8 months ago I had never even heard of the Azores. Each summer I start casually figuring out where we should go for our family Christmas trip (it’s our tradition, instead of giving gifts) and I’m subscribed to a fair number of travel newsletters and websites. Chris and I were both turning 40 this year, so I knew we wanted to go somewhere a little more exotic than some of our previous years, but I wasn’t sure exactly where we should go.
One week there was a deal listed for the Azores. I started doing my research and instead of crossing this trip off the list (as I had with several in previous weeks) I kept finding more and more reasons why we needed to make this trip happen. If you follow us on Instagram, you got to tag along and see how incredibly awesome the Azores are. I’ve had so many people ask for the details from our trip, so I wanted to share them in one easy to link blog post.
While we weren’t on a honeymoon, these islands are pretty much paradise and would make for an amazing honeymoon experience. The reasons that it made for a perfect trip for us are that it was really affordable, a short plane ride away from the States, English is spoken by almost everyone there, it’s super clean (safe to eat and drink anything) and absolutely gorgeous.
The Azores are volcanic islands off the coast of Portugal. There are 9 major islands, in 3 separate groups. Most months of the year, you can take ferries to visit other islands in your group, or between the groups, and island hopper flights are available year round. We preferred to really explore one island and not spend our vacation time traveling back and forth between islands, so we spent our week thoroughly explore Terceira.
Different islands have different degrees of volcanic activity, hot springs, and unique sights to see. While on Terceira, we went from the highest part of the island, shrouded in a cloud, to the coast in just a few minutes. The island is ringed by small villages, the interior of the island is spotted with calderas and farmland.
Azores Airfare and Hotel
We booked our trip through Azores Getaways. The entire package was about the same as airfare everywhere else and included airfare, hotel with breakfast. We stuck with the basic room at the Hotel do Caracol (there are upgrades, for both rooms and hotels) and were very happy.
Pro tip: You will arrive at your hotel around 8am, after a red-eye flight. We read the fine print and knew this would happen. I slept on the plane and would have been fine storing our bags and walking into town, my family was BEAT and snoozed in the lobby. Rooms are not expensive, and if we did it again, we would likely reserve a room the night prior to our arrival so it would be ready when we get there. The hotel worked really hard to get sleepy travelers into rooms ASAP and allowed everyone to snooze in the lobby while they waited, but some people clearly had not thought out the timeline and were a little crabby about not being able to check in extremely early. They had a room ready for us around 11am, and our second room was ready not long after. I would expect all of the hotels available through this package would be about the same, as they do this every week.
The daily breakfast at Hotel do Caracol has a nice selection of fruit, eggs, toast, jams, and cereals each day. Almost all of the food on the island is from the island, so everything was very fresh and delicious. My personal favorites were the yogurt, honey, and fresh bread. The hotel does serve lunch and dinner (it’s fine if you don’t want to go anywhere, but better food is had elsewhere), and has a bar with drinks and small plates. It also has a really great oceanfront pool, a small indoor pool, and this neat little walkway up to an observation tower with a secret little library hidden inside.
Getting Around Terceira
We did not want to have to navigate driving and directions in an unfamiliar place before the sun was up, after a sleepless night. I had also researched and found that most travelers say it’s cheaper to rent a car once you’re there. Since we weren’t traveling in high season (sometimes no cars are available) we used the complimentary bus provided by Azores Getaways to get from the airport to the hotel. Rent a Car Aguiatur is easy walking distance from both of the hotels in the area. Chris and I both grew up and learned to drive on a standard, so we got the cutest, tiniest car (they do have a few automatic transition cars available at an upgrade). We navigated with a combination of paper maps and Google Maps/GPS. It was pretty easy to find everywhere we wanted to go, and the other drivers were very courteous. Roads are very small (aside from the highway that cuts across the island, which is like a traditional interstate), sometimes have cows, but fun to drive. We found the other drivers to be very courteous.
Parking is kinda willy-nilly in most of the villages, Angra has paid on-street parking. We got two parking tickets because we had a hard time figuring out how to pay in advance (but the parking tickets were easy to pay).
