São Miguel in the Azores is a vibrant garden in the middle of the Atlantic. With so many different landscapes and things to do, planning a route to explore the island is essential. This is the exact road trip itinerary I use when I get friends visiting São Miguel island and now I’m sharing it with you. Insider tips from a local FOR FREE, updated for 2018. Here’s how to do São Miguel in 4 days!
Usually when I go back to my home island of São Miguel, there are 2 phases.
Phase 1. Nothing to report. Your level of interest in how much weight I put in with mom’s food or in my zapping sessions through Portuguese TV shows is probably not enough to be mentioned here.
An unexplored niche for sure, but not exactly the one I want to be in as a blogger.
Phase 2 is more interesting. I usually have friends visiting so we spend some days exploring the island. Extra pressure to make sure I keep them busy with a not-too-ambitious-but-not-too-boring-either itinerary!
Not only I want to create a nice 4-day route of São Miguel, I want to create THE BEST one! Keep scrolling or jump directly to one of the sections:
Mission: create the ultimate road trip itinerary of São Miguel
You know I love to plan itineraries. It’s kind of my thing.
I’ve done a detailed Portugal road itinerary and a Croatia road trip before and loved it.
This itinerary for São Miguel was first created when I got friends visiting in 2015. Since then more friends have visited every year and it’s not fully updated for 2018.
Other FLAGRANT copies of this itinerary – seriously, same title, map and article structure – have shown up in the web as well, but I can assure you this is the original thing. 😉
Important things to know about this São Miguel itinerary
- Last updated in July 2018.
- It’s tailored for first-time visitors. If that’s your case, have a read at the top things to know before going to the Azores to complement the info here.
- It assumes you’ll have a car. I highly recommend you get your own wheels in Azores. Check this article to find out why and for more transportation info useful for your planning.
- It’s not intended to be a rally course. I’ve seen some crazy “itineraries” from other bloggers who are only doable by spending entire days incarcerated in a car ticking spots off the list. When you arrive somewhere make sure you spend AT LEAST an hour to take it all in. Quality over quantity!
- It should be flexible. You’ll most likely need to change something and accommodate other factors. The best example is the unstable azorean weather. You can check the forecast in advance for the major places in the island with SpotAzores website and app.
- And last but not least…
The Azores have been consecutively named one of the top sustainable destinations worldwide. Yet with the recent tourism boom, this fragile balance is now threatened.
When you’re in the islands, please try to minimize your impact at all times. Leave nothing but footprints everywhere you go and be aware of any activities causing visual and noise pollution. This includes avoiding playing loud music on phones and obviously taking ALL the trash with you until you find a bin.
Thank you for keeping my home island green and beautiful. 💚
Don’t save it for last minute, find where to stay in São Miguel soon.
So without any more delays, here’s what I’ve put together!
Itinerary of São Miguel on a map 🗺️
You can use my itinerary map in Google Maps as a reference. The pins below represent the places we’ve been (including small descriptions) separated in four different days:
- Day 1 – Yellow pins
- Day 2 – Blue pins
- Day 3 – Green pins
- Day 4 – Orange pins
Itinerary Day 1 – Yellow pins
This day is to explore the west side of the island. Make sure the weather is clear for Sete Cidades area or all that you’ll see are clouds!
Miradouro da Vista Do Rei
Lagoa das Sete Cidades (Sete Cidades Lake) is the most well-known postcard of the Azores. You’ll see it in every brochure, ad or article about the islands.
The first contact you’ll have with the lakes will probably be from Vista do Rei viewpoint. The spot is just at the right distance to appreciate the view over the lakes.
The twin lakes are actually the same lake separated by a bridge, they just reflect the light differently due to the surrounding vegetation. You can drive or walk around along the dirt road (Cumeeiras) to get views from different angles. This exact road is the most spectacular track on the World Rallye Championship.
Monte Palace Hotel
Vista do Rei is also the location for an abandoned hotel called Monte Palace. Built in the 70s and operational for less than 2 years, this is now a popular site to get an even better perspective over the lake.
You can freely explore the building as long as you’re careful with the debris (the building has had 0 maintenance). Make sure you go to the top floor for a superb open view. However, I’ve seen too many horror movies to dare visit it at night.
