What if I told you that there is a place in Europe where the vegetation is as lush as a tropical rain forest? A place where the landscape is interspersed with azure volcanic lakes, where you can bathe in sulfuric hot springs and drive from viewpoint to viewpoint, each one even more dramatic than the last?
Welcome to the Azores! An ecological paradise in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, made up of 9 different islands, 1360 kilometres from continental Europe and 1925 kilometres from North America. With almost 500 miles of tracks and 80 signposted trails, the Azores are renowned as a hiking paradise. Many paths use a centuries-old network of trade paths or pilgrimage routes. You’ll discover magnificent bays, striking geological formations and streaming waterfalls.
I spent one week hiking on Sao Miguel, the archipelago’s biggest island. “Big” might be pushing it a bit though: with a surface of 760 km² and a population of about 140.000 inhabitants, it is hardly a dot in the big ocean! But what a dot! I spent a week hiking Sao Miguel’s well maintained trails and discovered a place where respect for nature and traditions go hand in hand! A place where tourism hasn’t totally taken over yet and hopefully never will!
But with over 20 hiking trails on Sao Miguel, where do you even start?
Glad you asked!
The best hikes on Sao Miguel
1/ From Mirador Lagoa do Fogo down to the lake
Lagoa do Fogo, which means “Lake of Fire”, is a crater lake within the volcanic Água de Pau Massif . It’s a protected nature reserve, home to a variety of plants and birds, and the highest lake on Sao Miguel.
Standing at the viewpoint overlooking Lagoa do Fogo, you’ll notice a small track leading to the lake shore down below. It takes about 20 minutes through endemic plants and abundant vegetation and you’ll have the gorgeous stretch of beach almost all to yourself! Take time to walk along the beach and enjoy the silence and wonderful display of nature!
The steep way back up takes a bit longer, about 30-40 minutes.
There is a longer hike that takes you from Praia, on the coast, all the way to Lagoa do Fogo. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to do this one so can’t comment, but according to official signage, it should take you +/- 4h return.
Short trail: circular walk
Time: 75 minutes return, including beach walk
2/ Faial da Terra to Salto do Prego
The charming village of Faial da Terra, in the south eastern corner of Sao Miguel is the starting point for a walk up to one of the most hidden waterfalls on the island, the Salto do Prego. The walk takes you along a dirt road, on the banks of the Faial da Terra stream. After a while, cross the bridge and go up until the fork, where you turn right to Salto do Prego.
On the way back, you pass the beautifully restored, abandoned village of Sanguinho. Sanguinho was inhabited for more than a century by a relatively wealthy population that took refuge in this area, after the dangerous flooding of the Faial da Terra river. It was abandoned in the 1970’s due to emigration and the difficulty children faced getting to school. Nowadays there are +/- 20 uninhabited houses left, including a farm.
Time: 1 ½- 2 hours
3/ Trilho do Feno
Situated on the north coast of Sao Miguel, the trail leaves from the church at the end of Fenais da Ajuda. The path starts off as a farm track which leads you into the wood, across to the Ribeira do Mato stream. After crossing the stream, the path through the wood rises and then broadens into an agricultural track. Follow the signs, and continue via farm tracks, fields and footpaths until you reach a small fishing port. The port is no longer in use as it is so small and isolated, but it’s a pleasant place to have a dip when the sea is calm. The trail continues up to the top of the cliff, where you have a spectacular view of the north coast. Follow the farm track for about one kilometre, passing the Church of Nossa Senhora da Ajuda, until you are back at the departure point.
This is the ideal walk if you want to experience rural Sao Miguel.
Time: 2 hours
4/ Serra Devassa
The trail begins and ends at the “Lagoa do Canário”. The area is nick-named “The Lake District” and this walk will show you exactly why. The path rises gently, skirts a small, marshy area and then rises more steeply until you come to the highest point on the trail. As you climb, to your left you can see an old aqueduct that used to transport water to the capital of Sao Miguel, Ponta Delgada.
When you reach the top of the hillside, you can see the “Lagoa das Éguas” to your left, and a small round lake to your right. A little further ahead you will come to vantage point, where you can view the two aforementioned lakes on your left, and the Lagoa Rasa, on your right.
The path then descends to the shores of Lagoa Rosa and back to the departure point.
Time: 2 hours
5/ Chá Gorreana
The only place in Europe where tea is grown is situated in the Azores. On the north coast of Sao Miguel you can follow the “Ruta do Chá” or tea trail. A visit to the old tea factory “Chá Gorreana” is a must, but even better is to wander off amidst the tea plantations across the road!
Hiking on Sao Miguel doesn’t need to be strenuous. This trail starts right from the parking lot at “Chá Gorreana”. Cross the gate of the tea plantations and follow a dirt road, parallel to the main road, that winds among the plantations and woodland.
After crossing a stone bridge, pastures will take place over the tea plantations and the woods. There are plenty of beautiful flowers to spot. At the highest point of the trail, enjoy the amazing views over the north coast of Sao Miguel!
Continue descending a narrow dirt track. The track was once used by the workers during the harvest season and gets you right into the plantations.
Back at Chá Gorreana make sure to visit the factory and relax with a cup of … tea, what else?
Time: 2 hours
6/ Vista do Rei to Sete Cidades
This trail is a linear trail, so you’ll need to rely on catching a lift or a taxi back to the starting point. It starts at the Vista do Rei viewpoint and should take you approximately 2 hours. All along you’ll follow the ridge of the crater, accompanied by views of its interior and the lakes. The path to the village is rather steep and can be slippery in wet weather, so be careful.
Time: 2 hours
7/ Lagoa das Furnas
This trail begins and ends in the town of Furnas. From the entrance of the village you continues uphill towards a beautiful view over the valley of Furnas. You’ll soon arrive at the lake and after about 2.5km, you’ll reach the “caldeiras” or hot springs, where local inhabitants use the high temperatures in the ground to cook traditional dishes. This is probably the most interesting part of the walk. From here on, it’s a very easy walk around the lake and back to the starting point.
Time: 3 hours
There are plenty of other walking trails on Sao Miguel, but if you’re not keen on walking, why not check out some of the other things to do in Sao Miguel?
Have you been hiking on Sao Miguel? Or maybe you have a favourite walking country ? If so, please share! Always looking for inspiration!