São Miguel provides the perfect introduction to the Azores because it’s the largest island in the archipelago and arguably the most beautiful. Known for its volcanic craters, azure lakes and bubbling hot springs – the nature on offer here is simply astonishing. First time visitors to “Ilha Verde” should read these 30 important São Miguel travel tips so they can explore the island in the best way possible and not miss out on any of the incredible experiences on offer.
Due to its location in the mid-Atlantic, getting here requires quite a bit of forethought and planning. You will need to organize visas, flights, transport, accommodation and tours (among other things). Once all the paperwork has been filled out and bookings made, your only task will be figuring out which parts of the island you want to see. While it’s nice to have a rough idea of where you would like to go, sometimes traveling spontaneously is better.
Islands like São Miguel are big enough to stumble upon hidden gems that not many tourists know about and small enough to not get overwhelmed by the sheer number of possible activities. Regardless of the time of year you visit and the duration of your trip, browsing through these 30 São Miguel travel tips will help you sort everything out before you go. Not all of these tips will apply to your situation but the vast majority will. So let’s get started.
The summer months of July to September bring about the best weather in the Azores. During this period you can expect higher temperatures, longer amounts of sunshine per day and warmer sea waters. However, the shoulder season months of June and October are also desirable because of the smaller crowds and more moderate temperatures for hiking. If it’s your first trip to the Azores, we recommend going in summer to make the most of the weather.
Some travelers will be visiting São Miguel as part of a bigger journey across all nine of the Azores islands, while others might just choose to visit São Miguel. Either way, you will need at least five days here. Anything less and you risk a rushed trip or skipping some of the best attractions that the island offers. In all honesty though, even five days isn’t enough. To fully immerse yourself in the nature and culture of “Ilha Verde” plan for seven days as the minimum.
It would be a shame to come all the way to the mid-Atlantic and miss out on seeing some of the other beautiful islands in the Azores. Visiting all nine might be a stretch but consider adding Terceira or São Jorge to your itinerary to get a broader perspective of the Azores archipelago. Terceira is home to a UNESCO listed city called Angra do Heroísmo and São Jorge is famous for its jaw-dropping “fajãs” – steep island cliffs that lead down onto flat terrain.
Many passport holders can travel visa-free to the Azores for up to 90 days within an 180 day period. The Azores are a territory of Portugal and so they fall under the Schengen Area. Visa-free nationalities include Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, South Korea, the UK and the US. Having said that, some other nationalities will need to obtain a Schengen visa before they go. This includes countries like Thailand, Turkey, Vietnam and a handful of others.
The official currency of Portugal and the Azores islands is the Euro. If you are traveling from a European country you can bring your Euros along with you to spend in São Miguel. Keep in mind that most of the major towns on the island have ATMs where you can withdraw cash. The Ponta Delgada Airport in São Miguel also has ATMs and cash exchange tills. Otherwise all major credit cards are widely accepted at the island’s main shops, restaurants and businesses.
Portuguese is the official language of the Azores and in São Miguel the locals have a distinct accent that is quite different to other Portuguese territories. If you can speak a touch of Portuguese then you might find it fun practicing your language skills on the island. But for those travelers who can’t speak a word of Portuguese, don’t worry too much. English is still widely spoken by the younger generations and those who work in the tourism industry.
Flying is the only way to reach the Azores and São Miguel specifically. When planning your holiday, consider the route you will take because there aren’t too many direct flights into the Ponta Delgada Airport. You might want to fly direct from Lisbon or Barcelona – or perhaps you could look into flying direct from London or New York. Booking flights all depends on your travel plans and whether or not you wish to explore other parts of Europe on your trip.
São Miguel has a moderate climate that is consistent throughout the year. Summers can reach into the high 20s while the winters can drop down to 10 degrees celsius with considerably more rain. It’s not uncommon for the day to start out sunny and then turn sour if a front rolls in across the Atlantic. With that in mind, it’s best to pack for all weather conditions. Bring warm clothes as well as hiking boots for the long walks that you will inevitably take on.
