the azores

Last Updated on October 22, 2023

The Azores Islands

The Azores is a group of nine volcanic islands that is part of Portugal.  Santa Maria island is the closest at around 1,400 kilometers west of Lisbon.   Flores island is the furthest west at about 1,900 kilometers west of Lisbon.  

We spent a total of three weeks in five of the nine islands, which were Sao Miguel, Faial, Pico, Sao Jorge and Terceira.  The other four islands, Corvo, Flores, Graciosa and Santa Maria required more time and logistical planning that we just did not want to expend. 

The beauty about staying on an island, particularly the Azores, is that the distances to attractions are short. We never felt we had to hurry or even wake up early.  It was very relaxing to be on island time.

This article documents our experience in those three weeks while exploring the five islands.

when to visit

The peak months, i.e. when most tourists come, are June, July and August, according to two locals that we talked to.  In Sao Miguel alone, according to our rental car receptionist, there are 10,000 rental cars on the island that is  65 kms (40 miles) long and 15 kilometers (9 miles) wide. Both locals that we talked to said that visiting the island is a little more expensive during those three summer months and being able to dine in a restaurant can be challenging without a reservation (more like do not even try).

We visited the five islands between the second and last week of April in 2023.   We absolutely loved it despite the weather being more unpredictable and windy.  We were by ourselves most of the time when visiting the different attractions on the islands.  There was never a crowd.

According to locals, the best month to visit the Azores is September.  By then, the number of visitors has gone down while the weather is still at its prime.


All of the five islands that we visited are pretty much geographically similar.  The coast around the islands are rocky.  Fine sand beaches are pretty much non-existent except for Praia Vitoria in Terceira island. 

The middle of each island is a mountain range.  Pico island is home to Mount Pico which is the highest peak in Portugal at 2,351 meters (7,213 feet) above sea level.


Raining and sunny at the same time in Pico, resulting in a rainbow

Locals indicated that it can be warm in the Azores during the tourist season months mentioned earlier.  Locals also mentioned that you are liable to experience all the weather in one day in the Azores.  It can be clear at the coast and cloudy or foggy in the middle of the island. It could also be sunny and raining at the same time.  This sometimes creates the perfect condition for rainbows.

When we visited in April, the temperature was just fine. It was t-shirt weather down at the coast if there was no wind.  We donned a long sleeve shirt or a rain jacket as our wind breaker when there was a strong breeze.  Up in the interior (mountains), we had two and sometimes three layers as it is much cooler at higher elevation, especially when it was super windy.  Sometimes, we encountered rain when driving through the mountain despite being sunny when we left the coast.

Speaking of windy, it was always windy in the three weeks we were in the Azores.  The wind was our friend when the sun was out as it made it comfortable being baked under the sun.  Otherwise, the wind was our enemy most of the time when we were up in the mountains.  We found ourselves either putting on layers or taking layers depending on where we were.

Fog was very common in the interior of Sao Miguel and Sao Jorge islands.

Of the five islands we visited, Terceira had the best weather, although that was the last island we visited.  Sao Miguel and Faial had decent weather.  Pico had rain and sunshine at the same time while Sao Jorge’s weather had more to be desired.

Getting to the Azores

We visited Sao Miguel first, then Faial, followed by Pico and Sao Jorge and last was Terceira.  We flew on Ryanair to Sao Miguel from mainland Portugal just because they had the cheapest fare.  Certainly, there are other airline companies that fly to the Azores from the mainland.

We flew in a small twin turboprop aircraft operated by Azores Airlines (SATA) to Faial from Sao Miguel.  It only took about 40 minutes.  Our plane had 2 x 2 seating, meaning two seats on each side of the aisle, and had a total of nine rows.  Surprisingly, we had plenty of legroom and even my wife’s carry-on roller bag fit underneath the seat.  However, their overhead cabins are only big enough to accommodate small bags no more than 12 inches high.

Atlanticoline is a ferry company that shuttles people between the islands.  Their schedule varies depending on the season.  The ferry is an inexpensive way to get between Faial, Pico and Sao Jorge.  The ferry also travels to Terceira but takes almost 6 hours to reach from Pico island.  However, it only takes 20 minutes to fly from Sao Jorge to Terceira.

We had rental cars while exploring the five Azores islands. We saw local buses in all five islands but they were not running often.  To us, using local buses was not an option because it was just simply not an efficient way of spending our time.  We used to book all of our rental cars. 

Be forewarned though.  The local streets are narrow and become even narrower when one side of the road is used as a parking lot.  We had to wait for our turn sometimes to get through a street because only one vehicle could pass at a time.

what to expect

The Azore islands are very verdant.  Most of the land is pasture and there are cows everywhere.  

Most people speak English.  We only had trouble once communicating and that was with a group of old-timers hanging around the town’s square in Mosteiros, Sao Miguel.

Locals said that the coast is calmer during the summer months such that the ocean is swimmable.  Not so during our visit in April.  The waves were crashing by the coast no matter on which side or end of the island we were.  The only place we saw where the waves were not violent was on the north shore of Sao Jorge island near Fajã dos Cubres.

If you have forgotten already, I’ll say it again, it was windy on all the five islands that we visited.

If you desire pristine white sand beaches, then look somewhere else than the Azores.  But what these Azores islands lack in beautiful beaches, they make up for in natural “piscinas” or swimming pools as well as jaw dropping “miradouros” or viewpoints.  Also, each island has its unique attraction to explore and experience.  We listed below our favorites but certainly there are others that are worth seeing or visiting as mentioned below.


