I didn’t realise how few people knew about the green volcanic archipelago of The Azores until my recent article on the tea grown there persuaded many people to contact me for more information. The mountains, lakes and picturesque towns are The Azores greatest attraction and because the capricious climate means that mass tourism is unlikely to destroy the strong culture of the archipelago one can really use the word ‘unspoilt’ to describe the islands.
Having said that, they have now been discovered by the cruise market and nearly every day there is a cruise ship moored in one of the harbours.
But meantime, the 9 islands are there for the traveller who looks for beauty and tranquillity, not adventure, not crazy nightlife, but the serenity that used to be the added value of most remote islands.They are perfectly placed for outdoor activities with a lack of pollution both in land and at sea as well as unique and diverse terrain.
Walking, Hiking and Trekking in the Azores
Hiking and trekking includes walking up to volcanic peaks, around craters and through mountains. Local organizations such as the Os Montanheiros have spent countless hours mapping and cleaning trails all about the Azores. The Mountain of Pico and the Pico is a “must climb” for those wanting a moderate exercise and a unique stunning view of 4 other islands, Terceira, Faial, S. Jorge and Graciosa, on a cloud-free day). Horse riding tours via places such as Picos da Aventura, local farms such as Quinta das Raiadas can also be reserved, the tours being made along the beautiful countryside.
Whale Watching and Swimming with Dolphins
The most reliable departure ports are Ponta Delgada, Vila Franca do Campo, Horta, Lajes do Pico and Madalena. Visitors are taken out on small boats and often get within ten yards of the whales. Contrary to the mass-produced affairs that swimming with the dolphins involves in more popular places, in the Azores, one is not allowed to touch the dolphins due to environmental concerns. This in no way decreases the fun to be had especially as you swim in a clean blue ocean with pleasant water temperature.
Coastal Adventure Sailing, Yachting and other Water Activities
It is possible to spend time sailing between the islands and exploring what each one has to offer: boats moore in sheltered marinas or anchor in secluded bays. Find out more from the individual islands as weather and winds make a difference to the frequency. Canoeing is popular in the main marinas as well as some of the lakes in S. Miguel and Flores such as Sete Cidades e Furnas.
The marinas of Ponta Delgada and Horta are world famous for those crossing the Atlantic with Horta in particular having been used for centuries by the yachting community as a place to pull in for a rest and a g. & t!
Located in mid-Atlantic as they are, the Azores have plenty of swell most of the time. Not surprising therefore, that major international events are being held there for both men and women (on S. Miguel). The Azores are slowly becoming a surfing mecca for those want to surf with fellow aficionados, the main spots being Ribeira Grande, a powerful beach break with consistent waves, and Rabo de Peixe, a left-hander created by the harbor development. Only for experienced surfers as these are, more or less, uncharted and sometimes dangerous waters.
Diving and Underwater Activities
The Azores is home to some unique and fantastic sub-aquatic setting. With a variety of fish and water mammals great coastal formations, excellent water visibility and temperature, the Azores have become a must-visit place for diving aficionados. Many certified diving centers are located in the various islands. Two decompression chambers are available in S. Miguel and Terceira.
A less strenuous activity is gold and The Azores are a great place for golfing due to its pleasant weather. S. Miguel has 3 golf and there is one in Terceira, all fully certified and internationally recognized 18 hole courses.
There is current fascination with volcanoes and on The Azores special mention should be made of the underground lake (Graciosa), the volcanic cones of Furnas valley (Sao Miguel), the remains of the Capelinhos volcano (Faial), the sulphur grottoes next the “caldeira de Guilherme Moniz” (Terceira), the basaltic columns of “Rocha dos Bordoes” (Flores) and the many grottoes and caverns on the islands of Sao Miguel, Santa Maria, Pico, Sao Jorge and Terceira.
If there is time for any other sports while on a trip to the islands, think about hang-gliding, bicycle rides, tennis, jeep safaris or moto-quad. In fact, there are few sports that cannot be indulged in on the Azores, but if you aren’t a sporty type, there is plenty of beautiful scenery on which to feast the eye, gorgeous architecture, excellent and unusual shopping (think pineapple liqueur made on the islands, sea-island cotton goods,and island grown tea).