Update: the hotel building has been bought by a group of investors and will open again in 2021. The site has now some “DO NOT ENTER” signs. Obviously if you decide to enter, a simple sign won’t detain you, but do it at your own risk. Can be dangerous inside.
Miradouro da Boca do Inferno
While the view from Vista do Rei is inspiring, the one from Miradouro da Boca do Inferno will make your jaw drop. Have you ever felt goosebumps when arriving at a beautiful place? If so, it will probably happen here again.
From up there, apart from the crazy views of the mountains and the sea in the background, two other lagoons are visible: Rasa and Santiago in a complete 360-degree nature experience. The view is wide open to the entire volcanic crater of Sete Cidades, formed 22,000 years ago.
On a bright sunny day, this holds the title as the most incredible view I’ve seen. Yap. EVER.
How to get to Boca do Inferno viewpoint
- Coming from Vista do Rei, DO NOT turn left on the first exit down to the Sete Cidades village. Continue straight for about 10 minutes, following the signs to Lagoa do Canário
- After about 7 minutes, you’ll notice a car park on the right, where an hiking trail begins, and a small entrance to a dirt road just on the opposite side. Go in with there your car.
- Continue for about 3-4 more minutes until you see a set of stairs upwards next to some picnic tables.
- Start the hike up. You’re 5 minutes away from paradise!
Boca do Inferno – Tips
- ⏱ How long: I’d say a minimum of 1 hour to fully take the view in.
- 💰 How much: Entrance is free.
- 💡 Tip: Come here just before the sunset on a clear day to see the colors changing in the sky.
Sete Cidades is also the name of the small village down at the same level of the lake. Everything seems untouched since the 30s here, but this area holds some of the best outdoor activities you can do in São Miguel.
Biking across the lagoon shore or kayaking in the lake itself are just 2 of the options to spend your afternoon. I’ve done both and still can’t decide which one is more scenic. Being literally inside a dormant volcano crater feels unreal.
Whatever you do, weather is a key factor in Sete Cidades. If you are lucky enough to go on a sunny clear day, I can assure you the colors around you will be more vibrant and breathtaking!
The Sete Cidades Tale 👸
There’s a cute little story about the reason why one of the lakes is blue and the other green. Legend has it that once upon a time a shepherd and a Princess fell in love, but were prohibited to see each other due to their different family statuses.
When they met for the last time, they cried so much that the Sete Cidades lakes were formed. The blue-eyed shepherd gave origin to the blue lake while the green-eyed princess formed the green lake.
Ponta da Ferraria is a small cove surrounded by gigantic lava rock cliffs where the ocean water is warmed up by a geo-thermal natural spring beneath. Not your everyday view, hun? It’s quite an experience to swim in an ocean which is a mix of cold and hot sea water while the waves slosh you around!
A couple of things to beware here though. First is to make sure you don’t go on low tide as it can get VERY HOT in some spots and can even burn you. However if you go on high tide you won’t feel the warmth of the spring at all – aim for somewhere in the middle. Secondly, we need to talk about the road going there. It’s sinuous and extremely steep and not recommended if you’re not comfortable driving manual.
There are housed baths with an outdoor swimming pool, but who wants to pay when you can go for the thrilling (and completely free) swim in the ocean right next to it?
If you still have time, head to Mosteiros to watch the perfect sunset and eat some local seafood – you can’t go wrong with lapas!
Itinerary Day 2 – Blue pins
Whale-Watching (from Ponta Delgada)
Whale watching is a must-do activity to do in the Azores, specially if you are able to
time your trip right to see several different species of cetaceans. The ideal time for this is between April and June.
A ticket is not exactly cheap but is definitely worth the unique experience. We chose to go with Picos de Aventura and overall it surpassed my expectations. A great friendly staff, concerned with safety but also with having fun. We ended up seeing three sperm whales, dozens of dolphins and even a turtle – a “very good day” according to our guides.
Safe to say we had a blast (see video below!).
Little fun fact: I found out that Paola, the oceanographer on board of our semi-rigid boat, took the exact opposite life route from me. She’s from Barcelona and now living in the Azores!
