The Azores islands is an archipelago found right off the coast of Europe that belongs to Portuguese. The island is famous for offering the sights and experiences of a tropical island with the history and culture of an old European country. As such, it is the perfect vacation destination for unplugging because it offers you a plethora of things to do, depending on which island you visit.
So, which of nine islands should you visit first? Well first, you should know what they are. The nine Azores islands are:
One beautiful thing about the Azores islands is that they all offer a wide range of culture, activities, and food. While some islands, like São Miguel, have over 50,000 inhabitants and a university, others, like Corvo, barely have a population of 400. This difference in size allows for travelers to get something different out of their trip depending on which island they visit.
If you are looking to unplug from the constant electronic bombardments of everyday life, then there are plenty of spots in the Azores islands that can accommodate you. By disconnecting, you can study the history of the island, observe the beauty of the landscapes and sample a delicious range of Portuguese dishes and tapas.
For those looking to explore the gorgeous interior of the landscape, you should start in Flores. The island offers over seven different lagoons to examine as well as the breathtaking rock formation, the Rocha dos Bordões.
For lodging, consider the Aldeia da Cuada. The tourists have embraced their ecological diversity by reusing abandoned homes as refurbished rooms for tourists. Rooms typically cost around $100 per night. You can find the town close to the whaling museum, which documents Portugues controversial whaling enterprise which continued until the 1980s. Also, there are numerous ecological reserves with extensive collections of all the flowers, plants and animals found on the island.
Corvo is the smallest island in the Azores. It contains one lagoon and several surrounding hiking trails. While it might not be as impressive as Flores regarding must-see locations, it makes up for it in the atmosphere. You should come to Corvo if you want to get away from it all. The silence, the smells, the lack of people can all be very healing.
Lodging in Corvo is a bit more limited, but there are several guest house locations you can choose. We recommend the Guest House Commodore for comfortable accommodations and friendly service. Prices for rooms typically range from $45-$100 per night depending on what season you go in.
Graciosa’s small size gives it the same secluded beauty feeling as Corvo, but there is also a little more to do. The bays surrounding Graciosa provides some of the best locations for snorkeling and diving. You can also rent kayaks, sail or windsurf along the shore. Natural springs also allow a visitor to take a therapeutic thermal bath at one of any spa locations. There are too many local religious festivals that take place on Graciosa that are worth looking into before going.
Regarding food, make sure to try the local pastry Queijadas da Graciosa — a delicious custard-based delicacy. There are plenty of local family houses, hotels, and bed & breakfast locations to stay at, but we recommend the Casa Das Faias. Unfortunately, because Graciosa offers a lot of activities and sights, it is typically a little more expensive. Lodging usually costs around $100-$200 per night.
Terceira is the second most inhabited island in the Azores. As such, people looking to get away from everything may want to consider a different island. However, there is still plenty to do and see. Four-wheelers can be rented to tour the island, or you can explore it by foot on one of the many hiking trails. Deep sea fishing is prevalent on Terceira, as well as underwater spearfishing. Kayakers may be lucky enough to see dolphins and whales.
There is also a golf course to play a few rounds in and numerous caves to explore. Delicious food and wine are available in towns. Hotels usually cost around $100 per night, though this can be cheaper in some forms of lodging.
Hiking enthusiast will love the surrounding trails of São Jorge. The vast green mountains and steep slopes have also given rise to a new generation of rock climbers and canyoners. Visit the Sacred Art Museum in Velas or participate in the Holy Ghost religious festival. Or, walk through town and admire the historic architecture of the churches. You also have to try the world-famous São Jorge Island Cheese, with its delicious peppery taste.
While most hotels usually cost a little over $100, there are various hostels on the island that cost around $50 per night — a much more affordable price.
Pico is another essential historical spot for whaling during its heyday. As such, the island is covered with remnants of its port past with museums like the Museu da Indústria Baleeira, or old whaling photographs in restaurants. Pico is the best island for whale watching, but it also has a combination of everything else.
Excellent hiking trails surround a scalable mountain in the center of the island. There is a tunnel formed by lava called the Gruta das Torres that runs underneath the island that is fully explorable. Though not known for its food, the region wine output has been steadily increasing thanks to the space to form vineyards. Hotels usually go for around $110 per night, but bed & breakfast locations are much cheaper.
For those hoping to soak up the religious history of the Azores islands, Faial is your best bet. In addition to the usual hiking, deep-sea fishing, and dirt bike trails, the small island has some beautiful churches to admire. If you are around during Easter, take part in the da Nossa Senhora das Angústias Festival, a religious festival held in the streets all throughout the towns in Failal. Visit the Museu da Horta to see collections of old Jesuit paintings, documents, and other artifacts.
There are many delicious restaurants to choose from featuring favorite dishes like octopus cooked in wine. Prices for lodging can range anywhere from $50-$200 depending on what location you decide to stay.
São Miguel is the largest island in the Azores, and as such it contains the most amount of activities. However, this island does feel the most touristy, which may not be a problem for some people, but it certainly raises the price of hotels. Just a few of the available activities include golfing, paragliding, canoeing, dirt biking, fishing, and cave exploring. It is no wonder why São Miguel is considered the gateway to the Azores.
The tapas and meals prepared on São Miguel are genuinely some of the tastiest in the Azores islands. Meat and seafood dishes accompany delicious wines and island fruit liquors. While hotels on São Miguel tend to be overpriced there are a variety of staggeringly affordable hostels and lodges, some for as low as $18 per night. This affordability makes it a good home base to explore some of the other islands if you wish.
If you are a swimmer, you will want to visit the island of Santa Maria. The island’s tide pools and beaches provide some of the most excellent leisurely swimming condition you can imagine. Paragliding and deep sea fishing are also very popular. But mainly, people know Santa Monica as a live music island.
Today, the best and most popular live acts perform in the towns on the island. The Maré de Agosto Music Festival in August usually coincides with the religious festivals leading to the perfect storm of local entertainment. Though it might not sound great, the local turnip broth served in Santa Monica is a must-try. Hotels in Santa Monica average out around $100.
If you genuinely want to disconnect by completely separating yourself from all electronics and wifi, we recommend visiting Corvo. This location is the most remote of the islands, and the private area is the best place to feel a genuine sense of connection to the land.
However, if you can handle some self-control (leaving your smartphone in the hotel room), you can explore the full range of what the Azores islands have to offer. Each island has its pros and cons, but they all specialize in catering to a diverse set of interests. Whether you are a history buff, beach bum, food connoisseur, relentless hiker or fierce fisherman, there is something to interest you. If you allow yourself to become fully immersed, the Azores islands are the ultimate disconnect from life.