Guide to the Azores: map, description, lots of photos

Azores

The Azores is a picturesque archipelago in the North Atlantic Ocean consisting of nine green islands. The Azores belong to Portugal and lie in the latitude of the city of Lisbon between Europe and North America. They are 1460 km from Portugal and 3900 km from New York and have the status of the westernmost point of the European continent. The archipelago is the result of volcanic activity and is home to 1,766 volcanoes, 9 of which are active.

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Video: Azores

Highlights

The total area of the Azores is 2,333 km². The largest island of the archipelago is São Miguel with an area of 747 km², and the smallest is Corvó (17 km²). The highest point is a volcano on Piku Island, which rises to a height of more than 2350 meters above sea level.

About 240 thousand people live on the Azores. São Miguel Island has the largest population, and Ponta Delgada, the administrative capital of the island archipelago, has the most inhabitants. As an autonomous region of the country, the Azores are governed by their own government and legislative assembly.

The archipelago has amazingly beautiful nature. Many endemics have survived here: the bell-shaped evergreen shrub Azorina, the clover-like Marsilia Azorina, the daytime butterfly Hipparchia azorina, the bat – Azor vesper and the Azor Goldfinch. The locals strive to preserve the pristine natural landscape, so eco-tourism is very popular here.

There is no consensus about the origin of the Azores’ name. According to one version, the island archipelago got its name from the Spanish word “azul” or Italian “azzurre”, which means “blue” or “blue.

Another suggestion is that the first mariners saw the islands following goshawks as they returned to their nests. These birds are called “açor” in Portuguese. The inhabitants of the archipelago like this version best, despite the doubts of ornithologists, who claim that the hawks have never been in the area.

There is some speculation that the islands were named by the sailor Gonçalo Velho Cabral after a Christian saint. She was revered in the sailor’s native village of Açor in central Portugal as the patroness of the locals.

History of the Azores

It is not known when the Azores were discovered exactly. They were first noted on the maps of the Genoese in the 14th century. It is thought that the discoverers may have been both Portuguese sailors and Genoese sailors in the service of Portugal in the early 14th century.

In 1432 a ship of the navigator Gonçalo Velho Cabral sailed to the archipelago. The Portuguese left small cattle on one of the islands. When they visited the island several years later, they were convinced that the animals had survived. Portugal recognized the area as suitable for human habitation, and in 1439 it began to be inhabited. At first everyone was sure that the archipelago consisted of seven islands, but in 1452 two more islands were discovered, Corvoo and Florish, far to the west of the main islands.

Over the next centuries, the Azores began to play an important role in the shipping routes from Europe to the Americas. Many slaves were brought in, there were wars over the archipelago, and the islands were frequently attacked by pirates. Palaces, mansions, castles and temples that still remind us of those times.

Wheat was grown on the Azores, and flour was sold on the ships that sailed the Atlantic. Viticulture, sugar cane, pineapple and tobacco were developed here. And the heather growing on the slopes of the mountains was in great demand by Flemish dyers.

Farming, stock breeding and fishing brought income to the islanders in the 19th and 20th centuries. Nowadays, tourism plays a big role in the economy of the archipelago. In addition, locals are engaged in growing tea, tobacco, coffee, cereals and green pineapples. The Azores islands make excellent wine and cheeses.

Nature and Climate

Before Europeans settled the Azores, they were covered by evergreen forests. Most of the relic forests were then destroyed, but their place was taken by modern plantations. Areas of ancient forests have survived only on the slopes of volcanoes. There grow mahogany, cedars, laurels, English holly, Japanese pine and cherry trees. A total of 560 species of flora, 200 of which are trees. Among the flowering plants, hydrangea is the symbol of the Azores.

The rich vegetation of the archipelago arose thanks to the subtropical marine climate. The average winter temperature is +14. +15 °С in winter and +25 °С in summer. Sea water temperature during the cold season does not fall below +17 °С, and in the middle of summer it is very comfortable for swimming +23. +24 °С. Despite the warm climate, tourists are recommended at any time of year to take warm clothes, because at night from the fresh ocean breeze on the coast can be cool.

