How to visit the Ilhéu de Vila Franca?

It is possible to reach the islet and in fact it is one of the plans we recommend in São Miguel if you visit the island during summer, since the boats that make the crossing between the port of Vila Franca do Campo and the islet only operate during this season (from 15/06 to 14/10).

The round-trip boat ticket costs 8€/person and the frequency is every hour or so. As the islet is a nature reserve, the maximum capacity is 400 people per day (200 people simultaneously on the islet) so if you want to secure your place, don’t go too late.

Bathing in the waters of the islet of Vila Franca with Vila Franca do Campo in the background.

Only official boats can disembark on the islet (you will see that there are many other boats/tours that just go around it) and you can buy tickets online (although when we went there in July 2021 the website was under maintenance) or in person at the booth they have at the port. The boat ride takes just 10 minutes.

Upon arrival, you will find clean waters, warmer than usual, and an incredible biodiversity: bring a snorkel and mask kit and you won’t regret it. We also recommend that you do some hiking to contemplate the views of the islet from above, with the postcard of Vila Franca do Campo in the background.

Islet of Vila Franca, a great plan in summer

On the way back to Vila Franca do Campo – or if you don’t visit São Miguel in summer and want to make up for the lack of dips in the islet – Queijadas do Morgado is a must, also known as Queijadas de Vila Franca do Campo, especially for those with a sweet tooth. This little convent sweet was apparently created by the nuns of the Convent of Santo André and now delights those of us who pass through here.

One was not enough…

Other options to get to know the island better:

After delighting ourselves with the “queijadas”, we drove up to the Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Paz and its viewpoint, from which you can get amazing views of Vila Franca and the islet. The legend tells that some shepherds working in the area had to take shelter in a cave where they found a statue of the virgin. They took her to the church, and the next day she reappeared in the cave, and so on for several days, until they understood that a church had to be built in that place, hence its location.

The best hiking trails in São Miguel

One of the best ways to get to know the Azores is by doing trails. So in this two-month trip through the nine islands of the Azorean archipelago we promised ourselves to do at least one trail per island and in São Miguel there is no shortage of options.

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 Miguel.

Some roads and paths of São Miguel in summer seem dressed for a wedding. The Azores are a constant celebration of nature.

Here are some of the ones we find most beautiful

  • Serra Devassa (PRC05 SMI): easy circular trail that starts at the parking lot of Lagoa do Canário and passes through several less visited lakes. 4,9km, about 2h. More info / official brochure
  • Praia de Lagoa do Fogo (PRC02 SMI): circular trail that takes you down to the beach of Lagoa do Fogo. 11km, about 4h. More info / official brochure
  • Padrão das Alminhas – Poço Azul – Salto da Farinha (PR21 SMI): linear trail from Achadinha passing by the photogenic Poço Azul and Salto da Farinha. 4,9km, about 2h. More info / official brochure.
  • Salto do Prego – Sanguinho (PRC09 SMI): circular trail that passes by the beautiful waterfall of Salto do Prego, where you can take a refreshing bath, and by the village recovered as a rural tourism project, Sanguinho. 4,5km, about 2h. More info / official brochure
  • Quatro fábricas da Luz (PR39 SMI): linear trail passing by factories that represent the industrialization of São Miguel with the production and distribution of renewable electric energy. 2,1km, 1h30. More info / official brochure.
Trail through Serra Devassa

Where to dive in São Miguel

In the Azores the surprises are as many or more underwater. And if the incredible and diverse underwater world is accompanied by an incredible blue bottom that looks like a swimming pool and a very pleasant temperature considering that we are diving on this side of the world, then if you have a diving certificate you will not want to miss this experience.

Although I didn’t dive São Miguel (I did it in Pico, Terceira and Santa Maria), we were told that the best dive sites here are the following:

  • World War II shipwreck: the Dori Shipwreck Archaeological Park, a WWII Liberty Ship resting on the sandy bottom.
  • The Vila Franca do Campo Islet Reserve
  • Caloura Arches

More info about where to dive in São Miguel here

Although we did not try any center on the island, we heard very good things about Azores Sub Dive Center, where apart from diving they also do boat trips and snorkeling.

If you already have the official diving certification, here you can book your São Miguel marine exploration of 1 or 2 dives.

