“It’s a cross between Hawaii and Ireland;” that’s how the Azores (Os Açores in Portuguese) are commonly described. Owned by Portugal, these nine volcanic islands sit in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean about 1,500 kilometers (1,000 miles) west of the European mainland. The Azores are filled with typical island features: gorgeous beaches, streaming waterfalls, and natural swimming pools. But next to all this, you can also find lush pastures filled with cows, vast fields of tea plants, and stunning hillsides covered in vibrant blue hydrangeas. The Azores are unlike any place you have been, and once there, you may never want to leave.
About the Islands
The Azores comprise nine volcanic islands that were originally used to grow oranges for Europeans. However, when a disease infested the orange trees, Europeans began planting tea and pineapples. The settlers also brought cows to raise on the islands. In fact, some of the islands have more cows than people, with a total of about 90,000 dairy cows between all nine islands!
The Azores have an oceanic, subtropical climate, with a temperature range of 17–26°C (63–79°F) in the summer and 11–18°C (52–64°F) in the winter. You won’t need your winter parka, but you will want to bring a jacket.
Things to Do
While the array of possible adventures in the Azores is endless, here are a few unique activities to get you started:
Take a Jeep tour. The best way to see all the great views around the islands is by driving. Since the islands are not very big, you can drive the entire perimeter in just a few hours. Local companies offer Jeep tours with guides who will take you to the best lookout spots and highlight interesting information along the way.
Hike to a waterfall. The Azores are filled with gorgeous waterfalls you can hike up to, such as Salto do Prego on the island of São Miguel. Make sure to wear your swimsuit, because many of them also have natural swimming pools.
Relax in a hot spring. Because of the geothermal activity beneath the islands, there are numerous natural hot springs on the islands. Take some time to sit back, relax, and enjoy being in paradise.
Explore a lava cave. The Azores have underground lava tubes that were formed long ago by molten lava. Tours are available to explore these caves so you can learn about how the lava tubes were formed.
Visit a pineapple plantation. The Azores have many pineapple plantations, and a few are open for tours. Take some time to learn how the pineapples grow and taste the delicious sweetness for yourself.
Drive to the top of Mount Pico. At 2,350 meters (7,713 feet), the top of Mount Pico is the highest point in the Azores—and all of Portugal. The view is one you won’t want to miss.
Try the food. Since cows are abundant in the Azores, you must be sure to try the fresh milk, cheese, and beef. And since the islands are surrounded by the deep waters of the Atlantic, the Azores are also known for their exceptionally good seafood. Some restaurants use the geothermal heat from hot pools to cook pots of food underground, which is an experience you won’t get many other places.
You may be thinking, “Why haven’t I heard of this place before? And why doesn’t everyone go there?” But that’s what is nice about the Azores; not many people know they exist. But now you know, and you can go enjoy the benefits of both Europe and Hawaii—without the crowds!