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From October to April, the Azores are in the rainy season, with up to 110mm of rainfall per month. During the rainy season, there are frequent fogs. Remarkably, more rain falls in the western part of the islands. The island of Santa Maria is notable for its special weather. While one half of the island is always sunny, it rains almost all the time in the other half.

Dry, sunny weather comes in May and lasts until September. This is the time of high tourist season. Many sea-bathing fans come to the Azores, who spend most of their time on the black, volcanic sand-covered beaches.

Tourism in the Azores

The beautiful warm climate of the Azores is very good for health. There are no big enterprises on the archipelago, so vacation in Azores is preferred by nature lovers and beach lovers. Tourist infrastructure of the archipelago is under development. However, even today on the islands it is not difficult to find a high level of service. In recent years here have been built a lot of good hotels and restaurants.

Many travelers come to the Azores to admire the picturesque nature and see the local natural monuments. The islands also offer diving, sailing, surfing, snorkeling, and sea fishing.

San Miguel Island

San Miguel is the largest island of the archipelago. It lies in the east of the Azores. It is home to approximately 140 thousand people. São Miguel stretches for 60 kilometers and reaches a width of 14 km. For the luxuriant vegetation, it is awarded the title of “green island”.

Several natural lakes are considered local attractions, the most beautiful of which, the “lake of fire” or Lagoa do Fogo, is located in a large volcanic sump. Picturesque landscapes covering an area of 12 hectares make up the protected area of Terra Nostra Nature Park. Many travelers come to San Miguel to visit the valley of Vale das Furnas, where there is a blue lake and thermal springs.

In addition to the natural wonders, the island of San Miguel has many historical monuments – palaces and temples of the XVII-XIX centuries. In Ponta Delgada you can visit the Museum of Carlos Mochado, located in the monastery of St. Andrew. There are rich biological and ethnographic collections on display. In the ancient monastery Esparanç one comes to see the beautiful seventeenth century tiles and a sculpture of Christ the Miracle Worker, which came to the Azores thanks to the members of the Catholic order of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Santa Maria Island

Santa Maria or “yellow island” is the southernmost of the Azores. It is 82 kilometers from San Miguel and is connected to it by a ferry service. It is believed that Santa Maria was the first island to be discovered and therefore has the oldest settlement, Vila do Porto.

The island is famous for being visited by Christopher Columbus. However, when the famous navigator docked at the shore, he was mistaken for a pirate and taken into custody. However, Columbus was able to prove that he was not a sea corsair.

There have survived several houses of the XV century, picturesque mills, an old chapel Ermida de Nossa Senhora dos Anjos and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Every year many tourists come to Santa Maria during the popular car races.

Fayal Island

One of the islands in the central part of the archipelago is often referred to as the “blue island,” and the name “Faial” itself translates to “beech forest.” On the southeast coast of the island stands the town of Orta, as well as a major seaport.

About 15,000 people live on Faial. They grow crops, bananas and citrus fruits, are engaged in animal husbandry and fishing. Of all the Azores, tourists choose Faial to see sperm whales, whales and dolphins coming ashore. Diving and underwater photography are popular in the coastal area. In addition, many golfers and equestrian enthusiasts vacation on Faial.

Piku Island

A sea strait with a width of 7 km separates Faial from another island. Piku stretches for 42 km and reaches a width of 15 km. Towering over the island is the peak of an active volcano, the highest point of the Azores. This giant is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records, as it rises only 2351 meters above the ground, but has the largest underwater part on the planet – 6098 m. The volcano last erupted in 1963. Its high activity over the last 500 years is evidenced by the traces of lava flows on the slopes.

The inhabitants of Piku Island have long been whaling, but today they grow grapes and cater to tourists. The unique volcanic landscape and beautiful vineyards are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Island of Graciosa

At the center of the Azores, the small island of Graciosa, also referred to as the “white island.” Here, more than anywhere else, you can feel all the charms of a secluded vacation. White dominates the island landscapes, old houses are painted in white, and in addition, the word “white” is found in many local toponyms.

