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5 Reasons to Put the Azores on Your Travel Radar

by Barbara Rogers

Jun 24, 2024

© Boule13 | Dreamstime.com

Destinations / Europe

The Azores, an archipelago of nine volcanic islands in the north Atlantic Ocean, are a region of Portugal even though they are about 870 miles west of Lisbon and the mainland. The landscapes are dramatic thanks to the calderas left by extinct volcanos and now filled with blue-green lakes. Although they are not well-known as a tourist destination, here’s why family travelers should visit the Azores.

 

The Shortest Flight to Europe
Only five hours by direct flight from Boston (and 10 minutes shorter than the flying time to Iceland), São Miguel is the largest island and offers a microcosm of the Azores attractions. From there you can access other islands by short flights. SATA Airlines allows free stopovers of as long as seven days on either São Miguel or Terceira on flights to or from Lisbon.

 

Volcanoes and Hot Springs
The entire archipelago is formed by volcanoes, the ancient craters now filled by scenic lakes. These lakes are still-simmering fumaroles heating the mineral-rich waters of springs and pools. At free thermal baths, you can bask in warm waters rich in iron and gather natural clay for skin-enriching masks while being massaged by waterfalls.

 

More pools are in Terra Nostra Park, a botanical garden with natural Jacuzzis, and at Ponta da Ferraria. Here, you can swim (free) in an ocean pool warmed by a volcanic vent that moderates the cool Atlantic waters. The heat from fumaroles is used to cook a delicious stew, cozido das furnas, baked in big pots buried underground.

 

Hiking  
A network of hiking and walking trails provides plenty of outdoor adventures. Easy walks lead past ruined forts on Terceira, and trails lead through laurel forests on Faial and across the central plateau of Flores, where you can look down onto lake-filled craters. The trail ends near Fajã Grande and Poço do Bacalhau, a 300-foot waterfall. An easy 2-mile loop trail at Cha Gorreana on São Miguel traverses woods, pastures and a tea plantation, ending at the tea processing center, where you’re rewarded with a free cup of Azorian-grown tea.

 

Local Culture
Festivals in Azorean towns and villages are not staged events for tourists, but local celebrations where visitors are welcome to watch the processions and join in the inevitable parties afterward. You might stumble upon a solemn procession honoring a saint, the observation of a holy day, or just a village street fair, but you’ll always be welcome.

 

Whale Watching
The 25 species of cetaceans found in the nutrient-rich waters of the Azores make it Europe’s whale-watching capital. From April to September, the sperm whale is the most commonly sighted, while mid-summer brings humpbacks, short-finned pilot whales and Sowerby’s beaked whales. Lucky visitors might even see a blue whale on one of the many cruises offered in São Miguel.

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