At the top of the list of things to do in the Azores, there should only be one word. Look. The scenery is enough to make even the most travel savvy among us shed a little tear of globe-trotting joy. Nine volcanic islands make for quite the playground. But the Azores isn’t happy with just having gorgeous landscapes. There are stellar experiences to be had at every turn. Swim with dolphins, sample the pineapple liqueur and get your PADI cert before you visit. You won’t regret it.
It’s easy to get stuck on São Miguel. Yes, there’s a lot of things to do, but in the Azores, island hopping is the way to really get to see the very best of it. There are 17 islands in total, but only 9 are visitable and inhabited. Santa Maria is the most southerly and, if you do just venture to one other island, you should hop to this one. The topography has had a little more time to age – meaning those rough edges on the volcanoes are now a little more lush, the beaches are stellar enough to lure locals for their annual holidays and the hiking, mountain biking and cultural sights are on point.
Seriously. Go whale watching in the Azores. Four cetacean species live here year-round – including sperm whales, with 28 making a stop here on their annual migration. Not bad if you’re looking to tick off a species on your must-see list. Eco-expeditions such as Terra Azul can get you close to the whales – as well as spilling the marine beans on their habitats, behaviours and clue you in to which species you’re looking at. Handy when sightings can be fleeting!
Orbzii tip: Terra Azul can also get you in the water with wild dolphins, providing the dolphins want to join you for a dip.
Dive to an underwater archaeological park
In the Azores, diving is a sport worth getting your PADI cert for. Dive sites include reefs and volcano craters. Normally that would be a destination’s top seller. Add in the archaeological parks the government has put in place to protect the 1,000 wrecks on their sea bed, and things really start to get interesting. Sunk over the course of 500 years, there are some real historical treasures to explore. The wreck you’ll hear every diver talk about? The SS Dori. A huge WWII ship just 5 minutes by boat from Ponta Del Gada, it’s accessible for divers of all abilities and – with fishing in the area prohibited, the marine life is abundant.
Swim in a volcano crater
Thermal pools, natural lava pools and lakes so dense with salt you float effortlessly. All worthy winners of the top holiday-based water experience but none can top swimming in the volcano crater on São Miguel. Grab your swimmers and head for Vila Franca do Campo. The crater’s about a kilometre off shore, but boat tours or a determined paddle in a kayak will get you there. Once you’re in, you can swim, snorkel and dive in a 150metre wide crater filled with sea water. Access is possible via the narrow inlet letting the ocean in. Summer is your only shot at it though.
Orbzii tip: If volcanoes are your thing, there are many ways to experience them in the Azores. Don’t miss the chance to descend on foot into a volcano chimney. When you’ve worked up an appetite climb the steps back out, book a seat at a restaurant that serves food cooked in a cozidos. Slow cooked stews gently simmer by geothermal heat are tastier than they might sound.
Bemuse your Instagram followers
On a list of things to do in the Azores, you’ll want to file this one under ‘fun if you’re passing by’. Because, although the fallen house in Furnas is a little quirky, in reality it’s just an electrical sub station with a snazzy facelift. Grab a snap of the fallen house if you’re on your way to the bus station. If not, chalk this one up for the next time you’re in town.
Watch the earth bubble at Furnas Lake
Before you cast your eyes on the soil to see what’s happening beneath your feet, do take in the overall scenery. Formed in a volcano crater, there’s calderas to gawp at – where the water literally boils. Chefs cook food in the ground – why waste that toasty, toasty soil, and the lake water itself bubbles. As for the soil? You can’t step directly on the really bubbly stuff – but wooden walkways take you on a sulphur filled stroll over the boiling mud.
Peep at the eye-melting miradouro
No matter how far you’ve travelled, your eyes aren’t ready for the miradouro. Essentially miradouro is Portugese for viewpoints. But in the Azores, the viewpoints are nothing short of spectacular. The two that should be at the top of your list? Miradouro da Vista do Rei and Miradouro da Boca do Inferno on São Miguel. Both see you looking out over crater lakes from high vantage points. So you’ll want a clear day to bag the best photos and make the most of the journey to the top. If you’re more of coastal admirer, you’ll want to get to Miradouro de Santa Iria on São Miguel’s north coast.
Go crazy for pineapples in Ponta del Gada
People are really proud of their pineapples in Ponta del Gada. None more so than the growers behind the greenhouses at the Augusto Arruda Pineapple Plantation. For over a century they’ve honed their cultivation process down to a fine art. The result? The sweetest (and some might say cutest) pineapples in existence. Entry is free, and while you might not be intrigued by the way they smoke their grow houses, the free pineapple liqueur tasting is the tipple that gets most through the door. There’s also cake, pina coladas, juice and actual pineapples for sale if you’re a fan of the fruit.
Try and bag a free gin tasting
Know your craft gins? So does the owner of the gin library at the Solar Branco hotel. After collecting hundreds of gins from around the world, he’s set visitors a challenge. Pitch up with an unopened bottle of craft gin that’s NOT in their collection and you and your travel companion will be treated to a gin masterclass on the house. They’re going for the world record for their gin library, so it’d be nice to give them a hand after a quick scan of their T&Cs. They’ve already set claim to the largest gin bar in Europe.