If you haven’t tried scuba diving yet but you would like to try, why not do it in the Azores? Here you have more information about the diving baptism in São Miguel where you will try scuba diving in the Natural Reserve of the islet of Vila Franca do Campo.

If you want to enjoy the aquatic biodiversity of the islet without a bottle in between, hire here your snorkel tour with equipment included.

Stingrays on Santa Maria Island

Where to stay in São Miguel: best areas

Although Ponta Delgada is not our favorite city, it is very well located and strategically connected so it can be an excellent base to explore the island. The other suggested option is Ribeira Grande also well located and connected.

Keep in mind that São Miguel is the most populated and extensive island of the Azores, and to go from Ponta Delgada to each of the extremes (Mosteiros in the west, Nordeste in the east), it takes between 45 min and 1h by car. If instead of the center of the island you stay at one end of the island, visiting the opposite end will take a couple of hours by car.

Where to stay in Ponta Delgada

We stayed at theLadeira Loft (from 80€/night), a very spacious one-bedroom apartment in the center of Ponta Delgada (very close to the Graça market) and overlooking the Atlantic.

Me sipping wine at the end of the day with the view from our terrace at the Ladeira Loft.

With more affordable prices, the Nook Hostel (from 40€/night), in the historic center, has apartments with 2 rooms, private rooms and dorm beds. Also among the cheapest options is the Holy Cow (from 50€/night) a hostel with rooms with private bathrooms and dormitories.

The Hotel do Colegio ( 55€/night), a beautiful hotel in a 19th century building, with swimming pool, in the center of Ponta Delgada, was the hotel where my mother, my sister and I stayed the first time we visited the island and we loved it.

Hotel do Colegio is located in the heart of Ponta Delgada, close to the best restaurants and bars in town.

Our friends Catarina and Ricardo visited São Miguel recently and they loved staying at Casa da Graça (rooms from 70€/night), a hotel managed by the charming Vânia and Sergio who make you feel at home in Ponta Delgada, apart from the great rooms (and breakfasts):

Book here your room at Casa da Graça. Photo from Booking.

If you want to treat yourself with a gin and tonic in a jacuzzi overlooking the sea without breaking the bank, then you want to stay at the Garoupas Inn (from 75€/night):

A jacuzzi on the terrace: Garoupas Inn, photo by Booking

The Armazéns Cogumbreiro was the largest commercial establishment on the island, in a building from 1913, renovated, in the center, with spacious and bright rooms from 90€/night.

Room at Armazéns Cogumbreiro, photo from Booking.

If you want something more high-end, the Azor Hotel (130€/night) has incredible rooms with views of the Atlantic.

See more accommodations in Ponta Delgada here

Where to stay in Ribeira Grande

Outside of Ponta Delgada, the other option we recommend you to stay in is Ribeira Grande.

Here you can treat yourself and stay in front of the sea in the capital of surfing (with the option, of course, of having surfing lessons) at the Santa Barbara Eco-Beach Resort (120€/night):

Santa Barbara Eco-Beach Resort, photo by Booking

If you want a cheaper option in this area, take a look at the Mitós Vila (a villa for two people for 33€/night) or the Central House, a house that you can enjoy from 2 people (at 55€/night) to 6 people (at 75€/night).

Mitós Vila, an excellent and economical option in Ribeira Grande

Pico do Refugio is a 17th century estate that was once a militia fort, an artists’ house and even a tea factory. Today, it is one of the most elegant places to stay in this area of the island: apartments and lofts from 76€/night in a dream setting.

One of the best options to stay in Ribeira Grande: Pico do Refugio. Photo from Booking. Book here

Find more accommodations in Ribeira Grande here

Where to stay in São Miguel: different and special experiences

For different/special experiences on the island, where you could spend a couple of nights or surprise someone, we recommend these ones:

Sleeping in a mill overlooking the Atlantic Ocean: at Moinho da Bibi (minimum three nights at €100/night) or Moinho das Feteiras (minimum two nights at €180/night):

Moinho das Feteiras, photo by Booking

Sleep among pineapple plantations at the Senhora da Rosa Tradition & Nature Hotel (120€/night):

Jacuzzi in the middle of the greenhouse, with the smell of pineapples at Senhora da Rosa (photo from the official website of the accommodation). Book here

Sleep in one of the most beautiful areas of the island, near Mosteiros, to have this bed close to one of the best sunsets you can enjoy in São Miguel, at Villa Varzea (99€/night):

