Island Hopping In The Azores
On this two-week itinerary, hike, cycle and canyon around the Azores' wild, rugged landscapes, discovering glistening lagoons, abseiling down waterfalls and sampling local wines in vineyards. At sea, go whale watching, dive wartime wrecks and spot huge shoals of pelagic fish in superb visibility with few or no other divers.
Itinerary at a glance:
- Tour the Pico Island Vineyard Culture, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for an insight into Azores wine culture
- Climb the Pico volcano, Portugal's highest point, for spectacular views over the archipelago
- Dive the impressive Second World War shipwreck SS Dori from São Miguel
- Dive the fantastic, unpopulated local sites around the Formigas Islets and Dollabarat Bank natural reserves - looking out for the larger pelagics including manta rays, mobula rays and sharks
- Take a dip in Furnas thermal pools before feasting on colzido das Furnas, a local stew baked in the hot earth
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When To Travel
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Day 1: International Flight
Take a direct two-and-a-half hour flight to Lisbon from London and connect (with your bags checked through) on to a flight to Horta in the Azores. The second flight takes just under three hours.
On arrival in Horta, you will be met by our representative and escorted to the ferry terminal for your ferry to the island of Pico. The trip should take around half an hour and will give you the chance to see the stunning island of Pico from afar, including - on a clear day - the iconic Mt. Pico. On arrival you will be met by a hotel representative and transferred to your hotel. Depending on what hotel you choose, the journey should take no more than half an hour.
Once you have checked into your room, spend the evening at leisure. Your hire car will be dropped off at the hotel which you will have throughout your time on Pico to explore the island.
Day 2: Pico
This morning you can dive the local sites of Pico. Either accessed from the shore or by a short RIB ride, the local dive sites boast a wealth of interesting marine critters and great visibility.
Spot moray eels, slipper lobsters, nudibranchs and stingrays in fascinating marine environments from volcanic slopes to submarine walls and canyons.
Grab lunch at a local café before slipping back into the water to explore the other sites. Alternatively, take your hire car for a trip around the island, visiting different villages. For those looking for an active afternoon adventure, we can also arrange for you to go paragliding, canyoning and riding, should you wish.
- Spend the night stargazing in a volcano crater. Take a guided hike up the mountain in time for sunset before camping under the stars with zero light pollution. Watch the sunrise over the islands before descending back down in time for lunch.
Day 3: Pico
After an early breakfast you will be picked up for a day trip exploring the unique landscapes of Pico.
Guided by local experts, you will visit secret lagoons and caves (including the largest lava tube in Portugal) dotted around the island, stopping for a picnic lunch overlooking the towering Pico volcano.
- Delve into the somewhat unwieldy named Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, on a wine tour around the island's green vine-coated hillsides, stopping at local villages and wineries.
- For the active adventurer, take the challenging climb up the Pico volcano and view panoramas of five of the nine islands from the 7,715ft summit, which also happens to be the highest point in Portugal.
Day 4: São Miguel
After a leisurely breakfast, head out to the coast for a refreshing swim in one of the natural sea pools before you drive back to the airport in good time for your 50-minute flight to São Miguel. Once you have cleared customs, a hotel representative will meet you in arrivals and privately transfer you to the north of the island. Depending on where you choose to stay, the journey should take no more than 30 minutes.
Known as the 'green island', São Miguel features a landscape reminiscent of Jurassic Park, characterised by towering mountains, glassy crater lakes and verdant valleys.
Your hire car will be delivered to your hotel in the afternoon. Either set out by car or on foot to explore the surrounding countryside or spend the rest of the day relaxing at the hotel where you will spend the next four days.
Day 5: São Miguel
This morning drive to the sleepy fishing town of Vila Franco do Campo which, located on the south coast of the island, is a jump-off point for divers.
A few hundred feet out to sea, the small Isla Franca is surrounded by a marine reserve frequented by huge shoals of Turkish wrasse, moray eels, congers and eagle rays. In the afternoon, you can opt to dive again or explore another part of the island, whether you choose to cruise north, driving through tea plantations and discovering hidden surf beaches or beetle along the rugged south coast stopping off at one of the many fantastic viewpoints.
- Take a guided tour of the west side of the island, heading towards the parish of Sete Cidades to view the Church of St. Nicholas for continuing towards Lagoa do Fogo (Lake of Fire). Hike, or be driven, up to the top of Pico da Barrosa for a bird's eye view of the aquamarine crater lake. In late-afternoon head to Mosteiros Beach, the best spot to watch sunset on the island.
- Drive to Salto Cabrito for an adrenaline fuelled day of canyoning, abseiling down three waterfalls (the highest being 30ft tall), stopping for a picnic lunch before heading deeper into the canyon, finishing in the Salto Do Cabrito waterfall.
Day 6: São Miguel
This morning you can dive on a Second World War shipwreck.
Located 900 yards off the coast of Ponta Delgada, the impressive SS Dori wreck was involved in Operation Overlord in Normandy. You will descend to a maximum depth of 21 metres, witnessing the largely intact ship surrounded by shoals of pelagic fish.
