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What To Do In São Miguel Island, Azores (Spoiler: It’s all about nature!)

A question people ask me all the time when they’re planning to visit Azores: What to do in São Miguel? Well, here’s the answer to an adventurous and active trip.

There is still a common misconception the Azores is a place to go when you are older because there is absolutely nothing to do.

São Miguel and the Azores in general are much more than that. It ain’t a place to relax on a sunbed holding a mojito every single day.

In fact, it has tremendous potential in terms of outdoor activities and spoiler: it’s all about nature!

Active Holidays in Azores

Going to Azores is always special for me. My entire family and life-long friends are there, and no matter where I travel, it will always be my favorite place in the world.

When I do have visitors it gets even more exciting. I show them volcanoes, hiking trails, lakes, dark-sand beaches: landscapes they have never seen before. It’s usually an adventure-packed itinerary that has a lot of outdoor activities in experiences.

This is a taste of the outdoor activities you can do in São Miguel island to make your holidays more active and truly memorable.

⚠The fragility of Azores

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. 💚

Hiking in São Miguel, Azores

what to do in São Miguel island - Hiking
Shades of green.

The Azores is home to some of the most scenic hiking trails you can find anywhere.

In particular, São Miguel island is packed with volcano craters, lagoons, small rivers and waterfalls which are accessible only on foot. There at least 20 official trails in the island, with all ranges of difficulties and distances and covering all kinds of landscapes.

I’ve done several trails on the island in the past and they were all worth it, albeit with different highlights. If you’re more interested in waterfalls, Salto do Prego, next to Faial da Terra, is a gem despite the freezing cold water.

If you want scenic views, Gorreana, Janela do Inferno and Praia da Viola all boast great views of the island and the ocean.

Unless you don’t have two functional legs, doing a hiking trail should absolutely be in your Azores bucket list. Bring comfy shoes, a bottle of water and a light jacket, weather is truly unpredictable.

Top Hiking Trails in São Miguel 🚶‍♂️

  • Gorreana – snaking around tea plantations and boasting gorgeous views over the northern coast of the island. Easy.
  • Sanguinho/Salto do Prego – it goes through one of the most remote areas of São Miguel and leads to an enclosed waterfall in the middle of a lush forest. Medium difficulty.
  • Praia-Fogo – connecting the vibrant Lagoa do Fogo (Fogo Lake) to the ocean it’s one of the most complete and rewarding to accomplish. Hard.
  • Serra Devassa – this trail will take you around what is known as Lake District in Sete Cidades and come back to the start next to Lagoa do Canário. Loads of eye-catching views over a series of lakes and lagoons. Medium.

Azores Islands

Whale-Watching in São Miguel, Azores

what to do in São Miguel azores portugal - Dolphin calling
CUTENESS OVERLOAD.

Many whale and dolphin species choose Azores as part of their migration route or even as their permanent home, including sperm and blue whales, as well as common and bottlenose dolphins (see this yearly calendar of the cetacean species in the Azores).

The Azores are praised as a worldwide mecca to watch cetaceans in their natural habitat. Trust me when I say you’ll never want to see dolphins in an aquarium or a zoo again.

The last time I did a whale-watching tour I was lucky enough to have the perfect conditions. A cloudless day and a flat ocean – it can be really rough out there in the Azorean sea – resulted in 3 sperm whales, a turtle (!) and countless dolphins. You know it’s being an outstanding whale watching day when the skipper and the marine biologist who guide the tour can’t stop taking pictures! See the video I shared on Facebook.

The chance of seeing either dolphins or whales is around a staggering 98%. Lookouts in the shore use powerful binoculars to guide the boats to where it’s most likely to see the animals. Still, if you really are with bad luck and couldn’t see anything at all, Picos de Aventura, the company I went with, refunds you the money.

Whale Watching Tips in São Miguel

📍 WHERE: Even though Faial and Pico islands are the whale sweet spot in the archipelago, there are many companies in São Miguel doing it with great results. Boats leave from Ponta Delgada or Vila Franca‘s marina.

💰 HOW MUCH: Tours start at 55EUR.

VALUABLE TIP: If you are an adrenaline junkie, ask to go on a semi-rigid boat. Adds some spice to it and it allows for a more immersing experience. Just make sure to keep your gadgets dry!

“hotels sao miguel

Paragliding in São Miguel, Azores

what to do sao miguel - Paragliding sao miguel azores
Photo credits: Jean-Baptiste Chandelier, professional paragliding pilot.

