São Miguel is the largest and most populated island in The Azores group. You can get flights to all of the other islands from here, and ferries in the summer. But there is so much of interest on the island that you could easily spend an entire holiday here.
Ponta Delgada – Capital of Sao Miguel
The town of Ponta Delgada may well be your first and/or final base in the islands, and a very attractive base it is. You will find elegant black and white architecture and typically Portuguese mosaic streets.
Ponta Delgada is the regional capital of the Azores, and the largest town in the islands. It has a good selection of hotels, restaurants and shops. You can visit museums (the Carlos Machado museum is particularly worth a visit), stroll in gardens, and even visit a pineapple plantation!
The harbour-front promenade is great for a stroll to watch the boats come and go. This is also where you can take an exciting whale-watching trip (see for example Futurismo, MobyDick Tours, SeaBookings). More than 20 species of whales and dolphins visit the waters around the Azores, so the chances of seeing them are very high. Of course this cannot be guaranteed, and every trip is different. When we took a trip from Ponta Delgada we didn’t see any whales, but were completely surrounded by a huge pod of very acrobatic dolphins. Seeing them swimming alongside the boat and leaping out of the water was a lovely experience.
You can get buses from Ponta Delgada to other parts of Sao Miguel, hire a car, or use taxis to explore the island. For more information on transport and accommodation on the island, see the Azores Practicalities page.
Hydrangeas and Ginger Lilies
If you are visiting the island in the summer, one of the first things you will notice driving around is the abundance of hydrangeas, ginger lilies, and many other colourful flowers. The ginger lilies have a really strong smell when flowering, and are used in local perfumes and toiletries.
For exploring São Miguel, and any of the other islands, by car or by foot, I recommend the Sunflower Guide Landscapes of the Azores. This gives suggestions for drives, picnic spots and walks on every island. There are walks suitable for all abilities, and the book is very informative and beautifully illustrated.
Sete Cidades – beautiful twin lakes inside a caldera
One place you must visit when staying at Ponta Delgada is the massive caldera of Sete Cidades, which contains a village and twin lakes. You can reach this by car or the daily bus service.
More satisfying, however, is to get an early-morning bus or taxi to João Bom, and then walk from here to the crater rim. This is quite a stiff climb, up an easy-to-follow track. It is definitely worth it when you get to the rim and the magnificent view into the crater suddenly opens up.
You can walk a little way clockwise around the crater rim until you reach a lookout point and picnic spot. From here you can either return the way you came, or continue around the rim until you reach the track down on the left to Remedios. You can get a bus back to Ponta Delgada from here (see the Landscapes Guide or a map for further details).
Mosteiros – a nice coastal walk
An attractive coastal walk to do when staying at Ponta Delgada is from Mosteiros to Ginetes, Socorro or Rabo do Asno. Mosteiros is easily reached by bus, and you can walk as far as you wish, picking up a return bus at any of the places mentioned. There is an initial climb out of Mosteiros, and then the route undulates. There are viewpoints and picnic spots along the way. Again see the Landscapes Guide for further details. Here are some pictures from the walk:
Our next base was the exceptionally beautiful and interesting village of Furnas. This is easily reached by bus from Ponta Delgada, and has several good hotels and restaurants. For some suggested places to stay please see the Azores Practicalities page.
Furnas, like Sete Cidades, is situated inside a volcanic crater. Arriving by bus, you get a sudden spectacular view of the setting as the bus crosses over the caldera rim. The village is surrounded by lush green vegetation, and many of the white houses and gardens are immaculately kept.
Like at Sete Cidades there is a very beautiful crater lake. Unlike Sete Cidades, however, volcanic activity is still very apparent here. In the village there are bubbling hot springs, fumaroles and mud pools, accompanied by the smell of hydrogen sulphide.
Furnas is also home to the Terra Nostra gardens, which contain a hotel, a thermal swimming pool and over 2000 trees.
From Furnas village there is a fantastic, gentle walk that circles the lake as well as visiting the Terra Nostra park and the village’s fumaroles. The walk is described in Landscapes of The Azores and should take about 4 hours. Here are some photos:
Walk from Furnas to Ribeira Quente
For another great walk there is a track which climbs from Furnas to a birdwatching and lookout point on the crater rim, before dropping down to the coast at Ribeira Quente. The first part of the walk is quite steep. Because of the high humidity the vegetation feels quite tropical and other-worldly.
At the high point of the walk there is an open area with an information board about local birds, and an observation tower.
The walk eventually finishes in Ribeira Quente, where there is a pleasant beach with beachside cafes and bars. You can get a taxi back from here.
Laurisilva Forest and the Azorean Bullfinch
On the east of São Miguel is an area of rare, protected laurisilva forest. As well as the rare combination of vegetation, this forest contains the extremely rare Azores bullfinch, which lives nowhere else. Thanks to conservation efforts the numbers of this threatened songbird have recently increased.
It is possible, using a taxi, to walk through part of the forest to Nordeste on the coast. We did this on a dreary, humid day, but were still impressed with the beauty of the forest. And we saw not one, but two bullfinches (unfortunately not for long enough to photograph them!).
Please remember that this site is based purely on our own experiences – therefore kindly note the Disclaimer.