January 2023: As part of a larger birthday trip for my wife, Paula, she, her mom and I spent 3 days in the Azores Islands before traveling to my final African country, Cabo Verde. The Azores are easily reached via a direct flight from Boston on Sata Airlines and via inter-island flights. I was excited to visit the Azores because other friends of mine who had visited all raved about the islands.

 

 

Where are the Azores Islands

The Portuguese speaking Azores Islands are a semi-autonomous Portuguese territory located 1000 miles from Portugal in the Mid-Atlantic Ocean. The islands have a temperate climate due to the Gulf current with heavy rainfall especially in the winter that keeps the islands lush and green. The Azores were colonized by the Portuguese in the 1400s. There were no prior inhabitants when the Portuguese arrived, however there were signs that Vikings and even the Phoenicians may have visited the islands before the Portuguese. The Azores are volcanic islands but the only island with active volcanic activity is Sao Miguel, which has geothermal activity, volcanic crater lakes and is essentially a ticking time bomb waiting for its next eruption.

 

Location of Azores

Route we took driving across Sao Miguel island

Caldeira Velha Natural Hot Springs

We arrived at 6am in Punta Delgado, the capitol of the Azores on the main island, Sao Miguel. We picked up our rental car at the airport and set off exploring Sao Miguel Island. Our first stop was the natural hot springs of Caldeira Velha. The hot springs tucked into the lush green forest among ferns, a stream and waterfall were truly heaven, especially since we had the place to ourselves.

 

Caldeira Velha Waterfall

Paula’s mom, Cienne

Paula in the hot springs

Paula and her mom in the hot springs 

Exploring the Countryside

Visiting the Azores in winter is risky. It rains a lot in the Azores and most of the rain and bad weather is present in winter and any visit during the winter months may mean that you will not be able to see many attractions but the upside os you will be some of the only tourists on the islands.  We were in Sao Miguel Island for two days and one day of ok weather but heavy fog in the mountains, also common in winter meant that we could see more than 10 feet in front of us and we had zero views of Fogo Lake, a shimmering green volcanic crater lake in the mountains. This was unfortunate but we did have a good weather in the lower elevations for the first day. On our second day, it down poured for most of the day rendering the driving dangerous. When the weather was good, we tried to explore as much as possible and do some hiking. I really loved the lush vegetation of the islands and I hoped to do a lot of hiking. I also loved the abandoned old Portuguese churches and buildings we encountered in our journey.

 

Abandoned old Portuguese farmhose 

Abandoned old Portuguese farmhose 

Abandoned church 

Old factory building now abandoned 

Farmbuilding overgrown by vegetation in a fog laden field

An old Portuguese church on a lake

Sea Cliffs viewed from our guesthouse

Old Portuguese House 

Village House

Geothermal Activity in Furnas Town

We stayed near the geothermally active town of Furnas, which sits in the bottom of an active volcano crater, with steaming mud pouts, hot springs and fumaroles.

 

Boiling hot springs 

Paula sitting by the hot springs

Cow grazing by an Old farmhouse 

The Azores are famous for their prized dairy cows and the cheese and milk they produce. This is easy to understand when you see how green the island is and all of the land that is available for the cows to graze on. After visiting Furnas, we had dinner in the seaside town of Povoacao. We spent the night in a cozy old guest house run by a very kind and hospitable Portuguese man, as the only guests in his home overlooking the top of the sea cliffs.

 

 

Sea Cliffs from Povocao Town

Portugese Old Town-Povoacao

Lava Cave in Punta Delgado

On our last day, we went out to eat in a local diner to have Portuguese food for Paula’s birthday in Punta Delgado. Since it was raining, we also visited one of the only indoor activities in town, a lava cave. The touristy part of the lava cave was not that impressive, but it still beat being out in the rain.

 

Paula in the lava cave

The Azores are beautiful and our short visit left me yearning for more and we will definitely return and see the islands at a more relaxed pace someday.

 

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