In the afternoon you can opt to head back out on the open water to spot whales and dolphins - there are over 20 different types of cetaceans in the surrounding seas, so make sure your camera is fully charged!
Day 7: Santa Maria
Today you will make an early departure to the airport, dropping off your car in plenty of time for your flight to Santa Maria, which will take 30 minutes.
On arrival in Santa Maria, you will be met by our representative and transferred to your hotel. The most southerly island (and consequently the warmest), Santa Maria is characterised by fertile rolling hillsides, dramatic plunging cliffs and spectacular coves - it is one of the few islands with sandy beaches.
Once you have checked in to your room, spend the day at leisure, be that relaxing by the hotel's pool or walking along the picturesque coastline.
Day 8: Santa Maria
This morning it's time to dive. Santa Maria's southerly location makes it the ideal springboard to see the 'big fish' because this is the closest island to the Formigas Islets and Dollabarat Bank natural reserves.
Home to arguably the best diving in Europe, there area has a huge variety of different dive sites to explore. Due to the possibility of strong currents, diving here is best suited to more experienced divers (although for those less experienced, the closer site of Ambrosio offers similarly exciting manta and mobula encounters). When you descend, you will be rewarded with up to 40-metre visibility and the possibility of large pelagic species, including manta rays, mobula rays and several species of shark.
In the afternoon, you can opt to head back out on the boat or stay on land. For those seeking active exploration, we can arrange a number of activities, including mountain biking, kayaking, riding and surfing. For those seeking some much-needed R&R, indulge in a spa treatment back at your hotel.
Day 9: Santa Maria
This morning you can opt to head back out diving, exploring different dive sites along the coast. Enjoy your surface interval in deserted coves only accessible from the sea - it's a great opportunity to watch sea birds hunting.
The offshore site Ambrosio offers a great opportunity to see rays, tuna and barracuda while hanging from a moored rope, whilst at Blue Sharks dive site the water is chummed to attract these fascinating predators. For those looking for something a little closer to home, Pedrinha and Baixa da Maia offer some stunning diving.
In the afternoon, borrow a bike from the hotel and lazily meander down pretty country lanes, stopping in different villages and discovering the secret waterfalls, coves and vineyards that dot the island.
Day 10: Santa Maria
Spend the morning hiking up to the island's highest point, Pico Alto (1,940ft) for panoramas of the entire island.
In the afternoon you will be transferred back to the airport in plenty of time for your 30-minute flight back to São Miguel. Once you have arrived you will be privately transported to the east side of the island. Depending on which hotel you choose, the journey should take no longer than 45 minutes. Your hire car will be dropped off in the evening at your hotel.
Day 11: São Miguel
This morning head to the hot-spring village of Furnas which, thanks to its location in the valley of a volcano, is home to bubbling geothermal springs enveloped by thick alpine forest. Although lacking in beaches, this striking corner of the island is home to the postcard-famous Lagoa das Furnas.
Hike all away around the lake and you will find the most beautiful viewpoints, the Miradouro do Piso, offering spectacular views over the lake, the surrounding towering mountains and rugged coastline. Soothe any aching muscles in the thermal pools before dining on the area's famed dish, colzido das Furnas, a local stew baked in the hot earth.
Day 12: São Miguel
This morning drive to Vila Franco Do Campo where you will board your private catamaran for a day charter.
You will start your day on the ocean with a dive or two around an ocean crater called La Ilha, just off the south coast of Sao Miguel. The unique rock formations support some fascinating marine life, including fangtooth morays, Mediterranean morays, eagle rays, parrot fish, nudibranchs, octopus, stingrays, barracuda, tuna and groupers. Following the dive, you will cruise around the island while enjoying a delicious lunch.
Once you have moored, you can head drive up to Sete Cidades to watch the sun drop over the crater lakes, or head back to your hotel for a delicious dinner.
Day 13: São Miguel
This morning set out on a guided tour of Sete Cidades, visiting the glistening lakes of São Miguel before continuing on to the laid-back village of Sete Cidades, stopping by numerous vistas of the island en route - including the islands most famous viewpoint over the Sete Cidades lake, considered one of the seven natural wonders of Portugal.
In the afternoon, head into Ponta Delgada to sample some local cuisine - Tasca in particular is a superb little tapas bar with a great atmosphere. In the evening, stay in town for Lava Jazz, a great jazz bar with a fun atmosphere.
Day 14: Home Time
Today, after a leisurely breakfast, it is sadly time to return home. You will need to drive back to the airport in good time for your flight and drop your car off at the rental desk. The trip should take around 45 minutes. The lunchtime flight from Ponta Delgada Airport to Lisbon takes just over two hours and your bags are connected back through to the international flight to London, which takes just over two-and-a-half hours, arriving in the evening.
Kate is our expert for this itinerary and as a seasoned traveller they have the inside track on the most memorable adventures.