You might want to book some of your preferred accommodation in São Miguel well in advance just because some of the popular hotels get reserved quickly in summer. Places like Terra Nostra Garden Hotel in Furnas will get snapped up if you don’t get yourself organized. If you are not too fussed about where you stay on the island, perhaps just consider booking a few nights in Ponta Delgada when you land and then the rest can be booked as you travel.
The small team here at Azores Dream Tours is passionate about sharing the beauty of the “Green Island” with people from around the world. We would love to honor you as part of our family, even just for a day. You can browse through our range of full day tours or half day tours and select an option just right for you. From the spectacular Sete Cidades to the phenomenal Furnas, let our team of friendly local guides lead you on an extraordinary adventure.
Renting a car for your vacation in São Miguel is a no-brainer. Public transport is an option but it doesn’t compete with the freedom and flexibility of having your own car. You will be able to discover secret beaches, go on epic road trips with your friends or family, and enjoy a sense of independence. The roads on the island are in fairly good condition. Just make sure you book your car in advance during summer as sometimes there are car shortages on the island.
The food of São Miguel is amazing. From tender Bife à Regional (beef steak), to fresh fish and tuna, to sweet pineapple and finger-licking Queijadas (milk tarts) – there is no shortage of delicious cuisine to sample on this spectacular Azores island. One unique activity that every traveler should consider is visiting a pineapple plantation to sample this popular fruit. Or just order some fresh slices of pineapple at a local restaurant nearby – it’s an island favorite.
Did you know that São Miguel is the only place in the world where pineapples can grow in greenhouses? There are many pineapple plantations scattered across the island but only a select few are open for public viewing. Plantação Ananases A Arruda has over 100 years of history growing this colorful, juicy fruit and it’s a great place to check out when visiting the Azores. Visits are free and you can learn all about pineapple growth in their innovative greenhouses.
Cozido das Furnas is another unique dish that you have to try when visiting the Azores. This hearty stew consists of different meats such as chicken, ham, pork belly, beef, chorizo and blood sausage, and it’s usually accompanied by potatoes and other vegetables. These ingredients are all placed into a pot and then cooked underground by volcanic heat. The geothermal energy slowly cooks the meat and vegetables with a waiting time of around two hours.
The incredible Gorreana Tea Factory and Plantation has been operating since 1883 and so they know a thing or two about what makes for a good cuppa. You can visit this family-run tea producer, look inside their factory, explore the fields where they grow the tea leaves and try the various types of tea on offer. Even if you don’t consider yourself a tea-lover, this place still makes for a nice morning or afternoon trip to learn about some of the industries of São Miguel.
São Miguel is in no way, shape or form a party destination – so don’t expect extravagant nightclubs and parties that rage until the wee hours. However, you can still find some decent pubs and bars to enjoy a couple of drinks in Ponta Delgada. The other option is to visit the vineyards dotted around the island. These establishments offer wine tastings paired with great Azorean cuisine. Remember that nature is the attraction here, not boozy nights out.
Furnas is the premier tourist destination in all of the Azores and so visiting on your trip to São Miguel is an absolute must-do. There are so many cool places to see and things to do in the Furnas area that it can make your head spin. But here are some of the best: Caldeiras das Furnas, Terra Nostra Garden & Pool, Furnas Lake, Miradouro do Pico do Ferro, Miradouro do Salto do Cavalo, Poça da Dona Beija, Cascata e Aquário das Furnas and many more places.
No matter the time of year you go, the various hot springs and natural pools of São Miguel make for a relaxing visit to soothe all of your body’s aches and pains. Set in lush, tropical environments – these springs and pools are just a delight to soak in. Furnas is the best region of the island to find these places but there are some other fantastic options on other parts of São Miguel too. These include Caldeira Velha, Termas das Caldeira and Termas da Ferraria.
If there is one image that sums up everything glorious about São Miguel it would have to be the lookout at Sete Cidades. Photos of this viewpoint have been shared widely across social media and blogs, but visiting in person is the only way to appreciate its beauty. No matter how you choose to experience Sete Cidades – be it from stunning viewpoints or picturesque hikes – you will leave with a sense of wonder at the magnificence of São Miguel’s nature.
