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The Volcanic Landscape of Sao Miguel, Azores

This island was named the World's top travel destination in 2023 and with its untouched beauty and peaceful pace of life, it would be no surprise if it maintains that title again in 2024.

by Sylvia Marie

5 de feb de 2024

Lost in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean is a chain of tiny islands that pack a big punch. So much so that this archipelago was named Europe’s leading adventure tourism destination three years in a row and in 2023, it was dubbed the World’s leading adventure tourism destination. If you haven’t heard of it yet, grab your magnifying glass and zoom in on the pristine islands of the Azores.

Although these nine isles belong to Portugal, they are an autonomous region and have a unique tropics-meets-old Europe look to them. Sao Miguel is the largest and most visited of the group and it is a marvel for those who like to be in nature. Among the natural wonders this island holds you will find serene hot springs, volcanic steam holes, lush green mountains, bold and vivid flora, plump happy cows, delicious tropical fruits, black lavastone houses, and of course, all of this surrounded by the vast blue ocean.

A small island with a plentiful of ways to spend your time, especially for nature enthusiasts and explorative travelers. There are countless hiking trails through the tropical forests many leading to small villages frozen in time. For a more laid-back visit, there are beaches surrounding the entire island and a variety of nautical activities such as whale watching, scuba diving, fishing, and boat trips to nearby inhabited islets.

Dip into Natural Hot Springs

One of Sao Miguel's most enchanting features is its natural hot springs. The island boasts several geothermal pools, including the iconic Terra Nostra Garden's thermal pool, where you can soak in the warm, mineral-rich waters surrounded by lush botanical gardens. Another favorite is Poça da Dona Beija with five hot pools to enjoy in waters of 39 degrees Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit). This natural hot spa is open until 11 p.m. perfect for a hot bath and star gazing in the middle of nature. For a one-of-a-kind geological phenomenon, visit Ponta da Ferraria on the southwest shore. These hot springs are unique because they are situated in a rocky part of the ocean. The water can get scalding so it is recommended to go at low tide and to find a spot where the cold ocean mixes perfectly with the hot spring. These are just three of the many rejuvenating natural thermal spas you can enjoy in São Miguel.

Ponta da Ferraria | Photo by João Reguengos

Volcanic Steam Holes and Mineral Water Tasting

This island's gorgeous landscape is made even more mystical with its fumaroles diffusing a volcanic fog in the air. These vents release steam, gases, and bubbling hot water providing a surreal experience. The Furnas region is particularly famous for its fumaroles, and you can even witness locals cooking traditional meals by burying pots in the hot ground. In the geopark of Furnas, you can bring your mug and some Azorean tea leaves or instant coffee and pour yourself a hot—140 degrees Celsius (284 Fahrenheit)—cup of volcanic water straight from the groins of Mother Nature. There are also several cooler mineral water taps around the park that you can taste, they each have a different flavor and some are slightly effervescent. If you can stand the pungent smell of sulfur in the air, it makes for a unique experience.

Relax on Beautiful Beaches

Sao Miguel's coastline is adorned with beaches, each offering a unique charm. Whether you prefer the black sand of Praia do Populo, known for its volcanic origins and surf-friendly waves, or the golden shores of Praia dos Moinhos, surrounded by scenic cliffs and natural pools, there's a beach for every sun-seeker. For those wanting a tranquil escape, Praia de Santa Barbara boasts long stretches of white sand and clear waters, providing a serene oasis for relaxation. Each beach on the island carries its own character and allure, making Sao Miguel an ideal destination for beach enthusiasts looking to bask in the beauty of the Azores' diverse coastal landscapes.

Hike Through Tropical Forests

Nature enthusiasts will find paradise in Sao Miguel's diverse topography. The island features numerous hiking trails winding through tropical forests, offering breathtaking views of cascading waterfalls, serene lakes, and lush greenery. The Sete Cidades Loop, for instance, takes you on a 12.5-mile (20-kilometer) journey around the iconic twin lakes of different colors, revealing great views along the way. Meanwhile, the Lagoa do Fogo trail leads you to the island's highest crater lake, where the panoramic vistas of the serene waters against the dramatic backdrop of volcanic peaks are simply mesmerizing. With trails catering to every skill level, Sao Miguel's hiking experience is not only visually stunning but also a testament to the island's rich biodiversity and geological wonders.

Sete Cidades Loop | Photo by Rui Amaro

Nautical Adventures

The crisp azure waters surrounding the island invite adventurers to explore its abundant shorelines and beyond. Embark on a whale-watching expedition to witness these majestic creatures in their natural habitat, where knowledgeable guides share insights into the diverse marine life inhabiting the Atlantic waters. Scuba diving enthusiasts can discover underwater wonders, explore vibrant coral reefs, and encounter schools of colorful fish. Additionally, boat trips to neighboring islets, such as the Ilheu da Vila in Vila Franca do Campo, not only provide a glimpse into secluded paradises but also offer opportunities for bird watching and immersing yourself in the rich biodiversity of the Azores archipelago. Whether you're an avid adventurer or a nature enthusiast, Sao Miguel's nautical activities promise a diverse and unforgettable exploration of the island's marine richness.

Step Back in Time in Charming Villages

Sao Miguel is not only about natural wonders but also about charming, time-frozen villages. Wander through cobblestone streets and discover quaint communities like Vila Franca do Campo and Nordeste. These villages boast traditional architecture, historic churches, and a welcoming atmosphere that transports visitors to a bygone era. Once the capital of São Miguel, Vila Franca do Campo has a rich history and a lovely coastal vibe. Its well-preserved historic center features cobbled streets, traditional Azorean architecture, and notable landmarks, including the Church of São Miguel. Meanwhile, Nordeste enchants with its well-preserved 18th-century architecture, featuring charming houses adorned with colorful azulejos and narrow streets that lead to hidden gems. As you explore these villages, you'll encounter locals maintaining age-old traditions, providing a genuine glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of Sao Miguel.

Local Cuisine and Azorean Tea

No visit to Sao Miguel is complete without savoring the local cuisine. Taste traditional Azorean dishes, such as Azorean octopus stew, crispy fried chicharros, or the renowned cozido das Furnas, a hearty stew cooked using natural geothermal heat. Explore local markets for fresh cheeses, tropical fruits, seafood, and traditional baked goods like bolo lêvedo and queijada. Tea lovers will be delighted to know that the Azores grow their own delicious green and black tea that you can enjoy in some cafés or directly at the Gorreana tea plantation and factory.

As you navigate Sao Miguel's myriad offerings, you'll find that this island seamlessly blends modern amenities with its timeless charm, creating an unforgettable experience for every traveler. Whether you seek adventure, relaxation, or a bit of both, Sao Miguel stands as an alluring destination waiting to be explored.

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