There are 4,600 people living on Graciosa. The main natural monuments of the island are the volcano crater with the bizarre “Sulfur Cave”, as well as the hot and sulfurous springs. It even has its own thermal sanatorium. In 2007, UNESCO gave the island the status of a biosphere reserve. In the local capital you can see old mansions, mills and churches, as well as a visit to the local history museum.

San Giorgi Island

At the center of the archipelago is San Jorge Island. It, Pico and Faial are often referred to as the “Triangle”. São Jorgey has an oblong, ship-like shape, reaching a length of 53 km and a width of 8 km. It is home to just over 9,000 people who grow tropical fruits, vegetables, coffee and sweet potatoes. Foodies greatly appreciate the local tangy cheese Queijo da Ilha.

São Jorge is called “the island of coastal cities. In the town of Calheta, the ancient church of St. Catarina is preserved. Velas, the island’s main town, welcomes visitors with old churches, narrow streets and a picturesque town hall.

The island village of Topo is where the history of St. George began. It was on this shore that the first Europeans to arrive on the island set foot. In Topo you can see the picturesque fishing port, as well as churches and houses from the 17th and 18th centuries.

The coastal village Urzelina was rebuilt in 1808 after a major volcanic eruption. In it it is interesting to see the bell tower growing out of the lava, which marks the place of the church buried in the eruption. The settlements of Manadas and Ribeira Seca also boast beautiful temples and old houses.

Terceira Island

The island’s name translates to “third” because Terseira was the third of the discovered Azores islands. It is 140km away from São Miguel and is referred to by the inhabitants of the archipelago as the “Purple (or Lilac) Island”. Terceira was formed by the eruption of four volcanoes, the youngest of which – Santa Barbara – remains active today.

On the island of Terceira it is interesting to see the historical capital of the archipelago, the city of Angra do Heroísmo. Its old buildings are included by UNESCO in the World Heritage List. Terseira is also famous for its wonderful beaches, which are suitable for relaxing, surfing and yachting. The island is also famous for its festivals. Many travelers come here for the festival of the Holy Spirit and the “Festival of the City.

Florish Island

Located on the west, Florish was discovered later than the other Azores. When the first Europeans landed on the green shore, they called it St. Thomas Island at first. From 1962 to 1994, Florish had a French military base, and then the island was opened to tourists.

The island capital has preserved many churches and mansions built in the Baroque style. There is also a large ethnographic museum. Among the island’s natural monuments are popular thermal springs, the Enshareush Grotto, the picturesque mountain waterfall Ribeira Grande and several small lakes that fill the craters of dormant volcanoes.

Corvoo Island

Florish’s neighbor’s name, Corvoo, means “crow.” It is the northernmost and smaller island in the archipelago, with only 430 inhabitants. Corvoo’s natural symbol are the two blue lakes that lie in an old volcano crater.

In the tiny town of Vila Nova, you can see a church built in the 16th century. And on the outskirts of the city, the hill Morro do Pão Açucar, which offers a beautiful view of the old buildings and streets. Along the coast there are old mills that are made of black volcanic tuff and their triangular blades of cloth. The arrangement of the windmills of Corvoo Island is remarkable: no matter where the wind blows, they always turn after it.

Transport of the Azores

To travel between the islands of the archipelago you can use local flights. However, transporting passengers on small planes is not cheap. Another, more popular option in the Azores is ferries. Tickets for the ferry are cheaper than for a plane, but due to high demand, it is worth buying them in advance.

Travel around the islands by bus, the schedule of which can be found in the hotels and tourist centers. In addition, in the Azores it is possible to rent a car. Roads are quite decent, and parking and gasoline are inexpensive. The disadvantages include limited parking in urban settlements and many one-way streets.

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How to get there

The most convenient way to get to the Azores is by air. There are regular flights to the archipelago from the Portuguese cities of Lisbon and Porto, as well as from London. Airports for international flights are located on three islands – São Miguel, Santa Maria and Terceira.

Guide to the Azores: Where to go

Map of the Azores

The Azores archipelago consists of nine inhabited islands. Each of them can and should be visited because they are all so different. In one trip it is unlikely to succeed, but in two or three – easily. Let’s find out what each island is like and choose the most interesting ones for your first trip.

Personal experience . I’ve only been to two islands so far: San Miguel and Florish. But given that I’m just obsessed with the Azores and all of Macaronesia, I also know a lot about the islands I haven’t been to yet. In the future I am going to visit them all, so for my own needs I studied all the islands in detail to understand what each of them is remarkable and interesting. Nothing to waste my knowledge, I decided and prepared this review. I tried to make it as clear as possible, so it was richly illustrated. I hope the review came out useful, interesting and inspiring.

Azores on the world map

The Azores are divided into three groups (the map below demonstrates this division well). The largest island is San Miguel, and it has the capital, Ponta Delgada. And the highest point of the archipelago and the whole of Portugal – Pico volcano on the island of the same name (2351 m).

The grouping of the Azores and the content of the review:

Eastern Group. San Miguel and Santa Maria
Central Group Graciosa, Terceira, São Jorge, Pico, Faial
Western Group Floris and Corvo

San Miguel

This is the main island of the archipelago, with its capital and largest city, Ponta Delgada.

The island is quite large, there are places to ride and things to see. We spent six days here and didn’t get bored a day. We drove all over the island, visited volcanic lakes and gorgeous viewpoints, bathed in mineral springs and many ocean beaches, walked through parks, admired the lush hydrangea flowers, visited a tea plantation, wandered through the old streets of the capital and saw several other settlements on the island. There’s also surfing, whale watching, and the Azores’ signature dish, Cozido das Furnas, meat cooked in the heat of a volcano.

Of all the Azores it is San Miguel that attracts the most tourists, because it is easy to get here from the continent, it has all the infrastructure, many hotels and housing for rent, large supermarkets and so on.

The island is called the Green Island, which is fully deserved: greenery, flowers, forests, meadows and beautiful parks here as much as abundance.

The island is beautiful and interesting – it’s worth the trip.

Santa Maria

The southernmost and sunniest Azores island is small. First of all it is known for its white sand beaches. Well, not white, more like yellow, but compared to the black volcanic sand on the other islands, the sand can be considered white. Here you can look at marine fossils in the basalt rocks and visit the church, where on the way from America, Christopher Columbus stopped to listen to mass.

  • The maximum diagonal length is 15.5 km.
  • The area is 97.18 km².
  • The highest point – 587 m.
  • Population – 5552 (2011).

Santa Maria is the oldest island of the archipelago (it is more than 8 million years old) and the only one without volcanic activity today. It was the first Azores island discovered by the Portuguese. The island is also called Yellow.

Praia Formosa is one of the best beaches on Santa Maria Island. Photo: Dreizung / commons.wikimedia.org / CC BY-SA 4.0. The red desert of the Azores. This unusual landscape is located in the north of the island of Santa Maria and is a specially protected natural area. Photo: Carlos Luis M C da Cruz / Public Domain. View of the island from its summit, Pico Alto (587 meters). Photo: Dreizung / commons.wikimedia.org / CC BY-SA 4.0.

Graciosa

A small island in the central group. Known for its deep cave in the caldera of the volcano, which has fumaroles and a lake with cold water at the bottom. On the island you can relax and be treated at the local spa.

  • The island is 12.5 km long and 8.5 km wide.
  • The area is 61 km².
  • The highest point is Caldeira mountain (404 m).
  • Population – 4391 people (2011).
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Instead of a thousand words, you can learn more about the island from photos and videos. Take a look!

Fly over Graciosa Island in a drone and admire its beauty:

Descend to the island’s main attraction, the huge sulfur grotto Furna Do Enxofre :

An overhead view of Graciosa Island. Photo: Angrense / Public Domain. Caldeira Mountain on the island of Graciosa. Photo: Dreamsdestroyer / commons.wikimedia.org / CC BY-SA 4.0. View of the town of Santa Cruz da Graciosa. Photo: Julen Iturbe-Ormaetxe / commons.wikimedia.org / CC BY-SA 2.0. You can also find some nice beaches on the island, such as this one, Praia de São Mateus. Photo: Torbenbrinker / commons.wikimedia.org / CC BY-SA 4.0.

Terceira

The second most popular island among tourists. Here is the oldest and once the largest city of the archipelago, Angra do Eroismo (founded in 1478), which is protected by UNESCO for its beauty and merits. Also come here to see the largest volcanic crater in the Azores and walk in a huge cave.

  • The perimeter of the island is 90 km.
  • Length – 29 km, width – 19 km.
  • Area – 402.2 km².
  • The highest point – 1022 m.
  • The population of the island – 56,437 people (2011).

The name of the island translates as “Third” – that’s how this Azores island was discovered. However, it was originally named Brazil, but the name “Third” still stuck.

Take a walk inside the volcano:

Algar do Carvão, a lava tube or volcanic orifice located in the central part of Terceira Island. Photo: Vitor Oliveira / commons.wikimedia.org / CC BY-SA 2.0. Inside the Algar do Carvão you can walk around and admire. Photo: Samuel Monteiro Domingues / commons.wikimedia.org / CC BY-SA 4.0. An old map of the island of Terceira and its capital. Artist: Jan Huyghen van Linschoten, 1595. Photo: Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc / Public Domain. Angra do Eroishmu is the oldest and once the largest city in the archipelago. Photo: Senhormario / commons.wikimedia.org / CC BY-SA 4.0. The coast of the island of Terceira. Photo: Luca Nebuloni / commons.wikimedia.org / CC BY 2.0.

São Jorgea

Quite a large knife-blade-shaped island with an unusual landscape that looks especially interesting from the air (I couldn’t get enough of it when I flew by) – it looks like an impregnable fortress with huge powerful walls. Rarely a tourist gets to this island, because there are no large settlements and boiling life – it’s quiet and peaceful. The reason is that until the very end of XX century, the island remained almost isolated, until they built two seaports and an airport. Here grow delicious shellfish and fruit, and from the heights you can admire the excellent panorama of the ocean and the four neighboring islands.

  • It is 53 km long and 8 km wide.
  • The area is 237.59 km².
  • The highest point is Mount Esperanza (1053 m).
  • Population – 9171 (2011).

The volcano of the same name proudly towers over this rather large island. However, if to speak intelligently, the whole island is a volcano, or rather its apex. The height of 2351 makes Pica the highest mountain in Portugal and one of the largest volcanoes in the Atlantic. But this is just the tip of the iceberg! The most interesting thing is hidden from our eyes: Pico is the mountain with the largest underwater part in the world – 6098 meters. In total, the volcano is second only to Everest in height at 400 meters. It is possible to climb the volcano – it is not the most difficult activity and requires only half a day.

On the island there is a flourishing wine industry and whale hunting: today it is purely touristy, but in the old days it was the real deal.

I am a passionate lover of climbing volcanoes, so I feel that Piku will be my next island in the next trip to Azores.

  • Length – 42 km, width – 15 km.
  • Area – 447 km².
  • Population – 14,148 people (2011).

The island is small, but it has character. It showed it just recently, a little more than 60 years ago, when the volcano Capelinus woke up in the very west of the island and caused great damage to the inhabitants. As a result of the eruption, the island grew by two and a half square kilometers. The area still looks like a lifeless desert, whose appearance contrasts strongly with the green landscape of the island. In the middle of this harsh landscape, only the old lighthouse, which miraculously survived the disaster, stands alone. The sight is unusual and even surreal.

There is also a famous marina on the island where yachts from all over the world moor while sailing across the ocean. There are also quite a few good beaches, and from the island’s capital, Orta, there is a stunning view of the neighboring island of Piku with its majestic stratovolcano.

  • The island is 21 km long and 14 km wide.
  • The area – 172.43 km².
  • The highest point is Mount Gorda (1043 m).
  • Population – 14,994 (2011).
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The name of the island means “beech forest,” but the locals call it Blue.

