The Azorean islands of Faial and Pico are so close together that if you stay on either one, you can easily pop across to the other for day trips.
For several reasons I would suggest being based in Horta on Faial. There are more facilities in Horta, with its colourful and historic harbour and choice of restaurants. A wide choice of whale watching and other boat trips are available from the harbour. But the main reason I would choose Faial is for the view of Pico. Pico’s imposing outline, looking just like a volcano should, can be better appreciated from here.
We stayed at the Hotel Faial Garden, which is in a great location. It had lovely spacious rooms and a good restaurant. Other good options are the Hotel Horta, the Pousada Forte da Horta and the Hotel do Canal. Note that hotels in Horta get booked up very quickly, so you may need to book well in advance. For further information about travelling and accommodation in the islands please see the Azores Practicalities page.
A Walk to see Faial’s Craters
Faial has impressive craters of its own. A very interesting walk to see these can easily be arranged. First get a taxi to drop you off at a parking place near a tunnel entrance to the largest crater (caldeira). Arrange for the driver to pick you up later at Cruzeiro (Capelo), or get a bus back from there. For full details see Landscapes of the Azores.
The walk begins by going through a tunnel to a viewpoint into the main crater. As is often the case it was very misty when we did the walk, but the crater still looked impressive. Apparently there used to be a lake inside, but the water leaked away through fissures after volcanic activity in 1957.
After viewing inside the crater you ascend to the rim and continue to the highest point. The path continues further around the rim before descending to join a levada (water channel), which is followed. After bridging a ravine you soon reach a track to another interesting crater, before descending past a quarry to eventually reach Cruzeiro where there is a shop and bus stop. The entire walk takes about 4.5 hrs, and is not too strenuous.
Whale Watching from Horta
The most exciting and memorable experience in our entire trip was a whale watching trip from Horta harbour. The waters around here are literally teeming with whales and dolphins. Matt and I had seen sperm whales before, during a trip to Iceland. They were huge, and we saw them resting at the surface quite a distance away. They dived before we got very close.
On our trip from Horta we got much closer to the whales, and the whales were much more active. It is a strange feeling when the tour boats get to a likely spot, and then turn off the engines. Suddenly everything is quiet except for the waves, the ocean seems very big and your boat seems very small.
Our first sighting was of a group of pilot whales.
We then came across a group of sperm whales. Two adults at the surface swam in front of our boat before diving. I was surprised how quickly they move through the water, having previously only seen them resting on the surface.
We thought the show was over, but then a juvenile whale literally leapt right out of the water. It may have been a juvenile but it was still very big! And it did this not once, but several times, as though it was as curious about us as we were about it. Unfortunately we did not manage to capture this amazing sight on camera, but the image below (scanned from a rather shabby postcard) shows exactly what happened. An experience I will never forget!
A Quick Visit to Pico
Unfortunately, we did not have much time to explore Pico, but we did manage to fit in a quick trip on the ferry. For details of ferry services in the islands see Atlanticoline.
If you are fit you can climb the volcano on Pico. You can get a taxi to a car park at a mountain hut, which is at an altitude of 1220m, and start walking from there. The volcano rises steeply to 2350m, and the views from the rim of the adjacent islands and into the crater are, apparently, fantastic. Although we did not attempt this, we did get a superb view into the crater as we flew over the island when travelling to Flores – a much easier way!
An easier walk is to get a taxi to a lava tunnel called the Furna de Frei Matias. You then walk gently back down to Madalena, the main town on Pico. On the way you pass some lovely gardens, and then stroll through vineyards. The walk involves a total descent of around 700m on rough tracks and lanes.
Please remember that this site is based purely on our own experiences – therefore kindly note the Disclaimer.