You really cannot go wrong visiting The Azores. Aside from these top recommendations, the Azores is one of the most genial, pastoral, relaxing, beautiful countries we have ever visited. The closest to it might be New Zealand. Here are just a few tips for getting the most out of your adventure in the little known Azores Islands.
- DRESS: If you go to the Azores in our North American winter, dress for fall, not for summer. Although it is a warm winter compared to ours, with temperatures ranging from 14-18 C, you will look completely out of place in summery clothes, and can expect to receive a lot of stares.
- CAR: We would recommend renting a car if you have plenty of time, in which case it would be a lovely adventure. Both in town or country, the roads are narrow, winding, and branching every 30 feet, with very few road signs. Although you would likely be lost much of the time, you would no doubt discover enchanting spots and meet locals you might otherwise never have met.
- TAXI: But since there are at least 5-6 islands you might want to see, you can rent a taxi for the day on each island for about $30CAD an hour, or check with email@example.com for all day with lunch for around $100CAD . If the driver has a tendency to drive briskly, albeit efficiently, he will be pleased to drive slowly at your request and stop as you wish. As you tour an island the elevations go up and down somewhat dramatically, and you might expect some light-headedness from the variations in atmospheric pressure.
- ISLANDS: For islands, our top highly recommended islands are: Sao Jorge, Flores and Pico – Sao Jorge for its beautiful and mountainous hiking terrain, Flores for its flowers and lakes, and Pico for its soft, gentle people, whales, and traditional crafts.
- BOATS: Sao Jorge, Pico, and Faial form a triangle of islands. Boat trips (about $50C return) between the islands are highly recommended unless you are particularly prone to seasickness.
- TIME: You can easily spend a month on the Azores islands, but if your time is limited, choose two or three islands and spend at least three or four days on each island.
- PEOPLE: The people are charming on every island, but we recommend that great care is taken to be polite and respectful at all times. Islanders may be offended by tourists who make light of festivals, feasts, or anything related to religion. They may also be sensitive to tourists who walk across their fields without permission, and although they are not likely to be confrontational, they would consider the behavior inconsiderate, but probably an oversight. In addition, Americans tend to be viewed as loud, crude, and somewhat aggressive, although, again, Azoreans are quick to give someone the benefit of the doubt, and expect the best from each person they meet. The Azorean people are genuine and have no hidden agendas.
- LANGUAGE: They do not speak Spanish; they speak Portuguese. Learn at least a few basic Portuguese phrases, such as “Where is the bathroom?”, “How much does it cost?”, “Please help us”, and “Pleased to meet you”, as well as “Please, Thank you, Hello, Goodbye, Good morning, Good afternoon, and Goodnight”. You can easily find the translations online with voice pronunciation at sites like imtranslator.
- TERCEIRA: Stay at Quinta Do Martello, an authentic 17th century working farm, $120.00 CAD for a double room includes car (unlimited mileage). Eat at O Pescador in the town of Praia da Vitoria. Stand at the bottom of an active volcano.
- FAIAL: The most expensive island. See Varadouro Resort with a coastline piled twenty feet high with huge black lava rocks, a man-made path down to a crystal clear natural lagoon swimming pool, sheer-cliff drops to a small bay of roaring sea, Teresinha’s Restaurant (excellent traditional food), and Teresinha’s hotel – $60.00 per night with breakfast.
- FAIAL – Stay at Santa Cruz Fort (Pousada Forte Da Horte), a renovated 15th century fort, $120C for standard room, $200.00 CAD for a double room with french doors to stone deck overlooking harbour, includes breakfast.
- SAO JORGE: See Miradouro Do Pico Da Velha (Old Lady’s Peak – it is said that an old lady used to live in a cave on the peak) to enjoy a spectacular view of Pico on one side, Faial on the other side, and Graciosa on the other. Go to Suzy Lord, a unique gift shop in Ponta Delgada. Take a boat trip ($1.00) to the tiny islet near Villa Franca do Campo (take a picnic lunch).
- SAO JORGE: Stay at Estalagem Das Velas, set in lush gardens, with an ocean view.
- ALL ISLANDS: Inquire at the Turismo for private accommodation. Prices range from $30.00 – $50.00 per night, no breakfast, share bath, share home, some accommodate families.
- INTER-ISLAND FLIGHTS: A SATA inter-island plane ticket called a FlyPass is about $300.00 CAD. Well worth it, in our opinion. There is also a FlyCruise Pass called the Blue Sea Pass (May-Sept) for around $150C for 3 islands. Both must be booked after arrival. Check Atlanticoline.
Our final adventure occurred on our last night in the Azores. We were staying in a private home (bed and breakfast) accommodation and arrived there shortly before dinner. The home was a neat little house in a residential neighborhood and the bedroom was decorated with replica victorian furniture. It had a homey quality and the lady that ran it was pleasant and welcoming. As we prepared to go out shopping and for dinner, J suggested that we leave the cameras and IT stuff and notepads behind, and just go out and enjoy ourselves for this last evening. No cameras, no recorders, no interviewing, just tourists on holiday. I agreed and since we were walking, I also left my purse behind, carefully pocketing the important things – passport, money, map, and Portugese translation.
We set off and it took longer than it should have to find our way via the narrow, winding streets that are typical of the Azores towns. By the time we walked several kilometres to and around the downtown area of Angra (on Faial Island) and had dinner, we were too tired to walk home, so we asked the restaurant owner to call us a taxi.
As we waited outside for the taxi, wondering why it was taking so long, we each asked the other if we had the address of the house we were staying at. Following successive and resounding “No”s, there were wide-eyed stares, a long pause, and then groans. The address of our `home’ was in my purse back at the house!
Of course that’s when the taxi pulled up. Suddenly we remembered that the house was near the high school. No problem – there was only one high school in town. I leaned in the window of the taxi and said “high school?”, but I received only a blank look followed by many words in Portuguese which I did not understand. I tried again. I tried French. But the taxi driver had no idea what I was trying to say. He motioned for us to get in, and we tried again. He tried very hard to understand but it was impossible!
Then I remembered the map. I pulled it out and eventually we located the school. I pointed it out to the cab driver but for some reason he was still confused and did not know where to go. I threw my hands in the air. Would we sleep in the street? Would we miss our flight in the morning?
Finally the driver gestured that he should start driving. As we drove blindly through the downtown area, feeling embarrassed and perplexed, the thought crossed my mind that we could spend a fortune on this cab if we continued to drive around endlessly. The driver seemed to concentrate on the roads as hard as we did.
Then we came upon a corner and some buildings that we thought we recognized from our earlier walk. As we gestured wildly for the driver to turn, his face broke into a delighted smile, and he turned the corner eagerly. Through a similar series of recognized corners and hills and odd landmarks, we eventually made it back to our accommodation. Never has a stranger’s house looked so much like Home. We thanked the taxi driver profusely as he beamed with pleasure at having success, and his rate was the same as a regular fare!
*Bonus Recommendation (for doughheads like us): Always bring your accommodation address with you!
The Azores is one of the most special places on earth. You will feel welcome, relaxed, and at home.
*For current pricing information check Azores.com.