If you’re counting the days till your trip to the Azores or if you’re still on the fence about whether or not to make it your next destination (in which case, check our previous post about why you MUST go), then this post is for you.
We share practical tips based on our trip to this special archipelago considered one of the most sustainable places in the world, and hope they’ll help with experiencing the stunning and restorative qualities of the Azores.
Don’t rush and stay flexible in the Azores
Thankfully, Portuguese culture appreciates taking things at a more leisurely pace (at least in comparison to the U.S.), especially for meals. The good news is you won’t feel pressured to order more things, or to hurry up and finish your meal and free up a table, but this also means that servers don’t rush over as soon as you sit down or give you the check as soon as you finish your meal. Appreciate this!
Call first or check the Azores webcams
Things don’t strictly adhere to what’s noted on websites or signs, so don’t assume. It didn’t happen often, but a couple times, we found an establishment closed for the day or indefinitely due to, say, construction, so if you’re driving a little ways for a destination or planning your day around a certain site, it doesn’t hurt to call in advance to make sure they’re open and their hours are what you think they are.
If you’re going to the Azores during high tourist season, it might be good to double check if certain restaurants take reservations or try going earlier for dinner, say, before 6 p.m.
Weather and visibility of certain sites can shift quickly, so it’s always fun and a good idea to check this live webcam, which shows popular sites on each of the islands.
However, don’t lose heart if a place is fogged over or if it’s rainy—either consider going on a different day, check back later, or, hell, just go anyway! Sometimes, a fog bank can disappear within minutes or offer a different, beautiful experience of a place. We experienced this with our first visit to Sete Cidades on a quiet, foggy day and returning on a sun-filled, more touristy day.
Try different types of accommodations in the Azores
The range and style of homes available on Airbnb in the Azores are pretty amazing, but of course, book early, especially if you’re going during high tourist season. Also, Portugal has the reputation of offering some of the best hostels in the world, so for myself, in spite of being in my forties and believing my hostel days long were long behind me (or so I thought), we happily booked one with a private room in Ribeira Grande because of its absurdly close access to the ocean and surfing.
In general, if time allows, we suggest trying a few different types of accommodations in more than one area of an island (depending on your preferred rhythm, but we generally found that staying at least 2-3 nights at a place felt like a good pace). This offers the chance to experience and see different parts of the island, as well as the chance to meet folks who live on the island, other amazing visitors, and folks who grew up in the Azores too.
For São Miguel, in particular, this approach might be especially appreciated. Since it’s the largest island, trying accommodations in more than one area could offer a deeper sense of the place.
During our stay (total of about 3 weeks on 3 of the 9 islands), we stayed in the following accommodations:
- Private room in a home in Faja de Baixo (relatively close to Ponta Delgada with plenty of free street parking)—the owner, Patricia, has two adorable dogs!
- Private room in a hostel in Ribeira Grande on the north shore of São Miguel island with a sick view and access to the ocean and surfing!
- A charming B&B-type of hotel on Pico Island with a window overlooking the ocean (my personal favorite for its peaceful location).
- Home on Faial Island within walking distance to Horta—the owner, Isabel, has a small horse and cow on the property!
- Hotel in Ponta Delgada within walking distance to restaurants and the marina.
Tip: For booking accommodations in the larger cities (namely, Ponta Delgada), try to pay particular attention to the location’s proximity to busier streets and any reviews about noise (we only had one issue with an Airbnb in Ponta Delgada and subsequently moved to a hotel for our last night). If you’re sensitive to noise, bringing earplugs might not be a bad idea.
Booking flights to the Azores
In our previous post, we mentioned that Delta had recently started a non-stop route from New York-JFK to Ponta Delgada (PDL) on São Miguel Island (these flights are not offered year-round, however, so double check), offering more affordable options for traveling to the Azores and this direct flight takes only about four hours!
Although Atlanta’s airport is closest to us, we found that flying from Atlanta to Boston, and then opting for the direct flight from JFK to Ponta Delgada was the most affordable (vs. booking flights from Atlanta to PDL). We accounted for extra time to ensure we can make our legs, but did have a momentary scare when our first leg was quite delayed. Another option we’d considered was traveling to Lisbon first for several days and then getting affordable flights on Azores Airlines (previously known as “SATA”) to São Miguel, but we decided to forego the mainland this time.
Car rentals in the Azores
From our experience, manual drive cars were more frequently available than automatics (and the latter seem to have higher rates). But if you love manuals like we do, then this won’t be an issue. They tended to range between 25-35 Euros per day.
Since we were there a teeny a bit before high tourist season ramped up, we generally didn’t have problems securing a rental car the day of (or the day before) we arrived to each island, with the exception of Faial Island, where a huge conference was taking place at the time. However, after a few calls, we did manage to find an automatic car to rent for about 60 Euros/day.
For high season, however, I’d definitely book car rentals in advance and make note of any cancellation/change policies. In less busy seasons, booking car rentals while you’re there offers flexibility in case you change your plans at all.
Backup tip: One thing we didn’t do on this trip, but would love to next time is to rent a scooter or bike! Or if car rentals aren’t possible for sites that are a bit of a distance, try a half or full-day tour, or look into hiring a driver (something we haven’t done, but I’m sure is available, considering how the demand for rental cars outnumbers the number available). Public transit options are available on São Miguel (mostly in/around Ponta Delgada), but because it would require a bit more planning and longer commute times, we decided on the car rental route for flexibility and ease of access to locations.
