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The Azores Islands are a wild and otherworldly archipelago that only recently emerged as a trending destination. The Azores consist of nine islands: São Miguel, Santa Maria, Terceira, Faial, Pico, São Jorge, Graciosa, Flores, and Corvo. Each island is distinctly different, and locals claim a lifetime isn’t long enough to fully explore the mysteries and hidden forces shaping the landscapes here.
On our 8-day journey through the Azores, we visit four of the archipelago’s most scenic and dynamic islands, hike along volcanic calderas, and take to the sea for a whale watching excursion. Along the way, we sample the Azores’ extensive culinary bounty, visit with local artisans, enjoy a wine tasting at a UNESCO World Heritage Site vineyard, and relax in thermal springs and warm, oceanic pools.
With barely 5% of its land developed, the Azores are a must-see locale for nature lovers.
Arrival in São Miguel, Sete Cidades
Welcome to the Azores! We meet with our fellow travelers and our local guide in the hotel lobby for an informational session and a preview of our activities in the days to come.
We then head out on our first excursion together to stretch our legs in this lush archipelago. Sete Cidades is comprised of two jewel-colored lakes in the heart of São Miguel — one bright blue, the other green — nestled inside a dormant volcano crater. Hiking along their western edge, we learn about the region's flora and fauna, history, and volcanic formation, and the legendary love story behind Sete Cidades' creation. We enjoy a picnic lunch on the shore, taking in the sparkling waters and steep, verdant slopes.
On our return hike, we stop at Ponta da Ferraria, a therapeutic spring and bathing site renowned for its healing powers since the 15th century. This evening, we dine together at Anfiteatro Lounge, a contemporary, hotel management school restaurant overlooking the bay of Ponta Delgada.
Hotel AzorPonta Delgada, Portugal
With 123 modern rooms overlooking the surrounding ocean, the five-star Hotel Azor boasts an award-winning restaurant and rooftop bar, gym, and panoramic outdoor swimming pool.
São Miguel to Pico
After breakfast, we make the short, 40-minute plane transfer from São Miguel to Pico, famous for its towering, long-dormant volcano — the highest point in Portugal. Our day of exploration begins with a visit to the famed Gruta das Torres lava tube, with a length of nearly 17,000 feet. It is estimated that the tube was formed about 1,500 years ago, during an eruption originating from Cabeço Bravo volcano. An expert guide takes us through the tube, flashlights in hand, and teaches us about its unique geology.
Next up: a short drive brings us to the town of Madalena on the western coast, where we enjoy a short walk around Criação Velha vineyards, part of a 2,400-acre UNESCO World Heritage Site. Wine has been an important export for the Azores beginning in the 17th century, but the islands' volcanic terrain makes viticulture a unique challenge. Over the centuries, wine growers have adapted, creating 5-foot-tall rock wall wind breaks, knows as currais, which create heat pockets to protect and cultivate the grapes. Our guide will point out interesting geologic sites before we sit down for a traditional, winery-style lunch, complete with estate-grown vintages.
Our last stop today is the 15th-century Lajes do Pico, the island's oldest settlement, where we enjoy a conservation talk and tour of the town's whaling museum with a local marine biologist. Next, we board an RIB boat and head out to sea for a chance to spot more than 25 species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises, including humpback, sperm, and even blue whales — the largest species on earth.
This evening, we dine at a local restaurant on our way to Terra Alta near the parish of Santo Amaro, our home for the next two nights.
Lava HomesTerra Alta, Portugal
Overlooking the Bay of Amaro and Pico Mountain, this small design hotel was built with sustainability in mind, boasting a cliff-side spa and yoga studio, traditional restaurant, and breathtaking infinity pool.
Caminho dos Burros Hike
Today, we lace up our boots for a full day of hiking along the Caminho dos Burros, or "Path of the Donkeys." Linking the north and south of Pico, this old trail traverses the plateau moorland, connecting the mountains with the island's coastal trading center. Historically, farmers would exchange full milk churns harvested from their high pasture cows with essential goods from the mainland and beyond. Our choice of hikes today — one moderate, the other strenuous (hiking poles are recommended) — offer expansive views of the ridgeline of São Jorge on the horizon.
Our moderate route proceeds slightly downhill from south to north along Pico's Planalto Central, where we pass native grasses, multi-hued moss, and an endangered, endemic evergreen shrub known as Euphorbia stygiana. We break for a picnic lunch and a bit of exploration at Praínha Forest Park, after which our path leads on to the coast at Baía das Canas. There, we have the opportunity to visit a nearby crafts school and join the artisans for a fun and relaxing workshop.