While this is a terrible idea for me as I’m afraid of heights, I acknowledge this can be a true one-of-a-kind experience to have during your Azores holidays.

Paragliding has become huge in São Miguel. The island provides many top-notch takeoff and landing spots and particularly flies over the volcanic craters of Furnas and Sete Cidades are now very popular during summer months. The international Azores Paragliding Festival takes place in August for a week.

Paragliding Tips in São Miguel

📍 WHERE: The craters of Fogo and Sete Cidades are the ideal places to paraglide.

💰 HOW MUCH: Prices are negotiable. Please contact Clube Asas de São Miguel for getting a quote on private flights.

Kayaking/Canoeing in São Miguel, Azores

what to do in the island of São Miguel - Kayaking
A cute kayak couple enjoying the Sete Cidades scenery.

Canoeing is the boating activity you might relate the best: a canoe, one or more paddlers, each with a paddle. Which apparently is not the same as kayaking, but quite frankly for me it looks exactly THE SAME thing. If you happen to know the difference, please enlighten me in the comment section!

The best places to try both are undoubtedly the Sete Cidades and Furnas lagoons. Sea kayaking is also available and a popular option is to row until reaching Ilhéu de Vila Franca do Campo (Vila Franca islet) which doubles as summer bathing site. The most adventurous might want to try other spots along the shore, exploring caves and small hidden beaches.

Kayaking Tips in São Miguel

📍 WHERE: Kayaking is easier to do, just head to the shore of Sete Cidades lagoon and you’ll find a stall there with canoes to rent at an hourly rate. During summer months, it’s advisable to call a tour agency and book ahead.

💰 HOW MUCH: It can be as low as 30EUR/day or around 8EUR/hour.

VALUABLE TIP: before you get all excited with the prospect of sea kayaking, you should know this might become dangerous. Remember you’re – literally – in the middle wild Atlantic ocean and currents can be tricky to navigate.

Canyoning in São Miguel, Azores

Canyoning does not involve a boat, instead, you explore a river and try to surpass the obstacles put in front of you (currents, waterfalls, rocks, etc). Sort of a nature version of parkour.

When I lived in São Miguel, canyoning was almost inexistent, but it has risen in popularity over the years. Now it has become the next thing I want to do in São Miguel. The idea of climbing, jumping and sliding down a small river and waterfall somehow awakens the inner child in me. Plus, the swimsuit and helmet outfit make anyone look a badass.

Canyoning Tips in São Miguel

📍 WHERE: Canyoning is popular in Ribeira dos Caldeirões, in the northeast edge of the island.

💰 HOW MUCH: There are half-day and full-day canyoning tours starting at 75EUR, including transport and lunch.

VALUABLE TIP: As far as I know, it’s not possible to hire equipment and go on canyoning independently. Anyway it’s advisable to have some expert with you. Booking a tour with Futurismo or Picos de Aventura.

Combo vacation packages for Azores

If you’re coming from the United States and don’t have much time to plan your vacations in Azores, here’s a good option. This online travel agency has some pretty good prices for a flight + hotel to the Azores. For São Miguel in particular they have tons of different deals!

Azores Islands

Biking in São Miguel, Azores

what to do in São Miguel island - biking

Biking in a volcano crater sounds something worthy of a bucket list, doesn’t it? Well the Azores are the right place to do it!

Most adventure tour companies allow booking bikes and they now even have small stalls in the best spots in the island.

While there are countless opportunities to bike around outside the towns, I usually bike around Sete Cidades lake. It’s a total of two to three hours biking through an absolutely STUNNING landscape.

Also, the best place to rent a bike is NOT online. Not only the hourly rate is significantly more expensive, but I’ve seen companies that charge you the cost of transporting the bike to the spot – a whopping 28 EUR! Prefer to rent in local spots like Bluebike in Lagoa das Furnas.

Biking Tips in São Miguel

📍 WHERE: Lagoon shores are amongst the best places to bike in the island, so try Lagoa das Sete Cidades or Lagoa das Furnas. If you’re feeling adventurous, there are many trails and inner roads which allow for great mountain biking (MTB) rides.

💰 HOW MUCH: Prices have risen in recent years and now are around 8EUR/hour. You can get a discount for booking an entire day.

VALUABLE TIP: If you’re planning to bike in Sete Cidades, be aware that most rental stalls close early (before 5pm).