The lush, volcanic landscapes of São Miguel make it a walking and hiking paradise. Trails abound across the island – from east to west – however there are a couple of special ones that you should definitely do. For starters, Lagoa do Congro is an awesome hike that only takes an hour or two to complete. It gives you plenty of peaceful moments to walk in total solitude. Another great hiking trail is the Cascata do Salto do Prego with its majestic waterfall finish.
Hiking long distances might not be everyone’s cup of tea but luckily São Miguel is home to some amazing miradouros (lookout points) which don’t require too much physical effort to reach. Miradouro da Vista do Rei is one of the most famous spots you will have to check out when visiting the island. It looks out over the stunning Sete Cidades. Another awesome viewpoint is Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego with its ocean and mountainside vistas.
There are some awesome waterfalls located throughout the island of São Miguel. Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeirões is a great place to admire these splendid flows of water. Cascata do Salto do Prego is another one (as already mentioned above). These two waterfalls are situated in the eastern regions of São Miguel. This side of the island has many secret falls that you can discover as well as hidden gems that only a few tourists ever get to see.
Whale watching is a thrilling experience, especially when you see the marine mammals jump out of the water in a spectacular fashion. The Azores is renowned for its whale sanctuaries – home to a range of resident and migrant species. Sperm whales are the most common but others can also be seen throughout the year. Humpbacks, blue fins and sei whales are all visible. It’s not uncommon to see dolphins when whale watching as well – a nice bonus.
São Miguel boasts a number of black sand beaches where you can relax under the sun and take a refreshing dip. While the island isn’t primarily known for its beaches, the rugged coastline still has a few stretches of sand worthy of attention. For example, Praia do Areal de Santa Bárbara is a long beach which has big waves crashing onto the shore. Praia do Fogo is a smaller bay with green landscapes in the background creating an inviting setting.
Snorkeling is a fun activity that the whole family can enjoy in summer. São Miguel has numerous options for this activity depending on your preferences. Praia da Pedreira is a safe beach where you can find an array of fish lurking behind rocky seascapes. Piscinas Naturais (natural pools) will be a hit with the kids as they can play around in shallow pools with their snorkeling gear on. Ilhéu de Vila Franca is another option for those looking for a unique day trip.
Farol Ponta do Arnel is a cool lighthouse worth checking out on the island’s northeast coast. Come here for sunrise to photograph an enchanting scene or visit at sunset for vibrant colors and to hear the seabirds sing. This lighthouse makes for a wonderful road trip no matter where you are driving from. The eastern side of São Miguel is largely unexplored by tourists and so you could come out here for a few days to explore hidden gems well off the beaten path.
Both the southeastern and northeastern tips of São Miguel have plenty of amazing things to do for travelers with an intrepid spirit. The villages located in the southeast are very charming such as Ribeira Quente and Faial Da Terra. Once you travel up the east coast you will be afforded remarkable views of the ocean and shoreline. Make sure you stop at Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego and Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeirões – two highlights of the east.
Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Paz translates to “Chapel of Our Lady of Peace” and it’s a captivating place to visit in Vila Franca do Campo. The chapel was built in 1764 and there are many fascinating stories about the founding of the building. The tiled and decorated stairway leads up to the main chapel where you can take in marvelous views of the ocean and Ilhéu de Vila Franca in the distance. Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Paz is a profoundly spiritual place.
One of the best aspects about traveling to a new country or remote island paradise like São Miguel is that you get the chance to meet new people and learn about new ways of life. Don’t let your lack of Portuguese hold you back from conversing with locals and striking up a conversation whenever you can. You will make friends for life. Booking a tour with us here at Azores Dream Tours is a nice way to spend time with locals who will make you feel part of their family.
A trip to the Azores is a once in a lifetime journey that you might not ever get to repeat. Make sure you cherish every moment and immerse yourself in the island’s culture. Be open minded to new experiences and try to put aside any preconceived notions you may have. Don’t spend too much time on your phone or on social media because the best way to capture the nature of the Azores is with your own two eyes. São Miguel will be your favorite trip to date.