Travel to the Magical Sao Miguel Island in the Azores
In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, there is an archipelago of nine islands belonging to Portugal called the Azores. The isolated location has kept this travel gem somewhat undiscovered compared to the other European islands that are frequently key destinations among travelers. We went on a trip to the island of San Miguel for four days and found this island magical. Many describe the Azores as if Ireland and Hawaii had a baby, and we would concur. As soon as you step out of the plane you can feel a tropical air that is not found in Europe and therefore it feels like you arrived somewhere much further away than a two-hour flight from Lisbon, Portugal.
San Miguel is the most populous and largest of the islands of the Azores. You will likely, therefore, fly into Ponta Delgada in San Miguel when visiting any of the Azores. San Miguel is a diverse island and you can easily spend a week just exploring this island.
We rented a car at the airport which is highly recommended. Don’t forget to request an automatic shift if you are not comfortable with a manual. San Miguel is a volcanic island so will drive up and down steep hills which can be challenging if you are not used to manual shifting. We ended up with a dual automatic/manual which took some time to figure out how to change the setting. Having a car while you visit is a must since this is a destination that calls for a lot of driving to see the island. You want to be able to do this at your own time and to be able to change up your itinerary based on the current weather conditions. The weather is unpredictable and can change quickly and is very local. Don’t get discouraged by looking at the weather report when planning your trip. We went in the middle of October, and there was plenty of heat and sun to swim in the ocean and visit the beaches.
We chose to stay at Santa Barbara Resort near Ribiera Grande on the north side of the island. This hotel was amazing. It is a luxury eco-resort right on the stunning volcanic beach where the surf was great. Santa Barbara has their own farm where they grow produce for their restaurant; it is really farm-to-table. The resort has everything you need and more for great accommodations while visiting the Azores. From infinity pools, private spa, and activities for guests. We promise you won’t want to leave! They also have a sister hotel on the other side of the island which we also visited for dinner; it was also amazing but I recommend Santa Barbara.
There are so many things to see and do in the Azores. These are my recommendations for you when you visit the island of San Miguel. No no particular order for you to create your own itinerary:
Lagoa Verde and Lagoa Azul. The most iconic views on the island of San Miguel. Check out viewpoint vista Do Rei for a great view
Ponta da Ferraria. Volcanic rocky area by the ocean which so offers natural hot spring pools.
Go hiking. There are so many options for this on San Miguel island. We found a cool trail called Trilho Mata Do Canario which offered views, forest, and lake. Hike Ribeira Dos Caldeiroes Nartual Park for a tropical rainforest vibe. You can even swim in the waterfall which was a highlight. Visit Parque Terra Nostra. Here you can climb the tallest waterfall on the island. It is quite a hike (600 steps) but you are surrounded by ancient redwoods. It feels like you have stepped into a fairytale.
Cruise down the coast and take in the stunning views. You can really spend days just stopping at the viewpoints along the main road around the island.
Cha Gorreana. This is a tea plantation still producing tea according to Japanese tradition. Established by the British to provide them with the finest tea. Visit the museum and stroll the tea farm while you sip on the freshly brewed tea.
Visit the beach. The most recommended by locals was Praia da Vinha da Areia. This was a great swimming spot since the waves are not as strong as the rest of the island. For surf we recommend Praia do Areal de Santa Bárbara. You can rent surfboards from the local surf shop. After you are done have a drink and a snack with the locals by the beach bars.
Visit Furnas. This town is known for its volcanic hot springs and traditionally cooked food. Stroll the town to see the steam coming out of the ground. You’ll see many restaurants cooking the evening meal in boiling water. We ate at Caldeiras e Vulcōoes for a vegan Cozido das Furnas which was delicious. To take full advantage of the town make sure to visit Poça da Dona Beija to swim in thermal pools amongst the tropical landscape.
Visit Ponta Delgada to see the most populous part of the island. There is tons of history and restaurants for a bite. We ate at the vegetarian restaurant Rotas da Ilha Verde. This place was super cute and local.
Spend a full day at Santa Barbara to enjoy your resort and all the activities they have to offer
Go snorkeling. There is so much marine life in the waters of San Miguel. Join a tour and explore the great Atlantic Ocean.