When you only have a week free for your visit to the Azores, we used to advise spending your whole stay on one island – on the main island Sao Miguel. However, perhaps an Azores island hopping holiday could be the answer…
Now please don’t misunderstand (and before I get into trouble with friends on the island) – I love Sao Miguel; it’s one of my favourite islands and you can easily fill your whole week exploring her amazing crater lakes and waterfalls:
However, I’ve been rethinking this advice recently. Flying between the islands shouldn’t be viewed as a chore that detracts from your holiday; an Azores island hopping holiday is an enjoyable addition that adds something exciting and unique to your trip.
You just have to choose wisely.
Sao Miguel and Santa Maria
You’ll have to excuse the above map as it’s not really to scale, but it’ll help to demonstrate a point. Geographically, certain islands naturally pair themselves together – for example, Sao Miguel and little Santa Maria are close neighbours. There are daily flights between the two islands and you’re only in the air for about ten minutes; a short hop that opens up a whole new island for you to explore:
Santa Maria’s particularly great for walking – the Grande Trilhos is a network of connected, way-marked trails that allows you circumnavigate the island. The calmer version is over four days but it’s doable in three if you’re reasonably fit – or you could just include a two night stay with a couple of beautiful coastal walks, before heading back over to Sao Miguel.
Terceira and Graciosa
Heading west brings you to the island of Terceira. A big favourite of mine, it has a fascinating history, great food and some really wonderful architecture. Arguably, all three have their roots in Terceira’s crucial role as a maritime hub at the peak the Portuguese colonial empire:
Like Sao Miguel, Terceira has a smaller neighbour: Graciosa. I finally had a chance to visit Graciosa in September; it’s quite a contrast to Terceira – a more gentle pace of life; dare I say a more authentic experience of the ‘old Azores’…? (Too late, I’ve typed it now).
We flew in via Lisbon, had our fix of Azorean hustle, bustle and culture with four days on Terceira and ended our week with a few days of sleepy peacefulness on Graciosa.
(This isn’t a vid of our trip, but it’s got some nice images of the island’s landscapes):
Faial and Pico
The classic pairing for a two island stay is/are Faial and Pico. Both islands are well-connected to Lisbon by air – Faial more so than Pico; there are daily flights in and out of the former and bi-weekly flights for the latter. They’re also very well-connected to each other: a regular ferry service sails back and forth between the harbour towns of Horta and Madalena all day long.
If you’ve got some flexibility with the beginning and end dates for your holiday, you can fly into Faial from Lisbon for the start of your stay, take the ferry over mid-week and fly out of Pico back to Lisbon when it’s time to head home.
Both islands have their own unique draw – Pico’s famous for it’s rugged volcanic landscape, the mountain of course (Portugal’s highest peak at 2351m), and it’s vineyards:
The island also has a long history of wine production, dating back to the 15th Century. Azorean vineyards are traditionally based around rectangular plots with drystone basalt walls; protecting the vines from the elements. This method was quite common across the islands until a pan-European blight wiped out most of the vines in the 1850s. Family-owned vineyards still exist on Terceira, Santa Maria and Sao Miguel but the wines and liqueurs produced on these small holdings tend to be for personal use. Only Pico’s co-operatives really produce wines in commercial quantities and the island’s vineyards are a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Faial is home to one of the Azores’ most spectacular sights: the vulcao dos Capelinhos, site of the last major volcanic eruption on the island, which lasted 13 months from September 1957 to October 1958. Over 2km² of land were created during the eruption – however, more than 300 homes were tragically destroyed, leading to the emigration of 4000 islanders (mainly to North America):
And let’s not forget what Faial and Pico have in common – both islands are great for whale and dolphin watching:
Why settle for just one island?
We have some great Azores island hopping holiday ideas;
Travel with the Award Winning Azores, Cape Verde, Madeira and Sao Tome Holiday Specialists
If you’re planning to visit the Azores for the first time this year and if you’re looking for inspiration on which islands to combine for an Azore island hopping holiday, feel free to call for a chat.
At Archipelago Choice, we have a team of Activity Holidays Specialists who know all about the Azores, Cape Verde, Madeira and Sao Tome and the best ways to explore. They are ready to answer all your questions. You can also request a brochure or make an enquiry online – just click on the links.