The biggest island with more diversity from Azores, São Miguel, melts hearts and surprises anyone!
We visited the island in five days and we organized what to visit like that, by days. As the weather is so unpredictable, there were no set days to visit a certain area. At the beginning of each day, we used a smartphone application called Spotazores, which has live feeds from the different areas of the island and we could see how the weather was at the moment and then decide where to go! The days are organized more or less by areas and I am going to tell you everything we saw, letting you know what you must not miss if you are going to visit the island for a short period of time!
What do you need?
Swim wear is a must for all the thermal springs and natural swimming pools, towel (we took a microfiber one because is lighter) and the typical rain coat! Hihi! This is an island in the Atlantic Ocean and for that reason you can get through the four seasons in one day! Oh and don’t forget the comfortable shoes!
- Salto do Prego
Located in the South Western part of the Island, this is my favorite waterfall! In order to get there, you have to walk around 45 minutes to 1 hour, only one way. You can go for a swim but be aware that the water might be a bit cold. There good signs along the path, so there is no way you can get lost.
- Fábrica do Chá Gorreana
Founded in 1883, the tea Plantations Gorreana are unique in Europe. The tea is hand-picked in the bushes terraces located on the hills that surround the factory, where afterwards is processed in the vintage machinery. You can visit it between 9:00 and 18:00, the entrance is free and you can taste and buy the tea there.
- Ribeira Grande
This historical city is the second biggest of the island. Here you can find the Ponte dos Oito arcos (the eight arches bridge), a land marc from the 18th Century.
- Salto do Cabrito
A waterfall located in the central part of the island where there is an easy access by car. This waterfall is not as quiet as Salto do Prego, simply because is easy to reach, and you can park almost on top of it. Don’t be alarmed with the initial road (like we did) because after that is much better!
- Caldeira Velha
This warm-water waterfall, rich in minerals, runs between lichen and moss coated boulders into a pound. This is located in the middle of gardens, which gives the sensation of a tropical paradise. If you intend to visit this location, you should come early in the morning because this is a very busy place and at the end of the day is totally packed as the pound is very small. The entrance ticket is 2 euros.
- Lagoa da Furnas
The second largest lagoon in the island, where you can find hot water springs and the fumaroles, where locals cook the traditional dish Cozido das furnas. It is here where the locals bury the saucepans with all the ingredients for the Cozido and leave for several hours while the heat and vapors from the volcano cook it, gaining the sulfur smell and taste. To taste this dish, you have to book a table in the city of Furnas. There are several restaurants that serve it, but you really need to book a table. To see the saucepans being unburied, you have to be at Fumarolas between 11:00 and 12:00.
On the other side of the lake you can find Mata Jardim José do Canto, which is simply beautiful. From here you can get to Salto do Rosal with a 30 minutes’ walk each way. It is totally worth it, even the path to get there is amazing and you start to have an idea of the raw beauty of São Miguel. Not forgetting the gardens, the century old sequoia and many other tree species!
- Jardins Terra Nostra
Thomas Hicking, Consul of the United States of America in São Miguel built this property in 1775. Throughout the years, this gardens had several owners like the Viscondes da Praia and the Bensaude Family, who made some extensions. Today, the gardens have 12.5 hectares and the trees that populate the park were imported from North America, Australia, New Zeland, China and South Africa. And for the cherry on top of the cake you can go for a swim in the geothermal pool (be aware that if you go for a swim in the pool, the water is brown and anything that you take for the swim is going to turn brown). The entrance ticket is 8 euros.
- Miradouro do Pico do Ferro
With view to Lagoa da Furnas, if you are lucky that is not raining or foggy, this is the best place to have a good view over the Furnas Valley.
- Poça da Dona Beija
One of the most romantic places in the island, this five thermal spring pools complex is open until 11pm and is the best place to finish off the day. One of the pools has water at 29ºC and the other four at 39ºC. Each pool has a different feature to help you relax or enjoy. Towards the end of the day, when the daylight starts to disappear, the pools are lighted, which turn the environment even more relaxed and romantic.
- Whale and Dolphin Watching
The Azores is one of the best places in the World to see whales and dolphins. There are more than 28 seen species, some residents and others that visit the islands in different seasons. There are several companies that do this kind of service, we used Futurismo and paid 55 euros per person. This was booked online, but you can find several companies doing the same in Ponta Delgada and we know that some are cheaper. For someone that has never seen these animals in the wild is simply amazing. In the 80s, the locals used to catch and kill whales for their oil but now that is illegal and we do not use this oil anymore anyway. Nowadays, the spots that were used to search for the whales are used by these companies, allowing them to locate and communicate with excursion boats and keep some of the tradition and not using sonars as these, according to the biologists, are harmful for the animals.
- Ponta Delgada
The biggest city in Azores with an impressive black and white chapel and the Portas da Cidade (the city Doors). Here you can find the traditional cheese shops with different cheeses and cures from all the islands, not forgetting the queijadinhas (a sort of tartlets), teas, jams, liquors, I mean, everything that the island produces, oh and Bolo lêvedo (sweet flat soft rolls) which are very traditional in the island. There is nothing that this city doesn’t have and it is always ready to receive the tourists.
- Pineapple plantation
One of the island traditional desert or starter served with sausage is the pineapple. If you visit this plantation, you will find it very enriching, one pineapple takes two years to be fully grown and ready to be eaten and during this whole process they have to be smoked! One of my favorite places in the island, the green houses are white and made with glass, simply beautiful!
- Lagoa dos Congros
This place deserves a visit, you have to walk 20 minutes each way but it is totally worth it. There is no way to go around the lake but that is what makes it so special, raw nature.