Tips for Whale-Watching in São Miguel
- If you’re visiting other Azorean islands such as Faial or Pico, I’d recommend to do your Whale Watching tour there. Especially in Pico. São Miguel has good observation conditions, but they have great ones.
- Make sure the company you go with complies with all the safety and ethical regulations to avoid disturbing and stressing out the animals.
- Expect to pay at least 55 Euros for a 3-hour trip.
- Taking one of the dolphin interaction tours is NOT recommended. There has been increasing proof these tours have a negative impact on the stress of the animals and the most experienced company doing this in the Azores – Espaço Talassa – is no longer doing itit.
- Most companies depart from Ponta Delgada or Vila Franca marinas, usually at 3 different time slots in the day (8:30, 13:30, 19:30).
- Make a reservation for the tour at least 2-3 days in advance.
Up until few years ago, there was nothing much happening in Ponta Delgada to keep visitors busy. SHOCKING statement about my own birth place. But hey, it was the truth. If I was a visitor, I’d much rather spend my precious time exploring the rest of the island.
In recent times, the city is slowly awakening from its long sleep. Trendy restaurants, kitsch shops, and quaint cafés have been showing up. Buildings abandoned for decades have gained a new life. And today I’m pleased to announce there are some stuff to keep you busy for a day if you want to!
Main suggestions: walking along the seaside promenade (locally called “Avenida”), visit the farmers market in Mercado da Graça – great place for shopping souvenirs and local food! – and take a stroll around the area of Igreja Matriz (Matriz Church).
Ponta Delgada is also a great place to base yourself in. Not only it has more restaurants, shops and overall infrastructure than anywhere else, but it’s also geographically located almost in the center of the island. For me that is the definition of a great hub.
It has also got a wide choice of hotels, but I do have a favorite:
⭐ My top hotel suggestion in Ponta Delgada⭐
Modern design (opened in 2016!), walking distance to the city center and to the ocean. Ah and there’s a gorgeous pool on the terrace. This is great value-for-money.
Also look into other cheaper options in Ponta Delgada with Very Good rating (or better).
Lagoa do Fogo
First of all, consider yourself extremely lucky if you go to Lagoa do Fogo on a clear day. This is very rare up in this high part of the island.
On a sunny day, Lagoa do Fogo is my favorite lake of them all and one of my top special places in São Miguel.
After a 30-min hike down in a dodgy trail, we had a wild beach just
for ourselves (edit: the last time I was there the beach had at least 20-30 people!).
Down there and despite the sensory overload of smells, sounds, and vivid colors, there’s a blissful peace. It’s the kind of gorgeous that grabs hold of you tightly. Pictures don’t do it justice!
Every single time I go to Lagoa do Fogo I fell a bit more in love with it. Modern construction is not permitted in this area, so there is no worry of the views being spoiled any time soon.
Located halfway in the road between Lagoa do Fogo and the city of Ribeira Grande, this is a set of hot springs with a pre-historic feel. Caldeira Velha is a hot spring (>20ºC) with a waterfall located at the end of the park. There is also a smaller and hotter spring (>35ºC). Both are stone-walled and surrounded by intense lush foliage which really adds to an unique feel.
It’s just like stepping into Jurassic Park: a Velociraptor could jump out the bushes at any moment (no Chris Pratt to save you though!).
Not surprisingly, the smaller hotter spring is more popular. It’s like a natural jacuzzi. Technically, this would be like sharing a bath with a bunch of strangers, but don’t let these thoughts take away the experience.
I’d recommend leaving Caldeira Velha for late afternoon too. It’s just the perfect soothing end of the day. There are locker rooms and showers (cold water though!) available to change afterward.
Caldeira Velha – Tips
- ⏱ How long: You’ll need at least 1 hour here to relax and go through all the springs.
- 💰 How much: The entrance allowing baths is 8 Euros (as per 2018).
- 💡 Pro tip: Use a dark and old bathing suit. The minerals in the water can easily leave an awful and PERMANENT orange stain!
There are not many hotels in São Miguel. Book your hotel as soon as possible for the best deal!
