Miguel Island in the Azores - Top Ten Things to Do

by Ana Magalhães

Azores is one of Portugal’s two autonomous regions along the North Atlantic Ocean. The archipelago is made out of 9 volcanic islands with São Miguel being the largest of them all. Volcanic and seismic activity have given birth to the precious islands of Corvo, Flores, Faial, Pico, Graciosa, São Jorge, Terceira, Santa Maria and São Miguel. While each of these islands has unique qualities, this time we embark on a trip around São Miguel.Imagine a breath-taking green garden and you’re half way there. Located in the eastern side of one of the most sustainable destinations in the world, São Miguel offers days’ worth of exploration.

Keeping this in focus here is the list of top ten things to do in São Miguel island to make the best of your time:

1. Lagoa das Sete Cidades

The spot, which translates to The Lagoon of Seven Cities, is one of the most popular pictures around the Azores. What you will actually see is a bright lake separated by a bridge. Commonly known as the green and blue lakes, in reality the bridge crossing over is what creates this illusion. The colors come from nature doing its magic: the light reflects the surrounding vegetation leaving you with the impression of green and blue.

The first spot you should hit while here is the Vista do Rei viewpoint. To get there you need to get your backpack ready and hike your way up. Alternatively, you can drive up there taking the Cumeeiras dirt road. However, you might miss on some amazing views, sounds and feelings.

Once you’re up here, you need to take a look at the Monte Palace Hotel. Now an abandoned site, the hotel was open for guests for almost 2 years after its’ construction in the 70s’. The 5-start hotel has been open for exploration in previous years, but now is awaiting a grand re-opening.

Wish you a sunny day when visiting otherwise you will be missing on a frenzy of colors!

2. Boca do Inferno

If you’ve reached Vista do Rei viewpoint, then you must visit the close by Boca do Inferno. On your way to the village of Sete Cidades, take a 10-minute detour straight ahead. This is not your regular viewpoint, but a jaw-dropping one. With a short hike up there, your eyes will get to feast on mountain views, the sea line and beautiful lagoons that will throw you in a 360° setting.

Tip: If you want a peaceful experience while gazing at the natural wonders, try to get there as early as possible to avoid big crowds of people.

3. Lagoa de Fogo?

Lake of Fire is not just a song, but also a real place in São Miguel. If you find yourself there in a sunny day, know that you are lucky. The lake is contoured by what was once a wild beach. You can reach it within 30 minutes of trail hiking downhill. Meditation is nothing compared to this: the sounds, the smells of pure green, the colors of nature are serene and spectacular.

4. Parque Terra Nostra

Terra Nostra Park is no more, no less than a huge botanical garden in the heart of Furnas valley. Furnas is a small village that still hosts volcanic activity. Other than the natural sulfur smell, the place is tranquil and relaxed.

The park belongs to the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel, but staying there is not a condition to visiting the tropical garden. It opens the gate to a wide range of plants and flowers with history behind them. Depending on the time of the year, various itineraries are available for you.

The best part of the garden is the thermal pool among the best of São Miguel’s hot springs. The orange, 38° C water may throw you off, but it is a medicinal powerhouse.

5. Poça da Dona Beija

This is yet another hot spring housed by Furnas. Poça da Dona Beija has a more casual feel. Quieter and a little cheaper, here you can mingle with the locals as well. The spring consists of 5 outdoor pools situated next to a creek. Either way, if you want to bathe in ~35° C natural water, any option will do.

6. Ponta Delgada

The largest city on São Miguel island (also known as “The Green Island”), both surface and population wise, is Ponta Delgada. Now many of you might think, “why spend time in a city?”. Although it is a fair question, you will find Ponta Delgada a very inspiring hub. Packed with trendy shops, restaurant and dreamy cafés, the city is vibrant.

Must-visit around here is the farmers market Mercado da Graça with tasty traditional food. After you bought your souvenirs, you can go for a long walk around Igreja Matrix de São Sebastião.  It is the city’s main church with a Gothic architecture and a high clock tower.

Move on to Portas da Cidade (the City Gates) with three beautiful arches and the city’s coat of arms. This monument dates back to the 18th century and makes for an iconic postcard.