This day looks like it has way too many things to do but most of them are view points and they don’t take too long to visit.
- Miradouro da Boca do Inferno
This Viewpoint is the most seen in pics from São Miguel and it is really impressive. We went really early so it would not be full of people, just because it is expected to be one of the most visited places. When we arrived there, it was empty, but in midafternoon when we drove past it, there were no parking spaces. At this viewpoint you can see the Lagoa de Santiago and the Lagoa das Sete Cidades further ahead.
- Lagoa do Canário
This Lagoon is close to the Miradouro da Boca do Inferno and it is a beautiful lagoon but if you are coming for a short period of time there are others that you can see.
- Miradouro da Vista do Rei
This view point is well known to see Lagoa da Sete Cidades, it has an incredible view.
- Hotel Monte Palace
A five-star hotel that opened in 1989 but for only 19 months. Now you can find it abandoned in one of the best views in the island! You can go in and visit it but be careful where you step.
- Miradouro da Lagoa Santiago
In this viewpoint you can see the Lagoa de Santiago and the viewpoint Boca do Inferno that I have mentioned in the beginning of this day.
- Lagoa das sete cidades
Apart from seeing all the viewpoints, you must drive down the hill and drive past the bridge that separates the two colors, the blue and the green part.
Built in 1521, with license from King D. Manuel I, this aqueduct was built to feed water to the island, one of the problems at the time. Nowadays, it is out of use and it is a delight for the tourists.
- Lagoa das Empanadas
If you look at the map you will realize that we have gone back, the reason why is because we have decided to go to the most crowded places first and then go to the calmer ones. This is a beautiful lagoon and you can take the car and drive all around it, however there is place to park. in a five-day trip were you have time to see everything this is a beautiful walk around the two lakes.
- Moinho do Pico Vermelho
We saw this Mill by chance in pictures taken by friends that visited São Miguel not long ago and we have decided to visit it! Located right in the sea front, this is a pretty spot for pictures!
- Piscina Natural da Ferraria
A natural swimming pool of sea water with a thermal water spring! Sounds confusing? Now, try to imagine to go for a swim in the Atlantic and not being cold! Before you visit this pool, google when is the low tie and only go there at that time, it is weirdly amazing! When the waves come the water is so cold it looks like someone open the fridge, when the wave goes, the warm comes through you! XD (did you like my description? If you have been there, would you describe it like these?) Nature is amazing and in all fairness the water is warm.
- Sunset in Miradouro da ilha Sabrina
There is not a better place for the sunset than this one, there is a lighthouse at your left and the sun sets just in front of you. There are moments to cherish and this is one of them!
- Lagoa do Fogo
I kept the best for last but it could have well been in the beginning if the weather allowed it. The Lagoa do Fogo is a spot that you cannot miss when visiting São Miguel. It is here that you can see the untouched nature of Azores. We walked down to the lagoon and it is just beautiful, is not possible to walk all the way around it but it is so peaceful that the only thing that you are going to hear is the fishes jumping to catch the mosquitos. Like anything else, we were not the only ones coming down, in the morning there was not a lot of people, but on the way back, it was much busier! There is no need to say that if you want to see this at its best, you need to come in the early morning and save the all morning to enjoy it completely! Bring a packed lunch and eat it looking at the lake before making your way up. The way up is a little bit difficult. We did it in 15 minutes but as we got all the way to the top, we had to stop for 10 minutes to catch our breath back.
When you visit a place, the food is as important as what you have to see and I could not miss to mention my favorites of the island!
- Restaurant Associação Agricola
Located in Ribeira Grande, for me, this restaurant needs to be mentioned first! Known by its steaks, the two first pages of the menu are just about steaks cooked in different ways! I have to say that it is delicious and the meat has an unbelievable taste! You don’t have to book a table, I showed up at the restaurant, gave my name and how many people and then just waited about 15 minutes. Totally worth it!
- A Tasca
Located in Ponta Delgada, this is a very traditional restaurant with a few modern and creative twists (like the menu that is a journal)! It has a lot to choose from and everything is very fresh. At lunch time it will be ok to turn up without a booking but in the evening you won’t be able to eat there without booking in advance! We liked it so much that we decided to pay them a second visit, first time we chose two fish dishes but in the second, we decided to do a kind of tapas with only starters. As I said, there are a lot to choose from and we wanted to try everything.
- O Capitão
Located in Lagoa, this restaurant specialty is Caldeirada de Peixe (similar to a fish casserole) or grilled fish (the catch of the day). We have found this restaurant by chance, I did not read about it, but really deserves to be talked about! It is a small restaurant with only two people working (at least in that day), but there was work for at least one more person (typically Portuguese). If go there to eat, expect to wait for the food as the waiter is also cooking the food! However, I guarantee that is totally worth the wait!
- Cantinho do Cais
Located near the tea plantations, this is a traditional restaurant with some of the island dishes!
What did we miss…
Unless you live in a certain place for a certain amount of time, it is impossible to see everything! For me, there were two main things that I would like to have done in São Miguel but there was not enough time!
Swim with wild dolphins is one of the things that is possible to do in the island and I believe that must be a unique experience!
Visit the Vila Franca islet. There are boats leaving São Miguel every morning and it takes 30 minutes to get there and you can stay as long as you want. If you get there just before 9am and manage to get in the first boat that only takes 30 people maximum, when you get to the islet, you will have the luck of swimming in the natural lake with sea fishes for one hour with only 30 people. If you go latter you might risk swimming with 400 other people!
As I said before, there is no fun in visiting a place that I have liked so much without an excuse to go back! See you soon São Miguel!
Have you visited São Miguel, did you like it?
Thank you for reading, feel free to leave me a comment!