I’ve made your life easier and you can start your search with my pre-selection of the hotels/guesthouses/villas in the island of São Miguel. This list only includes the top-rated reviewed hotels in São Miguel, with wifi included. Hard to go wrong with these!
Or explore the latest hotel deals:
Itinerary Day 3 – Green pins
Our initial plan for this day included a 2-hour hiking trail in Sanguinho – Salto do Prego -leading to a waterfall in the middle of the forest. But it was too risky to do it with bad weather so we decided to skip it. If you are luckier, rise up early and do it!
In any case, it’s not a bad idea to pick the gloomiest day for this route. You’ll understand why in a bit.
Lagoa das Furnas
Lagoa das Furnas is the last of the 3 main lagoons in São Miguel. The hike to the gothic church sitting in the west shore holds beautiful sights, but the main attraction lies on the opposite shore of the lagoon. Hot springs – called Caldeiras – where you can see boiling water in the holes and geysers. These holes are the ones where they cook the famous Cozido das Furnas (Furnas stew).
Although I personally think there’s better local food available in the island, this is also a novelty. A meal cooked by Mother Nature is not your everyday lunch and gives it a special charisma.
I’ll leave it to you to decide if it’s for the better or for the worse. 🙂
Where to eat Furnas stew (Cozido das Furnas) 🍲
There are several restaurants in Furnas village which put their stews to cook in the holes every morning. The most famous ones are Tony’s and the restaurant of Terra Nostra hotel.
If you opt to have lunch on the latter, the entrance to the Terra Nostra Park and the thermal pool are complimentary (see details below).
This area of São Miguel is the one with most active volcanic phenomena. In Caldeiras, the hot springs and steam holes give the whole area a VERY strong smell of sulfur. Anyhow, you get to see in loco how does it feel and smell when planet Earth is alive.
During my childhood, the highlight of going to Furnas was getting to eat the corn cooked in huge bags directly in these mud holes. I searched for the old ladies who used to sell it, but sadly they weren’t there. IF YOU ARE READING THIS, PLEASE BE THERE FOR ME NEXT TIME!
In Furnas, there’s this amazing modern new hotel with a built-in spa:
Furnas Thermal Springs
One of the main attractions in São Miguel is the hot spring waters and pools where everyone can treat yourself with a mineral-enriched bath. And Furnas has 2 different spots that allowing to try this relaxing human soup experience!
Head to either Poça Dona Beija or to the pool inside Parque Terra Nostra.
The first is a set of recently refurbished 5 open-air pools at different temperatures. The pools are small but sided by a lush environment of trees, plants and a small river. A night bath there is a truly memorable experience.
Terra Nostra is one single massive pool in the heart of a tropical garden which holds a luxury and relaxing hotel. The park itself deserves a visit, it feels likes straight out of Jurassic Park.
These are different experiences, but not that different that demands you going to both. Let’s face it. The purpose is to feel like a vegetable being cooked in 35-40ºC warm water and you’ll get it either way.
If you seek something more authentic but definitely more crowded, head to Poça Dona Beija. On the other hand, if you want to truly relax in a more premium environment, Terra Nostra is your best bet.
Furnas Thermal Springs – Tips
- ⏱ How long: Anything between 1 hour and an entire morning or afternoon.
- 💰 How much: Entrance fee is 6 euros in Poça Dona Beija and 8 euros in Terra Nostra (as per 2018 prices). Towels and lockers can be rented at an extra cost.
- 💡 Pro tip: Hot springs and a hot summer day don’t go along. Pick the most gloomy and cloudy day (or night?) you can for this. A hot bath feels good when it’s actually colder outside!
The district of Nordeste is the wildest and most remote in São Miguel. The vegetation is thicker, the sea cliffs are steeper and roads are more sinuous. There no particular sight to see but at the same time, everything around you is impressive and worth stopping your car to take it all in.
Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego and Miradouro da Ponta da Madrugada viewpoints will make your jaw drop of how intense the scenery is. In both, a vibrant flower garden decorates the path to the edge of green huge scarps contrasting with the blue vast ocean.
