5 reasons why it’s time to visit the Azores


Just a few years ago, the Azores started appearing in a handful of publications and articles with titles like, “remote islands that no one knows about” and “Europe’s Best Kept Secret.” Many people, especially North Americans could not point out this archipelago on a map. But for those in the know, the thought of a collection of volcanic islands in the middle of the Atlantic with a subtropical climate and European twist is quite intriguing. In recent years, they have been billed as the hot new adventure destinations, offering a plethora of exciting ways to explore the diverse islands and their culture.

There aren’t many tourists, yet

Although the Azores have been a destination for Portuguese and other Europeans for years, they really are relatively unknown to the rest of the world. While tourism is growing, and the government is actively marketing these emerald isles in the middle of the Atlantic to the international travel community, there are still fairly few travelers. Head there soon, before more people become wise to the beguiling beauty and endless adventure.

There are many direct flights

The Azores are easy to get to and quite well connected considering they are pretty remote by other standards. There are direct flights from the east and west coasts of North America, as well as several European cities. From North America, they are an easy stopover en route to or from mainland Portugal, and from mainland Portugal, it’s a quick jaunt to extend your trip for a bit. Despite this, they feel a world apart. Technically, you’re in Portugal, but it really doesn’t seem like it. In fact, Azoreans self-describe themselves as Azorean before saying they are Portuguese (if they ever do).

The volcanic landscapes will take your breath away

Visual reminders of the force of nature, from the many volcanic cones dotting the countryside, to the deep groves where lava once flowed (now lush with vegetation growing in the rich soil), to turquoise lakes and hot springs filling calderas (collapsed volcano cones). Not to mention, you’re almost never without a view of the ocean. You can even hike up Mount Pico, a dormant volcano and the highest point in Portugal. The Azores are a mix of Hawaii and Old-World Europe, with a dash of the English countryside (lots of cows and grassy expanses).

The cuisine is amazing

If you’ve never had octopus, wait until you get to the Azores. Often braised in garlic and olive oil, it’s tender and mild, and simply delicious. The cheeses are incredible, and each island has their own traditional variety. The vineyards on Pico Island (nicknamed “the Island of Wine”) are a UNESCO World Heritage Site for their unique growing methods—not on a traditional trellises, but in bunches protected by grids of rock walls. And the Azorean pineapple is the best you’ll ever have.

The marine life is incredible

It’s a migratory “superhighway” for whales, dolphins, and porpoises (collectively known as cetaceans). Historically, whaling was the main industry in the islands, as they are on the migration paths for 27 species of cetaceans. Now, the government is working to protect these amazing creatures with over 60 marine protected areas. However, with the oceans warming, the whales and their cousins may find other waters to swim in or may not survive at all.

Matt Holmes is the Founder & President of Boundless Journeys. Boundless Journeys is an award-winning tour operator that goes off the beaten path for immersive and authentic travel experiences.

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Comments (22)

  1. Lorraine Berry says:

    I had never come across the idea of a “superhighway” for all those species. I’ve got this mental picture of standing on a ship and watching all those whales, dolphins and porpoises swim by. I have always wanted to go whale watching and the Azores would be a brilliant place to start. All those other species would be a bonus.

    • Matt Holmes says:

      At any given time throughout the year, there are several species migrating. While you might not see all of them on a whale watch, it would be highly exceptional not to see any! I’m sure it’s one of the few places in the world with such a variety of species in one concentrated area.

  2. Alison Williams says:

    For me the fact that there aren’t many tourists yet is probably the main reason for going to the Azores. I hate being with crowds. I much prefer solitude.

    • Ruby Pearson says:

      I have to agree, Alison. I see less tourists as a bonus. That said, I do actually appreciate tourist friendly aspects when going abroad. But somewhere like the Azores? I think solitude and peace and quiet are the best way to experience the area.

    • Matt Holmes says:

      There are plenty of places to find solitude on the Azores…from many of the hiking trails to getting off the main island of Sao Miguel. I recommend Pico and Sao Jorge islands.

  3. Chris H says:

    I haven’t been to the Azores yet but I have been to Madeira a few times. I would imagine that people on Madeira have a fairly similar attitude to their sovereignty to the Azores. Their first allegiance is to their island and then the mainland comes a long way second. And God knows how they feel about the European Union!!

    Though there’s quite a Portuguese flavour to Madeira’s cuisine. Is there much Portuguese influence to food in the Azores?

    • Matt Holmes says:

      The Azores cuisine is definitely Portuguese. You’ll find the pastel de nata and typical seafood dishes and stews (particularly the cozida cooked underground in Furnas). It’s not really that different from the mainland cuisine, except it’s hyper local (often by island) although the wines are different from the mainland.