Room at Villa Várzea, book here

Sleep at Sul Villas & Spa (180€/night), known by some travelers as the Eden of São Miguel Island. Here, the panoramic views of the Atlantic are privileged both from the villas and from the outdoor saltwater pool:

Sul Villas & Spa: an Eden in São Miguel. Photo by Booking

If you are 4 or 5 people traveling, the best option to stay on the island is the beautiful Pink House. Pink House (from 200€/night for 5 people). Downstairs are the bedrooms, upstairs the huge kitchen and living room, welcome to contemporary rural tourism:

Sleep in one of the nine most exclusive suites on the island in the White Exclusive Suites & Villas, located in a bay of volcanic rock and traces of ancient Azorean architecture (from 320€/night):

Can you imagine enjoying a sunset here? One of the most incredible places to surprise someone. Make a reservation here

Or sleep in the heart of Terra Nostra Park and access the hot spring pool at any time of the day and night, staying at the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel (110 €/night):

Terra Nostra Garden Hotel room:

Where to eat in São Miguel

Gastronomy is one of the strengths of the Azores, and there is a great variety of restaurants and gastronomic options, from the most traditional local meals to fusion food. Here are some recommendations of restaurants that we liked in different areas of the island (although most of them are in Ponta Delgada, the capital, and Ribeira Grande).

Where to eat in Ponta Delgada

  • Tasquinha Vieira: expensive but very very good, fusion food (they have a tasting menu option of 30€/person). The rice we tried was spectacular. We paid 56€ for 2 main dishes, a bottle of wine and a dessert.
  • A Tasca: BBB option (good, nice and cheap), but they do not accept reservations so you have to wait in the line (in summer it is usually long). In our opinion, it’s ok but don’t stop making plans around the island to queue for this restaurant, there are other options. If you decide to try it, you have to leave your name and stay close by as they call you by name when there is a table for you (we had a beer while waiting at the next door place, Canto do Aljube).
  • Õtaka: Nikkei fusion restaurant. They have several tasting menus (from 30€/person) or you can order a la carte. It is a bit expensive, but worth it if you are looking for a different option (we were looking for something like this in our last week of our two months in the Azores).
  • Alcides: one of the most legendary traditional restaurants in Ponta Delgada, where you can taste the famous “bife à regional”. Reservations are essential. We paid 50€ for two people, with a starter, two main dishes, a bottle of wine, a dessert and coffees in 2015
  • Cais 20: also a legendary place in Ponta Delgada because it is open until very late. Recommended for tapas, seafood and fish.
  • O Galego: it competes with Alcides and Associação Agricola for the best “bife à regional” in São Miguel but, in our opinion, it is the best. We paid 42€ for a starter, two main dishes, two beers and two coffees.
  • Rotas da Ilha Verde (vegetarian): we didn’t get to try it but it is one of the few vegetarian restaurants on the island and several people recommended it to us.
  • Ta Gente: Recommended for tapas, although the prices are a bit expensive.
  • Forneria São Dinis: Very good pizzas in a wood-fired oven. We paid 42€ for a starter, two pizzas, a bottle of wine and water.
  • Amphitheater: in the heart of Portas do Mar in Ponta Delgada, here you can taste traditional dishes with contemporary touches prepared by students in training.
  • Suplexio: If you’re craving burgers, look no further. Here you’ll find artisanal burgers and, best of all, a bar with Portuguese craft beer.
  • To buy cheese: Rei dos Queijos or Príncipe dos Queijos. They both also sell sometimes Flores butter (one of the best we tried) and “Rainha do Pico” butter.
  • Raíz Bar: for a drink with live music. On Fridays and Saturdays, from 10 pm, there are usually concerts of blues, jazz, rock, folk or African sounds.

Where to Eat in Ribeira Grande / Rabo de Peixe

  • Associação Agrícola: Another mythical option to try the famous “bife à regional”. We paid 42€ for a starter, two main dishes, a bottle of wine and two coffees.
  • Botequim Açoriano: Excellent restaurant where we ate the best tuna of our two months in the Azores. Excellent service. We paid 48€ for a starter, two main dishes, a bottle of wine, two desserts and two coffees.
  • Tuká Tulá: a good choice for dinner with sunset views, next to the sea. We paid 55€ for a starter, two main dishes, two gin&tonics, a bottle of wine, a dessert and two coffees.
  • Restaurant O Silva: We didn’t go there but several local people recommended it to try the “Arroz de Cherne”.