Surfing in São Miguel, Azores

surfing sao miguel azores

The wild Atlantic ocean allows for fine surfable waves so it’s no surprise one of the stages of the World Surf League is held in Ribeira Grande.

Peak surf season in Azores is between October – February but you can find fun and uncrowded waves all the way from late August to May. Just like the weather, sea conditions are constantly changing. Expect water temperatures ranging from 15ºC in the winter to a comfortable 24ºC in the summer.

Surfing Tips in São Miguel

📍 WHERE: The beaches of Monte Verde and Santa Bárbara are the main surf hotspots in São Miguel, but you can find surfable waves throughout the entire northern coast of the island and in Mosteiros.

💰 HOW MUCH: Surf lessons start at 30EUR (group) and 50EUR (private).

VALUABLE TIP: You’ll need a light full suit for most of the year and a spring suit for peak summer months (July and August).

Fresh hotel deals in São Miguel!

 

Other Outdoor Activities in the Azores Islands

If you want to book tours and/or adventure packages through a company, I suggest asking how many people are going on the tour. Small groups are a much better experience, even if you have to pay a bit extra.

Here are other fun stuff São Miguel has to offer:

Birdwatching

If you are an enthusiast for birds, then you might don’t want to leave the Azores. 400+ American and European birds live here, including the Priôlo – Azorean bullfinch – and the Monteiro’s storm petrel which can’t be found anywhere else in the world.

Diving

Whether you’re an expert or you’re about to do your diving baptism, the potential of Azores in terms of diving spots is huge. Caves, shipwrecks, rocky shores, and clear waters create the perfect place for a dive.

Coasteering

Coasteering is the equivalent of canyoning but on the coastline. Explore inlets, caves, and other sea landscapes through swimming, climbing, and jumping. You got to be comfortable around the ocean for this one.

What to do in a rainy day in São Miguel

So all these are outdoor activities. What happens when it rains? And trust me, statistically, it’s very likely it will happen during your trip.

Here are some ideas.

Hit the hot springs

No brainer. When it’s misty or rainy, a great plan is to go to the hot springs in Furnas or Caldeira Velha. In fact, these are better enjoyed in the winter time.

Visit Mercado da Graca

Located in central Ponta Delgada, this farmers’ market is the best spot to get a glimpse of the local delicacies and buy some things to bring back home.

Go to the tea plantations

Gorreana and Porto Formoso are the two tea estates of the island, where you can know more about how the tea is produced in the Azores. Out of all the things to do in São Miguel, this is one of the few which can still be enjoyed with meh weather.

Go deep inside a lava tunnel

With almost 2km of length, Gruta do Carvão is the longest lava tunnel in the island. You can go inside (with or without guide) to discover more about the volcanic origins of the island. Tickets start at 5EUR.

São Miguel: the new adventure hotspot

São Miguel island, like the rest of Azores allows for a direct contact with unspoiled nature like few places in the world, even in short itineraries.

As you can see, whether you book an activity with some tour company or do it on your own, São Miguel won’t get you bored. Just pick your favorite activity, get your ass off that chair and enjoy mother nature! The opportunities to do something memorable are more than many.

As for me, I will work on my canyoning tour and – who knows – develop my courage to levels where I’m able to handle a paragliding flight.

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 really think they have some pretty good prices for a flight + transfers + hotel packages to the Azores – starting at 599USD!

For São Miguel in particular they have LOADS of deals. Like this week-long adventure package in São Miguel (including a whale-watching tour) or this 3-island package.

I particularly recommend using them if you:

  • Are flying from the United States
  • Don’t have much time to plan your holidays

Azores Islands

 

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 independently.

As a rule of thumb, flights to Azores are considerably cheaper from Porto, Lisbon or London. Ponta Delgada airport has the highest number of flight connections. From there you may be entitled to a FREE connecting flight to other islands – check this page for more info.

For hotels, you can start off with this pre-filtered list of hotels, guesthouses and villas in São Miguel, containing only the best-reviewed places with WiFi. My top 2 recommendations are below.

 

sao miguel ebook travel guide islands azores 2018 azorean geeky explorer

São Miguel Travel Guide 2018

My detailed PDF travel guide to São Miguel island. 100% made by me with expanded tips, itineraries, advice and secrets for a memorable trip. 2018-ready.

There’s more in my complete travel guide about the Azores islands. Including: