São Miguel is an island mostly untouched by the tourist industry, though that is starting to change. This magical island is the gateway to the other 8 islands of the Azores. But make no mistake, this island has big personality with a lot to offer. If you’re planning a visit to the “Green Island”, this is the guide for you. I have listed the 10 best things to do in Sao Miguel in the Azores, to help you plan your own trip to this beautiful Portuguese island.
- 1 10 Best Things to Do in São Miguel, Azores
10 Best Things to Do in São Miguel, Azores
To see volcanic activity at its best, visit the sleepy town of Furnas. Here you can find caldeiras burping and bubbling Sulphur steam into the air all over the town. The locals use these caldeiras to their benefit, cooking in them and drinking the mineral rich springs leaking from the earth around them.
Home of the famous Terra Nostra Garden, you can stroll around the park or take a dip in the mineral rich thermal pool at the main focal point of the park. But be sure to bring an old bathing suit because these waters are so rich in mineral your suit (and your skin) will turn orange.
Journey to the Mythical Seven Cities
There is a legend that the King of the Seven Cities had a beautiful daughter who fell in love with a shepherd. However, the princess was already betrothed to a prince from another kingdom and her father forbade her from ever seeing this shepherd again. Before their parting her father allowed her to see the boy one last time and during that meeting, they both cried so much it created two lakes, one green and one blue.
If you wish to see these mythical lagoas (lakes) there are several view points and two main hikes, one around the rim of the caldeira surrounding the two lakes and the town of Sete Cidades or you can follow the famous Miradouro Da Boca Do Inferno to the most photographed sight on the island. Both routes offer fantastic photo opportunities at every turn.
If you are going to try any food in São Miguel it has to be the famous cozido. This delicious monstrosity is a mixture of various meats and vegetables cooked in their own broth in a pot that has been buried inside a caldeira for 6-8 hours. The meat falls apart on your fork and everything has the slightest hint of sulphur to it. I know what your thinking. Yuck, right? Wrong. It’s so tender and juicy, with all the flavours of the meats, cabbage and various types of potatoes mixed in. The sulphur smell is barely noticeable.
This meal can only be found in Furnas, with their bubbling caldeiras all over town. The two best places to have this meal are Anthony’s and the Terra Nostra Hotel. Secret: if you eat at the Terra Nostra Hotel, they give you free admission to the Terra Nostra Gardens, which includes the thermal pools within. If you are a vegetarian, the Terra Nostra Hotel also offers a vegetarian cozido option.
Hike to the highest peak
For some of the best hiking on the island make sure to check out the highest peak, Pico de Vara. In order to hike to this 1103m peak you will need a permit. This is because only a certain number of people are allowed to climb the mountain per day. Try to wait for the best day possible, to give you the best chance to see the 360-degree view, though don’t be disappointed if you don’t see everything. I hiked to this peak and had beautiful views until the last 10-minute stretch to the top where I was engulfed in a cloud.
Not only does this hike provide some fantastic views, there are also two memorials along the route for two plane crashes that occurred on this mountain. So, take your time, take it in and enjoy being completely surrounded by nature.
Sit in a spa in the ocean
Near Ponta da Ferraria is a beautiful spa, once a bath house where a doctor would travel to twice weekly on a donkey to see patients. Travelling down a road of tight switch backs with a sheer cliff drop you can park your car and walk straight past the spa and down to the ocean. What you will find there will blow your mind.
At low tide there is a small inlet in the ocean where the volcanic rocks heat the ocean water and become a hot tub in the ocean. It is complete with ropes strung from one side to other where you can just hang on and drift back and forth with the ebb and flow of the tide. It is by far one of the most relaxing places in the world.
Soak in a natural thermal pool
On the road to Riberia Grande from Ponta Delgada lies Caldeiras Velha. Natural thermal pools situated in a tropical forest. As you soak in the various natural spas you are surrounded by palm fronds and ferns, making you feel like you stepped into Jurassic park.
This place is best visited, in my opinion, when it’s raining. As you bathe in the warm, slightly sulphuric waters you can listen to the rain hit the wide leaves and feel the stress just melt away. For more information on all the thermal pools on the island, check out this thermal pools guide.
Visit the Terra Nostra Gardens
The famous Terra Nostra Gardens, once an orange plantation, is not just home to one of the most beautiful gardens but also an expansive natural thermal mineral pool. There are several options for taking a dip, the main mineral rich thermal pool and several side “hot tub style” thermal pools.
You could spend the day here just wandering the gardens, siting around the mineral pool, eating at the Terra Nostra Hotel (which boasts the best cozido in all of Furnas) or relax in one of the many natural thermal pools. It’s heaven.
Visit a pineapple plantation
Just outside of Ponta Delgada lies the only pineapple plantation on the island. This plantation has a multitude of greenhouses with pineapples growing at various stages. You can learn all about the growing process and then head inside to the gift shop to taste some of their plantation made pineapple liqueur.
Wander around a tea plantation
Gorreana is the only tea plantation in the Azores. Looking for a way to boost the economy, the owners had tea masters come from Asia to teach them how to grow tea. It kind of took off from there. Visiting the plantation there are several loop hikes around the property providing you with views of the entire plantation.
Back in the main tea factory you can taste the various types of teas, tour around the factory, and watch a video on the plantations beginnings. All for free. The factory still uses the same machinery used in the very beginning (1883!).
Over time the tea leaves have developed their own distinct flavor. Now Gorreana ships their tea all over the world, from the US and Canada in the West to Europe and Asia in the East.
Go whale watching
This is probably the biggest draw for tourists to this island. The Azores has a rich whaling heritage, which has transitioned to a prosperous whale watching industry. At any time of the year you can see several species of dolphins and the sperm whale, made famous by of course Moby Dick.
Have you been to Sao Miguel, Azores, before? How did you find it? Let us know in the comments below! This island has much to offer and is special in it’s own way. Take your time and let the island lifestyle help you unwind and reconnect. These are my 10 favourite things to do in Sao Miguel, I hope you find them useful in planning your own trip to the Azores in Portugal!