The archipelago of the Azores (Portuguese: Açores) is an autonomous region of Portugal. This group of islands of the Atlantic Ocean is an ultra-peripheral area of the European Union.
Latest census data reports just over a quarter of a million residents live on these islands but with a diaspora of more than two million living overseas, primarily in the United States, Canada, Brazil, and mainland Europe. In the Channel Islands they have for long formed a substantial minority so that public phoneboxes feature dialling instructions in the Azores dialect.
The Azores consist primarily of 9 main islands:
The smallest of the Azores islands. Corvo and Flores are the only Portuguese territories remaining in the Americas (they are west of the tectonic plate divide)
Centred on a volcano, this island has a rich collection of historical, natural and modern attractions
The western-most island of the Azores is beautiful, sparsely populated, and secluded
Called the "White Island" because its dry summers give it a white hue late in the season
The second largest of the Azores provides opportunities for hiking and whale-watching; its vineyard landscape is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
|São Jorge |
A long thin island with tall cliffs
|São Miguel |
The largest and most populous island of the Azores is also known as "The Green Island". Most visitors will arrive here as it has the islands' main airport
|Santa Maria |
Known for its white sand beaches, distinctive chimneys, and dry warm weather, highest waterfall of Portugal
Home to the Azores' oldest city, Angra do Heroísmo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Açores (uh-SOH-r(ih)sh, /ɐ.ˈso.ɾɨʃ/)
These nine volcanic islands are situated in the northern Atlantic, about 1,500 km (930 mi) from the western edge of the Iberian Peninsula and about 3,900 km (2,400 mi) from North America. Seismic activity, though rare, still occurs on occasion.
The Azores have three cities recognized as "capitals":
- Ponta Delgada — Presidency of the regional government, economic capital
- Angra do Heroísmo — Representative of the Portuguese Republic, historic capital
- Horta — Legislative Assembly
While ancient and medieval legends tell about Atlantic islands which could have been the Azores, the first known inhabitants were Portuguese, who discovered and settled them in the 15th century. The Azores became an important waypoint during the Age of Discovery.
The archipelago is spread out in the area between 37° N and the parallels of latitude that pass through the Lisbon area (38° 43' / 38° 55' N), giving it generally a tepid, and oceanic climate, with mild annual oscillations. Daily maximum temperatures usually range 15–25 °C (59–77 °F). The average annual rainfall increases from east to west, and it ranges 700–1,600 mm (28–63 in) annually on average, reaching 6,300 mm (250 in) on Mount Pico, the highest Portuguese mountain at 2,351 m (7,713 ft). The Azores high, an area of high atmospheric pressure, is named after the islands.
You should be warned, if what you are searching is a beach holiday with plenty of sun, the Azores are not right for you. However, if going to the beach is just one of the activities you will do, it should be just perfect. Climate in the Azores can vary during the day from bright sunny, to rainy and back to sunny.
The official language in Azores is Portuguese. Otherwise, most people involved with tourism speak at least enough English to communicate with English-speaking tourists.
The Azores are part of Portugal and therefore of the European Union and Schengen Area.
The main entry point is Ponta Delgada Airport (PDL IATA)—also called João Paulo II Airport—on the island of São Miguel. However, international airports are also on Faial (HOR IATA), Flores (FLW IATA), Santa Maria (SMA IATA), Terceira (TER IATA) islands. Also Pico airport (PIX IATA).
Free connecting flight from SATA
Residents of the Azores and students flying from mainland Portugal, or Funchal, are eligible for a free connecting flight to any of the islands. The free flight must be arranged at least 7 days in advance and can be booked through the SATA Air Açores website.
The Azores are a common stopover for small craft crossing the Atlantic, especially when crossing from west to east. There are facilities for small craft at least in Lajes das Flores on Flores, in Horta on Faial, in Ponta Delgada on São Miguel, in Angra do Heroísmo and Praia da Vitória on Terceira, and on Santa Maria (all of these ports of entry). It may be possible to join a crew for the voyage.
The Azores are also a waypoint for many cruise ships on transatlantic routes.
