There are some truly hidden gems in the world. The Azores fall into this category. Located in the Atlantic Ocean some 1,500 km west of Lisbon, Portugal, the Azores are an archipelago of nine volcanic islands, with breathtaking landscapes.
About a third of the world’s cetaceans (dolphins, whales, and related animals) have made the Azores home, or call in on their way to surrounding waters. This makes the waters of the Azores one of the best locales for dolphin and whale watching.
All year round, you can watch sperm whales, bottlenose, and common dolphins as they pass through the Azores waters on their migratory crossings. And between April and June, humpbacks, blue whales, and orcas cross these waters.
The views on the Azores are stunning, incredible, and breathtaking. There are scenes of green pastures, blue lakes bordered by green laurel and cedar forests, crater lakes, caverns, and columns of molten rock.
The nine Azores islands are São Miguel, São Jorge, Pico, Graciosa, Santa Maria, Terceira, Corvo, Flores, and Faial. Each of the islands has its own charm and special features. The islands of Graciosa, Corvo and Flores are UNESCO-designated biosphere reserves.
So, what activities draw you to the Azores?
Whale and dolphin watching
You could say the Azores are synonymous with whale and dolphin watching. The larger of the Azores islands organize well-run whale watching tours. Be ready to observe a code of conduct that governs the activity. For instance, there is a limit on how long you can follow a whale and on the number of boats that can gather near an animal. The direction from which you must approach the animals is also specified.
The nutrient-rich waters of the Azores support life, and this is what draws the whales there, makings the Azores one of the best diving spots in the Atlantic. Between May and October, the waters warm up to between 62°F (17°C) and 75°F (24°C). With visibility at 100 feet (30 meters), this provides ideal diving conditions.
The waters harbor a rich mix of species. You can find barracudas, turtles, lobsters, eels, marlin, tuna, sharks, and countless other smaller species. Diving centers organize excursions and offer equipment for hire.
Canyoning, kayaking, windsurfing, and other water sports
The many waterfalls cascading into ravines in the islands present the perfect backdrop for exceptional canyoning. The islands of São Miguel, Flores, São Jorge, and Santa Maria are equipped for the canyoning enthusiast – from the beginner to the expert.
In addition, you are welcome to enjoy boarding on the water, kayaking, windsurfing, and other water sports.
The islands teem with hiking trails. Pick a clear day to hike up Mt Pico (2,350 meters [7,713 feet] above sea level), Portugal’s highest peak. Catch the sunrise or sunset from atop the mountain to crown your hiking experience.
São Jorge has exciting hiking trails, but for an exhilarating experience go hiking on Flores, the westernmost point of Europe. Even for Azoreans accustomed to the beauty of the islands, the sights of Flores are outstanding.
Exploring the volcanic landscape
Explore the dramatic volcanic rock formations, craters, caves, cones, hot springs, and other mysteries in the topography of the islands. At Pico island, you can go down one of the world’s longest lava tubes to view stalagmites that resemble lengths of rope, benches, and balls.
At São Miguel, you might even want to witness Azoreans cooking their traditional cizido, a meat and vegetable stew, using thermal heat from fumaroles.
Horse riding and mountain biking
The Azores cater to mountain bikers and horse riders. You may choose to ride on ultra-technical tracks or go easy on scenic and gentle lakeside circuits. You can rent bikes on most of the islands, while São Miguel, Faial, and Terceira boast of horse stables.
If your visit to the Azores coincides with a paragliding festival, join in and get a panoramic view of these stunning islands.
Many visitors pick the summer months of July and August to tour the Azores. The weather is good at this time but the sites may be crowded. However, since the Azores experience mild weather, you can escape the crowds by visiting in late spring (April and May) and early autumn (September). In addition, you will enjoy better discounts during these off-peak seasons.