Latest census data reports just over a quarter of a million residents live on these islands but with a diaspora of more than two million living overseas, primarily in the United States, Canada, Brazil, and mainland Europe. In the Channel Islands they have for long formed a substantial minority so that public phoneboxes feature dialling instructions in the Azores dialect.
The Azores consist primarily of 9 main islands:
- São Jorge (Azores)
- São Miguel, with the main airport (Ponta Delgada Airport IATA: PDL)
- Santa Maria
These nine volcanic islands are situated in the northern Atlantic, about 1,500 km (950 mi) from the western edge of the Iberian Peninsula and about 3,900 km (2,400 mi) from North America. Seismic activity, though rare, still occurs on occasion.
While ancient and medieval legends tell about Atlantic islands which could have been the Azores, the first known inhabitants were Portuguese, who settled in the 15th century. The Azores became an important waypoint during the Age of Discovery.
The archipelago is spread out in the area between 37° N and the parallels of latitude that pass through the Lisbon area (38° 43' / 38° 55' N), giving it generally a tepid, oceanic, subtropical climate, with mild annual oscillations. Daily maximum temperatures usually range between 15°C (59°F) and 25°C (77°F). The average annual rainfall increases from east to west, and it ranges from 700 to 1600 annual millimetres on average, reaching 6300 millimetres on Mount Pico, the highest Portuguese mountain at 2351 metres. The Azores high, an area of high atmospheric pressure, is named after the islands.
You should be warned, if what you are searching is a beach holiday with plenty of sun, the Azores are not right for you. However, if going to the beach is just one of the activities you will do, it should be just perfect. Climate in the Azores can vary during the day from bright sunny, to rainy and back to sunny.
The official language in Azores is Portuguese. On most of the nine islands, the variety of Portuguese spoken is very similar to standard European Portuguese. The primary exception is the local "Micaelense" dialect spoken by many of the inhabitants of the largest island, São Miguel, very unlike the Portuguese spoken in the mainland. Even people from mainland Portugal and the other Azorean islands find it difficult to understand "Micaelense". Otherwise, most people involved with tourism speak at least enough English to communicate with English-speaking tourists.
Major carriers serving Ponta Delgada Airport include:
- Azores Express (US tel: 800-762-9995, Portugal: +351 296 209 748) connects New England with the Azores, mainly on the Boston-Funchal route. The carrier is part of the SATA Group, which connects the Azores with mainland Europe.
- SATA Azores is both an airline and a tour operator locally based on the Azores. It connects the Azores with major European hubs like London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris; Gran Canaria, and several other European destinations.
- TAP Portugal's flag carrier, also has direct flights from Lisbon to the islands of Funchal, Terceira, Fayal and Pico. The airlines also flies between Porto and Terceira islands.
- Easyjet connects Lisbon to the most populous island of São Miguel three times a week for €50 and up.
Several cruise lines make Ponta Delgada a waypoint when journeying across the Atlantic. Some cruise ships spend a day at the port, often as they reposition themselves between cruising Europe and the Western Hemisphere.
The marina at Ponta Delgada also welcomes many yachts and private boats from around the world that make São Miguel a port of call along their trans-Atlantic travels.
São Miguel is the main hub, but you can fly direct to Terceira, Pico, and Faial from Lisbon.
If you have limited time in São Miguel and want to visit the other islands, do not take the ferry as it takes too long. Travel by plane instead.
Ferries between the islands are available, and particularly useful in the central group (Terceira, Graciosa, Sao Jorge, Pico, and Fayal).
The Azores is a great place for boating island to island and even town to town. Almost every town is on the shore and most have ports.
One of the best known sailing ports in the world is Horta, on Faial Island. There is a large and fully equipped marina that has catered for many famous boats and regattas. The marina is ideally placed in downtown Horta.
Other islands have marinas, like Terceira and São Miguel. Even when a marina is not present many of the larger villages have a harbour suitable for mooring a yacht.
Small motor yacht may be chartered to get from island to island, particularly in the summertime on Terceira island.
In each island, it's best to rent a car. These being volcanic islands, in many places the terrain is steep and rugged. The roads wind around very steep hillsides.
On most islands there are bus services, crossing the main villages. On the smaller islands, however, the buses may have only a few runs per day or none at all on certain days (Sundays, holidays).
Taxis are centrally regulated throughout the islands so visitors pay the same rate as locals. In São Miguel (2015), it costs about 10€ between the two ends of Ponta Delgada; out of town trips are 20-30€ or 40-50€ to the farthest parts of the island.
Cycling around the islands is possible if you are in great shape, and don't mind a lot of hill climbing.
See the Regions section above for points of interest in each island.
São Miguel and other islands
- Start in São Miguel Island
- From Ponta Delgada (in São Miguel), fly to Faial. Do a whale watching tour.
- Take the boat to Pico Island. Do a whale watching tour. Climb Pico mountain if you are in good shape.
- Take the channel boat to São Jorge Island. Fly to Terceira Island.
Many activities and sights are accessible only through private tour companies. Half-day and all-day tours start at 50-60€ and can cost upward of 100€. The tours are generally very high quality and worth it.
You can hike on every island but it's best in Flores, Sao Jorge and Sao Miguel.
- Whale and dolphin watching. Every town with a marina offers whale watching. They take you out on small boats and often get you within ten yards of the whale. Futurismo is a recommended provider for whale watching tours.
- Velvet Adventure Sailing. Spend time sailing between the islands and exploring what each one has to offer. The boat moors in sheltered marinas or anchors in secluded bays.
- Off-road mountain bike circuits
- Moto 4 Rides
- Bird Watching
- Donkey Rides
- Sport Fishing
- Rental Bike, riding bike is a great way to get to know the islands.
- Guided Tours
- Volcano Climbing at Pico island
Exchange rates for Euros (€)
As of March 2017:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
The euro (€) is the currency of the Azores.
Handcraft from all the islands is very good.
The Azores is the only place in Europe that produces tea.
There is a "meat and potatoes" mentality when it comes to the cuisine and vegetables can sometimes be hard to come by.
Fresh fish and local grass-fed beef are very good. One of the main dishes is Bife à Regional, a steak with a delicious local sauce.
Sao Jorge island is famous for its cheese and must be tried. Fresh pineapple from Sao Miguel island is unbelievably good.
Sagres and Super Bock are the best Portuguese beers you can find on the island. Especial is the local beer and it is very good.
You can also ask for local sodas "Kima" and "Laranjada".
There is very little crime in the Azores. What little crime exists is mostly drug related. There are no reports of crimes against tourists.