The Azores, an autonomous Portuguese archipelago that’s in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, is known for its breathtaking volcanic landscapes that feel almost prehistoric at times. The terrain across the archipelago is both dramatic and remarkably varied. Other lesser-known locales such as São Jorge and Pico offer plenty for travelers to see, do, and admire, too. Santa Maria, the southernmost island in the chain, for example, boasts the only white-sand beaches in the region. Of course, in a place that’s steeped in such untamed natural beauty, eco-adventures — from hiking to kayaking — abound.
Best Hotels and Resorts in the Azores
Octant Furnas, São Miguel
“Set amidst lush greenery and volcanic scenery, Octant Furnas allows guests to fully immerse themselves in the natural beauty and cultural richness of the Azores,” says Pila Melo Antunes, the business development director at AtlantiVacations, a tour company that specializes in tailor-made Azores experiences. The hotel is built for unwinding, with indoor and outdoor geothermal pools and a healing water circuit at the heavenly spa as highlights.
Santa Barbara Eco Resort, São Miguel
Set along the remote and rugged northern coast of São Miguel, Santa Barbara Eco Resort gives off a cool, surfer retreat energy with modern architecture, views of the azure waves, and an emphasis on wellness. Gardens overflow with endemic flora. The organic farm supports the robust culinary program. There’s also a huge saltwater pool accented by stone lounges and a hut for alfresco massages.
Sensi, São Miguel
“Earning a true five-star rating, Sensi is a standout option for Azorean luxury at its finest,” remarks Horácio Alves, a Lisbon-based guide with Black Tomato who regularly does tours in the Azores. “It’s a really special place with superb food, a spa dedicated to mind-body-spirit relaxation, top-notch service, and design that feels elegant yet authentic to the volcanic island of São Miguel.”
White Exclusive Suites & Villas, São Miguel
Planning a honeymoon or romantic getaway? White Exclusive Suites & Villas is a luxurious, boutique respite perched on the southern coast of São Miguel. Designed with grown-up guests in mind, it’s elegant and intimate with just 11 contemporary suites and villas, gastronomic cuisine, and a sanctuary-like spa for signature rituals, hydrotherapy, and yoga.
Pocinho Bay, Pico
While São Miguel may have the lion’s share of hotels, in-the-know travelers decamp to Pocinho Bay, a hidden gem on the island of Pico with vineyards, sweeping views of Mount Pico and Faial Island, and access to a natural rock pool. “The property feels beachy, almost reminiscent of Mykonos with laid-back yet attentive service, woven hammocks, and exposed stone walls in the rooms, plus a range of excellent small-production wines,” says Alves.
Best Things to Do in the Azores
Sete Cidades, São Miguel
If you’ve ever Googled the Azores, chances are pretty good that images of Sete Cidades popped up. The journey to this emblematic nature area on the island of São Miguel is absolutely stunning with unimaginable sightlines of the famous twin crater lakes, Lagoa Azul (“blue lagoon”) and Lagoa Verde (“green lagoon”), and the huge, 3-mile-wide caldera. Along the way, there are many scenic viewpoints and charming small villages.
Ilhéu de Vila Franca
The uninhabited flooded crater islet of Ilhéu de Vila Franca is easily reachable right off the south-central coast of São Miguel. The protected lagoon teems with unique marine life and offers exceptional visibility, making it ideal for snorkeling. It’s also popular for swimming and cliff diving.
Hot Springs in Furnas, São Miguel
A hub of geothermal activity on São Miguel, Furnas is blessed with many hot springs. Wellness and relaxation seekers will find plenty of spots to soak. Alves suggests Centro de Interpretação Ambiental da Caldeira Velha, a nature preserve with mineral pools, waterfalls, and lush foliage. “It’s important to note that the water has a high sulfur content. The unique smell can take some time to get used to, but the healing benefits are plenty.”
Pico da Barrosa, Pico
Fans of high-altitude activities won’t want to miss Pico da Barrosa, the highest point in Portugal. The summit sits atop a dormant volcano at an elevation of 7,713 feet above sea level. The round-trip hike is quite pleasant as long as you have sure footing and a knowledgeable local guide to help navigate the volcanic rock terrain.
The Azores is one of the best destinations for whale watching in the world. Many different types of cetaceans call the waters surrounding the archipelago home and guided tours give visitors a front-row seat to these majestic marine creatures. While peak season stretches from April through October, to up your odds of seeing larger migratory species such as blue whales, consider planning a trip between the end of April and the beginning of May.
Best Restaurants in the Azores
Quinta dos Sabores, São Miguel
Quinta dos Sabores is a working organic farm in northern São Miguel that includes farmhouse accommodations, a shop, and an intimate restaurant.
Bar Caloura, São Miguel
It doesn’t get better than fresh seafood — specifically buttery grilled limpets with a generous squeeze of lemon and sizzling garlic prawns — washed down with a pitcher of housemade sangria and a side of sweeping ocean views. That’s the setup at Bar Caloura, a long-standing favorite of locals (Alves included) and visitors to the small town of Água de Pau.
Tasquinha Vieira, São Miguel
One of Alves’s favorite cozy restaurants on the island of São Miguel, Tasquinha Vieira may be small in stature, but it boasts big flavors with a focus on using fresh, local ingredients. Pro tip: Limited seating means it’s encouraged to make reservations in advance.
Restaurante Associação Agrícola de São Miguel, São Miguel
Carnivores rejoice! Meat takes center stage at Restaurante Associação Agrícola de São Miguel, a hidden gem with a farm collective vibe that Alves deems “outstanding.” The signature Bife à Associação (fried steak) is a must-order dish.
O Ancoradouro, Pico
O Ancoradouro has earned a reputation as something of a landmark on the island of Pico. That’s because it’s impossible to grow tired of fresh-caught fish, seafood stew, and limpets at a waterfront restaurant that’s always friendly and welcoming.
Best Wineries in the Azores
Azores Wine Company, Pico
If you only have the chance to visit one winery, consider the Azores Wine Company. Many credit the enterprising project with putting vinho from the Azores on the map in such a significant way. Besides tasting complex volcanic wines and touring modern facilities, visitors can savor acclaimed gastronomy and even spend the night in architecturally striking apartments (with advanced booking, of course).
Pico Wines, Pico
The largest and oldest wine operation in the Azores, Pico Wines is a cooperative of producers aimed at keeping noble grape varieties and ancestral winemaking traditions alive. “It’s definitely worth a visit to this UNESCO-protected site to do private vineyard tours, soak in the breathtaking beauty of the landscape, and sample some of the best pours in the region,” says Alves.
Quinta Da Jardinete, São Miguel
Pico has established itself as the wine island, but that certainly doesn’t mean you’ll have any trouble finding quality pours on São Miguel. Quinta Da Jardinete is a small, family-owned estate that produces terroir-driven vinho made from grapes such as merlot, aragonês, and lemberger (blaufränkisch) that are grown right on site.
How to Get There
Ponta Delgada – João Paulo II Airport (PDL) is located on São Miguel. Travelers coming from the East Coast of the United States will be pleased to learn that Sata Azores Airlines operates direct flights from New York (JFK) and Boston (BOS) to Ponta Delgada, and United offers direct flights from Newark (EWR). From there, connecting flights are available to the other islands. There are also ferries that connect some of the Azores islands.