Sitting about a third of the way between Lisbon and New York in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, the enigmatic Portuguese volcanic islands of the Azores are a place of timeless, rare beauty that offers an amazing amount of outdoor activities and chances to relax. This afternoon after arriving into the airport of Sao Miguel Island, known locally as "The Green Island", you will transfer to the hotel to relax and settle into your Azores family holiday. The hotel has well equipped family rooms, a games room, indoor and outdoor pools, and each room has a balcony where you can enjoy the panoramic view over the city and the south coastline of Ponta Delgada. Relax by the pool, or maybe head out to get a feel for the local scene – your accommodation is in the heart of Ponta Delgada, walking distance from Carlos Machado Museum, Antonio Borges Garden, the Nossa Senhora da Esperanca Convent and Bell Tower, and just a few minutes from the town’s cobbled shopping streets.
Today you’ll get a real feel for local island life on a full-day guided tour that will take in its artistic, religious and cultural traditions. Leaving the hotel at 9am, drive to fabulous viewpoints on the western side of the island, then head to a local farm in Ginetes. Here you can go back to the past, sampling the simple pleasures of pastoral life. Milk the cows, help till the soil, and bake break the traditional way. Surrounded by typical stone houses, take part in traditional activities and games that will transport you to the island’s past. Enjoy a hearty picnic lunch of local products (maybe local sausage, local fruit drink, traditional bread and cakes), then drive along the south coast to Ferraria. This is a wonderful place to take a dip, a small crater that forms a natural swimming pool at sea level, which is delightfully warmed by a volcanic crack when the tide is low. After a fun-filled day that’s perfect the perfect way to end the trip – connecting with nature and the island’s local traditions – you’ll return to the hotel around 5pm. Maybe gather together your group for one final meal and celebrate this Azores adventure.
It’s a bit of an early rise this morning, but one well worth it – you’ll soon be swimming with dolphins! Leave the hotel at 8:30am for a 2.5-hour boat trip in waters where Atlantic, bottlenose, spotted and Risso’s all frolic, and on some days you may see them all. Before you set sail, you’ll have a briefing to explain the dolphin species that you might see, what the safety measures on board are, the procedures for protection of species at sea, as well as some interesting bonus historical facts. On board, each passenger is required to wear a life vest, and wet suits and snorkelling masks are provided. (Please note that the minimum age for the snorkelling is 8 years old). The experience is built around the dolphins’ well-being, making sure than any pod of dolphins come across are happy and not stressed. The boat will stop and allow the dolphins to come it you, and you’ll drop into their environment and let these wild animals do their wild thing. It’s an incredible, memorable experience. After the boat trip, make landfall and head to a local restaurant for lunch. Continue this amazing day with a jeep safari, driving to the natural reserve of Fogo and dropping by the beautiful blue ‘Fire Lake’. Continue the aqua theme with a warm natural shower at the Calderia Velha waterfall, then head towards Ribeira Grande, the second largest town on the island. The town has a charming historic centre, and here you’ll stop by a typical liquor factory where you might taste some of the fruit liquors that this family has been producing since the 1930s. Return to Ponta Delgada after a memorable day.
Leave the hotel early (6:45am) and transfer to the airport for a short flight to Faial Island. Many different shades of blue adorn the houses, divide the fields, and line the island’s roadsides with hydrangeas, earning it the moniker ‘the Blue Island’. On arrival, transfer to Caldeira, a huge, green volcanic crater that has beautiful views over the sea and neighbouring Pico Island. Today this natural reserve’s serene surroundings contrast with the huge explosion that created this island thousands of years ago. Next, drive through the green countryside to a very different volcanic environment. The Capelinhos Volcano at the island’s western end erupted as recently as 1958, and much of the surrounding area is still the dark black of volcanic ash. Visit the volcano’s Interpretation Centre and go up to the lighthouse for a wide view over the new part of the island, created by the last eruption. The sight is extremely beautiful – black volcanic rocks and sand contrasting with the blue ocean. After lunch, return to the capital Horta for a walking tour, ending at the renowned Marina. Transatlantic sailors often stop on the island, marking their journey in paint on the jetties and piers. Later, in free time, maybe hang out with some of them in Peter Café Sport.
Pick up at the hotel this morning and transfer to the port, journeying to Pico (approximately 20-30 minutes). The island is dominated by a 2,350-metre Fuji-like volcano, the ‘peak’ that gives the island its name. Set out on a tour of some gorgeous vineyards – the Vinhas da Criacao Velha is a UNESCO protected trail of lava soil vineyards, a jagged landscape of black rocks and waves, and a patchwork of beautiful old stone walls built to shield the vines from sea breezes. You’ll stop by Gruta das Torres, a 5 kilometre long tunnel that was formed when subterranean rivers of magma forced their way through the Earth. The cave is full of fascinating colours and rock formations. After lunch, continue your tour of the island with visits to more volcanic formations and lava beds, lakes, lagoons, endemic fauna and flora, old whale ports and typical small villages. You learn how, from the 18th century until right up to the 1980s (when it was thankfully banned), Azoreans would hunt whales with harpoons from the bows of little rowboats. Hop back on a boat and return to Horta for the night.
From Horta, transfer to the airport for a short flight to Sete Cidades lake, which sits on the west side of Sao Miguel. The twin lakes are one of the island’s most beautiful spots (which is really saying something), and they sit spectacularly in the three-mile-wide crater of an ancient, dormant volcano. It’s layered with bridge green vegetation and the water of the lakes sparkles jade-green and blue in pools of sunlight. Enjoy a picnic lunch by the lake’s scenic shores, then work it off with an adventurous tour of the bottom of the caldera. There’s a track that runs all around the crater and you’ll saddle up for a bike ride around this magical landscape, a place that’ll leave your mouth open in awe. This is absolutely one of the best ways to enjoy the Sete Cidades environment, to feel the amazing energy and beauty of the place. Another is to get onto the emerald green waters of the lake itself – so strap on your lifejacket to paddle around this serene place in a kayak. When your active adventure comes to an end, you’ll return to the hotel in Ponta Delgada around 5pm. The rest of the day is free for you to do as you’d like.
Around 9am this morning you’ll head out on a tour into San Miguel’s geological history, heading to the volcanic region of Furnas, which boasts smouldering fumaroles and bubbling hot springs. Start with a visit to the Caldeiras da Lagoa das Furnas (Furnas Lake Calderas), where steam wisps out of mossy rocks and from mounds of earth. Here, underneath the dirt, is the earth-powered oven for the famous “cozido das Furnas”, a special meat and vegetable stew slowly cooking for buried in the fumarole. This area has been used as a free underground oven for centuries. You can walk around the lake, past pools of bubbling mud and streams of stinky sulphuric steam, then head to a local restaurant to taste the special subterranean meal. After lunch, visit the centenary Terra Nostra botanical garden, famous for its extraordinary collection of native and exotic planet specialties. It’s an elaborate garden overflowing with greenery, hidden grottoes, and has a unique natural volcanic thermal pool in the centre. At the end of your visit you can choose to take a dip in an iron-rich hot water swimming pool that has a temperature of 35-40°C. The colour might not be the most inviting (dark orange/brown, so take some older swim gear), but it’s an exquisite experience. Head back to Ponta Delgada along the scenic northern coastline, returning to your hotel around 4:40pm.
Your Azores family adventure comes to an end this morning with a transfer back to the airport.