We kept our car and returned it to the airport so that we could avoid the lines and timeline of the bus on the return trip. In case you were wondering, you CAN fit 4 people and all their luggage in a tiny Opel.
Azores Getaways also offers tours each day. If you are a tour group person, you can avoid renting a car and booking bus tours of the island (there is one each day), and can walk into Angra for shopping and dining. We like to find our own adventures, so renting a car was perfect for us.
When you are walking, particularly in the towns and villages, you’ll find that they take pedestrians very serious. If you even look like you’re getting ready to cross the road, traffic is going to stop and wait for you.
Tours on Terceira
As mentioned, Azores Getaways offers a different tour each day. There is also a little tour company right beside the rental car place. We aren’t really tour group people, but read some good things about Trilhas Azores, a small company that gives individual tours of the island. We thought that would be agood way to get a good overview of the island on our first day, so we booked the Best View Photo Tour. Juca picked us up at our hotel and spent the entire day driving our family to so many amazing spots that we could have never found on our own.
This is my highest recommendation of things to do while on Terceira. Do it early in the trip, because Juca will tell you all of the other places that you need to visit on your own as well. It was a great way to see the entire island and get our bearings before adventuring out on our own.
Juca was also just a great guy to spend the day with, which made for a really enjoyable day. Our whole family had a great time.
Our favorite places on Terceira
This post could get really long, because there are so many amazing spots to visit on this little island. We could have easily spent another week. Part of what we loved is that pretty much nothing is off limits. I feel like in the US, we put gates and fences around all of our coolest places and lock up everything else. On Terceira, there are signs and directions with roads up to some of the best parts of the island, and stairs everywhere else. Each village has a centuries-old church. The doors are unlocked and you can (reverently and respectfully) have a look at any of them. You can walk right up to old forts, tour ones that the military is still using. You can go down inside of old volcanos, and walk down stairs set into volcanic rock cliffs. There are wonderful little parks scattered everywhere, in the most unexpected places. The few museums or churches that charge admission usually have a “you can look around for free, the tour is 2 euros” type of policy. Pay for the tour, it is always worth it.
Angra do Heroismo (Angra)
This is the largest village on the island, an easy and beautiful walk from both the hotel we stayed at (as well as most other hotels on the island). I really enjoyed the tour given at Palácio dos Capitães-Generais. I’m a huge history buff and it gave a really detailed overview of the history of the island. I recommend doing this early in your trip. Both the Cathedral of Angra do Heroísmo and the Igreja da Misericórdia are beautiful and worth seeing. The Igreja da Misericórdia is close to the harbor, which is another great place to see. There’s a building across the street with some really cool murals that make for great photos. I couldn’t find any info about them, but they remind me of Margaret Keene’s work.
Monte Brasil is the remnants of a very old (inactive) volcano. It kind of juts out of the side of the island near Angra. It’s beautiful to look at from either side, and a great place to explore. You’ll notice a military presence on your way up, don’t be alarmed. It’s still an active training base. There are a bunch of walking trails (and roads) that cover the mountain. You can check out the old caldera (though you can not currently hike there, it is used as a shooting range for the military base) and hike around the upper rim. You’ll find several whale watching stations (and information about the historic whaling practices of the island) along the way. You can also tour the Castle of São João Baptista (a 16th century fort) and continue up the mountain to the large cross statue overlooking Angra. You’ll also find WWII anti-aircraft armaments up there. The US had a rather large presence on the Azores until fairly recently (we still have a small base there).
On your way to the overlook, you’ll notice some picnic areas. Definitely, check those out: there are a nice collection of birds (caged) and deer (free-roaming) to see. We didn’t find details about this anywhere, so we were pleasantly surprised to come upon it. If you continue to the top of the smaller hill opposite the cross overlook, you’ll find another view of Angra and a really neat old communications building a mast. On the ridge along the outside of the caldera you’ll find several old whale watching stations. We could have spent an entire day just hiking (we didn’t tour the fort or hike to the older forts).
