Azores are a place to the west, where the nature and vegetation are pure and untouched, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Nine different islands of adventure, nine delightful surprises. You can see dolphins and whales frolicking in the sea or volcanic landscapes covered in green. Then there are the stunning, lilac-colored hydrangeas that provide hedges for the meadows; the blue and green lakes; the craters of extinct volcanoes and the steam rising from the land. The volcanic activity here means that you can even have your meal cooked under the ground!
Inland you can go mountain climbing and walking through the countryside. Or you can stick to the coast and go diving and swimming. On these amazing islands it feels as if time has stood still.
All of the islands have something to offer. Take Pico island, for instance. Classified as a world heritage site it boasts an amazing mountain, dramatic cliffs and vineyards formed from black basalt. And of course, you’ll want to discover the hot waters and the steam escaping from the vents of the volcanoes on the island of São Miguel.
All the nine islands of the Azores Archipelago are volcanic origin. They are divided in three geographical groups: the Eastern Group, comprising Santa Maria and São Miguel, the Central Group, including Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge, Pico and Faial, and the Western Group, composed by Corvo and Flores. The Azores, along with the archipelagos of Madeira, Canary Islands and Cape Verde, constitute the biogeographic region of Macaronesia, a name which means "fortunate islands" for those who live there and visit them.
Brought together in an archipelago, each Azorean island has its own identity. Even if they all share an extraordinary natural legacy, they also have their own unique strokes in their landscape, traditions, cuisine and architecture. There are no words capable of describing and classifying the charm of these nine charismatic islands. They have been sculptured by ancient volcanoes and populated over the centuries by courageous and kind people. Thus the Azores are a place of varied experiences and emotions.
The climate is mild, with high levels of humid and regular rain. During the winter, strong winds stir the sea and purify the air. The average temperature remains at a generous 14º C, which do not prevent snow from falling on the summit of the mountain of Pico, given its altitude (2,350m). The rainy periods, although frequent, are generally short. The summer is warm and sunny, with temperatures staying around 24º C. The sea water remains at an inviting temperature, between 17º C and 23º C.
In the realm of legend, some associate the Azores to the Atlantis, the mythical island kingdom quoted by Plato. As for history, references to nine islands in the Atlantic Ocean located approximately in the position of the Azores can be found in books and maps since the 14th century. However, it was with the Portuguese Maritime Discoveries, led by Prince Infante D. Henrique, that the Azores were definitely registered in the map of Europe. It is unknown whether the first navigator to reach the archipelago was Diogo de Silves in 1427 or Gonçalo Velho Cabral in 1431. The origin of the name Azores is also debatable as there are various theories. The most common associates the designation of the common buzzards found on the islands which were mistaken as being another bird of prey: the northern goshawk (açor). What is now certain is that it was Prince Infante D. Henrique who incited the settlement of the islands. First, animals were sent, between 1431 and 1432, and later settlers started to arrive from 1439.
From that date, the settlement continued throughout the 15th century (Western and Central Groups) and the 16th century (Western Group). Jews, Moors, Flemish, Genovese, Englishmen, Frenchmen, and African slaves came together with the Portuguese from the mainland to face the hardships of such a task.
This epic start molded a people that throughout the centuries was able to resist volcanic eruptions, isolation, invasions of pirates, political wars and infesting diseases. The courage of the Azorean people was confirmed when they resisted the Spanish domination during the succession crisis of 1580, and when they supported the liberal movement during the civil war (1828-1834). During the 20th century, this bravery was once again evident during the whale hunting era, when the men would go to sea in small, wooden boats ready to confront, in the endless blue sea, giant sperm whales.
In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, Europe’s perfume unlocks nine different fragrances. The green mantle takes the form of Japanese cedars, beeches, age-old vineyards. Volcanic cones stretch towards the sky. Caves unveil the secrets behind the origin of the islands. Lakes rest in sleeping volcanoes. These are the new colors on the natural canvas. Raise your eyes to see migratory birds in the only European stop they know. The trails meander through every island of the archipelago, unveiling the mysteries kept for the hikers. There are breathtaking cliffs and flat areas along the coastline (fajãs) that shelter soul refreshing waterfalls. This isn’t a dream. These are the trails of the Azores.
The Azores are currently one of the world’s largest whale sanctuaries. Among resident and migrant species, common or rare, more than 20 different types of cetaceans can be spotted in the Azores. It is an impressive figure and it corresponds to a third of the total number of existing species. This is an ecosystem with unique characteristics. With majestic whales and friendly dolphins, the blue Atlantic Ocean becomes even more magic around these nine islands.
Looking around and not seeing any type of human construction in the horizon. Only peace and nature. Another stroke with the Atlantic lurking around you. The shape of the greens invites you to walk accompanied by a colorful explosion of flowers. The weather bows to the player and allows you to enjoy the courses available in the archipelago in any season of the year. The rounds are adapted to both beginners and professionals. In pasture golf, swings are shown to the local population amidst pastures and agricultural fields. It’s a type of golf with similar rules, but with the label of pure fun and socializing around a sport.
