Flying To The Azores
We returned from the Algarve to Lisbon. We stayed one night at an airport hotel before we flew to Sao Miguel. The plan was to explore Sao Miguel from Ponta Delgada. Then we would head to Faial for the second island on our visit to the Azores.
A rainbow greeted us the morning we left Lisbon. We hoped this would bring weather good luck for our 10 days in the Azores. The weather forecast showed rain for much of our visit. But we hoped that this really meant intermittent showers. We found that the weather changed rapidly in the Azores. But we generally had no trouble being out even if the forecast called for rain.
We worried about luggage weights when we packed. We tried to be careful when we left home, knowing that the Azores flights would accept less weight. But we still were not leaving the wine we have been given as a gift behind in Lisbon! Luckily the TAP Portugal check-in agent was forgiving of the few pounds we were over. And they never did weigh carry-on bags. But we would not count on that happening for all the flights we would do through the Azores.
The TAP Portugal flight was on what looked like a brand new A319. The seats were molded plastic with leather-like seats. While the knee room was not good on our economy flight, the seat width was fine. The knee room challenge was helped by the fact that none of the economy seats on this flight reclined. I was so glad to see that.
We bought a sandwich but a snack was served onboard. Certainly we were not used to that. We passed on the sandwich but we did not pass on the custard tart. And of course, the drink cart had wine as a free option. Wine and tarts! We were loving Portugal!
An Interesting Hotel in Ponta Delgada
We deplaned to the tarmac and our luggage wait was short. There were plenty of cabs available for our short drive to the marina area of Ponta Delgada. The reception staff at the Azor Hotel wanted to know all about our blog. They then proceeded to give us a long list of places to visit in the Azores. We knew we would run out of days to do everything.
Our room was not yet ready so we sat in the lounge area. There was a wide range of food and drink nooks in the lounge. It was a good thing that we didn’t find the chocolate and peanut butter gelato until the stay was almost finished. We were most intrigued by the self serve wine vending machine. You simply put in your room key to the wine selection you wanted and then selected the size of wine serving you wanted.
We settled in to do some work. The wine bottles were always within easy reach. Not a bad place to work. The big open common areas made this hotel a great base to explore Sao Miguel from Ponta Delgada.
We were very pleased with our room when we were shown to the top floor. The room was large and light. There was a small patio with a table and chair. Our view was out over the harbour. The bathroom was a design marvel with floor to ceiling doors that swung in different directions to close off the shower or toilet area from the sink area. I am not sure if our pictures could really capture how cool the bathroom design was.
The hotel had a great bar on the top floor with an outdoor pool and loungers. If we ever stopped for a day, we would be sure to enjoy this!
Walking Along the Water
Our hotel was located right on the water. This central location was perfect to explore Sao Miguel from Ponta Delgada. It was an easy walk along the seawall to explore Ponta Delgado.
It was clear that this was a working harbour. We could see large fishing boats tied up. But while there were large boats, we also often saw small pleasure craft and even wind surfers. Cruise ships were also now stopping in Ponta Delgada. But we were lucky to have no cruise ships visit while we were there.
As we walked along the sea wall chatting to each other, a guy came up and commented on our speaking English. He was originally from Boston but living in the Azores now. He walked with us and gave us a list of his favourite things to see. We parted company when he went off to swim. While he called it a pool, it was really just a buoyed-off part of the harbour.
The Churches of Ponta Delgado
The first church we explored was close to our hotel. The Ermida da Mae de Deus stood high up on a hill. When we went inside we expected a simple church to match the outside. It could not have been further from this. Everywhere we looked we saw detailed artwork and gilt.
As we went out to explore Sao Miguel from Ponta Delgada, we found that most of the churches were very similar in outer design to this church. But not all would have quite the display of gilt that we found in our first church.
