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 Miguel (with the main airport (Ponta Delgada Airport PDL IATA))|
|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.
The main entry point is Ponta Delgada Airport (PDL IATA)—also called João Paulo II Airport—on the island of São Miguel. However, international airports are also on Faial, Flores, Santa Maria, Terceira islands.
Free connecting flight from SATA
Anyone flying from mainland Portugal, or Funchal, are eligible for a free connecting flight to any of the islands. The free flight must be arranged at least 7 days in advance and can be booked through the SATA Air Açores website
The Azores are a common stopover for small craft crossing the Atlantic, especially when crossing from west to east. There are facilities for small craft at least in Lajes das Flores on Flores, in Horta on Faial, in Ponta Delgada on São Miguel, in Angra do Heroismo and Praia da Vitória on Terceira, and on Santa Maria (all of these ports of entry). It may be possible to join a crew for the voyage.
The Azores are also a waypoint for many cruise ships on transatlantic routes.
SATA Air Açores offers flights between each of the islands. The cost for each flight is capped at around €90 by the authorities. Flights are faster but more expensive than the ferry, and are the only way to travel between the eastern, western and central island groups during low season.
Ferries connect each of the islands and are operated by Atlanticoline. There are several lines that operate:
- Blue line - runs between Horta, Faial and Madelena, Pico
- Green line - runs between Horta, Faial; Madelena, Pico and San Roque, Pico
- Pink line - connects Flores and Corvo
- Yellow line - visits every island except Corvo
- Purple line - runs between Sao Jorge and Terciera
Youth discount on ferries with the Interjovem Card
The Interjovem Card limits the cost of any ferry trip to €7.50 making the ferry by far the cheapest way to travel between islands. The card is available to anyone between the ages of 13-30 and costs €40. Buy it from:
- The official app - available from the Play Store on Android
- Azores Youth Hostels
- RIAC (Integrated Network for Support to the Citizen) service points
- Travel agencies
- Clube Naval da Horta
- Academic Association – University of the Azores
Azoreans readily pick up hitch-hikers. Given the poor bus service on the islands hitch-hiking is often the easiest way to get around for those without a car.
Renting a car is the easiest way to get around the islands, with companies providing cars and scooters on every island.
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, the best way to get to know the islands is to take a guided tour.
- Volcano Climbing at Pico island
The euro (€) is the currency of the Azores. Restaurants and shops usually can't take MasterCard or Visa cards, however ATMs are widely available.
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".
Camp-sites are available on every island. They are typically well equipped and cheap or free. The VisitAzores website provides an up-to-date list of the available camp-sites.
There are few hostels outside of Ponta Delgada, and these become fully booked during high season so book ahead of time.
Hotels are available on every island.
There is very little crime in the Azores. What little crime exists is mostly drug related. There are no reports of crimes against tourists.