Portugal is an ever-popular destination for holidays, but I reckon the Azores, a group of volcanic islands off the country’s coast, are well worth considering if you’re looking for something a little different. If you fancy finding out a bit more about them and why you should head there, check out my guide to the top reasons to visit below.
The Azores – fast facts
Ok, before we get started on why you should go there, I thought it’d be useful for you to find out a few key bits and bobs about the Azores. Comprising nine volcanic islands, this archipelago is in the North Atlantic Ocean, and it’s usually reached via air from Lisbon (so, you could feasibly combine visits to mainland Portugal and the islands).
Back in 2008, Lonely Planet named the Azores as one of the world’s top destinations and, personally, I don’t think there are many higher recommendations than that. Each island, as you’d expect, has something a bit different to offer, but you’re likely to notice a fair few similarities too.
There are amazing hiking opportunities on pretty much all the islands. In fact, if you’re a keen walker, this really is a bit of a dream destination, especially when you consider just how incredible the local landscapes are – think volcanic cones, dramatic cliffs, calm lakes and waterfalls.
There are loads of routes you can take, but I’ll just pick out one or two examples so you have an idea of what to expect. If you visit the island of Faial, the Capelo to Capelinhos path is one of the best routes to hit. At about 7 km in length, it’s a decent intermediate-level walk, giving you the chance to explore impressive volcanic cones and amazing views over the Capelinhos volcano.
Those looking for a challenge, meanwhile, can head over to the island of Flores and tackle the route from Crater Lake Lookout to Poca do Bacalhau, which is also approximately 7 km long, though quite a lot harder than the above thanks to the tricky terrain. It is well worth the effort, though, to enjoy gorgeous views over lakes like the Caldeira Branca.
2) Whale watching
The next top reason to visit the Azores is that it’s one of the world’s best whale and dolphin-watching destinations. In fact, it is also among the largest whale sanctuaries on the planet, and the variety in terms of the species you can spot is quite something.
Several of the islands offer whale-watching tours, including Faial. This island is possibly the most highly ranked in the Azores in terms of its monitoring facilities, and a lot of the tour guides from local whale-watching companies have links to the University of the Azores, so it’s a great place to come for a taste of local expertise.
In Sao Miguel, meanwhile, you can see whales all year round from Ponta Delagada and Vila Franca do Compo – and in the spring you’ll even have the chance of spotting blue whales.
3) Scuba diving
Another reason to pick the Azores for Portugal holidays is if you’re a keen scuba diver – or you’d like to learn. The great thing about coming here is that there’s a pretty magical mix of excellent visibility, warm waters, diverse marine life and really varied destinations to dive. Plus, beginners are catered for too.
Generally speaking, the south coasts of the islands are considered the best areas for diving. If you’re looking for somewhere that has something for everyone, head to Arcos do Hotel off Sao Miguel. It’s a simple dive, but there is so much to see – including caves, huge arches, stingrays, eels and more. The icing on the cake is you can also snorkel here, so it really does have something to please everyone.