Just a couple hours West of Portugal in the middle of the Atlantic lies a group of nine little islands known as Azores. A few weeks ago, I was able to visit São Miguel, the largest and most inhabited of these islands, also known as “The Green Island.” Exploring this beautiful volcanic island, I couldn’t help but think of Hawaii, with the sheer cliffs dropping into blue seas and lush forests adjacent secluded beaches. Though the end of November was a bit chilly to relax at the beaches, São Miguel had plenty of outdoor adventures and awesome natural wonders to keep us pretty busy for our four days there. So, what are the best things to do on São Miguel Island when it’s cold?
Don’t listen to TLC… you should always go chasing waterfalls! Our favorite was Salto do Prego, a gorgeous waterfall tucked away about 2km into the forest. The water was a bit cold in November, but a few daring people still went for a dip.
The hike itself is relatively easy – it’s an uphill climb but nothing too steep, and it’s so worth the effort! Plus, you’ll go through a little hillside village that will portray a bit of what local life is like (hint: a communal water spout, some interesting little huts made out of cornhusks, and lots and lots of cats).
Visit the termas (hot springs).
Over the course of four days, we visited three different hot springs and found each to be a completely unique experience. Our first night in São Miguel we visited the hot springs in Furnas, because they were open late (until 11pm). At 3 Euros per person, these various manmade pools each had hot water running in from a nearby natural spring. Though a relaxing experience, it felt a bit too manufactured for my taste.
The second therm we visited, this one for only 2 Euros, was Caldeiras, which featured two pools, both contained by rock walls. This one felt more natural, as it was surrounded by lush forest, and a naturally hot waterfall fed the upper pool.
While our first two therms were a good time, upon arriving at Ferraria on our last evening on São Miguel, we knew we’d inadvertently saved the best for last. We hopped out of our cars and walked onto the black volcanic rock just in time to see the sun sinking beneath orange clouds across the vast blue sea.
Though the air was chilly, a few people seemed to be enjoying relaxing in a little cove, while ocean waves rhythmically rolled in and out. “No way, could that be warm!” with all that ocean water flowing in. Wrong. Not only was the water warm, it was hot! Completely natural, with just a ladder to help people climb down the volcanic rock, this therm is the best of them all. The cool ocean water is countered by hot natural spring water flowing down the rocks, and if you choose the right spot, you can get just the right mix of hot and cold. Careful in low tide though; the water can get extremely hot since there’s not as much cool ocean water to mix with it, so swim out a bit deeper to avoid getting burned.
Go for a scenic hike.
There are so many trails through green forests, circling blue lakes, and over steep mountains, you simply must hike to fully immerse yourself in the gorgeous natural landscapes. One of the best and most popular hikes is the three-hour hike around Sete Cidades. This 12km must-do hike circles the biggest crater lake on the island and offers some amazing views. Unfortunately it was pretty foggy when we went, but we still enjoyed some clear patches, and the sunlight shining through the fog looked eerily magical.
Another stunning area to walk around is the peaceful Lagoa das Furnas. You’ll see the beautiful chapel Capela de Nossa Senhora das Vitórias, peacocks roaming the grounds, and a glassy lake against a backdrop of gorgeous green hills.
Visit cool viewpoints (miradouros).
One of the best parts about having a rental car (I highly recommend you get one too) was the freedom to explore the island and cover much more ground than we would’ve been able to otherwise. Many of the viewpoints are so amazing because they are up mountains, so we really took advantage of our rental cars to see as many of these as possible. Some of my favorite miradouros:
Other than the scenic viewpoints, another unique thing to see is the Farol da Ponta do Arnel, a beautiful lighthouse in Nordeste. However, be careful as the way down to the lighthouse is a very steep road with hairpin turns, and both of our cars actually got stuck on the way back up! We all had to walk up the hill while our two drivers floored it to get enough speed to make it up the steep incline.
There are many more adventure activities available on the island as well – surfing, boating, scuba diving, paragliding, whale watching, biking, just to name a few… But if you visit São Miguel when it’s cold (or if you’re on a budget), hopefully this is a good start to help you plan your trip. And if you get bored, you can always go play with the cows… :P
As always, keep on livin’ pura vida ✌