  4. Malisa T says:

    As terrible as it sounds, but I have never heard of the place before. How ignorant of me! Europe is the only continent left for me and my husband to explore and we are working hard to turn it into reality anytime soon. And the article really makes me want to visit the place. Indeed Azores is Europe’s best kept secret. I could literally feel the descriptions incorporated here. The mere idea of having a juicy octopus served right before me is giving me goose-bumps.
    Would make sure to drag my husband here on our tour :D

    • Matt Holmes says:

      There are definitely a lot of people who have never heard of the Azores – you are not the only one! Which is all the more reason to go :)

  5. Steve says:

    One of my many ambitions that is still left unfulfilled is to have a day’s deep sea fishing. Putting two and two together, about the migration routines, there must be some good big game fishing about. Is that something that the Azores offers? Or has their tourist industry not developed that far as yet?

    • Matt Holmes says:

      Yes, there are deep sea fishing excursions! I saw a couple of boats out of Sao Miguel, but I’m sure there are some on the other islands, also.

  6. Roberts Adams says:

    The writer might not be very appreciative of my comment, but saying this with my first-hand experience: though breath-taking beautiful, Azores doesn’t guarantee a very extravagant or a luxury trip. The following are just some of my observations.
    What I like:
    1) In my 50 years of life, it was the first time ever that I witnessed food being cooked on thermal pools. YEPP!! YOU READ IT RIGHT! The locals used to leave their cooking pots floating on the warm waters of the pool to let it cook.
    2) The sea-food lovers are definitely gonna fall in love with their wide variety and creative innovations of savoury sea food.
    3) Whale-watching (as mentioned) was quite appealing too.
    4) The island also boasts a plethora of attractive vineyards and a wine museum too in Biscoitas.
    What I don’t like:
    1) The general aura of the place made me feel as if I have stepped back in the 20th century.
    2) The absence of any 5-star accommodation was a major set-back for me.
    3) There are no beach destinations whatsoever because of the rocky terrain of the coastline (although the free access pools made up for it).
    4) Tourist buses are NOT AT ALL a reliable option owing to their infrequency and non-punctual timings (the alternative is to hire a cab round the island).
    So from what I felt, Azores is a perfect destination for rural tourism (owing to the lack of that urban touch). Also, a calm and a serene air mostly inhabits the island- perfect for a lonesome retreat.
    P.S. For those intrigued souls, I visited the place around 6 months back i.e. in early 2019.

    • Dave says:

      Robert I get where you are coming from. 19th century can be charmingly Victorian and 18th century with its retro classicism has its bright spots but the architecture, dodgy decor and prejudiced attitudes of the 20th century were not mankind’s finest hour. I don’t always have to have 5 star luxury but below that are there any reasonable 4* hotels? And in the absence of reliable buses are hire-cars a practical alternative?

    • Matt Holmes says:

      The Azores certainly have an old-world charm. The capital, Ponta Delgada, was settled in 1450, and most of the towns were built in the 1800s.

      There are a couple of 5-star hotels, several 4-star, and many more that aren’t necessarily rated to those guidelines but offer lovely design, service, amenities, and location.

      As it is with many islands around the world, the Azores run a bit on “island time”, which is why the bus times are not very reliable. It’s best to join a guided tour with a private vehicle/driver just for your group. There are car hires available on every island, as well, but may be limited on the smaller islands.

      Despite being volcanic, there are beaches on the Azores, although not many. The island of Santa Maria is known as the “beach island” with white sand beaches, and Santa Barbara on the north side of Sao Miguel island has a lovely stretch of black sand beach, but the Azores are really less of a beach destination and more of a destination for those looking to have an active trip – hiking, kayaking, and biking primarily.

  7. George F says:

    Wow. That seems interesting! So what’s the best time to visit Azores?
    Please bear in mind that I will be travelling with my family comprising of two toddlers. And I hope it is a safe place for family vacationing.

    • Matt Holmes says:

      It is a great place for families because there is so much to do. The islands of the Azores are characterized by a maritime subtropical climate, with temperate weather year-round. April through October are the best times to visit, for slightly warmer weather and longer, sunnier days. Summer is busier. We like spring and fall.

  8. Annie says:

    Hi Robert
    My friend and l stayed at a 5 star hotel at Sao Miguel and there are some luxury hotels esp.spa.

    We rented a car n guide and worked out cheaper than renting a car plus we got to go places we didn’t know.

    It’s not expensive and l got some lovely purses made out of Cork for souvenirs.

    I love the waterfalls, thermal pools and abundant flora and fauna. Many islands to visit – breathtaking.

  9. Ruby Pearson says:

    It’s almost a shame to publicise it as I like the sound of it not being too crowded with tourists, which also means it’s can stay cleaner and more authentic. Maybe it’s best it stays as a best kept secret before all the Brits take over the beaches! In all seriousness though, the Azores sound stunning. The photos look too good to be true, but it’s incredibly sad about the whales. I’m glad the government are doing what they can to protect them. Another victim of global warming?

    • Matt Holmes says:

      Exactly what you said, the government is doing what they can. Luckily, they realized that protecting the marine life can be a boon to their economy.

  10. Kaye Henderson says:

    First, you got me at “remote islands that no one knows about” because I am a lover of peace and quiet so I make sure that I travel to places that are not crowded. But I was sold when you mentioned CHEESE. More than peace and quiet, I am addicted to anything cheese. Azores will definitely be one of the places I am visiting.

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