Find refuge inside Igreja do Santo Cristo, a century old church that is now a museum. Many call it a standing work of art and the peaceful atmosphere there transcends any words.

Take a pee k into history by visiting Forte de São Brás, a fort build to keep out the pirate raids. No longer threatened by pirates, the fortress now serves as a navy base for the country.

7. Dolphin & Whale Watching

When in Azores, it is mandatory to go whale and dolphin watching. Timing your trip to get the most out of this activity is a great idea. The waters surrounding the Azores are home to lots of cetacean species (whales, dolphins, porpoises etc.). Best time to catch most of them surfing the waters is between April and June when they intersect in their migration journey.

You will need to book this activity in advance to make sure you are safe and have a good time. Ponta Delgada is a great venture point for such experiences and you can end up seeing sperm whales, friendly dolphins and even turtles. Your heart will grab on and refuse to leave!

8. Salto do Cabrito

Exploring by foot is the most engaging and rewarding experience. This is why you need to take a hike down the Salto do Cabrito trail. The walking trail is circular, you start in Ribeira dos Caldeirões natural park and get back there in about 2 and a half hours.

The place is home to spectacular waterfalls and a steep stairway will take you straight to the one named Salto do Cabrito. On your way you will cross streams of water, follow a dirt road, go past Japanese cedars and back onto paved road.

9. Tea Plantations

If you are a tea enthusiast and go looking for plantations around Europe you will only find two. Both reside on Sao Miguel with a 5-minute drive between them.

First one goes by the name of Gorreana and has been open for business since 1883. You can hike down the plantation trail for about 1 hour, explore the premises and take mental pictures of the scenery. The postcard would be incomplete without the sea drawing the horizon line.

The plantation is open to the public and free for visitation. Get acquainted with the story and culture of tea growing and quirky fun facts.

The second tea plantation is Porto Formoso. Both a factory and a museum, this settlement is a testament of the tea culture and its rich history. You can take guided visits throughout the day, taste tea varieties and feast your eyes with the image of a traditional São Miguel kitchen. The terrace is a viewpoint over the entire plantation and the town bearing the same name.

Keeping the art of tea alive, these plantations are completely pesticide free and a sight for sore eyes.

10. Praia do Areal de Santa Bárbara

In the Ribeira Grande region you will find Praia do Areal de Santa Bárbara. Stretching for approximately 1 km, this beach is one of the longest ones around. If you are a fan of water sports and beach leisure activities, then this place is for you. Take a stroll down the boardwalk and enjoy the sight of volcanic black sands and rocks!

Tips on local traditional food

Cozido das Furnas (Furnas Stew) – as the name suggests, you can eat this traditional dish in the Furnas area. This is no regular stew and you must try it (not vegetarian friendly though!). The stew consists of a mixture of meats (veal, chicken, pork and sausages) all slowly cooked for about 6 – 7 hours inside the natural geothermal holes of nature’s doing.

Corn cobs – these delicacies are an authentic snack around Furnas. The corn is cooked inside the same hot steamed and muddy holes. Not to worry, it goes into a bag and then into the hole. If you visit Furnas you will find ladies selling this tasty corn.

Ananás (Pineapples) – the island has become a hub for pineapple greenhouses. The soil is rich and supports growing of fruits and vegetables organically. Take a dose of health and try out some fresh pineapples from the 6000+ greenhouses around.

Fried lapas (limpets) – this is a type of mollusk living on the shoreline rocks. Grilled and spiced with pepper, cumin, garlic and butter, they will bring the taste of the sea in your mouth.

Bolo Lêvedo – imagine a bread substitute that is tender, puffy and goes with any food.  These bread patties are original from Furnas and will melt in your mouth.

Queijada da Vila – sweet tooth alert! This baked good comes from Vila Franca do Campo and the factory there is the main source. However, you can find them all around restaurants and bakeries.

And on a final note, accompany your trip to São Miguel and the diverse traditional dishes with an organic tea harvested locally. Enjoy!

Whether you are a Nature aficionado, Azores has everything to keep you thoroughly entertained during your S. Miguel trip.