Heading Out on Tours of Sao Miguel
We booked several days of tours with a local guide. Lisa Ringelberg was a Canadian that had moved with her family to the Azores. We contacted her while we were still at home. There was a long list of things we wanted on our days to explore Sao Miguel from Ponta Delgada. Lisa arranged our tours to fit it all in. She tweaked the tours when we arrived to factor in the weather or tides.
Our first tour day we headed to the main caldera area on Sao Miguel. We spent time exploring the calderas in the Lagoa Des Furnas area. We even got to have a thermal bath and visited a tea factory! The tour gave us a great first view of the island of Sao Miguel.
Our second tour with Lisa was for a half day. We enjoyed visiting both the south and north coasts to watch the surf. We saw yet another thermal bath and the natural pools found all over the Azores!
On our final tour day, we headed to the Sete Cidades area. We started with a viewpoint of both coasts of Sao Miguel. Views from high above the caldera at Sete Cidades gave us a great panoramic perspective. As we travelled down into the caldera, we stopped at several points for different views. We finished the day with a visit to the Ferraria. Hot thermal waters vent out into a small swimming area in the rocks.
Booking tours with a local guide was a great way to explore Sao Miguel from Ponta Delgada.
Whale Watching In the Azores
We visited the Azores in the peak of whale watching season. We booked a whale watching tour for one of our non-tour days. The first day got rained out. So it got moved to the one time we still had to explore Sao Miguel from Ponta Delgada. Several days of not so good weather had backed up the whale watching company. As a result, the boats were crowded for our whale watching experience. But we still saw two types of whales and a very small pod of dolphins.
We had a second chance to go whale watching when we went to Faial Island. But the weather again did not cooperate. We would have really liked to try whale watching with a much smaller company that seemed to really be focused on great whale watching experiences.
Our First Taste of Azorean Cuisine
You will eat well as you explore Sao Miguel from Ponta Delgada. We were always excited to be on an island and to be able to get fresh seafood. A local lunch in Caloura got us a great fresh seafood lunch. We tried a number of different fish, each with its own unique characteristics.
The local specialty on Sao Miguel was limpets. They were served on the shell covered in oil and garlic. David tried limpets several times. The bigger ones were chewy and not great. But the smaller ones were tasty.
A dinner at the local restaurant A Tasca in Ponta Delgada provided us with a wide range of local favourites. It also gave me the opportunity to try octopus both as an appetizer and as a baked main. This was as delicious as the grilled octopus we found touring Lisbon.
The most unusual meal we had was caldera stew (or cozido). The stew is made in a big pot that is heated for 6 hours in a hole in the caldera. The flavours of the meat and veggies mix. The meat just falls off the fork when you eat it. A great local treat!
Ponta Delgada is a big dairy island. There were lots of local cheeses to try. But there was also some cows bred for meat. We were told to watch for Azorean certified beef. We would know it was good meat if it was expensive. One night at the hotel we decided we just had to try the Tomahawk Steak. This is a very large rib cut of beef.
We always try the local wines when we travel. There was a lot of Azores wine to sample.
You Can Explore Sao Miguel From Ponta Delgada
On this first visit to Sao Miguel, we chose to explore Sao Miguel from Ponta Delgada. We wanted a bigger, central hotel that would provide us space on down days. It worked out perfectly as a great base. We saw so much on the island on our days of touring and exploring.
As we toured the island of Sao Miguel, we found lots of areas where we may stay when we return. There were small boutique hotels, B&Bs and some AirBnB properties that would let us have a quieter, more local experience.
We found lots to see and do on Sao Miguel. The bubbling calderas gave us great views, a delicious stew and a thermal bath. The pounding surf on both the south and north shores kept is mesmerized for hours. The high viewpoints above Sete Cidades and the Ferraria offered the most stunning scenes.
We headed next to the islands of the central Azores. We stayed on Faial Island and then toured Pico Island as a day trip. This gave us yet another perspective on the Azores Islands.
Have you had a chance to explore Sao Miguel from Ponta Delgada? Is there somewhere else you stayed when you visited this island? What was your favourite thing to do exploring Sao Miguel?