Where to eat in Furnas

  • Chalet da tia Mercês: local sustainable project, with local products from all the 9 islands. The first weekend of every month they have brunch (we tried the açoriano brunch, “a journey through the Azores”, with products from all the islands: butters from Flores and Pico, cheeses from Faial/São Jorge, eggs with “erva patinha” from Flores, etc.), the rest of the weekends it is also possible to book the brunch at least 48h in advance. They also have other dishes cooked in the caldeira (such as the famous cocido de furnas), and rice dishes and the like. The couple who owns the place is very very nice
  • Tonys: one of the recommended options to taste the famous stew cooked slowly for several hours thanks to the volcanic activity. It is usually quite full.
  • Caldeiras e Vulcões: also the famous cocido, with the option of vegan cocido.
  • Vale das Furnas: Another option for cocido with excellent quality/price ratio, recommended by our local friend Iolanda.

Where to eat in other areas of São Miguel (Mosteiros, Caloura, Vila Franca…)

  • Pizzeria Fantasia (Mosteiros): good wood oven pizzas and tiramisu. Reservations and punctuality are essential.
  • Bar Caloura (Caloura): excellent restaurant above the sea to eat very fresh fish.
  • Queijadas de Vila Franca (Vila Franca do Campo): to taste the famous “queijadas”, a delight!

A must: Try a passion fruit Kima (and then drink at least one each day). We could say that this refreshing drink would be like the Azorean Trina with passion fruit flavor, of course. Although it also exists with pineapple flavor, it is the passion fruit one that we can say is the most famous drink of the Azores and the one we miss the most, those of us who got addicted to it while visiting Azores. It is made by Melo Abreu (you may know it from their Especial beer), a factory in Ponta Delgada whose history dates back to 1892.

São Miguel itineraries

As you will have seen if you have read our entire guide, São Miguel has many incredible places to visit, so to see everything you will need at least a full week.

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.

Things to do in São Miguel in 2-3 days (a weekend)

A weekend is very little time for São Miguel, so if this is your case we recommend that you choose: either stay in one area or assume that you are going to spend some time on the road and visit several areas in a lighter way (in which case, we recommend getting up early!). Here is a 2 and a half day itinerary to visit the most special parts of São Miguel (in our opinion)

3-day Itinerary in São Miguel: Sete Cidades and Thermal Waters

  • Day 1: Arrival in São Miguel at noon and check-in at accommodation in Ponta Delgada. Visit Lagoa do Fogo and its viewpoints, hot springs in Caldeira Velha and Salto do Cabrito. Dinner in Ponta Delgada. Days 2 and 3 are interchangeable knowing that the Furnas day does not require good weather but the Sete Cidades day does.
  • Day 2: Sete Cidades and Mosteiros. Start at the Vista do Rei viewpoint (in front of the ruins of the Monte Palace Hotel), continue to Lagoa do Canario and Grota do Inferno (possibility to do the Serra Devassa trail), go down to Sete Cidades stopping at the viewpoints. Lunch on the trail or in Sete Cidades. Continue to Mosteiros, visiting the Ponta de Ferraria with its warm sea water, the viewpoint of Ponta do Escalvado, and make beach / natural pools in Mosteiro, where you can also enjoy the sunset. Return to Ponta Delgada for dinner.
  • Day 3: Furnas. Visit Terra Nostra, Furnas lagoon, Furnas village and eat cocido. In the afternoon, go to the different viewpoints, pass by Praia do Fogo in Ribeira Quente and return to Furnas for Poça Dona Beija in the evening.

Things to do in São Miguel in 4-5 days

4 or 5 days is the minimum to visit São Miguel and get a good idea of the island, although if you can a week is the best to see everything more calmly and enjoy relaxing in its hot springs and spa areas. Here is an itinerary for 5 days.