SATA Air Açores offers flights between each of the islands. The cost for each flight is capped at around €90 by the authorities. Flights are faster but more expensive than the ferry, and are the only way to travel between the eastern, western and central island groups during low season. Flights are more tolerant of storms (causing choppy seas) than ferries and will be stopped later as the weather gets worse.
Ferries connect each of the islands and are operated by Atlanticoline. There are several lines that operate:
- Azul (blue): Faial - Pico
- Verde (green): Faial - Pico - São Jorge
- Rosa (pink): Corvo - Flores
- Lilás (purple): Faial - Pico - São Jorge - Terceira
- Branca (white): Faial - Pico - São Jorge - Graciosa - Terceira
Youth discount on ferries with the Interjovem Card
The Interjovem Card limits the cost of any ferry trip to €7.50 making the ferry by far the cheapest way to travel between islands. The card is available to anyone between the ages of 13-30 and costs €40. Buy it from:
- The official app - available from the Play Store on Android
- Azores Youth Hostels
- RIAC (Integrated Network for Support to the Citizen) service points
- Travel agencies
- Clube Naval da Horta
- Academic Association – University of the Azores
Azoreans readily pick up hitchhikers. Given the poor bus service on the islands hitch-hiking is often the easiest way to get around for those without a car.
Renting a car is the easiest way to get around the islands, with companies providing cars and scooters on every island.
On most islands there are bus services, crossing the main villages. On the smaller islands, however, the buses may have only a few runs per day or none at all on certain days (Sundays, holidays).
Taxis are centrally regulated throughout the islands so visitors pay the same rate as locals. In São Miguel (2015), it costs about €10 between the two ends of Ponta Delgada; out of town trips are €20-30 or €40-50 to the farthest parts of the island.
Cycling around the islands is possible if you are in great shape, and don't mind a lot of hill climbing.
See the Regions section above for points of interest in each island.
São Miguel and other islands
- Start in São Miguel Island
- From Ponta Delgada (in São Miguel), fly to Faial. Do a whale watching tour.
- Take the boat to Pico Island. Do a whale watching tour. Climb Pico mountain if you are in good shape.
- Take the channel boat to São Jorge Island. Fly to Terceira Island.
Many activities and sights are accessible only through private tour companies. Half-day and all-day tours start at €50-60 and can cost upward of €100. The tours are generally very high quality and worth it.
You can hike on every island but it's best in Flores, Sao Jorge and Sao Miguel.
- Whale and dolphin watching. Every town with a marina offers whale watching. They take you out on small boats and often get you within ten yards of the whale. Futurismo is a recommended provider for whale watching tours.
- Off-road mountain bike circuits
- Moto 4 Rides
- Bird Watching
- Donkey Rides
- Sport Fishing
- Rental Bike, riding bike is a great way to get to know the islands.
- Guided Tours, the best way to get to know the islands is to take a guided tour.
- Volcano Climbing at Pico island
The euro (€) is the currency of the Azores. Restaurants and shops usually can't take MasterCard or Visa cards, however ATMs are widely available.
Handcraft from all the islands is very good.
The Azores is the only place in Europe that produces tea.
There is a "meat and potatoes" mentality when it comes to the cuisine and vegetables can sometimes be hard to come by.
Fresh fish and local grass-fed beef are very good. One of the main dishes is Bife à Regional, a steak with a delicious local sauce.
Sao Jorge island is famous for its cheese and must be tried. Fresh pineapple from Sao Miguel island is unbelievably good.
Sagres and Super Bock are the best Portuguese beers you can find on the island. Especial is the local beer and it is very good.
Korisca is a new local beer brand you may find in several locations. They have several styles of good quality.
You can also ask for local sodas "Kima" and "Laranjada".
Camp-sites are available on every island. They are typically well equipped and cheap or free. The VisitAzores website provides an up-to-date list of the available camp-sites.
There are few hostels outside of Ponta Delgada, and these become fully booked during high season so book ahead of time.
Hotels are available on every island.
There is very little crime in the Azores. What little crime exists is mostly drug related. There are no reports of crimes against tourists.
Flights within other islands, plus Funchal, Madeira (FNC IATA), Lisbon (LIS IATA), Porto (OPO IATA).