If the group elects for the more challenging trail (weather-depending), we will instead begin at Casa da Montanha, or "Mountain House," located at an elevation of nearly 4,000 feet. Our steep, rocky climb proceeds to the summit of Mount Pico, where our efforts will be amply rewarded with a picnic lunch and, if skies are clear, views of the Atlantic and the four surrounding islands.
Tonight, we celebrate our hard work at the hotel restaurant, Magma, over a menu of traditional Pico dishes including local lapas (similar to clams), sausage fritas, and octopus stew.
Faial Caldeira to Capelinhos
This morning, we enjoy a short ferry ride to the island of Faial, known as the "blue island" for its long rows of blue hydrangea plants and as a convenient stopping point for yachts on trans-Atlantic crossings. Our guide will highlight the island's volcanic history and the 1957 eruption of Capelinhos, which lasted for 13 months and added nearly a square mile of new land.
Our hike begins inside the now-dormant crater, more than a mile wide in diameter and 1,300 feet deep. Overlooking the surrounding villages, São Jorge, and Pico, our path leads on toward Capelinhos, where we explore the volcano's lunar landscape, picnicing for lunch along the way.
Upon our return to the lively port town of Horta, we board our ferry to Pico, arriving in time for dinner at Ancoradouro, a renowned seafood restaurant offering panoramic views of Faial.
Today, another ferry brings us from São Roque do Pico to São Jorge, our base for the next two days. Long and narrow in shape, the island's rugged topography is the result of volcanic activity, which created its tall, surrounding cliffs and coastal erosions known as fajãs. The fertile plains and unique microclimates created by these fajãs make for excellent growing conditions, including some of the best coffee in Portugal.
We arrive in the town of Velas, known for its picturesque cobbled streets, renovated square, and 17th-century church. Here, we stop for lunch at one of the town's quaint restaurants before proceeding to Fajã dos Vimes. Along the way, we visit with local artisans and stop at a renowned coffee plantation for a cup of São Jorge's famous "joe" before continuing on to the starting point for the day's excursion.
Our short hike this afternoon skirts the coast on our way north to Pardal, where we are treated to a lesson in São Jorge's most iconic export: cheese. Known as the best in all of Portugal, the island's cheddar-style queijo — made using milk from the thousands of happy cows that call São Jorge home — was created out of necessity for the island's sailors, who needed a hearty food staple that could survive for months at sea. We sample the acclaimed cheeses before returning to check into our hotel in Velas and enjoy a delicious dinner and another restful evening in the Azores.
Cantinho das BuganviliasVelas, Portugal
A series of modern, whitewashed apartments comprise this São Jorge mountainside property, complete with a restaurant, gym, outdoor swimming pool, and views of the ocean and islands.
Serra do Topo to Fajã dos Cubres
Our hike today is one of the highlights of our journey, bringing us along the spine of the island from Serra do Topo to Fajã dos Cubres. The dramatic scenery here alternates from dense woodlands and high heathers to deep ravines and plunging waterfalls, at one point approaching the town of Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo, with its pretty white church. We pass by a series of now-abandoned fajã villages, traveling mostly downhill while enjoying views of the coast and the Terceira and Graciosa islands.
Our efforts on the trail this morning are rewarded with a refreshing dip in a natural lagoon and a picnic lunch along the route before reaching our destination.
Tonight, you are free to explore Velas and enjoy dinner on your own at one of the town's delightful, regional restaurants.
Return to São Miguel
A late-morning flight brings us back to São Miguel, the largest island in the archipelago. Upon arrival, we transfer to the lakeside town of Furnas, a 19th-century spa village nestled in a huge caldera. The active landscape here houses many fumaroles and several hot springs known for their medicinal waters.
This afternoon, you are free to relax and explore Furnas and its attractions on your own, including Terra Nostra, one of Portugal's most beautiful parks featuring a thermal swimming pool and more than 2,000 species of trees. You can also visit the serene Lagoa das Furnas, one of three main crater lakes on São Miguel, or stop by the town's other well-known thermal pools at Poca da Dona Beija. In fact, Furnas contains a plethora of mini-geysers, hot springs, and other geologic wonders sprinkled around the village. Among them are thermal pockets used to make Furnas's famous, cozido — a slow-cooked stew made in pots heated in the ground by volcanic steam.
Tonight, we have the chance to try cozido de Furnas at our farewell dinner, where we raise a glass to our time together and our magnificent adventure here in the Azores.
Terra Nostra Garden HotelFurnas, Portugal
Surrounded by a sprawling, 19th-century garden complete with canals and lakes, this award-winning, 1930s Art Deco hotel features elegantly-designed guestrooms, a gourmet restaurant, bar, and spa.
After breakfast, you will be transferred to the airport in time for your departing flight home.