5-day itinerary in São Miguel:

  • Day 1: Arrival in São Miguel at noon and check-in at accommodation in Ponta Delgada. Visit Lagoa do Fogo and its viewpoints, hot springs in Caldeira Velha and Salto do Cabrito. Dinner in Ponta Delgada. Days 2 and 3 are interchangeable knowing that the Furnas day does not require good weather but the Sete Cidades day does.
  • Day 2: Sete Cidades and Mosteiros. Start at the Vista do Rei viewpoint (in front of the ruins of the Monte Palace Hotel), continue to Lagoa do Canario and Grota do Inferno (possibility to do the Serra Devassa trail), go down to Sete Cidades stopping at the viewpoints. Lunch on the trail or in Sete Cidades. Continue to Mosteiros, visiting the Ponta de Ferraria with its warm sea water, the viewpoint of Ponta do Escalvado, and make beach / natural pools in Mosteiro, where you can also enjoy the sunset. Return to Ponta Delgada for dinner.
  • Day 3: Furnas. Visit Terra Nostra, Furnas lagoon, Furnas village and eat cocido. In the afternoon, go to the different viewpoints, pass by Praia do Fogo in Ribeira Quente and return to Furnas for Poça Dona Beija in the evening. Return to Ponta Delgada for dinner
  • Day 4: Ponta Delgada and surroundings. Visit the city (portas da cidade, promenade, pineapple plantations, museu do Machado…), have lunch and in the afternoon go to one of the beach areas/natural pools (Milicias, Lagoa, Caloura, …) or to the tea plantations in the north.
  • Day 5: Northeast and Povoação. Visit the different viewpoints (Ponta do Arnel, Ponta do Sossego, Ponta da Madrugada), the environmental center do Priolo, etc. Lunch in Nordeste or Povoação and in the afternoon hike the Salto do Prego trail.

Things to do in São Miguel in one week (7 days)

With a week you can take things a little slower (or do it at a good pace to visit many more places), and for us this is the ideal number of days to visit São Miguel.

One-week itinerary in São Miguel:

  • Day 1: Arrival in São Miguel at noon and check-in at accommodation in Ponta Delgada. Visit Lagoa do Fogo and its viewpoints, hot springs in Caldeira Velha and Salto do Cabrito. Dinner in Ponta Delgada. Days 2 and 3 are interchangeable knowing that the Furnas day does not require good weather but the Sete Cidades day does.
  • Day 2: Sete Cidades and Mosteiros. Start at the Vista do Rei viewpoint (in front of the ruins of the Monte Palace Hotel), continue to Lagoa do Canario and Grota do Inferno (possibility to do the Serra Devassa trail), go down to Sete Cidades stopping at the viewpoints. Lunch on the trail or in Sete Cidades. Continue to Mosteiros, visiting the Ponta de Ferraria with its warm sea water, the viewpoint of Ponta do Escalvado, and make beach / natural pools in Mosteiro, where you can also enjoy the sunset. Return to Ponta Delgada for dinner.
  • Day 3: Furnas. Visit Terra Nostra, Furnas lagoon, Furnas village and eat cocido. In the afternoon, go to the different viewpoints, pass by Praia do Fogo in Ribeira Quente and return to Furnas for Poça Dona Beija in the evening. Return to Ponta Delgada for dinner
  • Day 4: Ponta Delgada and surroundings. Visit the city (portas da cidade, promenade, pineapple plantations, museu do Machado…), have lunch and in the afternoon go to one of the beach areas/natural pools (Milicias, Lagoa, Caloura, …).
  • Day 5: Northeast and Povoação. Visit the different viewpoints (Ponta do Arnel, Ponta do Sossego, Ponta da Madrugada), the environmental center do Priolo, etc. Lunch in Nordeste or Povoação and in the afternoon hike the Salto do Prego trail.
  • Day 6: Vila Franca do Campo. In the morning visit the islet of Vila Franca, return for lunch, and in the afternoon Lagoa do Congro and Lagoa de São Bras.
  • Day 7: In the morning do the Poço Azul / Salto da Farinha trail, have lunch at Ribeira Grande and in the afternoon visit the contemporary art center Arquipélago. See the sunset in Santa Bárbara and have dinner at Tuká Tulá.

Transportation: rent a car in São Miguel

As in all the islands of the Azores, in São Miguel we consider it essential to rent a car in order to enjoy the island to the fullest, make the most out of the time and to visit all the places recommended in this guide at your own pace.

We rented the car with Autatlantis, both in São Miguel and in the rest of the islands, and everything was perfect: the attention upon arrival was fast and effective, the car (a Citroen C3) was brand new and we had no problems at all. Practically all the companies include an excess in the insurance, and Autatlantis is one of the ones with the lowest excess (700€, compared to 1300-1500€ of other companies).