This was one of our favorite villages. On the day Juco took us there as part of our tour, the ocean was VERY angry. This is usually a calm and lovely spot with natural swimming pools. There are not many sandy beaches on Terceira (only 2 that we found) but plenty of spots where stairs and handrails have been carved into the volcanic rock to create natural swimming areas in the beautiful turquoise water. The ocean was so turbulent that the police had blocked off all the pools (a thing Juco says never happens) and the waves made for some spectacular sprays of water. Again, we could have stayed watching it all day. We found one spot that was pretty close to the edge, and as the waves came rushing in, we were startled by a roar and rush of air from behind us. The waves were pushing air through underground tunnels into small vents in the ground!
We came back again when the ocean was calm so that we could explore the pools. We did not swim in them, but we DID jump in the swimming spot by our hotel. The Azores stay pretty temperate year round, but it was a bit chilly when we were there (60’s). But, the locals seemed to have a morning swim routine, so we jumped in one day. It was brisk, but fun.
Endless Adorable Finds
Honestly, we found something worth talking about in every little village. There’s this fabulous roadside park on the way to Serrato, the overlook near Raminho, the trip to the top of Serra de Santa Barbara (often surrounded by clouds, but worth the drive anyway) the active volcanic areas in the interior of the island where you can watch the ground steam, the Gruta do Algar where you can go down inside an old inactive volcano, the scenic farmland and florals through the interior of the island, the black forest, and a church worth stopping to visit in every village. You can spend your days just wandering and exploring.
That was probably my favorite part of the trip; wandering and exploring. So often here in the US, our best places are locked up behind gates. You have to pay to access our history and sights, and are only allowed in certain areas. On Terceira, it felt like nothing was off limits. They build roads right up to the coolest things, and steps where a road won’t work. Literally, just steps cut into the sides of cliffs overlooking the ocean. We went down so many one lane backroads through farmland, worried that we would be accosted for trespassing or being lost, only to see herds of happy cows and a wave from a farmer before discovering yet another park or village.
Our favorite restaurants on Terceira
One of the best parts about the trip was how fresh, amazing, and affordable the food was. We didn’t have a bad meal the whole time we were there, but these were a few of our favorites. I will say that we had entirely too much food everywhere we ate. You could easily split meals at most places and feed everyone, portions tend to be generous.
O Cachalote Restaurante – their signature dish is “Steak on a Stone”. It is a locally raised 9oz filet brought to you and cooked on a hot lava stone at your table. The owner brings it and shows you how to cook each bite before eating. We still talk about this meal; it was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. (It’s cash only, there’s an ATM about a block away if you need it)
Restaurante Ti Choa – This was just the cutest place with the nicest server. I think he could tell we were struggling to make a decision, so he asked if we just wanted a sampling of things. It was perfect, and the Alcatra (a traditional Portuguese slow-cooked beef stew) was the best we had on the island.
The Ice Cream Factory. There are plenty of cows on the island. You’ll see them grazing in oceanfront fields, and come upon them walking the roads to get from one pasture to the next. Terceira has no shortage of local beef, cheeses….and ice cream. We may have gone there 3 times during the week. It feels a little touristy, but we really like ice cream, and it was neat to eat it overlooking some of the pretty fields on the island.
We also stopped frequently at little cafes and bakeries for a treat and a latte. I was a big fan of the fact that no matter where I ordered tea, it was brought out with a proper cup, spoon saucer, and teapot.
You’ll also find that the dining culture is very laid back. You will NEVER be rushed out of a restaurant or endlessly annoyed by a waiter asking how you’re doing every 3 minutes. In fact, you will need to ask for the check when you’re ready to leave.
The only bad part about this trips is that it sets the bar REAL high for next year. We had such an amazing time, how are we going to top it? If you’ve taken a trip that you absolutely loved, leave some details in the comments! I’d love to put it on our bucket list. If you have more questions about our trip to the Azores, just let me know!
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