A bit farther north, there’s also Farol do Arnel, the oldest lighthouse in the Azores. If you really want to go down, I strongly recommend going there on foot. The road down there is 35º steep (!), so there is a chance your car won’t have the power to back up. And that’s definitely not a good place to be stuck in.
Ribeira dos Caldeirões
Natural park with some of the most amazing waterfalls on the island. It’s just by the main road and worth a small stop to explore a bit. This is one of the spots of excellence for canyoning.
Itinerary Day 4 – Orange pins
If this is your final day on the island, it’s time to finish the loose ends for a well-rounded exploration of the island.
Vila Franca Islet
Home to a stage of Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, Ilhéu de Vila Franca (Vila Franca islet) is one of the most popular sunbathing places in Azores.
It encloses an almost full-circle bay perfect for swimming or snorkeling – make sure you don’t forget your mask – with clear and calm ocean waters. Safe for kids, although sea shoes are recommended.
There is a regular boat connection between the Vila Franca marina and the islet operating in the summer months only. You can buy the tickets online.
Again, this is another Nature Reserve with endemic fauna and flora so please leave nothing but footprints and remember noise is also a kind of pollution.
Vila Franca islet – Tips
- ⏱ How long: Allow yourself at least 3 hours here.
- 💰 How much: The boat ticket is 8 euros (online).
- 💡 Pro tip: There are very limited spots to lay your towel in the islet. While there is a small beach, it completely disappears during high tide, so I suggest going early and taking the concrete spots on the opposite side.
Lagoa do Congro
Lagoa do Congro is a relatively off the beaten track lake in the heart of São Miguel. While Sete Cidades, Furnas and Fogo receive more and more visitors every year, this one remains remote and hidden.
The hike down through the forest is already a cool unwinding experience, but it’s at the shore level that the magic happens. It will feel like someone set the saturation level to the max – a vibrant green will take over your eyes.
The silence down there is deafening and only disturbed by the splashes of fish jumps and the constant chirping of birds. It’s just like those meditation soundtracks, the only difference being this is the real thing. Speaking of meditation, this is the perfect place to do it!
How to get to Congro lake
- Coming from Vila Franca, follow the signs to Furnas (direction East).
- After about 10 minutes, there’s an exit to the left clearly stating “Lagoa do Congro”. Take it.
- Continue for about 5 more minutes and turn left on a dirt road.
- Continue through the middle of pastures about 5 more minutes. The entrance to the hike path should be noticeable on the right as there are usually a couple of cars parked.
- The hike down is easy. It should take you 10-15 minutes (it all will be worth it, I promise!)
Working since 1883, Gorreana is the only tea plantation in Europe and produces quality biologic black and green tea. There are free tea tastings available in the area of the processing plant.
Apart from the start of one of the official hiking trails in the island, the tea plantation itself is a stunning scenery overlooking the sea and a great opportunity to change that old Facebook cover. This place always reveal our inner Kardashians and creative photo skills.
Gorreana Tea – Tips
- ⏱ How long: 1 hour is enough to go through the premises and sip on a cup of tea. Allow yourself an extra hour or two if you want to hike up the tea estate.
- 💰 How much: Free. Niente. Nada. Zero.
- 💡 Pro tip: Even though you might not be interested in the way the tea is made, there are free tea tastings inside.
This beach is a bit more off the beaten track, as it’s not an usual choice for those visiting the island for the first time. But for people who had never put their feet in dark sands, I thought it is interesting to incorporate a volcanic beach experience in the mix.
Although Água d’Alto is my favorite beach in the island, the scenery around Porto Formoso is somewhat more quaint and charismatic. It’s perfect to relax after some intense days!
Miradouro de Santa Iria
Another well-known viewpoint of São Miguel. From up there you can enjoy a clear view over a big portion of the northern coast. It’s a great spot for watching the sunset and a great farewell to São Miguel.
Where to stay in São Miguel
I recommend staying at the very least least three to four full days in São Miguel. If possible, allow yourself some more time to unwind and explore the landscapes the island has to offer.
Ponta Delgada is a good place to set up a base. It’s well connected and has loads of restaurants and shops. If you’re looking for a more remote experience more in touch with nature, Furnas or Sete Cidades might be better for you.