Learn at least a teeny bit of the language
Overall, many of folks we met who work in the hospitality industry catered fluidly to English-speaking tourists. However, being able to at least greet locals with “bom dia” (good morning) and “boa tarde” (good afternoon), as well as being able to express gratitude in Portuguese goes a long way.
We bought international health insurance to cover us during our trip by using online comparison tools. In our case, we opted for Patriot International for their coverage and affordability (roughly $3-4/day total for the two of us).
Electronics while traveling in the Azores
Make sure to bring your phone’s USB cable—you can charge your phone in most rental cars and we found this super handy, especially while using GPS.
In the Azores, you won’t likely find outlets readily available in most cafes or restaurants (and even if you did, you’ll feel like a total weirdo for trying to use them). In general, we found that cafe culture wasn’t the “hang out and use your laptop all day” vibe, which ultimately, we found refreshing and offered us a good incentive to minimize our computer use.
Instead, charge your devices in your accommodations beforehand or, if you must (and foresee needing to use your laptop or whatever a lot if you have to work), then consider bringing along a hotspot or consider a day pass at a co-working space (perhaps only available right now on São Miguel Island, but this will probably change over time).
We also recommend bringing a power adaptor so can you plug in your dual-voltage devices (i.e. generally, computers, cell phones, etc.). If you’re unsure, take a look at your device’s power adaptor and if it’s marked with both 110-220, then that means it’s dual-voltage, and you’re set.
If your device doesn’t note “110-220” on the adaptor, however, then you’ll need a converter.
*since our goal is to share ideas and resources, some posts may include affiliate links, which means if you decide to make a purchase, we’ll earn a small commission. this comes at no additional cost to you, but helps us continue to cREATe great content, and we only share products we believe in. Thanks!
As for power adaptors and converters, here are our top recommendations below:
- HAOZI All-in-one International Power Adapter for 150+Countries (you can power a couple of usb devices while also using a standard plug).
- OREI 3-in-1 Schuko Travel Adapter Plug (has a built-in surge protector and can charge USB)
Ceptics CT-9C USA to Most of Europe Travel Adapter Plug (straight forward and simple)
Driving and parking in the Azores
Don’t cross unbroken white lines. We learned this the hard way in downtown Ponta Delgada early one morning. We’d just arrived from the airport and admittedly felt a bit bleary eyed from the flights when someone (we think he was possibly a plain-clothed officer?) stopped us and said half-sternly that driving over unbroken, white lines is a pretty serious no-no (and we learned more about this with some online research about driving in Portugal).
As for street parking, we generally found available spots just fine, but make sure to pay the meter though (mainly a concern in Ponta Delgada), which are sometimes not obvious! We also learned this lesson the hard way when we mistakenly thought a paid parking spot was free to the public. The parking ticket cost 30 Euros. Doh!
While driving in/near Ponta Delgada feels a little more hectic, driving around other areas of São Miguel Island (same for Pico and Faial Islands) is pretty straight-forward and easygoing. In fact, the drive usually offered spectacular views and getting from one side of the island to another took less than an hour.
Try a whale watching tour in the Azores
Designated as a nationally protected area, the Azores offer the rare opportunity to see up to 25-26 species of whales and dolphins (a third of all known species!).
Here is Michael’s TripAdvisor review for MobyDick-Tours, the particular whale watching tour business we went with, including some practical tips (especially if you’re prone to seasickness):
The Captain and his crew are enthusiastic and professional! We had a great and lucky day as we spotted a Blue Whale with a baby in tow, 2 Sperm Whales and a Fin Whale! We also saw countless Bottle Nose Dolphin!
The boat is an old wooden ferry with tons of teak and charm! It is a comfortable vessel with tons of displacement which means it is safe with a slow roll! We went out in some decent sized seas (2-3 meters), and the boat and the crew kept us comfortable and enjoying our search for cetaceans!
It is thrilling to see the captain’s enthusiasm for these beautiful animals, and contrary to what others have said in some reviews, he kept a cautious and respectful distance from the whales.
As a note, if you are not sure if you are prone to getting seasick, err on the side of caution and take Meclizine or Dramamine before your adventure and don’t fight the motion of the boat(locked knees will make you sick and head down in the cabin is the worst place to be, they are called sea legs for a reason). If you do get sick, don’t blame the captain, you are in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and if they only sent the boat out in calm seas, the company would go broke. Otherwise, have fun and enjoy!
Support local businesses in the Azores, especially in less touristy areas
We learned from a few local Azoreans that, while initiatives were making it easier for people to start businesses in the Azores, a particular challenge was sustaining businesses for the long term since, as the owner of the retail shop, North Surge (specializing in locally designed and printed t-shirts) noted, it’s hard to maintain a business because many people buy from either the same popular businesses, oftentimes located in the more touristy areas like Ponta Delgada. His shop is located a couple blocks off the town center of Ribeira Grande, but he said it’s been a little bit of a struggle for local businesses to stay afloat at times.
Leave as little footprint as possible in the Azores
If nothing else from this list resonates, we hope you’ll consider visiting the Azores and leaving the islands with as little footprint as possible by avoiding the use of single-use plastics, picking up litter and disposing of it properly, learning more about the incredible biodiversity available in the Azores and why it’s so important for us to become better environmental stewards, regardless of where we find ourselves.