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I’ve always wanted to go here! I would love to explore calderas in the Lagoa Des Furnas area. That’s amazing you even got to take a thermal bath.
Marissa, I would strongly recommend a visit to the Azores. Sao Miguel was a great islands with so much to see and do. Lots of volcanic activity everywhere to enjoy! Thanks for following our travels. Linda
I love Portugal – but I haven’t visited the Azores yet! Definitely on my list now – I want to try that caldera stew!
Fiona, We loved everywhere we visited in Portugal. But we were so glad we got to the Azores. An amazing natural beauty! It was very cool to watch the caldera stew cooking in the ground, pick your stew pot and then eat in the restaurant. A very unique opportunity. And tasty too! Thanks for following along on our travels! Linda
I have been meaning to visit the Azores for such a long time and it never makes it into the planning stage. The Azor Hotel looks gorgeous, I’m loving the idea of a chocolate peanut butter nook in the lounge!!! The location and views from the hotel are gorgeous. Ponta Delgada itself looks charming, as well as a great base for tours out to the rest of the island. I’d love to see the caldera area and visit a thermal bath at Sao Miguel, and had no idea that tea was made here! Of course the coastline and interior landscapes are another huge attraction. The food looks FANTASTIC!
Kavita, Thanks for the thorough read of the blog post. You will not regret travelling to the Azores. Sao Miguel had so many different spots. We also stayed on Faial Island and visited Pico from there. We were in the Azores for 10 days in total and could easily have stayed longer. There are several other islands that are worth exploring. I am glad you enjoyed our travels. Linda
We wanted to explore the Azores last year, but ended up going to Lisbon. Next time, we’d definitely visit the Azores! Since we’ve never visited a tea factory, this would be something we’d like to do in Sao Miguel, as well as whale watching (and I’ll remember to do it with a smaller group). By the way, thanks for telling that small limpets taste better, so we’ll know what to order! haha… Oh and Hotel Azores really looks interesting too, especially its self serve wine vending machine! I mean… how cool is that!
Mei, You will love the Azores! Sao Miguel was a great start. Then our days on Faial and Pico added another element to our view of the Azores. Try to plan to see more than one island if you can. Linda
Wonderful photos. I’m so glad you got to keep the wine you got given!! The Azores is on my ever-growing bucket list now.
Jem, Thanks for the feedback on the photos. We had such good wine when we visited Portugal. The green wine we got given by friends in the Algarve was probably the most interesting. Good to arrive on Sao Miguel with a starter supply of wine. I would absolutely have the Azores on your list. Even with a 10 day stay we didn’t see all we wanted. Some day we will return. Linda
Wow, such fantastic detail. I’ve never been to Portugal or the Azores… which is silly, since geographically I’m not that far away! I didn’t realise how far off the mainland the Azore Islands were (had to google)! I love the look of the Lagoa Des Furnas area – hot springs are a fave of mine. The food looks amazing, although I don’t think I could handle the limpets! Give me the meat and cheese any day. Shame about the whale watching – smaller tours are always a better idea (although often more at the whim of the weather)!
Hannah, The Azores were such a great discovery. Sao Miguel had so many interesting spots to visit. May was a great time to visit. Not too busy but warm enough to travel comfortably. Faial and Pico were equally fascinating to visit but different. Still a few islands we didn’t get to explore. Hope this makes it on the long travel wish list! Linda
I had never heard of the Azores – in fact, it took me a while to realise that they must be a group of islands somewhere off the coast of Portugal. Now I have to get a map and see just where. The tours of Sao Miguel sound very interesting. Is Ponta Delgado on the island of Sao Miguel – or is it another island?
Yasha, I had not heard of the Azores before another blogger suggested we visit when we were planning our Portugal trip. We were so glad that we did. Ponta Delgada is the main city on the island of Sao Miguel. It is a great spot to use as a base to explore the island. We were there for 6 days and found lots to do. Sorry about the delay in responding to your comment. For some reason it was flagged as Spam and I had to retrieve it. Linda
TAP has a surprisingly good service.