I’ve handpicked a list of several places to stay for different types of travelers, but these are my 3 top hotel suggestions in the island:
⭐ My top hotel recommendations in São Miguel ⭐
Premium hotel with modern design (opened in 2016) and within walking distance to the city center and to the ocean. Ah and there’s a gorgeous pool on the terrace!
Or search for yourself!
To make your life easier, you can start your search with my pre-selection of the hotels/guesthouses/villas in the island of São Miguel. This list only includes the top-rated reviewed hotels in São Miguel, with wifi included. Hard to go wrong with these!
São Miguel Flight + Hotel Deals 💰
I usually don’t use travel agencies to book holidays. They end up being more expensive in 99% of the times. Yet I have to make an exception for Azores Getaways because I honestly think they have some pretty good prices for a flight + hotel + transfers packages to the Azores – starting at 599USD!
For São Miguel in particular they have loads of deals. 2 examples:
I particularly recommend using them if you are flying from the United States and don’t have much time to plan your holidays.
Planning a São Miguel trip by yourself
If you are not from the US or simply not into vacation packages, you’re better off by booking your flight through Skyscanner or Kiwi independently.
Arranging accommodation before going is highly recommendable. São Miguel is in high demand right now and hotels in the island can become full really quickly.
You can start off by this curated list of insights about my favorite hotels, this pre-filtered list of hotels, guesthouses and villas in São Miguel. Or explore the latest hotel deals:
Activities in São Miguel island 🚴♀️
São Miguel is a gem in terms of outdoor activities and there is a lot to keep you busy. Hiking trails, canyoning, whale-watching, just to name a few.
There are more and more local companies offering tours and/or adventure packages. As always I do recommend you make a 100% independent trip to not take away the exploration and fun side of the trip.
Still if you decide to book a tour, I strongly suggest asking how many people are going on the tour. Small groups are always a better choice, even if you have to pay a little bit extra.
How to get around in São Miguel island 🛣️
Public buses are available on the island but are used by locals between the main towns so they don’t get to remote areas where the best landscapes are located. Plus, they don’t run frequently.
Taxis are even worse. I was shocked to find the standard prices that are in play these days. A trip from Ponta Delgada to Furnas can cost you a whopping 99 Euros!
All this makes renting a car in São Miguel key. If you’re not comfortable driving manual, automatic cars are available (in less quantity though).
I always use this Skyscanner tool below to compare rental prices. It’s reliable and gives you an overview of prices quickly.
Whatever company you go for, try to book your car as soon as possible. Since 2015 there have been some days in the summer where there are virtually no cars available to rent in the island. True story.
Tips to rent a car in São Miguel
As for companies, I recommend either Autotlantis or Micauto. These are regional companies which usually have the best prices in the island. Personally I never had good experiences with Ilha Verde – also a local company – that for some reason is the most expensive of them all and seems to have an inferior customer service.
Other heavyweights like Avis and Sixt tend to be slightly more expensive, but have the advantage of picking up the car right at the airport. Ryanair also has competitive prices if you book your flight with them.
Usually, there are no issues with car rentals, but make a thorough inspection of the vehicle on the spot and take lots of photos. If there’s any slight dispute, you have visual proof to back you up. Also, they will hold a large amount on your credit card as an insurance against damage/theft of the car – the sum is immediately returned upon delivery of the vehicle.
TRAVEL NUMBERS @ SÃO MIGUEL, AZORES
To give you a full idea of the budget you can expect, these are the exact numbers of when a couple of my friends visited. We were 3 in total.
- DURATION OF THE STAY: 4 DAYS
- TOTAL DISTANCE COVERED ON FOOT: 41,9 km
- TOTAL DISTANCE COVERED IN CAR: 312,0 km
- ACCOMMODATION: 0EUR (thanks again Mom!)
- Meals: 93EUR
- Drinks: 14EUR
- Other regional food (S.Jorge cheese and Gorreana tea): 3,50EUR
- Whale-watching: 55EUR
- Lagoa das Furnas entrance fee: 0,50EUR
- Caldeira Velha entrance: 2EUR
- TOTAL COST (€): 230EUR/pax
These are the exact numbers per person. EUR=€