Please note that this is a typical itinerary, and actual activities may vary due to weather conditions, local events, and to allow serendipity to play a hand in your experience. Accommodations are as outlined in the itinerary, although we reserve the right to change these or the order visited should the need arise.
May 24-31, 2020
Sep 20-27, 2020
Oct 19-26, 2020
$5,395 Per Person
First two reserved:$250
See single supplement policy below.
Accommodations (hotels, tents, cruise cabins) are based on double occupancy. A single supplement is paid by participants who specifically request single accommodations, subject to availability. If you reserve at least 120 days prior to departure, you may be eligible for a reduced or free single supplement.* This is generally limited to the first one or two solo travelers to reserve, and the reduction is outlined in the pricing for each trip. Please note, free or reduced single supplements are not combinable with other offers or promotions.
If you are traveling alone and wish to share accommodations, we will try to match you with a roommate of the same gender. If you reserve at least 120 days ahead and a roommate is not available, you will only be charged a “forced” single supplement in the amount of 50% of the standard single supplement* (unless otherwise noted in the detailed itinerary). Single accommodations are limited so you are encouraged to reserve early!
*This may not apply to certain trips with unique accommodation arrangements. Please see specific trip information for more details.
Boundless Journeys' trips are designed for energetic and flexible individuals who like to be active, have a spirit of adventure, and a positive attitude. The Azores Islands Explorer is rated a 3, moderate, on a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being the most strenuous). The fertile landscapes, rolling hills, and coastal paths offer a range of beautiful scenery and a mix of easy walks to strenuous hikes — 1.5 to an optional 6.5 hours and 2 to 7 miles, on trails with some rocky and steep sections, paved or cobblestone streets, and dirt paths. If choosing to hike to the summit of Pico Mountain, there is a 3,700' elevation gain and loss.
At the Hotel Azor in Ponta Delgada at 9 a.m.
After breakfast at Ponda Delgada airport.
If you will be arriving from North America, it is possible to arrive on Day 1 as most flights land around 5 or 6 a.m. However, we recommend arriving the night before to have plenty of time to recover from jet lag and allow a buffer should there be delays. If you are arriving from mainland Portugal, you will most likely need to arrive the night before.
Average high temperatures range from upper 70's in the summer to low 60's in the winter, while the average low temperatures range from mid-60's to low 50's. Perhaps most notable is the unpredictability of the islands' weather, as it can change quickly and drastically from warm sunshine to a windy rainstorm. Most days see some rainfall, which gives the islands their lush, verdant landscapes. You may obtain more detailed information at www.weatherbase.com.
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.
Portuguese cuisine is all about simple, delicious cooking and fresh ingredients, themes that are present across all geographic regions of the country — including the islands of the Azores.
In general, the expansive, fertile soil and mid-Atlantic location mean that grilled seafood, smoked meats, sun-ripened fruit, and other fresh produce are commonplace. Portugal consumes more rice (arroz) than any other European nation, and its lesser-known savory dishes fall somewhere between a Spanish paella and Italian risotto. Fish is a staple, and you're likely to find everything from cod and octopus to tuna and grilled sea bass — prepared simply with lemon, garlic, and the country's famed olive oil — on most menus.
You'll also see plenty of stews and soups, including alcatra, a traditional beef stew with warm spices; and the unique cozido das Furnas — cooked underground with the steam of the earth. Local cheeses, desserts, and wines are ubiquitous. For dessert, traditional favorites such as egg tarts (pastel de nata) and Madeira honey cake (Bolo de mel da Madeira) can be found at most pastry shops. Oenophiles should be certain to try wine from Pico Island's rare, World Heritage vineyards.
Carina came from Ericeira, a charming Portuguese fishing town that is situated about 20 miles northwest of Lisbon. She has a degree in Leisure and Tourism Management and has worked in Switzerland facilitating horse-assisted therapy and event planning. During her free time, she enjoys going to the movies, traveling, and getting together with friends and family. Carina speaks Portuguese, English, and Spanish, and is looking forward to welcoming you to the Azores!
With a Boundless Journeys guide, your experience is that of friend and local adventurer. We believe strongly in working with local guides, experts in the areas to which we travel, and they hold the keys to unlocking the hidden delights of your chosen destination. Although you will never know they are at work—the mark of a truly great leader—our guides make magical things happen and add a dimension to your trip that you could not experience on your own. Over the years we have forged bonds with some of the best guides in the world, and we typically work with a small team of guides in each region. You will be informed of the guide for your trip one month prior to your departure.
Walking and hiking 2-5 hours and whale watch. Optional strenuous hike to Pico summit.
This trip can be your own adventure by taking over one of our scheduled dates, or we can request a fresh one.
By: Katya d'Angelo
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