There are many attractions on each island.  Miradouros or viewpoints as well as natural pools or piscinas are all common in the islands.  Listed below are our favorites.

IslandDays SpentAttractions
Sao Miguel7Sete Cidades, Furnas, Gorreana Tea Factory, Driving along the East side of the island, Lagoa do Fogo
Faial3Caldeira, Finding the perfect viewpoint of Mount PIco, Finding Victoria – the number one cow in the Azores
Pico3Whale and dolphin watching
Sao Jorge4Moinhos, Hiking to Fajã da Caldeira Santo Cristo
Terceira3Algar do Cavao, Seeking out colorful churches, imperios, houses and building, Serre do Cume, Cows coming home

Sao miguel

Looking down at the two lakes that sandwich the town of Sete Cidades

Sao Miguel is the largest of the Azore islands.  Surprisingly, you can drive around the entire island in less than half a day.

The viewpoint of Sete Cidades is the number one attraction.  It is about a kilometer walk from the parking lot to the viewpoint.  The parking lot is small and gets filled requiring others to park alongside the road.

The steam vents and a mudpot at the town of Furnas are certainly not something you would see everyday.  It is nowhere as many as the thermal features in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming but it is still worth the visit.

Gorreana Tea Factory is a nice stop from all the driving and sightseeing.  You can drink as much green tea as you want from their store for free and even sit on their balcony overlooking part of the tea plantation.  When you have your fill of tea, you can walk along the rows of tea plants and may even see their goats selectively pick off the weeds from the tea plants.

Gorreana tea farm

Driving along the east side of the island was a wonderful road trip.  The azaleas were blooming and their miradouros are like a garden complete with picnic tables and sometimes with fire grills and ramadas.  The drive remains high in elevation so it provides dramatic views of the coastline below.

The drive alone to Lagoa do Fogo is a must do as it provides excellent views of the villages and pastures below.  Lagoa do Fogo has a light blue color.  You have to hike down to get to it though.


Faial Caldeira

Faial is the smallest island we visited.  We drove the island’s circumferential road in about three hours.  This includes our stops at miradouros and the volcano area at the east end of the island.

WIthout a doubt, the number one attraction in Faial is the Caldeira which is in the center of the island.  The Caldeira is huge.  We hiked the trail around its mouth which is just over 6 kilometers long.  It also provides a wonderful view of Mount PIco. It can be windy, wet and cold one day and sunny and calm the next on top of the Caldeira.

The closest you can be to Pico is at the City of Horta. You can take a photo of Mount Pico from there or from the Caldeira, whichever looks better.

There are plenty of cows in the Azores.  We just happen to run into the owner of the number one cow in all of the Azores.  Her name is Victoria and she is a beauty.

Victoria, the No. 1 cow in the Azores and his proud owner


Mt. Pico wearing a cloud hat

Mount Pico is the highest peak in Portugal.  However, this mountain creates its own weather.  Either the entire mountain or its peak was covered with clouds the entire time we were in Faial, Pico and Sao Jorge.  With clouds came rain.  It was the windiest island as well.

We wanted to go on a whale and dolphin watching tour but the seas were too rough during the days we were there.  

sao jorge

The small town at the end of the Faja da Caldeira Santo Cristo hike

Sao Jorge probably had the worst weather.  We only had one sunny day of the four days we were there.  On top of that, there is a 10 kilometer stretch of road on the way to Topo (east end of the island) that was blanketed with fog making the miradouros along the road useless.

Despite all of that, we were able to enjoy an easy 4.3 kilometer one way out and back hike to Fajã da Caldeira Santo Cristo which is a caldeira at sea level. 


Terceira is probably the island that has the most to offer. You can drive the entire island in less than three hours.  

The Algar do Cavao is an extinct volcano.  You have to pay to enter the volcano.  Cost was 10 Euros per person.  The operating hours are 14:30 to 17:00, so only a short window.  You will more likely be with a crowd if you arrive early.  There were two tour buses and the parking lot was almost full when we arrived at around 15:00 but was half full when we left.

One of the colorful Imperios scattered all over Teceira

Of all the five islands, Terceira is the most colorful.  Their churches, buildings and houses are all colorful on the outside.  Near or by the churches are Imperios or a small colorful building dedicated to the Holy Spirit.  

Serra do Cume provides a high vantage point overlooking verdant pastures and Praia da Vitoria below and the ocean beyond.  It was engulfed in fog the first time we went and was very windy on our second try.

One surprise that we will never forget is the traffic created by cows walking the road on a late afternoon.  Their owner was in a tractor moving them along.

Rush hour at Teceira Island


The Azores are certainly a unique group of islands.  Most people would think of islands as tropical.  The Azores are certainly not tropical.  It can be warm in the coast and freezing cold up in its interior mountain.  It is very lush and verdant.

Do not expect to be sunbathing on white sand beaches here.  Instead, indulge yourself swimming in natural pools that are connected to the ocean while being separated by large lava rocks with a little poured concrete here and there to keep the ocean waves at bay.  Or take a drive along its coast and stop by a miradouro to admire the view.

Having a lot of cows, seek out some cheese stores for some tasty Azorean cheese.  Or talk to a local farmer and find out how satisfied they are of living the quiet and simple life in the Azores.