Diving day and night, in sandy, rocky or mixed seabed, in caves or shipwrecks… The potential of the Azores is almost endless in terms of diving spots and types of diving. It offers adequate spots for various experience levels, from beginners to professionals, and the adventure may start with simple snorkeling in order to leisurely enjoy the abundant marine life of the archipelago’s crystal clear waters. On the other hand, diving in an ocean bank is a guarantee for an adrenalin rush and for memories that will persist in your mind. When your return, both a certainty and a doubt come up: the desire to return to the sea and the difficulty in choosing a new spot to discover.
The genesis of the Azores is found upon 1766 volcanoes, nine of which are still dormant. Underground, almost three hundred volcanic cavities, including caves, ravines and cracks, have been surveyed. The landscape is filled with dry calderas, craters lakes, fumaroles and thermal water springs. In the sea, there are submarine geothermal springs. The mountain of Pico, majestic and with an intact cone, appears to be protecting all this geological wealth. The volcanism of the archipelago impresses for its diversity and creates its own magnetism. It is a witness to the power of Nature, and the basis for very special experiences.
The Azores have hydro-thermal resources, which have been known and exploited for centuries. There are various springs of natural carbonic water, waterfalls and iron water pools, which have been used since the sixteenth century. The highlight goes to the thermal baths Termas da Ferraria and the iron water pools in Furnas, on the island of São Miguel, and Termas do Carapacho on the island of Graciosa.
Walking along rivers and streams, rappelling, jumping and sliding to overcome natural obstacles, this is canyoning. In the Azores there are exceptional geo-morphological conditions for the practice of this sport. Join water and mountains, spice it all up with the surrounding fauna and flora, add a bit of geodiversity as well., and you’re left with a paradise of valleys, streams, cliffs and rivers that promise a lot of adrenaline amid memorable scenery.
Canyoning routes have increased in number in the archipelago. There are already dozens of routes that are fully prepared and the perspective of new routes that will also guarantee total safety. This activity takes place mostly on the islands of Flores, São Miguel and São Jorge. Differing levels of difficulty insure that there are strong emotions for beginners and experts alike.
The Azores are considered an extraordinary place for birdwatching. One can find more than 200 endemic and migratory species here. This is the only European region where it is possible to observe American migratory species that land on this territory in the middle of the Atlantic to escape whims of the weather, rest and then continue their trip. The Azores bullfinch, a rare endemic bird, can only be seen in the hills of Serra da Tronqueira, on São Miguel Island.
American migratory species come to the Azores in the autumn. In order to be able to identify them, it is advisable to refer to an American Bird Guide. If you prefer watching European birds, then you must have a European Bird Guide. There are tourist operators that organize birdwatching outings both on land and in the ocean. To learn more about birdwatching tours or outings, please visit the Priolo Environmental Center. This center organizes outings, workshops, courses, colloquia, events, educational activities, and it offers a permanent exhibition to its visitors.
The diversity of the coastline on the various islands, which can be high with cliffs and rocky bottoms or plain and sandy, can generate various types of quality waves with remarkable consistency.
The moderate climate, the constant temperature of air and water are ideal for the practice of this activity throughout the whole year, mainly during the Winter months.
Besides its natural characteristics, the archipelago also offers various other attractions for those who enjoy surfing, such as the proximity between the various surf spots and also because it is not over crowded.
All the islands have waves and if the "point breaks" and "beach breaks” of the islands of Santa Maria and S. Miguel are the ones that achieved international fame, it is on the island of S. Jorge, with its fajãs and "reef breaks", that the waves are longer and tunnel shaped.
The Azorean sea is one of the favorite destinations of the fans of big-game fishing. Enormous blue and white marlins swim in this part of the Atlantic, as well as dolphin-fishes and Atlantic bluefin tunas, among other species of tuna. Between the islands of the triangle (Faial, Pico and São Jorge), the challenge is always on, even though any of the remaining islands can be a point of departure for high quantity and quality fishing outings. On land, it is possible to find many specialized operators of big-game fishing. Those that prefer to fish independently may rent boats and equipment and leave in search of the coveted trophies.
On a sailboat or a motorboat, you will quickly understand the mystique of navigating in the Azores seas. When navigating around the coastline of an island, it is possible to see the green landscape descending towards the crystalline-clear waters of the ocean. Beaches and sheltered inlets invite you to stop and dive in their waters. At the marinas of the archipelago, one can find everything that one needs before returning to the Atlantic. Dolphins accompany you in the island crossings, as they did more than 500 years ago with the discoverers of this paradise. The horizon is the limit that stands above the ocean blue.
These sports can be practiced in the Azores both in internal waters and in open sea. Whether one exploits the escarpments that surround the lakes that filled the volcanic calderas or rows around the small islets to watch sea birds or even to visit caves, all these activities involve a total physical and emotional involvement with the Azorean landscape.
Experiencing man’s earliest dream when surrounded by kites, silence and dazzling landscapes is surely breathtaking.
Due to the islands’ soft relief and mild climate, it is possible to paraglide almost all year long in several identified sites. In fact, the town of Sete Cidades, on São Miguel Island, has been elected by a European jury one of the 60 most beautiful sites of free flight in Europe.
To horse ride in the Azores it is more than a sport, it is a tradition. It is believed that the horse came to the archipelago with the first settlers as they appear in the inventories of properties dating back to the beginning of the sixteenth century. Walking or trotting along trails and around lakes on horseback is an unforgettable experience. There are programs available for horse rides throughout the whole year including for first time riders.