Halfway between Europe and North America lie the 9 islands of the Azores. No mass tourism here, the Azores are one of the best well-kept ecotourism destinations in the world! I had the chance to visit the main island of Sao Miguel, an ideal place for slowtravel, but plenty of things to do to keep you busy!
These are the main things to do in Sao Miguel:
Let’s face it, if you go to the Azores it’s probably because you are into nature. And what better way to truly appreciate nature than walking, right? And guess what? Sao Miguel has numerous, well signposted trails to keep you busy for at least a few weeks! Check out this article for more details on my favourite walking trails on the island!
2/ Driving from viewpoint to viewpoint
Tired of walking and looking to give your tired feet a rest? Why not go for a drive around the island? No big boring motorways here, instead twisting roads inviting you to stop around every corner for yet another breath-taking viewpoint over the sea or lake! Those viewpoints or “miradouros” are a proof of the excellent environmental policy of the Azorean government: picnic benches, well-laid out barbecue areas, hydrangeas that border the cliffs: ecotourism at its best!
3/ Marvelling at or soaking in hotsprings
Standing at one of the “miradouros”, you’ll occasionally see smoke rising from the Azorean countryside, a sign of the numerous “fumaroles” on the island. The Azores are of volcanic origin and the fumaroles are openings on the earth’s crust that emit steam and sulfuric gases. Trust me, it looks better than it sounds or smells! The main ones can be seen in Furnas, where you can find +/- 20 different waters bubbling and boiling away, spurting their gases into the air!
Although very intriguing, the sulfuric smell hardly invites you to linger on. That all changes in the Caldeira Velha where, hidden amongst trees, a small and warm waterfall runs into an artificial pool. Once you’re inside the soothing hot water, the sun in your face, you’ll forget about the penetrating smell straight away!
4/ Dolphin and whale watching
Did you know that the Azores are home to almost a third of the world’s whale and dolphin population? Sounds like the perfect place to do some whale watching, right?
On a sunny, but brisky, morning I spent over 3 hours in the Azorean waters checking out dolphins and a family of sperm whales. Whale watching is big business in the Azores, so it’s good to see that most of the companies adhere to the Rules and Code of Conduct for Whale Watching, respecting the animals and their environment.
5/ In search of lakes and waterfalls
There’s no shortage of lakes on Sao Miguel. The most famous ones are probably the green and blue lake of Sete Cidades. But the competition is hard: Furnas lake, Lagoa do Fogo, … are all big contenders of the most picturesque lake on the island.
Don’t forget to check out the numerous watefalls either. Driving around the island, I came across the Ribeira dos Caldeiroes, a beautifully laid out valley with watermills, waterfalls and tree ferns.
Have you been to the Azores? What’s your favourite slow travel destination?