An aerial view of Fayal Island. Photo: Samuel Monteiro Domingues / commons.wikimedia.org / CC BY-SA 4.0. This part of the island was created by the Capelinhos volcano during its recent eruption. Photo: Guillaume Baviere / commons.wikimedia.org / CC BY 2.0. A view of Orta, the capital of the island of Faial. Photo: José Luís Ávila Silveira/Pedro Noronha e Costa / Public Domain. The crater of the volcano Caldeira in the center of Faial is very beautiful: it has practically vertical walls, it is shaped like a circle about 2 km in diameter, at the bottom of the crater is almost flat surface and several small lakes. Photo: Jules Verne Times Two / julesvernex2.com / CC-BY-SA-4.0. There is also a place to swim on the island. Photo: Guillaume Baviere / commons.wikimedia.org / CC BY 2.0.

Florish

A place of unimaginable beauty! It was the island in the Azores archipelago that I most wanted to get to and so I made it the first point of our trip. The most distant, the greenest, the wildest and calmest is just a portal to another dimension. And I haven’t seen such simultaneously graceful and majestic waterfalls anywhere else. Of course, our encounter with Hurricane Lorenzo added to the thrill, but even without such an extreme experience, the island makes a strong impression. My friends and I wandered around the island on foot quite well, and I can safely call these hikes some of the most enjoyable in my life.

  • Length – 17 km, width – 12.5 km.
  • The area is 142 km².
  • The highest point – 914 m.
  • Population – 3793 people (2011).

Florish Island translates from Portuguese as “Island of Flowers. The name is correct: it is one of the most beautiful and green islands of the archipelago, covered with thousands of blue hydrangeas and other flowers.

My film about Azores . Recently I finally edited my little video about our adventures on Florish Island during the invasion of Hurricane Lorenzo. The natural beauty and wildlife are included. The film is calm, almost meditative, rather than the usual YouTube. I think my humble undertaking is somewhere in the middle between Andrei Tarkovsky’s and Andy Warhol’s films in terms of pace and action. I invite anyone who is not afraid of this format to watch it:

The majestic landscapes of Florish. The end of the earth, the end of Europe, only the ocean and America. The Poço Ribeira do Ferreiro waterfalls are one of the most beautiful places in Flores. It reminds me and many other people of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. We go to see the beautiful Cascata do Poço do Bacalhau waterfall on the outskirts of our village in Floris Island. A lucky cow grazes in the organic meadows of Florish Island to give the highest grade of dairy products afterwards.

Corvoo

The northernmost island of the archipelago and all of Macaronesia is only a few kilometers in diameter. The entire island is a single volcano with a huge caldera of stunning beauty. To get to this island is already a big event and a real achievement, because the weather here is particularly capricious and volatile. Unfortunately, a hurricane prevented us from visiting Korva during our stay on neighboring Florish. I’m not going to put up with that and will definitely get there next time.

  • Length – 6.3 km, width – 4 km.
  • The area is 17 km².
  • The highest point – 718 m.
  • Population – 430 inhabitants (2011).

Korvu Island literally translates as “Island of Crows”, sea crows Portuguese called cormorants.

You’ll be interested to read about Madeira and the Canary Islands, the islands of volcanic origin, which, like Azores, are part of Macaronesia (the Blessed Isles). See what travelers think about Portugal and check our Lisbon trip itinerary builder .

Map of Corvoo. Photo: Ruben JC Furtado / Public Domain. Tourists are usually taken to Corvo by rubber boats from nearby Floris. Photo: Jules Verne Times Two / julesvernex2.com / CC-BY-SA-4.0. Top view of the volcano’s caldera. Photo: Samuel Monteiro Domingues / commons.wikimedia.org / CC BY-SA 4.0. A couple of tourists enjoy a view of the caldera. Photo: Jules Verne Times Two / julesvernex2.com / CC-BY-SA-4.0. There are several lakes inside the caldera. Photo: Luissilveira / commons.wikimedia.org / CC BY-SA 3.0. Vila do Corvo is the only settlement on the island. On the horizon you can see Floris Island. Photo: José Luís Ávila Silveira/Pedro Noronha e Costa / commons.wikimedia.org / CC BY-SA 3.0.

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