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 reach high prices (during the summer of 2021 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).

Parking in Ponta Delgada: although in general in the Azores you will not have to worry too much about parking, Ponta Delgada is the exception because if you are staying in the center there may not be free parking available. Be well informed when you book your accommodation, to find out if it has free parking and/or if it has free public parking areas nearby.

Another option if there are no rental cars available or if you are on a budget, is to rent a scooter, although we sincerely do not recommend it due to the long distances to be covered in São Miguel and the unstable weather in the Azores.

There is also the option to move around São Miguel by public transport: there are 3 bus companies that connect some of the main points of the island, you can check the schedules here. Connections and frequencies are quite limited, but if you are traveling on a budget it can be a valid option to visit some of the main points of São Miguel.

How much does it cost to travel to São Miguel?

As always, giving a generic budget is very difficult as it depends greatly on your style of travelling. What we can do is to give you an orientation of prices and you can use to calculate your own budget:

  • Flights: You can find flights for 50€ (round trip from Lisbon) to Ponta Delgada but it depends on how far in advance you book and your dates (in summer it is more difficult to find cheap prices).
  • Car rental: from 25€/30€ per day the cheapest car (depending on the company and the number of days). In summer prices go up and it can be difficult to find a car at short notice.
  • Accommodation: from 50€/night for a double room with private bathroom or an apartment with kitchen, centrally located.
  • Restaurant meals: between 10 and 25€ per person per lunch/dinner in a restaurant

In total, as a guideline, a one-week trip to São Miguel 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 Miguel

We recommend some apps that will be useful for your trip to São Miguel:

  • 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 camera of Lagoa do Fogo 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. We were alerted to this by our friends Ricardo and Catarina who were enjoying the island recently.
  • 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
  • Google Maps (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, telephone numbers to contact them, etc.
  • Maps.me (Android/iOS): application similar to Google Maps but that 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 Azores trails website (click on Downloads->GPS), etc.

Tips to enjoy São Miguel

  • In the whalewatching activities, respect the behavior indicated by the center and be suspicious if it does not involve measures such as: prohibition of swimming with dolphins; reduced and constant speed of the boat and a minimum distance of 50 meters from the animal; avoid the presence of several boats within a radius of 150 meters around the group of cetaceans and do not stay more than 10 minutes with the same animal.
  • 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.
  • Respect other people and the island: don’t play your music loudly on the beach (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 natural pools, bathing is dangerous due to strong currents. Do not be brave.
  • 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. We always use IATI and recommend it. It also covers you for Covid-19 expenses.If you purchase your insurance through this link you have a 5% discount.
Hello whale!

Checklist: what to take in your backpack/suitcase to São Miguel

Here is a list of must-haves that you can’t forget to take with you on your trip to the island of San Miguel:

  • Water shoes like these from Cressi (transparent, comfortable and dry quickly) or these, if you prefer another material that fits better. Keep in mind that in the Azores, in general, you will not find sandy beaches but natural volcanic rock pools or mostly pebble beaches so you will want to carry your booties always in your backpack.
  • Snorkel kit/glasses to see the little fishes in the natural pools. Here is akit for less than 20€.
  • Reef friendly sunscreen, i.e. free of coral-damaging chemicals, oxybenzone-free, and not tested on animals, such asthis one orthis one.
  • Cap, the sun is very strong
  • Sunglasses
  • Trekking shoes because the best way to get to know the Azores is by hiking trails. We have these from Columbia.
  • A water bottle like one of these to always carry water with you. You are on the island of waterfalls and great water! Take advantage of it! In addition, you will avoid using single-use plastic.
  • A neck brace like one of these to protect you from wind and sand.
  • 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.
  • Waterproof bag, to keep your electronic devices safe on the boat to the islet of Vila Franca or on the beaches. 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 Azorean adventures. We carry a Sony A5100 and aGoPro 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.

Obrigada São Miguel. Although in some of your corners tourism has been too strong, you continue to surprise even those who, like us, are visiting you for the third time. And it surely won’t be the last. Até breve!

Disclaimer: Autatlantis helped us explore the island of São Miguel with one of their vehicles but all opinions and information expressed in this post are our own.

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