I’ve heard of the Azores, but I’ve never seen photos. These are beautiful. The name Azores reminds me of a scene from Finding Nemo, in which Dory speaks whalese and talks to the whales near the Azores. And you included pictures of whales! 🙂
Oh, and I would looooooove to eat that delicious food, that cozido looks amazing.
Ana, We were so glad that we explored the Azores. Funny that they are mentioned in Finding Nemo 🙂 The food everywhere in the Azores was great if you like seafood. The cozido was especially fun since we got to see the pot cooking underground! If you hadn’t thought of the Azores for a travel destination, I would suggest you consider it. Depending on where you live, it may be easy to get to. Linda
Lagoa Des Furnas and the thermal pools was absolutely my favourite part of the Azores. The water was yellow! Whale watching was the worst because we all got soaked in rain and never saw a thing. It sounds like your experience was amazing. It’s truly a fascinating area and your hotel in Ponta Delgada looks ideal.
Carol, I am so sorry you didn’t have a better whale watching experience in the Azores. We have found whale watching to be hit and miss both for weather and tour companies. I was glad the thermal pools did not smell more of sulphur than they did. We loved our exploration of the 3 islands in the Azores and will go back to explore the ones we missed. Linda
I think I am in the minority here but I had never heard of Azores until this post. Adding it to my bucket list for sure. My kids are fascinated by volcanoes and this would be a wonderful place to help them get some hands-on learning. Plus, that stew cooked in the ground sounds absolutely amazing, and you can’t beat those views either.
I had not heard about the Azores until another blogger mentioned it when we were planning our trip to Portugal. They were so effusive that we had to carve out some time for the Azores. We were so glad we did. There is lots of natural beauty if your kids like to spend time outdoors. We started that trip in the Canary Islands so we got so much volcano history! Definitely a spot that should be considered for natural beauty! Linda
We will be traveling to the Azores in a year from May. Thanks for all of this information – it’s very helpful. We definitely will be staying in Sao Miguel for 4-5 days (maybe splitting time between Ponta Delgada and Furnas?) and then heading over to Pico. WE have the choice to stay in Faial for three days or just visit for a day. Do you have a recommendation?
Mt Travelers, We stayed on Faial for 3 days. One day is needed for a comprehensive island tour. And one day we enjoyed wandering around in the downtown. Are you doing whale watching from Pico? You can do it from Pico probably easier than Faial. But we stayed an extra day and then ended up with not a great day for whale watching. You could do Faial as a day trip from Pico but there is a lot to see. The ferry could take you over. Hope this helps. So much depends on what you want to do. Lots of suggestions on the other Azores blog posts! Linda
I may have missed it, but it would be really helpful to know the month that you visit locations for planning purposes.
Your travels are somewhat of a template to follow when we make our trip. How did you find the prices esp. food? Thanks .
Gerry, We were in the Azores in late April to early May. Still off season for the the Azores. If you like seafood, you will find lots to eat in the Azores. But there are lots of cows too. So cheese and beef is really good. The prices were good at that time. But then, we found most of Portugal to be better value than much of Europe. There are a lot of blog posts on the Azores. Hope they help with planning. Linda
Just came myself from a volcanic wine tour in the Azores. Visited Sao Miguel (Ponta Delgado and Furnas), Pico Island and Madeira Island. It is pure nature. I totally loved and enjoyed the trip, the food, the cheese…The Azores are still unknown by a lot of people but will soon become a hot spot. It is called the Hawaii of the Atlantic. If not on your bucket list please add it!
Christelle, We certainly did love our 10 days in the Azores. And were so glad we visited before they became too popular. I can see why they may be called the Hawaii of the Atlantic. But I sure hope they don’t get overdeveloped. Would love to go back again. Linda